The Face of Hate revisited; unseen photos from the trial of William Robert Tyack

The first time I photographed double murder defendant William Robert Tyack, he glared at me from the defense table. I did not know at the time that the Tyack case would be one of the defining cases in the history of violence against the LBGTQ community in America.
The first time I photographed double murder defendant William Robert Tyack, he glared at me from the defense table. I did not know at the time that the Tyack case would be one of the defining cases in the history of violence against the LBGTQ community in America. This photo was published in The Bakersfield Californian in the spring of 1982.

When I started this blog in December, one of my initial posts was “The Face of Hate,” which showed a couple of pictures from the first murder trial I ever photographed, the sensational double homicide trial of William Robert Tyack, a Bakersfield, California, tire shop owner who shot and killed his two gay neighbors in a Kern County mountain community. The blog had no followers at the time and was receiving virtually no readership – thank you everybody for changing that! – so the post has been largely unseen.

I recently took another journey through the massive collection of images from the 1980s that I have loosely assembled in a giant file cabinet down at The Bakersfield Californian, and found another set of images from the Tyack trial and I’m sharing them here. All but one of them are previously unpublished, and I hope you will find them as fascinating as I do for their historical value.

On April 20, 1982, I was assigned with reporter Michael Trihey to go to Glennville, California, a predominantly second home and vacation home mountain community about 30 miles northeast of Bakersfield. I was a 23-year-old rookie, just seven months into my photojournalism career. I knew that the Tyack trial was a big one, but I didn’t know that I was going to photograph something that virtually no photojournalist working nowadays will ever get to photograph; something rare even for the 1980s and something that I can’t ever imagine even being photographed again, especially with the unrestricted access I had that day. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you look at the pictures.

But I need to start by giving you a little background on the murders of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Moses Wooster and the trial of his killer, William Robert Tyack. It all comes from the extensive media coverage and trial testimony. Tyack was the owner of a Bakersfield tire shop who became angered that two homosexual men, Blankenship, 38, of Big Bear City and Wooster, 26, of Los Angeles, had become his neighbors in Glennville. According to testimony presented by the prosecution, he had openly expressed his anger and stated that if given a chance to kill the men, he would. In August, 1981, Tyack encountered Blankenship and Wooster on one of the isolated roads outside Glennville, and they engaged in a confrontation. The incident ended with Tyack shooting Blankenship once in the chest, and Wooster four times, including twice in the back. Both men died at the scene.

(In 2011, a man name Tom who identified himself as Wooster’s older brother engaged in a lengthy online discussion on the “Adventist Today” web site titled “God Loves Gays and So Should We.” Here’s what Tom wrote about Sidney Wooster’s murder during a particularly heated exchange: ” My younger brother, Sidney was murdered in Bakersfield, CA in August of 1981 along with his boss Jack Blankenship on a dirt road, at about 21:30 hrs., and yes I’ve got the 8 X 10 color glossy’s of the scene – and I can see the path where my brother crawled while the 4 bullets bleed his life out of him. Ok, the murderer, William Robert Tyack shot and killed his boss Jack – as they were going out to talk to a man about listing his property with the realestate firm. Mr. Tyack said: “I aimed to kill those 2 gay guys.” —- How dare you tell me I don’t know anything!!!! Mr. Tyack spent a few days in a half-way house, So would you like a little of my rage directed at YOU????” Here’s the link to the entire Adventist exchange.)

In one of the most closely-followed trials of its time and one that still resonates and is referenced today as violent crimes against LBGTQ (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender and Queer) people remain a major social issue, Tyack, 42, was acquitted in the killing of Blankenship and convicted of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter against Wooster. The case would reinforce a national impression of Bakersfield and Kern County being a place where violence against gays is tolerated, but many courtroom observers pointed out that the verdict was likely more a result of defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi “out-lawyering” prosecutor Joe Beckett, whose slow and plodding courtroom style may have caused him to lose the attention of the jury.

Today, violence against the LBGTQ community is still an important social issue in America, and the Tyack case and trial almost always surfaces as a reminder of what many believe is a tolerance in society of such crime. According to this BuzzFeed article detailing a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, while overall violent crime against LBGTQ people decreased in the past year, homicides rose. And a pair of newer, clearly defined targets have seen in increase in violence: gays and lesbians of color and transgender people.

On that day in April, 1982, I had no idea at the time that I would photograph one of the most remarkable scenes of my career. The trial of William Robert Tyack was being moved to the location of the murders of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Wooster. Bakersfield Californian reporter Michael Trihey and I joined the caravan of court officials, police, defendant Tyack, the jurors and, remarkably, just a few other media members, to the scene outside Glennville. My access was unhindered and unrestricted. I was free to shoot everything, including the jurors (something completely unheard of today), and it wasn’t until I found and looked at these images a few days ago that I realized what a remarkable piece of history had been filed away in that metal cabinet for the past 33 years. Other than the first picture, which will follow this paragraph, all of the pictures from the day the William Robert Tyack trial moved to the murder scene, have never before been seen.

