Homeless Man Held in Beating Death of 94-Year-Old Nazi-Era Refugee

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Leo Hainzl and his family fled the Nazis in Austria and came to the U.S., where Hainzl came to live in peace in San Francisco and work as a contractor.  

He was known by his neighbors for growing tomatoes under the stairs of his home and for his frequent walks with his dog, Fritz.

But just after 8 a.m. on Memorial Day, the 94-year-old refugee was out walking on Elk Street near his Glen Park home, authorities say, when he was fatally beaten.

City Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said that while he didn’t know Hainzl, he was beloved in the community.

“He was, apparently, quite an amazing guy with a long life behind him -- who was not ready to go and his neighborhood was not ready for him to go,” Mandelman said Tuesday.

Within minutes of the attack, officers caught and arrested Peter Rocha, 53, a mentally ill homeless man who frequented the area over the last year. He faces charges of homicide and elder abuse.

Rocha was also well known in the neighborhood, but for different reasons. Shawn Zovod, who lives nearby, said she was walking her dog on Christmas day in the park along Elk Street last year when Rocha menaced her with a crutch.

“You look like you need a beating, I’m going to beat you up,” she recalled Rocha saying, telling her the park was for humans, not animals. Rocha contacted police, who came out and tracked down Rocha the following day.

“They had other reports of him,” she recalled the officers saying. “They effectively said that there was nothing they could do, because he hadn’t hurt anybody.”

Supervisor Mandelman confirmed that police repeatedly were summoned to deal with Rocha, offering him help each time, which he refused.

 “He was clearly an unwell individual,” he said of Rocha. “Many people, kids, vulnerable people, elderly people…were afraid of this guy.”

Mandelman said he has pushed for the city to be more aggressive in seeking to place mentally ill homeless people in mental health conservatorships. He said that had the city forced Rocha into treatment, the tragedy could have been averted and Hainzl might still be alive.

“It is even more tragic,” Mandelman said, “for the fact that it feels like it could have been avoided.”

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