Desperate search for Bridget -- sister, mother, addict
Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer
March 21, 2004
Bridget Pendell could be "The Crier," a willowy woman who wanders
the darkest streets of San Francisco inexplicably weeping. She could be a
wasted-thin drug addict with tribal face tattoos who is turning tricks in the
Or she could be dead.
Her sister, Jackie Horne, wants to know, and for the past seven years,
she has been searching for Pendell all over the city.
Horne's pursuit of Pendell, whose 31st birthday is in June, shows just
how easy it is for the hard-core homeless to utterly disappear. Wherever
junkies hang out or sell their bodies for sex, from the strip joints of North
Beach to the roughest alleys of the Mission District -- that's where Horne
hands out her 8 1/2-by-11-inch "missing person" posters. She scans the haggard
faces, looking vainly for a grown-up version of the girl she played Barbie
doll games with, then asks in a quiet, urgent voice: "Can you please help me?
Have you seen my sister?"
Judging by the answers Horne gets, her sister -- a former Barbizon
modeling student who worked as a nurse before dissolving into drugs and
prostitution -- seems to be everywhere and nowhere all at once, like some
phantom of the city's homeless netherworld.
"I saw her a couple days ago, I swear," a prostitute named Crystal said
as she brushed on heavy mascara, getting ready to turn tricks on Mission
Street. "She works this street. Shoots up heavy."
"She's named Butterfly now, and she just left to work at her nice office
job," Pirate, a portly punk rocker, said on Haight Street.
"She's probably dead," said Joe, a barker at the Roaring '20s strip club
Nobody knows how many chronically homeless people are missing. They lose
touch with family and friends -- who are left to agonize and wonder about
what went wrong -- and eventually fold into the stream of panhandlers and
sidewalk sleepers. With no ID, no welfare checks, no address, they become
impossible to trace.
Even when they die.
More than 17,000 women like Pendell are reported missing in California
every year, according to Department of Justice statistics, and no records are
kept about which of those might be homeless. About 300 are found dead, and
although most of the rest are located one way or another, the whereabouts of
about 100 remain unknown at the end of every year -- and those are just the
ones who are reported.
Morgues throughout California house the remains of more than 2,000 people,
dating back 45 years, who never have been identified. No central database for
them exists, said Hallye Jordan of the state Department of Justice.
San Francisco authorities are sure that if Pendell is dead, she hasn't
shown up in their morgue. Same with Santa Cruz, the other city where Pendell
was last seen.
"We have about two bodies a year we can't identify, and we cremate
another 160 or so every year because we ID them but can't find any relatives
to come claim them," said Herb Hawley, administrator at the San Francisco
medical examiner's office. About 150 homeless people die in the city annually,
but Hawley said Pendell probably wasn't one of them because "we've only had
two Jane Does since she went missing, and one of them is 60, and the other
looks absolutely nothing like this girl."
That doesn't mean she didn't die in some other county. Or some other
state. There's no way of knowing, he said.
"It's like she just vanished off the face of the Earth," said Horne, 27,
as she walked up and down the line of homeless men and women waiting for lunch
at Glide Memorial Church one recent day. "These guys in line, all those other
homeless people around downtown -- they have relatives, too, and hopefully
some of those relatives know where they are. But Bridget? Nothing."
In all the pictures of Pendell but one -- a 1997 booking mug for a
prostitution bust in San Francisco -- a strikingly pretty young woman smiles
easily at the camera, eyes bright beneath long, brown bangs. In one snapshot,
Pendell lounges in a neat log cabin in Santa Cruz; in another, she wears a
jaunty velvet hat, looking like the model she once studied to be; in a third,
she leans back against a San Francisco pier.
While in high school in Plattsburgh, N.Y., she studied at a nearby
Barbizon modeling school for a year before the $80-a-week tuition became too
expensive and she had to drop out, said her mother, Marie Pendell of Corinth,
N.Y. After graduating in 1992, she earned her registered nursing degree at a
community college. A year later, she married and had a child.
Then the bottom fell out.
She took up with "a bad crowd," her mother said, and began following the
Grateful Dead all over the country. She got into heroin and cocaine, split
from her husband and wandered between Kansas, Florida, New York and the Bay
Area -- sometimes with her daughter, Sasha, sometimes not. By 1996, she was
a hooker sleeping in the streets or at ratty hotels in Santa Cruz and San
Francisco, turning tricks to get her next bag of heroin, hit of crack or tab
of LSD. Her sister came out to the West Coast and took Sasha to live with her
Pendell -- who sometimes used her former married name of Williamson --
went back to New York in late 1996 to stay with her mother and to try a two-
month drug rehabilitation program. That apparently was her last stab at
getting clean. "Above average in intelligence," read the doctor's report from
the Seton Health System rehab center. She left the program two days early and
went back to San Francisco.
