by Doug M. Saint Clair

art by a. testa>

It's been a year and a half since the little-known assassination of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs at the Victoria Theater in San Francisco. Few probably see that event as having affected world affairs in any direct way; but, as with the Kennedy and King assassinations, one must wonder -- how different would the world be now, had those men lived?

At least the public agrees that those were murders, that the victims were real people to begin with. But the killing of "Bob" Dobbs was judged a hoax, a "comedy show." 600 people may well have seen a man shot in cold blood on that San Francisco stage, yet to this day most of them think it was an assassination satire played out by actors. That, in fact, there never was a "Bob" Dobbs at all.

It happened on January 21, 1984. It wasn't carried on the network news orthe wire services. One San Francisco paper reported it... in the entertainment section. Someone combined art, politics, and occult demonology in the murder of a powerful man, and then successfuly publicized it as comedy.

Evidence points in two directions -- both to Dobbs' own cult, The Church of the SubGenius, and to what he called "The Conspiracy." If, after all, the two have not since become one.

The origins of the Church are hard to pin down. The printed tracts have always come from Dallas, but the image of "Bob" can show up anywhere these days -- spray-painted on buildings, subliminally implanted in music videos, pasted on bus depots. Even though few of his followers have ever met him, they have felt compelled to spread his message across North America.

Whatever else the Church is, it is also disguised as a comedy group. The underground pamphlets, weird dead-of-night "radio ministries," and burlesque-like tent show revivals are funny enough -- but between the lines of Dobbs' deliberately absurd diatribes is a genuine anger. The humor masks something far more serious and, someone must have felt, more dangerous.

The 25,000 or so SubGeniuses don't exactly "girdle the globe in a great Belt of Abnormality," as the Church claims, but the cult is still spreading faster than, for instance, early Mormonism. In 1983, McGraw-Hill and the mysterious "SubGenius Foundation" published the elaborate BOOK OF THE SUBGENIUS , and "Mutant Conventions" started cropping up around the country, looking more like wild free-for-alls than anything else. The Church has always presented itself as, among other things, an excuse to party on the edge, and this may have drawn to its fold many who would otherwise have shied away from its more radical underpinnings.

Although Dobbs had a small army to do his bidding, he always insisted he didn't want mindless followers. SubGeniuses were supposed to make up their own religions, to "pull the wool over their own eyes." He never promised to save souls; he was a "Short Duration Personal Savior," a sort of fast-food for the spirit.

But it was already starting to go sour when the "SubGenius World Crusade" revival was held in San Francisco. The audience was full of what the Church scornfully calls "Bobbies" -- trendies who wanted to be seen, and seekers who wanted to be led. Some were only pretending that "Bob" was real; others probably would have given their lives for him.

The star SubGenius "preachers" and others of the Church hierarchy were planning to "shoot" a fake Dobbs lookalike as part of the show, supposedly in an effort to shock the "Bobbies." Witnesses overheard them arguing over who would get to pull the trigger of the blank gun. But so many people were carrying real guns backstage, it was difficult for outsiders to tell "security" from actors. This was unnerving; people tended to assume the Church was exagerating when it boasted of enforcement branches like"The Brotherhood of "Bob."

The Victoria Theater was dressed out like a futuristic Nazi beer hall, with enormous "Bob" posters covering the walls and a metal tub of purple Kool-Aid at the door from which everyone was supposed to drink. Some thought this a rather tasteless gesture considering the Church's early involvement with Rev. Jim Jones and The People's Temple, a relationship they'd long tried to whitewash.

For the first two hours, the revival was typical SubGenius future shock entertainment -- feverish anti-establishment jeremiads, healings, "sickenings," wristwatch-smashings, and other mostly staged violence and ecstacy. A bucket of pills was sprinkled over the heads of the faithful; a huge balloon of the Earth was exploded in a grim ritual celebrating the Apocalypse. The choir sang gospel versions of songs like "Inna Gadda Da Vida" and "In The Year 2525."

Then"The Rev. Howl" (aka Hal Robins) announced that "Bob" Dobbs was about to make his first public appearance in 13 years. Hushed murmuring filled the hall, punctuated by a few sarcastic remarks from sceptics wondering how good the "lookalike" would be. The curtain started to rise, then fell, then rose again -- some say they heard the sounds of an argument and scuffle backstage -- and then, out of the broiling theatrical fog which hid half the stage, strolled the legendary "Bob" Dobbs.

