The Murder in the Church
- Written by Jim Lucas
Parent Category: History
Last Updated on 17 October 2013
I have been researching San Francisco Greek history for years and give talks regarding our history. Most people are accustomed to hearing stories of success and triumph and we rarely ever delve into negative topics. I do not particularly like them although I think it's important to talk about them. They are a part of the Greek-American experience.
I remember an occasion where an elderly member of the Annunciation Cathedral community came up to me and said “Did you know that someone was murdered at Annunciation during World War II? My first reaction was disbelief. However I had to research the story and found that it was true.
The murder occurred on Sunday, August 22, 1943, and the details of this event were front page headlines in San Francisco newspapers on Monday, August 23, 1943. The central figures in this story are Peter Raftopoulos, Maria Raftopoulos, Bessie Raftopoulos, and Aristides (Eddie) Dafnos.
Maria (Jaffas) Raftopoulos was born August 26, 1913, in Oregon. By 1930, she had settled in San Francisco with her mother and her stepfather Michael Callas (and his children) at 340 Shotwell Street. She worked as a fountain clerk. In 1931, she worked at Granat Bros Jewelry. During this time she met and married Peter Raftopoulos.
At the time of their marriage, Peter Raftopoulos was 21 years older than Maria. He was born January 17, 1891, and he had immigrated to the US in 1905 at the age of 14. Initially, he worked in cafes. For a short period he was a salesman. At the time of the murder he owned a cafe at 92 Embarcardero.
The couple was blessed with a child Bessie Maria on August 24, 1932. They settled into a home at 2034 Scott Street. However, in the 1940s their lives would change.
In 1942 Mrs. Raftopoulos asked her husband for a divorce. Mr. Raftopoulos immediately thought his wife was being unfaithful. He purchased a gun with the intent on finding the man who broke up his home.
On March 12, 1943, Mr. Raftopoulos chased Mr. Dafnos down an alley near Fifteenth and Valencia Streets, took several shots at him and missed. Mr. Raftopoulos was charged with “assault to commit murder.” The charge was dismissed when Mr. Dafnos decided not to press charges.
On August 22, 1943, Mr. Dafnos decides to go to church at Annunciation Cathedral with two friends, Steve Pasadis and Diogenis Franco. Mr. Raftopoulos is also at Annunciation Cathedral singing in the choir loft. Fr. Basil Lokis is speaking to the congregation. Mr. Raftopoulos sees Mr. Dafnos entering the church. He comes down from the choir loft, and enters the Narthex. Mr. Dafnos had just finished lighting a candle. Mr. Raftopoulos pulls out a gun, fires several shots at Mr. Dafnos killing him instantly.
Mr. Raftopoulos fled the scene. He stopped his car near Kearny and Clay Streets, confessed the crime to a police officer and was taken into custody. Raftopoulos said “As I saw the man who had broken up my home, everything went blank. I went insane." At his trial, he claimed that his defense was “insanity” and “the unwritten law.”
The initial reaction from members of the community was disbelief. The event happened so quickly. It was thought of as a scandal. It was a tragic event that affected the entire Greek community.
The next day the murder was front page news in every San Francisco newspaper. However there was some erroneous reporting. On August 23, 1943, the San Francisco Examiner reported that the murder occurred at “The Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity at 245 Valencia”, an obvious error.
San Quentin prison records show he was tried, convicted of 2nd degree murder, received a sentence of "5 to Life", and sent to San Quentin Prison on February 4, 1944. Mr. Raftopoulos died in prison on August 1, 1946. He was 55 years old. The family contact listed on prison records was his daughter Bessie. Prison records show that he had a parole hearing and was scheduled to be released in 1953.
I interviewed an eye witness to the crime who tied this event to 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake which damaged the church to the point it had to be demolished. He said "A murder occurred in our church so God took our church away." This event would become known as the only murder to ever occur in a San Francisco Greek Church.
Contents copyright : Jim Lucas & Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area