Gay Minister Slain in Sacramento


A prominent gay pastor who ran a food bank in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods was stabbed to death during a robbery at the mobile home he shared with two dachshunds, police said Thursday.

The slaying of the Rev. Edward R. Sherriff, 68, follows a string of hate crimes in the Sacramento Valley, including the murder of a Redding gay couple and arson fires at three synagogues over the summer.

Detectives say they don’t know if Sherriff’s slaying was a hate crime but are investigating the possibility.


“This has affected the whole community, not just gay or straight--everybody,” said Ted Spaugy, a volunteer at Samaritan Center food bank. “We’ve had people he got off drugs, homeless people he found homes. He helped everybody.

“He didn’t have any bias or prejudice. That’s one thing he tried to stamp out.”

Sherriff, an associate pastor at the 150-member Cathedral of Promise Metropolitan Community Church, was found dead about 11 p.m. Wednesday of multiple stab wounds.

Two assailants were seen fleeing the mobile home park in the pastor’s two vehicles, a pickup truck and a Lincoln Town Car, said Glenn Graves, a Sacramento police spokesman.

Sherriff’s body was found by a church deacon who lives in the same mobile home park, church officials said. The deacon heard the barking of Sherriff’s dogs and looked inside the trailer.

“This is a tragedy beyond words,” said the Rev. Freda Smith, pastor at Cathedral of Promise.

News of Sherriff’s death reverberated far beyond Sacramento’s gay community. Known throughout town simply as Rev. Ed, Sherriff was a fixture in the impoverished Oak Park community, where he established the Samaritan Center food bank as well as two thrift shops that helped keep the charity afloat.

For the past decade he had been involved with the 150-member Cathedral of Promise, a largely gay congregation affiliated with the West Hollywood-based Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

Friends described the minister as a jovial man who lived a simple life, devoting his time, energy and finances to those in need. With his white beard, glasses and portly build, they said, Sherriff had the look of Santa Claus, a role he played at Christmas.

Some friends wondered whether the pastor might have met his assailants during his missions on Sacramento’s toughest streets. A few said they would not be surprised if Sherriff’s slaying was more than a robbery gone wrong.

“I haven’t known a gay murder where sexuality wasn’t a factor,” said Jerry Sloan, a Sacramento gay activist who was a friend and neighbor of the minister. “I have a feeling this was someone he knew, even casually.”

Investigators declined to speculate on a motive, beyond saying that the victim’s sexual orientation is being considered as a possible factor.

Reared mostly in Washington state, Sherriff began questioning his sexual orientation in his teens, friends say, about the same time he devoted his life to Christianity. After voicing concerns that he was gay, he was hospitalized and received electroshock treatments, they say. Told that the best cure was to get a wife, Sherriff married at 18 and fathered two children, both now grown.

Sherriff became a minister and quickly rose at the Church of God of Prophecy, a conservative Christian denomination. But he was excommunicated after confessing his homosexuality to a bishop. He later separated from his wife.

Sherriff moved on to start a chain of restaurants in the Northwest, which he ran for nearly two decades. He discovered a gay church in Spokane and returned to the ministry in 1983. Once again, his ascent was rapid, as Sheriff became Northwest district coordinator for Metropolitan Community Churches. He moved to Sacramento in the mid-1980s, serving as executive director of Hope House, a hospice for AIDS victims that has since closed down.

His joy, friends say, was Samaritan Center. The charity distributes hundreds of food boxes each day to people ranging from the elderly to the terminally ill. It also has a morning coffee bar that attracts the destitute, and serves holiday hot meals to the homeless.

As residents around Samaritan Center learned of Sherriff’s death Thursday, an impromptu memorial of flowers and messages sprang up in front of the food bank. One woman arrived, learned of the slaying, let out a mournful cry and dissolved into tears. Workers said calls of condolence were coming in from across the country.

A recovering drug addict who Sherriff helped wanted to put her grief into written words, Spaugy said. The woman dashed off a few heartfelt sentences on a sheet of paper and taped it near the center’s entrance.

There was a better way to honor the pastor’s memory, Spaugy told her. Stay off drugs. Stay clean.

As for the food bank volunteers, Spaugy said, “We’re going to honor Rev. Ed by keeping this place going.”