SF is a city that, historically, worships its kooks. And when it comes to the infamous — either because of their oddity or their crimes — we have no shortage. Undoubtedly there are more local legends that some of you would add to this list, and feel free. But bear in mind, these are people we love (or fear) because their stories are infamously funny, sordid, or zany, and because they contribute to our colorful historical fabric, not because they necessarily contributed anything to society.

Carol Doda
If you were a heterosexual man in North Beach in the 1960s and 70s, you were probably there to see Carol Doda. Made famous by her 44D breasts, Doda put the Condor Club on the map, making it the "world's first topless bar" when Doda's burlesque show began pushing the limits of decency law. (A plaque on the side of the building still commemorates the day she first bared her ample bosom, June 19, 1964, as well as her first "bottomless" performance, September 3, 1969.) Doda and club owner Gino del Prete were arrested in 1965 but subsequently cleared of lewdness charges by two judges, setting the stage for North Beach to become the red light district of SF. She was famously lowered into the club atop a baby grand piano, hung from the ceiling, from which she would begin her show. San Francisco would go on to be pioneering in even more ways, laying claim not only to the first strip clubs but to the first theatrical porn screenings too, and we have Doda partly to thank. The 78-year-old Doda is one of two living legends on our list, and these days she is the proprietor of the small lingerie boutique Champagne & Lace (1850 Union Street). Update: Sadly, Doda died in November 2015. —Jay Barmann


Emperor Norton
It's no surprise that Emperor Norton appears in literature from Robert Louis Stevenson to Mark Twain (there as a delusional king in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). After all, the self-proclaimed ruler had a life and personality best suited to fiction. Born in England and raised in South Africa, Joshua Norton arrived in San Francisco with a chunk of his father's fortune in 1849. Though he invested successfully in real estate and commodities, a lousy bet on rice and a protracted legal battle left him poor and disillusioned with the American government. Norton skipped town for a few years before returning with a decree, reprinted for laughs in The San Francisco Bulletin. "At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton... declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S." But "Norton, I, Emperor of the United States" had selected a perfect capital. As Robert Louis Stevenson phrased it, he had "fortunately found himself in the friendliest and most sentimental city in the world, the idea being 'let him be emperor if he wants to.' San Francisco played the game with him." In his signature uniform (gold-plated epaulettes, a beaver hat, and a peacock feather) Norton spent his days inspecting cable cars and spouting philosophy and, though he was thoroughly broke, his nights dining at the finest restaurants. In order to pay his debts, the emperor even issued currency and his bank notes came to be locally accepted and are now valuable collector's items. Though Norton's many attempts to dissolve the US government proved ineffectual, his genuine foresight is perhaps his greatest legacy. In 1872, he called for the immediate construction of a bridge and a tunnel between San Francisco and Oakland, and several contemporary movements to rename the Bay Bridge in his honor just go to show that we're still playing along. Note that before his death in 1880, Emperor Norton had appended his title. He was also "Protector of Mexico." — Caleb Pershan

Charles Manson
Though infamous cult leader Charles Manson's most famous crimes went down in Southern California, his "Family" got its start in San Francisco. After his release from prison in March of 1967 (he was jailed for pimping and kiting checks), Manson moved first to Berkeley then to SF, where he rented a house at 636 Cole Street from April to November of that year. (Roommates included notable Family members including Mary Brunner and Squeaky Fromme.) After that they packed up the crazy van and moved to the Valley, where he ended up with about 100 followers who believed that he was Jesus and that a world-ending race war was impending. In August 1969 he sent four of his followers to Roman Polanski's house to kill Sharon Tate and her guests, and the next night he oversaw the slaying of the LaBianca family. Eventually his Family and he were caught, and Manson was sentenced to life in prison. He was back in the Bay Area in the 1980s, serving part of his sentence at San Quentin (where he gave the above interview) and even cutting an album. He's now at Corcoran State Prison, and his one-time Cole Street house has become an attraction for the more morbid visitors to SF. Want to know more? Check out Helter Skelter, well-known as one of the greatest true crime books ever written. -- Eve Batey