Kern County sheriff's technical investigator Tom Jones details the scene outside Glennville, California where two homosexual men, Sidney Moses Wooster, 26, and Jack Blankenship, 38, where shot and killed by Bakersfield businessman William Robert Tyack, 42. The judge, John Nairn, is to Jones' right.
Kern County sheriff’s technical investigator Tom Jones details the scene outside Glennville, California where two homosexual men, Sidney Moses Wooster, 26, and Jack Blankenship, 38, where shot and killed by Bakersfield businessman William Robert Tyack, 42. The judge, John Nairn, is to Jones’ right.
Jurors watch as Kern County sheriff's technical investigator explains the murder scene. The judge, John Nairn, is to the right nearest Jones, then defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi and prosecutor Joe beckett.
Jurors watch as Kern County sheriff’s technical investigator explains the murder scene. The judge, John Nairn, is to the right nearest Jones, then defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi and prosecutor Joe Beckett.
Prosecutor Joe Beckett (right) and defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi watch testimon at the murder scene. The woman is unidentified, but since she is holding a notebook, is likely one of the jurors.
Prosecutor Joe Beckett (right) and defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi watch testimony at the murder scene. The woman is unidentified, but since she is holding a notebook, is likely one of the jurors.
Double murder defendant William Robert Tyack watches the trial testimony at the location of the killings of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Moses Wooster during his 1982 trial. Tyack was acquitted in the death of Blankenship and convicted of a lesser charge in the killing of Wooster. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
Double murder defendant William Robert Tyack watches the trial testimony at the location of the killings of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Moses Wooster during his 1982 trial. Tyack was acquitted in the death of Blankenship and convicted of a lesser charge in the killing of Wooster. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
Tyack moved freely about during the trial testimony at the murder scene near Glennville, California, but Kern County sheriff's deputies constantly surrounded him.
Tyack moved freely about during the trial testimony at the murder scene near Glennville, California, but Kern County sheriff’s deputies constantly surrounded and watched him.
Judge John Nairn oversees the testimony in the trial of William Robert Tyack as jurors look on.
Judge John Nairn oversees the testimony in the trial of William Robert Tyack as jurors look on.
Another image of murder defendant William Robert Tyack watching the trial testimony from the murder location on a country road outside Glennville, California.
Another image of murder defendant William Robert Tyack watching the trial testimony from the murder location on a country road outside Glennville, California.
Defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi and his investigator Leonard Winter. The defense argued self defense and won an acquittal in the killing of Jack Blankenship and a conviction on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter in the killing of Sidney Wooster.
Defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi and his investigator Leonard Winter. The defense argued self defense and won an acquittal in the killing of Jack Blankenship and a conviction on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter in the killing of Sidney Wooster.
At the scene of the homicides of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Wooster, Kern County sheriff's detective Dwight Pendleton testifies in the trial of William Robert Tyack from the back of a pickup truck. At right is court stenographer Bob Gross and technical investigator Tom Jones is at left.
At the scene of the homicides of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Wooster, Kern County sheriff’s detective Dwight Pendleton listens from the back of a pickup truck as court stenographer Bob Gross records technical investigator Tom Jones’ (left) testimony.
An overview of the scene where the William Robert Tyack trial moved to the murder location on April 20, 1982.
An overview of the scene where the William Robert Tyack trial moved to the murder location on a dirt road outside Glennville, California on April 20, 1982.
Judge John Nairn (center) and jurors listen to testimony from Kern County sheriff's technical investigator Tom Jones at the scene of the murders of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Wooster.
Judge John Nairn (center), attorneys, media members and jurors listen to testimony from Kern County sheriff’s technical investigator Tom Jones at the scene of the murders of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Wooster.
Kern County sheriff's technical investigator Tom Jones testifying at the location where two gay men, Jack Blankenship and Sidney Wooster, were shot and killed during a confrontation with William Robert Tyack near Glennville, California in August, 1981.
Kern County sheriff’s technical investigator Tom Jones testifying at the location where two gay men, Jack Blankenship and Sidney Wooster, were shot and killed during a confrontation with William Robert Tyack near Glennville, California in August, 1981.
Two likely jurors at left, Judge John Nairn and prosecutor Joe Beckett and defense attorney watch the testimony of Kern county sheriff's technical investigator Tom Jones.
Two likely jurors at left, Judge John Nairn and prosecutor Joe Beckett and defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi watch the testimony of Kern county sheriff’s technical investigator Tom Jones.
Two vehicles put in place for most likely a visual recreation of their position on the road outside Glennville, California during the shooting deaths of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Wooster by William Robert Tyack.
Two vehicles put in place for most likely a visual recreation of their position on the road outside Glennville, California during the shooting deaths of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Wooster by William Robert Tyack.
KERO-TV bakersfield reporter Carl Schweitzer and cameraman Rob Bishop follow defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi at the murder scene where William Robert Tyack shot and killed two homosexual men near Glennville California. They were among the media on hand the day the trial was moved to the scene.
KERO-TV Bakersfield reporter Karl Schweitzer and cameraman Rob Bishop follow defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi at the murder scene where William Robert Tyack shot and killed two homosexual men near Glennville California. They were among the media on hand the day the trial was moved to the scene.

