Dan White’s life in Encino during his yearlong parole was haunted by loneliness and a fear of being identified, by memories of prison and financial anxieties. He looked back without remorse on having killed San Francisco’s mayor and first homosexual supervisor. But, according to a frequent visitor to White’s apartment, he longed to return to the city, which he believed had been harmed in recent years by an influx of homosexuals.
The visitor was White’s parole agent, Marvin E. Holmes, a chain-smoking, 20-year veteran of the sometimes surprisingly close relationships that develop between former inmates and the emissaries of the prison system who track them on the outside.
In his office above Laurel Canyon Boulevard in North Hollywood, Holmes, 51, spoke with occasional sympathy about White, 39, who took his life Monday in San Francisco and was buried there Thursday. But Holmes said he could never shake the feeling that White could kill again.
“I did feel sympathy for Dan White,” Holmes said Thursday. “Dan White was still a human being. I’m sure that in his circumstances he still had emotional reactions we all experience, and in connection with that I could sympathize with him.”
The circumstances of White’s life changed radically on Nov. 27, 1978, when he shot and killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the city’s first acknowledged homosexual public official, in their City Hall offices. After a manslaughter conviction and a seven-year sentence that unleashed rioting among San Francisco’s homosexual residents, he spent five years in Soledad Prison, isolated most of the time from other inmates for his protection.
He was released on parole on Jan. 6, 1984. Ordered to stay away from San Francisco for his safety, White was restricted to the Los Angeles area. He settled in the San Fernando Valley, first in a Van Nuys motel and then in a sparsely furnished Encino apartment, going out only in the Dodgers cap and sunglasses that disguised him, along with a beard he grew, Holmes said.
Officials thought he might be in danger because homosexual groups were enraged that White, described as a model inmate, was out of prison five years after the killings.
Holmes would not say exactly where White lived. He said he is afraid that the landlord could become the target of someone’s anger, even though the landlord was never aware of his tenant’s identity. The rent was paid by White’s family, Holmes said.
White, he said, did not seek a job for fear of being noticed, and the specter of recognition stopped him from even applying for a driver’s license. White used an alias, Michael McHugh.
He took the bus except during visits by his wife, who came to Los Angeles every few weeks with their two children and drove him around, Holmes said. A third child was born during the year on parole.
White jogged early every morning, the parole agent said. Then he would read Irish history or work on his memoirs about prison life. Holmes, who saw part of what he described as the “voluminous” memoirs, said White told him he had witnessed violence in prison but had never been its victim.
“He was lonely there, too,” Holmes said. “He said he kept to himself and did his time.”
White first asked if he could spend his year on parole in Wisconsin, where he has relatives, Holmes said, but officials there rejected the idea. Holmes said White asked several times for permission to finish out the year in San Francisco, but California parole officials turned him down.
Holmes said he visited White once a day for the first three months of his parole and later saw him two or three times a week. They usually spoke for no more than 15 minutes, he said. They never shared a meal.
The parole agent said he and White talked about the Dodgers or the San Francisco 49ers, whose season the “sober and serious” White watched closely. White went to several Olympic events.
Holmes said he was intrigued by White’s crimes and wanted to find out how much of a threat his parolee could still be to society. So, although White was mostly untalkative, he tried to drag out the conversations by asking questions.
“He believed homosexuals had changed San Francisco . . . negatively. He felt that there had been an influx into the city,” Holmes said.
“He loved San Francisco. He grew up there and liked it, he loved it.”
The parole agent said White was “very relaxed and calm” during the one conversation when the subject of homosexuals came up.
“I asked him if he had any remorse over those killings,” Holmes said. “I asked him that specifically. He didn’t answer right away. He thought about it awhile. He took time to think. He said he felt remorse for the families of the victims but not for the victims, and he said he didn’t want to go into it any more.”
Holmes said White made him more nervous than most of the hundreds of parolees assigned to him over the years, although he was worried about the violent nature of “Onion Field” killer Jimmy Lee Smith, whose parole agent he was for three days in 1983.
He said he felt that White was a threat. “This is just my emotions now, but I felt this man was cold, naturally cold and calculating and I wasn’t comfortable supervising him. He was a high-risk case.
Knew Law Enforcement
“He’d been a police officer and he knew the law-enforcement business, so it was easier for him to theorize what we might do and might not do. We kept him under 24-hour surveillance at one point and he picked up on that. He was jogging one morning and we had an agent . . . parked in the street watching him, and the next time I had a routine contact with him, the next day, he said, ‘You’re watching me, aren’t you?’ ”
After the parole year was up, White returned to his San Francisco home with his wife and children. He was discovered Monday inside a white Buick sedan in the garage, a garden hose running from the exhaust pipe into a partly opened car window.
“Was I surprised when I heard Dan White killed himself?” Holmes asked. “Yeah, I thought he had options left in his life. I thought he could build some kind of a future.”