BERKELEY — Pictures of Islam's holiest places were on his living room wall and guns were in his bedroom.
Mehrdad Dashti had been a better-than-average electrical engineering student at San Francisco State University, yet law enforcement records portray a man with a tenuous grip on reality, a self-proclaimed "victim of a government experiment" bombarded with voices communicated by "mental telepathy."
His business cards identified him simply as a handyman with a more American-sounding name: "Michael Dashti: remodeling, painting, concrete."
Twelve years after he came to the United States from Iran, Dashti, 30, was a man in conflict--with himself, with the law, with the easygoing American culture and, it appears, with demons only he could understand.
Wednesday night--a week after San Francisco police issued a felony warrant for his arrest for passing $16,900 worth of stolen checks and 10 days after he cooked dinner for a blonde UC Berkeley student who had been ardently wooing him--Dashti apparently snapped. Police said he killed one student and wounded seven people while singling out blonde women for sexual and verbal abuse at a popular student hangout near UC Berkeley. Dashti was shot to death by a police sharpshooter.
As recently as a month ago, Dashti had asked his black roommate, UC Berkeley junior Frederick Smith of Venice, whether he knew any black women Dashti could marry. Yet, according to Smith, Dashti also alternately dated and spurned a white blonde woman named Julie.
"She liked him a lot," a shaken Smith said Thursday. "She called him all the time," Smith added, sometimes leaving "five or six" importuning phone messages a day. He said Dashti usually ignored them.
Dashti ignored but apparently did not forget them. During the night of terror, he repeatedly railed that "American women are sluts" and was especially abusive toward blondes, according to police and hostages.
"He was apparently undergoing some kind of psychotic episode," said Berkeley Police Chief Dash E. Butler, describing the suspect as "severely mentally disturbed."
Dashti's grievances with San Francisco police and U.S. government officials may have stemmed from his run-in with the law over the stolen-check charges. During the tense standoff, Berkeley police said, one of Dashti's demands was for San Francisco Police Chief Frank Jordan to pull down his pants on television.
The charges were based on the theft of blank checks from La Nouvelle Patisserie, a Union Street bakery, by an alleged accomplice on April 29, 1989, said David Ambrose, a public affairs officer at the San Francisco Police Department.
A few days later, the warrant charged, Dashti, using an alias, deposited two checks totaling $16,900. When he later attempted to withdraw the money, a suspicious teller gave him only $6,000 but instructed him to return later for the rest.
When he came back on May 9, bank employees called FBI agents, who questioned him and released him after he told of hearing voices.
On May 17, he told San Francisco Police Inspector John Quill: "I am not in control of the material that is being broadcasted through my mind. I felt that by obtaining money by the negotiation of these checks that the voices were paying me for the use of my mind."
Ambrose said he did not know why it took more than a year of investigation for a warrant to be issued for Dashti's arrest.
That is just one of the remaining mysteries in Thursday's tragedy. Though a form from the Alameda County Department of Health Services in Dashti's room reportedly stated that he had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, at least two of the five weapons that Dashti owned were licensed, Berkeley Mayor Loni Hancock said.
The weapons--which, according to Smith, included a Mac-10 assault pistol, two other handguns and two rifles--were Dashti's pride and joy. "He taught me how to shoot a few weeks ago at a local range," Smith said.
"He was always broke," said Smith, who moved in with Dashti about a month ago and planned to stay until a dorm room became available.
Still, Smith said he knew nothing about Dashti's grievances with the federal government--which police said included a demand that he be given the states of California, Oregon and Nevada. "He was a mellow guy, a nice guy, a nerd, really," Smith said.
But Wednesday night, shortly before Dashti went on a rampage, he ordered Smith to move out of the apartment by the end of this month.
"He told me he was going to Hawaii today (Thursday), that his parents in Iran had arranged a marriage for him," said Smith. Was it true, or was it just another of Dashti's fantasies? "At this point, who can tell?" Smith replied, shaking his head sadly.