The next April, she was busted for soliciting johns in the Mission --
her fourth bust in two years. As in the earlier arrests, she never showed for
her court hearing.
The April arrest was the last record anyone has of her. Pendell stopped
calling her family, whom she always contacted at least once a month, even in
her worst times.
When leaving for San Francisco that last time in 1996, she left a bag at
her mother's doorstep. In it were a couple of photo albums and a book of poems
Pendell had penned, with "Limitless Yet Bound" written on the face page.
The poems trace a descent into a hell that her family says they can only
Kneel next to me, at the bedside of madness, reads one page.
Several explore the agony of her addiction:
due to you
and your evils
Vomit -- on the floor
At the thought of your
Through my veins.
From her home in Delmar, upstate New York, over the past seven years, Horne
has filed missing-person reports with dozens of morgues and police departments
from Kansas to California, has posted her sister's information on 15 Web sites
and has called about 40 of her sister's friends.
As a medic in the Air Force in the early 1990s, and now as a social
worker counseling prisoners in nearby Albany, Horne has heard more than her
share of lies, anguish and promising leads before. But that was for work.
The best luck Horne had in her search for her sister was getting the
devoted attention of Debbie Hartman, an investigator with the public
administrator's division of the Santa Cruz district attorney's office, as well
as that city's Police Department.
Horne had looked just occasionally for the first few years, given up in
despair, tried again, then backed off again -- which is not unusual for
families of chronically homeless people, experts say. It's an agonizing cycle
of starting and stopping the search, almost hoping the addicted, alcoholic or
mentally ill homeless person stays away so he or she won't bring trouble home.
But in the past couple of years, as her son, Hunter, got older (he is 6
now), Horne began to grieve for her sister all the more. She talked it over
with her husband, James, and decided to renew her efforts. It was back to
making phone calls, posting Web notices and coming to San Francisco to talk
with homeless people and other street characters -- most of whom say they
are afraid to give their full names in a missing-person case.
"Bridget has never seen Hunter, this whole happy life I have now, and
that is a terrible loss," she said. "She doesn't even know our father died in
2000, of a stroke.
"I guess my search for her now is also fueled by a selfish desire to ask
for her forgiveness -- forgiveness for maybe being too uptight, for not
understanding enough of the hurt and rejection she must have felt out there in
the world. I know the more we showed our disappointment, the worse she must
"If I ever see her again, I will tell her I won't judge her. I will just
tell her Peach (Horne's family nickname) loves her."
The mystery is hardest on Pendell's 11-year-old daughter, Sasha, who
lives with her grandmother in New York.
"I mostly remember that my mom had black hair and she was pretty," Sasha
said by phone from her home. "I would really like to see her now."
Sasha likes to paint pastel landscapes and act in the school drama club.
She maintains an "A" grade average. She knows little of the life her mother
"I know she's on drugs, and my aunt tells me that's really hard," the
girl said, and she began to cry. After a moment, she went on.
"Maybe she feels bad, and maybe she doesn't want to come back into my
life while she's on drugs. But if I could see her, I would tell her I wasn't
Since April 2003, investigator Hartman has traced hundreds of leads all
over the nation. If they led anywhere, it was back to San Francisco and Santa
Cruz, where Pendell spent most of her time. Then the leads petered out.
"It's amazing how under-the-radar she is," Hartman said as she walked
alongside Horne through the Tenderloin. "I know a lot of people might not be
sympathetic to Bridget because of her prostitution and her drug use, but that
doesn't mean you don't look for her. She had a life. She has people who care
On a hunch, Horne wrote last year to Jack Bokin, the "Capp Street Rapist"
convicted of attacking prostitutes near 16th and Mission Streets -- the
strip where Pendell street-walked -- and trying to kill one with a hammer.
Bokin's crime spree ended in 1997, several months after Pendell went missing,
and investigators told Horne they believe Bokin may have killed prostitutes
who never were identified.
So Horne asked Bokin whether he knew what happened to her sister. He
denied knowing her. "You should have got help for your sister sooner; heroin
is a dead end," Bokin wrote back. "So are the Grateful Dead."
Assistant District Attorney Elliot Beckleman, who prosecuted Bokin, told
Horne that Bokin may know more than he is saying.