Hibiscus. Photo: Ingeborg Gerdes

Of all the infamous drag legends in San Francisco, Cockettes founder Hibiscus makes our list by way of sheer originality, and lots and lots of LSD. Born George Harris to a pair of theatrical parents, Hibiscus ultimately landed in San Francisco in the late 1960s and gathered around him a gang of like-minded, mostly homosexual drug and showtune enthusiasts who out of their Haight-Ashbury commune created the bearded drag troupe The Cockettes. (Before moving to SF, Hibiscus is also thought to be the man featured in the iconic Flower Power photo taken on the Washington Mall in 1967.) Beginning with a performance in the fall of 1969, the Cockettes would go on to define San Francisco drag as something way more ironic, unpolished, satirical, and insane than any drag that had come before them, and much of their aesthetic sprang from the "genderfucked" imagination of Hibiscus. He brought to the stage the likes of Sylvester and Divine, and at North Beach's Palace Theater the Cockettes performed outlandish, drug-fueled send-ups of Old Hollywood movie musicals with titles like Tinsel Tarts In A Hot Coma, Journey to the Center of Uranus, and Gone With the Showboat to Oklahoma. (SF's Thrillpeddlers have in recent years revived Cockettes shows like Pearls Over Shanghai and revised them with help of Cockettes alum Richard “Scrumbly” Koldewyn.) The drag style of the Cockettes would go on to influence the anarchic vibe of Trannyshack, and many a bearded drag queen to come. Hibiscus left the Cockettes in the early 70s and moved ultimately moved back to New York, doing more theater and starting a glitter rock band in the early 1980s with his siblings called Hibiscus and the Screaming Violets. Sadly, at the age of 32, Hibiscus became one of the early victims of the AIDS epidemic, dying in 1982. —Jay Barmann

Yusuf Bey IV
The son of the founder of Your Black Muslim Bakery, an Oakland-based bakery slash real-estate-empire, Yusuf Bey IV started racking up arrests in 2005. At first, his crimes seemed almost laughable: an aggressive argument with a movie theatre manager here, a liquor store rampage there. By 2006, he'd allegedly tried to run down a couple bouncers who'd just thrown him out of the New Century strip club in SF, and by 2007 he stood accused of coordinating the kidnapping of two women. On August 2, 2007, Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey, who had been investigating the Bakery, was shot to death as he walked down an Oakland street, a hit ordered by Bey. In 2011, Bey was convicted in Bailey's death. Presently serving three life sentences the maximum security unit at Salinas Valley State Prison, he's reportedly now leader of an organization called "Your Black Resurrected Nation," and promised in 2012 that "there is a surprise in store for both friends and enemies." The whole story's even stranger and more intense than our space here allows, so if you want to know more, check out Thomas Peele's Killing the Messenger, which gives an exhaustive and detailed look at the rise and fall of Bey and his Bakery bad guys. -- Eve Batey

Gloria Sykes
Recently the subject of an original musical, Gloria Sykes, a 23-year-old devout Lutheran from Michigan, had only been living in SF for two weeks on the September, 1964 day that she hopped on the Hyde Street cable car. A mechanical problem caused the vehicle to slide backwards, smashing into a utility pole. In the melee, Sykes suffered a black eye, a lot of bruises, and a bump to the head. The trauma of the incident had also left her with an insatiable sex drive, she said, leading her to sue Muni for negligence. In her $500,000 suit, Sykes said she'd been compelled to sleep with over 100 men after her injury, 50 of them in one week alone (there's a great Village Voice report from the trial you can read here). The city settled with her for $50,000. These days, Sykes reportedly lives in an assisted living facility in the Midwest -- Eve Batey

By Nancy Wong (Own work) via Wikimedia commons

Jim Jones
Before it turned out to be super crazy and tragically lethal, Jim Jones' Peoples Temple was an integrationist, politically influential empire defended by Willie Brown and Harvey Milk and instrumental in electing George Moscone to the mayor's office in 1975. Jim Jones, who began his church in Indiana before moving it to California in the '60s and SF proper in the '70s, preached a sort of doomsday socialism, claiming to be the reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi, Father Divine, Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama Buddha, and Vladimir Lenin. For his part, Brown called Jones "a combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein... Chairman Mao." But sensing political pushback and fearing a forthcoming critical exposé, in the summer of 1977 Jones moved hundreds from his congregation and his "rainbow family" of adopted children to South America in Guyana, where he had already established a "sanctuary" called Jonestown in his honor. It became the site for what Jones called "Translation," what he conceived of as an act of "revolutionary suicide" that would more accurately be described as mass murder. In 1978, California congressman Leo Ryan travelled to Jonestown to investigate allegations of human rights abuses with an NBC camera crew and reporters in tow. After a Temple member attacked Ryan with a knife, the team fled for the airport, where Jones' "Red Brigade" armed guards shot and killed Ryan and four others. Later that day, Translation came: 909 inhabitants of Jonestown including 304 children, died of apparent cyanide poisoning. The famous means of ingestion was Flavor-Aid or Kool-Aid, but the "suicide" was carried out under extreme duress, basically threat of murder. Jones himself was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head, his body full of barbiturate Pentobarbital at a level that could have been lethal to someone without the tolerance of a likely addict. — Caleb Perhsan

Owsley "Bear" Stanley
Known as "The king of LSD," the man known as Bear was reportedly the first private citizen to manufacture LSD, once saying that between 1965 and 1967, he produced over a million doses. That's a lot of acid. A dropout of UC Berkeley, Stanley worked at KGO while he made his stuff, becoming a drug supplier for the Merry Pranksters and eventually moving into a role as a sound engineer for the Grateful Dead. He pumped out all the acid he could from his Point Richmond home, until acid was banned in California in 1966. In 2002, Grateful Dead biographer Dennis McNally wrote that “Without him, there simply wouldn’t have been enough acid for the psychedelic scene of the Bay Area in the Sixties to have ignited." He was killed in a car crash in his long-time home of Australia in March 2011. To learn more, check out this 2007 Rolling Stone cover story on Stanley, in which they posit that without him, the Summer of Love might never have happened. -- Eve Batey

A woman identified as Ah Toy (1828-1928).

Ah Toy
Ah Toy was one of America's first hugely famous prostitutes, coming to Gold Rush-era San Francisco in 1849 and building a business around her exoticness. She was said to be one of only seven Chinese women in the city at that time, and she had traveled originally from Hong Kong with a husband who died onboard the ship — she quickly became the mistress of the ship's captain, as the legend goes, and arrived in SF with plenty of his gold in her pocket. She made her first small fortune by charging men two bits for a "lookee" and four bits for a "feelee," thereby earning hundreds of dollars without ever having intercourse. Of course there was probably plenty of that too, but she ultimately became a madam and big successful importer of women for the sex trade, and her peep shows were said to cost one ounce of gold, or the equivalent of sixteen dollars. She also waged multiple battles in SF courts to protect her business, including one having to do with being paid by a client with phony brass coins. Later she settled in Santa Clara County where she quietly lived out the last six decades of her life, dying just shy of her 100th birthday in 1928. —Jay Barmann

