Noe Valley Voice April 2004

Death of Randy Hendricks Hard to Accept

By Laura McHale Holland

It was standing room only at the Valley Tavern on 24th Street on Sunday, March 7, when more than 75 people gathered to mourn the brutal slaying of Randal Hendricks. He was stabbed multiple times by Jeffrey Gotch, a former coworker, shortly after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2.

There were no formal eulogies at the tavern where many in attendance had socialized with Hendricks over the years. The speeches were saved for a small private funeral in his native Ohio.

But Hendricks' San Francisco friends did sample salmon cooked to perfection following one of his favorite recipes, as they huddled in small groups to console one another. They also shared their fondest memories of this devoted father, fishing enthusiast, carpenter, and neighbor. Hendricks, 47, had lived in Noe Valley for over 20 years.

His family was still in shock from the tragic events of March 2. "Randy had just come home, and he was bringing groceries inside. His truck was parked in front of his house on 26th Street. That's where the attack began," says his wife Kathy DeWitt, sorrowfully recounting the stories of police and witnesses. Hendricks and DeWitt were living apart, but not divorced because "we had our differences long ago, but we wanted to remain very much a family, especially in parenting our son, Nathan, who's now 16 years old."

Hendricks fled from Gotch, running east on 26th Street, and turned right on Sanchez Street. Gotch overpowered him near Cesar Chavez Street. At this point, several passersby saw Gotch striking Hendricks with what appeared to be a large knife. Those with cell phones immediately called 911. One person on a motorcycle and another in an auto later pursued Gotch as he drove from the scene in his white Honda.

"I spoke with the witness in the car. It was impossible for him to keep up after a while because the man was driving erratically, running red lights and swerving. The man on the Harley was able to follow him all the way to where he lived out on 42nd Avenue. Gotch's girlfriend called 911 when he got inside. She could tell something was terribly wrong," DeWitt says.

When police arrived, Gotch ran to his back yard, where he stabbed himself in the heart with his knife. His own was the second life he took that night.

"We really appreciate the people who came to Randy's aid," says DeWitt. "One woman held his hand until the emergency crew arrived. A man who'd had trauma training did everything he could to help. Even though they weren't able to save Randy, it means so much to the family that they tried, that they cared," she says.

DeWitt remembers that about six years ago, when Hendricks and Gotch worked together, Hendricks told her that Gotch didn't seem quite balanced mentally. But Hendricks, easygoing by nature, took it in stride. "At some point, Gotch had a breakdown and apparently blamed it on Randy. After that, Gotch saw a counselor and was on medication. Then he went off his medication. Gotch had slashed Randy's tires in the past, but Randy had no idea the man would become fixated on him and stalk him. If he'd known his life was in danger, he would have taken steps to protect himself," she says.

Violent death is shocking any time it occurs, but for those who knew Hendricks, it is almost impossible to fathom.

"This is devastating," says his mother, Arlene Hendricks. "There's a pain in our hearts that will never heal, the horrible way that he went. Randy wouldn't have hurt anyone in his whole life. He loved the water, loved the outdoors. He was just a very simple kind of person. He had a gentle, quiet demeanor, but he had self-assurance, held everybody's respect. Even in high school his friends would do wacky things, and they would count on him to be the stabilizing force," she adds.

Hendricks was born on Jan. 21, 1957. He was one of five children born to Raymond Hendricks, the fire chief of Broadview Heights, Ohio, and his wife Arlene. His love of fishing started when he was a child, and it blossomed into a lifelong love of everything related to the sea. After graduating from Brecksville High School, near Cleveland, he attended Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Four years later, he graduated with honors and a degree in marine biology. Then he went to Mississippi, where he volunteered on a diving bell in the Gulf of Mexico. In the early '80s, he came out to San Francisco, eventually landing work as a skilled carpenter and crew foreman. He spent much of his free time outdoors and on the water along the Pacific Coast.

"During abalone season, we'd always camp on the coast near the Russian River, and Randy would be so happy diving and coming back to our tent with the abalone. There'd always be lots of other people doing the same thing, and, you know, you have to pound abalone, so in the dark you'd hear tap, tapping everywhere. It was so much fun," recalls DeWitt.

Several times each year, Hendricks went deep-sea fishing, always sharing his catch with his neighbors in Noe Valley. He usually cast his line in the waters near home, but he did have a chance recently to go to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. "On that trip, he caught the largest tuna on the boat, so he was very proud. It was 260 pounds," his mother recalls.

Hendricks was an award-winning member of the San Francisco Model Yacht Club, which meets at Spreckles Lake in Golden Gate Park. He shared all of his hobbies with his son. They especially enjoyed fishing, going to movies, and working with radio-controlled boats and cars.

In addition to his parents, wife, and son, Hendricks is survived by his sister Rita and his brothers Gary, Timothy, and Robert. m