"Jack is always a prime suspect. He did his crimes for a number of years,
and like many sexual predators, he became very good at what he did," said
Beckleman. "He spotted the most vulnerable, and that kid Bridget was pretty
vulnerable. She'd be his kind of victim."
The most promising tips came over the past few weeks. Three people told
Horne and Hartman that a woman looking like Pendell was streetwalking in the
Mission and had tribal-style face tattoos. And more than a dozen homeless
campers at the Transbay Terminal said Pendell looks exactly like a local
drifter called "The Crier."
Descriptions of The Crier also somewhat matched that of a picture in The
Chronicle's archives, an outtake from its "Shame of the City" homelessness
series this winter -- and Horne thinks the picture resembles her sister. The
woman looks weathered, weary and older, and she was photographed in September
at the Transbay Terminal.
"The Crier is really thin, like she doesn't eat much. She walks around
slowly, weeping all the time, and we never know why she's crying," said Ann,
part of a colony sleeping on the Transbay Terminal sidewalk. "She's terribly
sad about something." Ann and her friends said they hadn't seen The Crier in a
month. Though they said they would pass Horne's poster around, Ann added one
"She might not want to be found, you know," Ann said. "Out here on the
street, you just never know."
Hartman and Horne sent dental samples to crime labs in Los Angeles and
Sacramento this year to compare with those of unidentified corpses, and this
month, they intend to send DNA samples to the state Department of Justice. The
samples -- cheek swabs from Pendell's mother -- will be on a waiting list
for about a year to be matched against more than 200 DNA samples of
unidentified remains on file.
"I hate to say it, but I think this gal's probably deceased," said Santa
Cruz Sheriff's Sgt. Fred Plagemon. "There are so many people out there like
her, at risk, lost -- and so many families get so worn out by all the
troubles that they just give up looking.
"You never find a lot of them. Just think of all the mountains and
reservoirs out there where remains can be dumped. It can be pretty awful."
Horne has been to San Francisco three times to look for her sister, most
recently in mid-February when she and the district attorney's investigator
Hartman went to Pendell's old haunts and handed out 600 posters.
The first stop was a low-rent hotel on Ellis Street, the last address
Horne had of her sister. Horne went there in 1996 to bring Sasha back to live
with her grandmother.
"We don't have anything that looks like this back home where I live,"
Horne said, gazing at the peeling beige and black paint on the outside of the
unnamed hotel, which is jammed into one of the seedier blocks of the
Tenderloin. "It's so sad out here, so many people living on the street."
Nobody inside remembered her sister. And nobody answered Horne's knock on
the battered door -- with two doorknobs and four locks -- of the room her
sister lived in. Horne shoved "missing person" flyers under several doors and
into every mailbox.
In Haight-Ashbury, she ran into the only person she met on this trip who
had actually known her sister, a Grateful Dead drifter named "Cosmic Charlie"
Aldo. She recognized him from the Ellis Street hotel, back in 1996 -- he was
rooming with Pendell then.
"Haven't seen her since 1999, '98," said Aldo, leaning against a lamppost
in front of the Haight Street Tobacco shop, which had a Jerry Garcia doll
propped in its window. "We saw a lot of great shows over the years, but the
last time I saw her was at 16th and Mission Street, where the prostitutes work.
" He said he'd check with other Deadheads, but as Horne walked away, he shook
his head sadly.
"I'd have seen her, if she was still around," he said. "But maybe we can
find out where she went."
Finding someone like Cosmic Charlie gives Horne the sort of hope she
needs to keep going. Then there are the other moments -- like the one, in
February, when she went into Glide Memorial Church to put up her poster.
The front-desk clerk barely looked up as he pointed at a bulletin board a
few feet away. "You can put it up there," he said, and as Horne reached up
with a poster, she saw the board for the first time.
She burst into tears.
The board was plastered with dozens of other notices like the one in her
hand, each bearing a different name -- Jennifer, Kristi, Marsha, Bob. None
had been gone as long as her sister.
"So many, so many," Horne gasped, then shook her head to clear it. She
tacked up her poster and walked out the door, fast. A few feet down the
sidewalk, she stopped to stare at the hundred hungry-looking men and women
waiting alongside the church wall for the daily charity lunch.
"I don't know how anyone can live like this, and I cannot imagine Bridget
living like this," Horne whispered. "I just want to touch her, to tell her I
love her, to tell her that her life means something.".The Santa Cruz Sheriff's
Office asks anyone with information about Bridget
Pendell's whereabouts to call the Sheriff's Office at (831) 454-3532. The
Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office asks anyone with information about Bridget
Pendell's whereabouts to call the Sheriff's Office at (831) 454-3532.
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle