Davis, California, an agricultural and university town of 66,000 people just west of Sacramento, arguably contends with Berkeley and Santa Monica as the most politically correct city in the Golden State. The greens in city hall built a tunnel to enable a toad to cross a major thoroughfare safely, and a few years ago a popular Davis eatery called Murder Burger renamed itself Redrum Burger to satisfy residents unnerved by the original name’s “violent” connotations. But a real-life, horrific double murder has revealed some hard truths about Davis, an otherwise low-crime town.
From 1999 through 2011, the city recorded three murders, 33 rapes, 38 robberies, and 41 assaults. The city’s violent crime rate in 2011 was far below the national average—a pattern that held for the previous decade, too. Oddly, reports from the University of California at Davis during roughly the same period paint a nightmarish picture of a place resembling early 1990s New York City. Why might that be? For 16 years, a woman named Jennifer Beeman ran the UC Davis Campus Violence Prevention Program, an arm of the campus police department. In 2011, a Yolo County superior court judge sentenced Beeman to 180 days in state prison and five years’ probation for embezzlement and falsification of records pertaining to campus violence. In 2001, for example, Beeman claimed in a federal grant application that as many as 700 Davis students were victims of rape or attempted rape every year. University officials eventually conceded that Beeman “significantly over-reported” the figures, but her fakery drew down four federal grants totaling more than $3 million. Some of that money went to a campaign to “Take Back the Night.”
Take it back from whom? Davis is as hip and multicultural as any university, which leaves students searching for fanciful monsters to kill. Two years ago, on the morning of an annual Students of Color Conference, somebody found a yellow ribbon tied around a tree, on which some joker had scrawled, “Use me as a noose.” A student opined in the campus newspaper that the ribbon was “representative of the hate and bigotry still present across our UC campus.”
Meantime, a bona fide monster lurked just outside the campus gates. Daniel Marsh, 16, is currently on trial for double murder. He is being tried as an adult but is not eligible for the death penalty. At a preliminary hearing last month, Davis police detective Ariel Pineda revealed what the boy told him after he’d been arrested for butchering an elderly couple last April. Marsh, Pineda testified, had first fantasized about killing someone when he was ten. Though young and slight of build, he fantasized about slashing the throat of the woman he blamed for breaking up his family. Marsh told Pineda he would think about how he could kill every person he met.
On the night of April 13, Marsh—then still 15—donned a black jacket, gloves, and mask and went looking for victims. Marsh not only confessed to the police but also pointed them to the evidence of his crime, asking to keep the black jacket as a souvenir. He told Pineda how he found a promising house near his own. He slit a screen and crept inside. Marsh entered a bedroom where he found Oliver Northup, 87, and Claudia Maupin, 76, sound asleep. Northrup was a founding member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, a criminal-defense attorney, and a guitarist-vocalist with the Putah Creek Crawdads, a local music group. Maupin was a church pastoral associate.
Pineda testified that Marsh confessed to standing in the room and fantasizing what he would do to the couple. When Maupin awoke and screamed, Marsh stabbed her upward of 40 times, telling the detective “she just wouldn’t die.” He stabbed each victim more than 60 times, even after they were dead because it “felt right.” Then he eviscerated both victims and put a cell phone and drinking glass into the bodies because he wanted to “mess with” the investigators. Marsh confessed that the killings gave him a high for a week; as he told Pineda, after the double murders his next goal was to beat someone to death with a baseball bat. His savagery rivaled anything in Helter Skelter.
Marsh’s story made USA Today, the New York Daily News, and the London Daily Mail. In Davis, however, the response was subdued. Shocked local politicians wondered how their fair city could become Murder Burg, but for some reason the case did not inspire the same sort of outrage that a yellow ribbon with a bit of doggerel had sparked. At UC Davis, where officials perceive rape, hatred, and bigotry at every turn, the murders created scarcely a stir.
The crime may have been ghastly, but its dynamics apparently did not conform to politically correct orthodoxies. If Daniel Marsh had stabbed to death and disemboweled two students from Tunisia, say, or a gay or lesbian couple, the campus would have erupted in protest. Marsh was doubtless brimming with hatred, but his murders failed to qualify as a hate crime. His innocent and unarmed victims were both affluent white people and not members of any accredited victim group. (Advanced age doesn’t count.) The gruesome demise of two innocents did not offer the politically correct an occasion to denounce their enemies or champion their favorite causes. If Marsh had shot Northup and Maupin, perhaps the case would have inspired rallies against “gun violence.” And though Marsh had spent time in a psychiatric hospital, his actions weren’t enough to prompt demonstrations about mental illness, on which California spends billions of dollars, with few positive results.
In Davis, liberal elites, perpetually in the subjunctive mood, show more interest in fake crime than real crime. If people truly want to “take back the night,” they should pay more attention to actual threats and less to the nostrums of the politically correct.