Photo: Wikimedia

The Mitchell Brothers
If you haven't lived here long, you probably only know the name of the Mitchell brothers from their strip club, the O'Farrell Theatre (895 O'Farrell Street). But the Mitchells, in addition to being among SF's porn pioneers, were also involved in a famous case in which one brother, Jim, shot the other, Art, and killed him in 1991. The theater began showing porn in 1969, and the Mitchells would go on to begin making movies of their own, including seminal works of early adult cinema like Behind the Green Door. Famously in 1980 they also stood up to then mayor Dianne Feinstein, a longtime anti-porn crusader, when she said she wanted to come take a look inside. "Sure, if you buy a ticket," replied Jim, and Feinstein walked out. They were then met with raids, ostensibly regarding the health of exotic dancers, and they responded by posting Feinstein's unlisted phone number on their marquee. After the murder of his brother, Jim argued that he had to shoot Art because Art was experiencing a drug-fueled psychosis and Jim feared for his own life (read more on the case here). He ended up only serving three years of a six-year sentence, and went on to establish The Artie Fund (something Art's children denounced as the whitewashing of his murder), to collect money for a local drug rehabilitation center. Jim died in Sonoma County in 2007, and his son James would go on to be a convicted murderer as well. — Jay Barmann

Edsel Ford Fong, center.

Edsel Ford Fong
Called "San Francisco's rudest waiter," and "The Worst Waiter in History," Edsel Ford Fong became a tourist attraction unto himself as a longtime waiter at Sam Wo in Chinatown. He was known for treating just about everyone with equal disdain, throwing dishes and chopsticks down onto tables, seating people with strangers, groping female patrons, taking orders with a cigarette in his mouth, swearing, commanding people to wash their hands, and yelling reminders to people to tip him. One of his many famous lines was "Small check, big tip!" and if you left anything less than 20 percent you'd be subjected to verbal abuse. If you took too long reading the menu, he'd say, "What is this, a library?" One guy relays a story of trying to order sweet and sour pork and a diet Coke back in 1981, and Fong replied, "You Retarded? No Coke!! Tea Only!! No sweet and sour!! You see on menu?!! You get house special chow fun...No fork, chopstick only...What you want, fat man?" The truth is, they had Coke, and forks, but this was just Edsel's way. 1970s era guidebooks led tourists to the cramped upstairs dining room of Sam Wo just to enjoy some abuse, and even Armistead Maupin included Edsel in a scene from Tales of the City. He died in 1984, and of course Sam Wo was never the same — and the restaurant, sadly, closed in 2012 after over 100 years in business. —Jay Barmann

Bruno Mooshei
Bruno Mooshei and his parents emigrated to the U.S. from what is now northern Iran and opened the Persian Aub Zam Zam on Haight Street in 1941. A decade later, Mooshei took over the bar from his father and froze the place entirely for the next 50 years. A Hollywood version of the Middle East in aesthetic, the Zam Zam was always known for its dry Martinis. Boord's gin and Boissiere vermouth in a ratio of 1000 to 1, served ice cold by Mooshei, clad in a vest and tie, and generally ready to kick you and your friends out at any moment for any offense, real or imagined. Yes, he was sometimes called The Martini Nazi. For Mooshei there existed a constitution of unwritten bar rules: women were always to order first, and the only acceptable order was a Martini, with requests for other libations met with potential banishment. Yet through his vigilance and strength of character, Mooshei preserved the Zam Zam as "a place that time forgot" in the words of Chronicle columnist and Zam Zam habitué Herb Caen. Though Mooshei died in 2000, his bar — filled with patrons of whom he would probabably disapprove — lives on. — Caleb Perhsan