The crowd was stunned into silence for the space of a heartbeat. It was "Bob." Then a deafening roar rose up, a roar over which silencer-muffled gunshots would have been impossible to hear.

It was over in 3 seconds. A tall man later identified as D. Woodman Atwell (or "Puzzling Evidence," as he was known on his KPFA SubGenius radio show) dashed across the stage brandishing a small handgun and, as Dobbs began to wave to the crowd, fired three shots (some heard four) into his abdomen.

Dobbs started to go down, clutching his stomach. But before he hit the floor, his head was seen by many to suddenly "implode" upon itself, then splatter outward in a spray of blood. Still waving his gun, Atwell started to yell into the mike, when Bob Black of The Last International* slammed an empty liquor bottle against his head and he collapsed. * Black has since gone into hiding.

The choir and the audience erupted into screams. "The Pope of New York," David Meyer (whose armed bodyguards had done nothing to stop Dobbs' assailant), joined Robins at Dobbs' side, followed by a great crush of people streaming out from backstage. Reports vary as to what followed.

Reporter Ted Stack, who had climbed onto the stage in the bedlam, later wrote to a friend that he glimpsed "Bob's" body being hauled further backstage by three grim, official-looking men, all dressed in black. He started to follow when yet another black-clad man pushed him back, flashing some sort of badge at him. When he turned back to the crowd on stage, he realized that "... another Dobbs had taken the place of the dead man -- a fairly close lookalike, and definitely alive and breathing. His chest was covered with ketchup, and he was pretending to be dead." (From his letter to Dave Rothbell in Dallas.) Stack was suspicious that no one would acknowledge the switch, but unfortunately, he was killed in a bizarre auto accident a few weeks before he was scheduled to testify.

As the audience spontaneously began to chant, "Bob" is dead! Long live "Bob"! Kill the Pinks," Robins seized the mike and launched into an almost certainly prepared speech about how Dobbs could "never really die." The Band That Dare Not Speak Its Name performed an appropriately theatrical ending song, "Sick of "Bob," while director Paul Mavrides declared the show over and brought the curtain down.

Most audience members streamed out the exits, chattering about what a "funny show" it had been. Stack, however, and a few others who had been close to the stage, suffered a nagging feeling of unreality. Said Stack in his letter, "Everyone acted as if nothing unusual had happened. People had just seen a man killed, but they were talking about the cast party. It was like some horrible Hitchcock movie."

Another concerned witness, whose name need not be mentioned here, called the SFPD and was told not to worry, that they (and the FBI as well) "had men on the scene." But neither office would acknowledge a killing. Records showed several arrests after the "performance," but all were released almost immediately without even being booked.

Two SFPD plainclothesmen who were on duty at the show absolutely refuse comment. However, one has been quoted as laughing off questions by saying, "...some of the deadest things are the ones that never died at all."

Efforts were made to contact Mavrides and SubGenius Foundation administrator Rev. Ivan Stang in their gargoyle-lined TransAmerica Pyramid offices. They wouldn't return calls, and had beefed up personal security with guard dogs and elaborate warning systems. Questions to Church insiders were answered with furtive, hunted glances or evasive wisecracks. Attempts to contact choir members revealed that 12 of the original 15 had either moved away, or disappeared outright. Many had been using assumed names.

While independent investigators were stymied, there was interest in the 'event' from surprisingly high places. Several large multinational corporations apparently sent representatives to San Francisco to quietly look into the shooting. And, although the White House denies it, a secret investigation was conducted called "The Hinckey Commission," chaired by Republican Senator Edward Hinckey from Ohio. The Commission adjourned after only two weeks without releasing any findings, and President Reagan ordered the testimonies sealed for the next 100 years, but a few classified documents from the Commission were circulated by "dissident SubGeniuses" in the Justice Department.

These raised far more questions than answers. Much of the physical evidence has disappeared. The Victoria Theater had been crawling with government agents (Secret Service and CIA as well as police, FBI and attorney Mark Lane), but there was no cooperation between them; each made off with their own pieces of evidence, like cavemen fighting over parts of a slain dinosaur. Among the items that disappeared: the guns, the shells, the Altar, "Bob's" shoes, his pipe, his wallet... and his brain.+

+The body itself, minus the contents of the skull, was confiscated by a mysterious Dallas "forensic laboratory" and is said to repose in a block of lucite in the penthouses of an unnamed Dallas skyscraper, preventing further autopsying with the Russian "Kirlian X-Ray" technology that could positively identify the corpse as Dobbs'.


On to PART 2!!