I recently heard a rebroadcast on NPR of a This American Life episode titled “My Undesirable Talent” that reminded me of the 2002 crime spree in my neighborhood.
The part of the episode is called Climb Spree and is about a burglar in western San Francisco that climbed up buildings and enter through a skylights, ventilation shafts, or attics to rob local businesses to support his gambling habit.
I wanted to do a spread about the “Spider-man” crime spree. I decided to visit and sketch a few of the businesses where the burglar dropped in and connect these thumbnail sketches with a map of western San Francisco.
He was dubbed the ‘Spider-man Burglar” by the SF Police but his real name is Kristain Marine. He was adopted from Korea by Midwestern parents. People at his church, (The Church of Latter Day Saints), knew him as the guy with Italian shoes who was respectful and soft spoken.
He first stole $200 from the gym where he was working and then proceeded to gamble it all away. He needed money to replace what he had stolen and lost so he committed his first “Spider-man” robbery: a concession stand at City College of San Francisco. He climbed up on the roof and lowered himself down through a skylight. He didn’t even have gloves to conceal his fingerprints so he had to use snowboard mittens.
This was the start of 63 burglaries in San Francisco. My thumbnail sketches are of the Church of Latter Day Saints in the Sunset (where he might have attended) and the The Lunch Box concession stand at City College of San Francisco, the location of his first robbery.
The next thumbnail is of Noriega Produce, on the western fridge of the continental United States. I once lived a five minute walk away and this was my local market. This market is owned by a Greek immigrant and run by his oldest son. Spider-man robbed this market and had time to have an ice cream bar at the owner’s expense. This was an assault on my neighborhood and the family businesses I patronized. Gus Vardakastanis, the owner, was killed by a hit and run driver in 2017.
The next thumbnail is of a Japanese noodle house called Hotei on 9th Avenue, near Golden Gate Park (this excellent restaurant is now closed). Marine lowered himself down into the restaurant but fell and injured himself. Outside the picture window he noticed a police car. He was trapped, his crime spree was about to end. There was only one way out and that was through the front door.
He walked out the door, said hello to the officer, and pulled his keys out and pretended to lock the door and got away.
The last thumbnail is of Clancey’s Market on the 3900 block of Irving, near Ocean Beach. Most of Marine’s burglaries where starting to show a pattern: early in the mornings on certain days and in certain neighborhoods. The police presence in the Sunset Neighborhood was increased at these times.
Marine was trying to break into this corner market but he became trapped in the attic. After a neighbor heard glass breaking the police where called and they were on the scene in minutes. Marine’s 63 robberies where now over.
Marine was a first time offender and he admitted to all his burglaries, even taking investigators to his crime scenes. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
I think the main problem with tone of the This American Life piece and with other media stories is that Marine is portrayed as some sort of comic book super hero. What he did was not super nor heroic. As I visited and sketched some of the 63 local businesses he robbed, I thought mostly about the people who owned these shops, markets, and restaurants. Many of these businesses where and are “ma and pop” family businesses, not big box corporations.
If Marine’s crimes reminded me of any literary “hero” it would be as a kind of corrupt Robin Hood.The Spider-man robber was stealing from the poor and giving it to the casinos.