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Noteman

How do I do this? How do I start to write about this? I don’t want to be callous or exploitive of another’s tragedy. How many times have you picked up the newspaper or, now in the 21st century, opened the homepage of the local press and discovered a name there that you knew? If you live long enough in one place and get around town a fair amount, it is only natural that this would happen with increasing frequency. In my case, it was a person who was murdered a week ago and listed as our city’s first homicide. The person was found dead in his home just a few blocks from where I live. This is not unusual. During the three decades I have lived in West Berkeley, a number of people have been killed in my neighborhood. One murder was committed during the night at the intersection near my house.

I met Sylvan Fuselier when I was working for a local nonprofit organization that assisted homeless people with finding employment. By writing this, I am breaching client confidentiality. Sylvan was a client as a homeless person at the time. If that agency was still in business, I could be fired for disclosing that, but we shuttered our doors about a decade ago. I’m not sure what other consequences I could be facing with this story.

Sylvan was one of thousands of people who received services through our agency. I assisted people with writing their resumes and finding job leads on the Internet. In fact, the Nineties were interesting years to be in the job counseling business. Web sites, like Craig’s List,  were springing up where jobs could be advertised. Hotmail suddenly gave everyone access to an email account. No longer did you need to subscribe to an ISP or work for a university or company that had an Internet domain, such as .edu or .com. For our clients, it meant being able to have an address on the Internet, giving them a way for employers to contact them.

I never connected Sylvan with the stories of a string of robberies happening in the South Berkeley and North Oakland neighborhoods over a two-year period. I saw the police sketch a number of times in the local press and didn’t see any resemblance to the person who was walking into my office every day. The stories were the same. A man came into a business and handed a note to the person at the cash register. The message was a demand for money. The person didn’t have a gun and was consistently described as being polite. Victims kept remarking how nice he was as he was taking their money. When he was arrested, everyone in our office was as surprised as I was. Then again, why not Sylvan? He was very nice, somewhat quiet, and always polite. In that, he fit Noteman’s description perfectly.

When I saw the article, I immediately emailed the reporter Henry Lee what I remembered and included a link to the 1996 Chronicle story on his arrest. Lee’s response was “Good lord!” and published the update to his story.

A further Google search has not provided information on what happened after his arrest. My memory is that he was found guilty and spent some time in prison. If this is wrong, I will correct it. I saw Sylvan on the street some years later. I told him I remembered him as a client. I was too shy to discuss the Noteman incident. I wish I had now to satisfy my curiosity. i have also wondered if there was a connection to another case in Sacramento. That was the case of Roofman.

The Roofman burglaries took place from 1998 to 2000. Though most occurred in Northern California, Roofman hit locations in 38 states from coast to coast. Frequently, his target location was a McDonald’s restaurant, though he hit other businesses, as well. He would cut a hole in the roof of the fast food restaurant, then would surprise the night crew with a demand for money. Then he locked the staff in the walk-in cooler before getting away with the loot.

Like Sylvan, Jeffery Allen Manchester, was always referred to as polite by his victims. He even let them get their jackets before locking them in the cooler. His story became more bizarre a few years later when he escaped from prison by hiding under a delivery truck and was found later living in an abandoned store in North Carolina. I remember reading at the time of his arrest that he said he was inspired by another robber who was polite to his victims. Was he referring to Noteman? He had been an Army soldier from Concord, so he certainly could have read the local news about Sylvan.

So how do I end this? I guess my questions will never be answered about any connection between Noteman and Roofman. I do feel sad about the loss of a person I once tried to help. In fact, I feel sad whenever I recognize the name of a former client who has failed to gain self sufficiency, even getting into trouble and going to prison. On the other hand, I continue to have people come up to me on the street and thank me for the services of the agency where I used to work. For them, the biggest sadness is that we lost our funding and went out of business. For me, it was an interesting time to meet some very interesting characters. Noteman was one of them.

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March 7, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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