SAN QUENTIN — Seven months after his parole from prison created an uproar that rebounded from San Francisco to San Diego, rapist-mutilator Lawrence Singleton has faded into obscurity at his new home here.
Singleton, who does not respond to media requests for interviews, has been living for six months in a trailer home on the grounds of the state prison here, but he is not behind bars and is free to visit surrounding towns in the company of parole officers. However, shopkeepers and residents in places Singleton would be expected to visit say they have not seen anyone they thought was Singleton.
"We wouldn't even recognize him," said Marvin McIntosh, manager of a Thrifty Drug Store to the north of San Quentin in San Rafael.
McIntosh said San Quentin personnel frequent his store, and it is unlikely that Singleton or his parole officers would attract any notice. "And I would guess that he has probably taken steps by now to alter his appearance," McIntosh added.
At Fry's Food on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, less than a mile from the west gate to San Quentin, store manager Leonard Hansen said that he had not seen Singleton either and that he was sure he would recognize the parolee if he did come in.
"His picture was all over the papers for weeks," Hansen said.
The story was the same at 27 other grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores near San Quentin. Nobody could say they had seen Singleton.
A majority of the clerks and managers interviewed admitted, however, that they did not think they would recognize him anyway.
Singleton may be out of the public eye, but he is not forgotten. State officials and private citizens alike are nagged by the question of what will happen in five months when Singleton's parole ends and he is free to move wherever he wishes.
"When April 25, 1988, rolls around, under the law he is a free man," said Robert Gore, assistant director of the California Department of Corrections.
That upsets some area officials, such as Rotea Gilford, San Francisco deputy mayor for criminal justice.
"Under the present system, the criminal is eventually off parole and free to go where he wants," Gilford said. "Our problem with that is not only a community safety problem, but a Larry Singleton safety problem."
Twin Cities Police Chief Phil Green, whose jurisdiction borders on San Quentin, said he is especially worried about what might happen to Singleton once he is free to leave.
"Singleton's in there at his own request for his own safety," Green said. In July, Green threatened to bill the state for any police costs that would be incurred should Singleton's presence spark riots in his jurisdiction.
Singleton was convicted of the 1978 rape and mutilation of 15-year-old Mary Vincent, whom he picked up hitchhiking in Berkeley. He drove her to the Modesto area, raped her and, in a drunken rage, chopped her forearms off with an ax and left her to die in a culvert. She survived and testified against him at his trial, which was held in San Diego on a change of venue.
Singleton served a little more than eight years of a 14-year, four-month sentence, benefiting from a law that required he be given time off for participating in a prison work/credit program.
Public outcry--fueled by the nature of his crime and the short sentence--began even before Singleton's April 25 release from the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo.
On April 2, state corrections officials announced that Singleton, who had lived in Contra Costa County before his attack on Mary Vincent, would be paroled to the Contra Costa County town of Antioch. By April 20, in the face of heated public protest, they backed down, saying he would be released to another city in Contra Costa County. On the day before his release, however, a Superior Court judge issued a restraining order blocking the state from placing Singleton anywhere in Contra Costa County.
San Francisco officials, fearful that Singleton would be moved there, sought a similar court order. San Diego officials threatened to do the same when it was suggested that the parolee might be moved there because it was the trial site.
Restraining Order Overruled
An appeals court later struck down the restraining order, but the outrage followed Singleton around Northern California after his release. Corrections officials were forced to move Singleton in secrecy, often at night. Sometimes, the secrecy was breached. On May 25, Singleton had to be removed under police guard from an apartment in the community of Rodeo after his whereabouts was made public and an angry crowd of 500 surrounded the building.
A few days later, a mob of 100 invaded a hotel in Concord on the basis of false reports that Singleton was there.
Finally, five weeks after his release, Gov. George Deukmejian ended the odyssey by ordering Singleton to live out the remaining months of his parole on the grounds of San Quentin Prison in Marin County.