Dan White
On November 27, 1978 at City Hall, former SF Supervisor Dan White assassinated Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, acting under the influences of extreme depression, misunderstood pressure from conservative departments and constituents, and yes, some junk food. White was infamously convicted of manslaughter rather than murder after mounting what's become known as the "Twinkie Defense." But really, sugary foods were hardly mentioned at trial, and the name brand not at all. White's lawyers actually argued for something called "diminished capacity," pointing to his mental state generally. A Vietnam veteran and fire department golden-boy, White's name first appeared in the news when he saved a woman and her baby from a fire. Eventually he was elected Supervisor of a district described by The New York Times as "a largely white, middle-class section that is hostile to the growing homosexual community of San Francisco." Though he was initially Milk's friend and even confidante despite their political differences, the two soon clashed, and White resigned his Board seat. That was a mistake his supporters, many of them manipulative, wouldn't let him forget. They lobbied him fiercely to reinstate himself as Supervisor. To that, Moscone originally agreed, but then reversed himself. Completely disgruntled and with the intention of killing not just Moscone and Milk but also then California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver, White entered City Hall through a window and carrying a revolver. When White confronted Moscone in his office to ask again for re-instatement to the Board of Supes, he was refused and shot the mayor. He then walked to the other side of the building to kill Milk. Dianne Feinstein, who would deliver the news and succeed Moscone as mayor, was the first to find the Supervisor's body. White confessed quickly, but instead of being found guilty in a cut-and-dry case of premeditated murder, he was sentenced to seven years for voluntary manslaughter, a punishment so deplored it sparked the city's White Night Riots. He served five years of the sentence before going free, and though Mayor Feinstein publicly warned him not to, White returned to his family in San Francisco in the mid-80s. He committed suicide less than two years later. — Caleb Perhsan

Huey P. Newton
The Black Panther Party co-founder, political activist and revolutionary Huey Newton was born the son of a sharecropper in Louisiana. His family relocated to Oakland in 1945, and though he graduated high school unable to read, the self-taught Newton received a bachelor's degree from University of California, Santa Cruz in 1974 and, in 1980, a Ph.D. in the history of consciousness. In some ways, his studies grew out of his 1966 founding of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, a group that hoped to bring about social change and prosperity for African Americans in part by invoking the threat of violence as a catalyst. Newton's own history of involvement in violence is long. He served six months in prison for assault with a deadly weapon after repeatedly stabbing a man with a steak knife in 1964, and may have killed a 17-year-old Oakland girl in 1974 after she called him a pet name. To escape potential retribution for that one, Newton spent some time in Havana, where he incidentally met Jim Jones. Most infamous, though, was the 1967 death of Officer John Frey. Newton and a friend were pulled over by this Oakland police officer who ended up fatally shot, though a gun was not found on Newton or his friend. Newton also died by the gun, in 1989 when he was shot in West Oakland by a 24-year-old member of the Black Guerrilla Family. — Caleb Perhsan

Frank Chu with his trademark sign in the Financial District. January 14th, 2014. (Photo: Bhautik Joshi)

Frank Chu
Though perhaps more famous now than he is infamous, local kook and constant protester Frank Chu gets around. With his signs about the "12 galaxies" and Bill Clinton, he photobombed before photobombing was even a thing. No one really gets what he's talking about, and he suffers from some kind of mental illness (at one point several years ago his Wikipedia page mentioned a story in which he allegedly held family members hostage in Oakland when he was 24, however that story has since been removed). But we love him for his persistence as well as his harmless eccentricity. He even has a business card! And he had a bar named after his cause! But, alas, that bar, 12 Galaxies, is gone. Frank, however, is forever, and you can read more about him in his Reddit AMA from last year. — Jay Barmann

Photo: Wikimedia

Anson Parsons Hotaling
This list wouldn't be complete without one the famed purveyors of San Francisco's favorite vice: booze. Anson Parsons Hotaling came to Gold Rush-era San Francisco and soon established a successful wine and spirits business in the 1850s. He would ultimately start a shipping business as well, but when the 1906 earthquake and fire came along, he was the owner of a building at 451 Jackson Street that served as his warehouse for one of the biggest stashes of whiskey on the West Coast. As the fires advanced, as Atlas Obscura tells it, a group of Army men came to demolish the Hotaling Building in order to save a government building next door. But when they discovered all the whiskey inside (perhaps pointed out by Hotaling himself), they instead decided to try to save the entire block, and ran hoses from the Bay to pump salt water to fend off the flames. The building, along with the rest of this section of Jackson Street, remains one of the only intact pieces of pre-1906 architecture downtown, and it bears a plaque with a post-earthquake limerick by local poet Charles Field: "If, as they say, God spanked the town for being over-frisky, why did He burn His churches down and spare Hotaling's whiskey?" —Jay Barmann

via Wikimedia commons