A Shattered Peace
Death of local characters shakes laid-back resort town
Pamela J. Podger, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 28, 1998
(10-28) 04:00 PST GUERNEVILLE -- Main Street, Guerneville, is worlds away from Main Street, U.S.A.
Here, in this let-it-be resort that attracts gays and straights alike, tattooed bikers mingle with tourists, summertime revelers splash in the Russian River waters, and liquor flows freely during daylight hours.
But a local version of ``Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil'' has jolted the trust and camaraderie here. Early Saturday, a neighbor found Horst ``Hans'' Grahlmann, 57, the owner of several gay bars, fatally shot in a lawn chair outside his secluded hilltop home in nearby Monte Rio.
One of his bar employees, Jason Aaron Blore, 26, was also killed, apparently while repairing Grahlmann's roof.
But officials do not know yet how closely the shootings may resemble the John Berendt novel about a slaying in Savannah, Ga., and the colorful characters associated with it.
It was the first double homicide in years here. Sonoma County sheriff's deputies are
chasing leads ranging from a lover's spat to a professional hit to an angry contractor exacting vengeance upon Grahlmann for unpaid wages.
``At every block, there is a different theory,'' said John DeSalvio, a director of the Russian River Chamber of Commerce.
Gregg Gantner of the Royal Barge furnishings shop in downtown Guerneville asks browsers for the latest scuttlebutt on the grisly slaying.
``Most people don't think it was a hate crime against gays,'' Gantner said, but a crime against Grahlmann, a controversial figure who polarized the town.
Grahlmann, the owner of several gay and straight bars in Guerneville and San Francisco, had earned the enmity of many for his abrasive style. He traded on his German ancestry and kept rottweilers as guard dogs at his house. His racist comments resulted in his paying a hefty settlement to an African American man in the mid- 1990s.
Residents said deputies will be busy for a long time talking to people who were wary of both men.
Blore, nicknamed ``Dog Boy'' for wearing spiked collars, struck a colorful note in a colorful town. When dressed in drag with red yarn for hair at Halloween, people said he had ``the best legs on Main Street.''
Depending who is asked, Blore was either straight or bisexual. He worked shirtless and flaunted his tattooed torso behind the bar at one of Grahlmann's gay taverns, the Rainbow Cattle Co., where he had washed glasses and stocked beer for the past three months.
He had been employed at several of Grahlmann's Guerneville bars over the past few years, and was known as ``a wild kid, but nice,'' said Jeff Mulanix, a friend.
But apparently, he had a short fuse. In a January brawl, a drunken Blore smashed a broken beer mug on a Rainbow Cattle Co. customer's head, resulting in more than 35 stitches. Blore faced sentencing next week for the felony assault. A former girlfriend had a restraining order issued against him in May.
Blore, a former bicycle messenger in San Francisco, was a head- turner with ``a rock-a-billy appearance'' that belied his likable nature, residents say. He had several girlfriends and had been living with a woman for the past 11 months. Owners of places where the couple hung out said Blore was ``a very sweet, polite young man.''
Lieutenant Mike Brown said several investigators are interviewing people and digging for details about the murders, which took place between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Friday. Officials are examining all possibilities, but do not believe this was a murder-suicide. ``We're not ruling out anything,'' Brown said.
Kathy Corbell, who manages the Rainbow Cattle Co. bar, said she is ``devastated.'' She had known Grahlmann since he opened the former Rusty Nail, the first gay bar in nearby Forestville, in the late 1970s. As the river area became more popular with gays, Grahlmann jumped in and bought several bars, including the Stumptown Brewery, The Hiding Place and the River Theater nightclub.
Grahlmann also owned several San Francisco bars, including Zeitgeist, Lucky 13, Uncle Bert's Place and the Rat and Raven. Financial records show he had sizable debt.
``Hans was a pretty abrasive guy and was very blunt. He was the kind of guy you either liked or didn't, there was no gray area,'' Corbell said. ``He helped out a lot of people. He would float them cash, but he wasn't very public about it.''
Gregory Haas, owner of the Pink Elephant bar in Monte Rio, said one of Grahlmann's neighbors said he had heard ``a car drive by and one loud shot, followed by several muffled shots, and a loud shot.''
The neighbor also said Grahlmann had told him that a ``crazy guy'' had come to his house and hassled him. The neighbor said Grahlmann didn't heed his suggestion to buy a gun.
``It's an incredible story for this town,'' Haas said. ``Hans always wore these blue overalls and looked very poor, but he wasn't. He had a lot of irons in the fire.''
Other Guerneville residents said Grahlmann played ``power trips'' on young, sexually confused kids in the town. They said he had the money, drugs and jobs to wield influence over people. Only a few friends were invited to his secluded Monte Rio home, valued at about $196,000, with stunning views of the hills and antique cars parked out back.
``A double slaying rocks us, but it isn't too surprising given the personalities,'' said a Guerneville resident.
Corbell said there will be a memorial service for Grahlmann on Saturday.
Grahlmann's body will be flown to Berlin, where his mother lives. Funeral arrangements for Blore are pending.
Grahlmann's two rottweilers are in the county kennel.