Prosecutor Joe Beckett spent more than 40 years with the Kern County District Attorney’s office. He died at age 77 in 2010. Defense attorney Timothy Lemucchi is regarded as one of Kern County’s best criminal defense attorneys, and is still practicing law. As a point of disclosure, I should say that I did not know Lemucchi when I covered this trial, or at any point in my photojournalism career, but we have become friendly in recent years and I have provided paid commercial photography services to both he and his wife. William Robert Tyack is still alive, and according to Whitney Weddell, the best known LBGTQ rights advocate and activist in the ultra-conservative Kern County, is still selling tires. She points out that the murders of Jack Blankenship and Sidney Moses Wooster and the Tyack trial are what brought her out of the closet and are the reason why she became a gay rights activist. In 1999, Tyack was arrested and faced revocation of his parole after a Fish and Game warden found him in possession of a gun. A subsequent search of his house disclosed several guns in safes and other locations on his property, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. He was charged with five counts of being an ex-felon in possession of firearms. He faced a possible life prison term under California’s “three strikes law.” According to Kern County court records, he pled guilty to one count and the other four counts were dismissed in the “furtherance of justice.” He was sentenced to one year in jail and served 14 days. He was fined $200 and was placed on three years probation.

Note: Some identifications of the individuals at the Glennville scene were provided by former deputies, reporters and court officials. If any are in error and need clarification, please contact me via comment and I will correct them.

After five days of deliberations, the jury rendered its verdict in the case of William Robert Tyack. I positioned myself in front of Tyack's wife and son, and recorded this image as they learned Tyack had been found not guilty of first degree murder and guilty of a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
After five days of deliberations, the jury rendered its verdict in the case of William Robert Tyack. I positioned myself in front of Tyack’s wife and son, and recorded this image as they learned Tyack had been found not guilty of first degree murder and guilty of a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
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18 thoughts on “The Face of Hate revisited; unseen photos from the trial of William Robert Tyack

  1. Cool stuff John. I see Schweitzer in one of those pics on the left jawing in his photogs ear. Just before I got here. I enjoy the blog. Keep it up. Best, js ________________________________

  2. When we fail to learn from our history we are bound to repeat it. Keep digging, John. Good stuff. And our history can be positive as well. I’ll keep singing about Colonel Baker, but we need to hear the mean stories as well. Thanks. judy

  3. Classic stuff John. I was a young Juvenile Probation Officer then and remember this story. Good to see old pics of high school friend Karl S., and Judge Nairn. He was a great guy and a very fair judge.

  4. Since I wasn’t born until December of ’81, this is the first I’m hearing of this at all. Wow! Is it just me or does it seem like Tyack really got off light, even that 2nd time around with the gun charges? 14 days and $200!? I’ve heard of worse punishment for traffic violations. Maybe it’s because he is part of that ‘ol boys network? Or maybe it’s due to Lemucchi, he must be one hell of an attorney!! *note to self* “if I ever find myself in some kind of crazy trouble call Lemucchi!”

  5. Beautiful job–again–John! As a young journalist at the time, I can recall gathering up every story I aired on KGEO when subpoenaed for the change of venue. Could have been a very different outcome in another locale.

  6. I remember the trial & how Tyack was basically given a “slap on the hand” for blatant murder. Involuntary manslaughter was a crock…he shot him in the back. His defense was he was scared of them because they were gay. Excuse me, what’s to be scared of, their gayness was going to rub off on him? What goes around, comes around & he will have to answer for this sin, one day.

    1. Shot him 2 times in the back makes Tyack i a coward. Afraid of them because they were gay? I’ve got a “paradise island” in the Mojave desert I’ll sell you.

  7. hi i’m working for a part time internship for a website INDshare.com which gives inspiration to the new generation to follow their passions. Can i get your interview? would you send me your email id so that i can contact you personally and send the questionnaire? thank you for your valuable time.

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