In the early evening of June 10, 1900, a 19-year-old Croatian immigrant named Vido Opusich was on a mission. He was searching the streets of San Francisco for John Petrovich.
Petrovich was a 45-year-old waiter, commonly known by his nickname, Napoleon. He worked at a coffee house on the corner of Sacramento and Leidesdorff streets. At last Opusich found him at The Dalmatia, a saloon at the corner of Stockton and Pacific streets. The waiter was slightly drunk when Opusich entered the saloon and spotted him standing beside the bar.
Witnesses told police Opusich approached Napoleon, snarling something in a foreign tongue. The waiter jumped and immediately moved toward the street but Opusich pulled a revolver from his pocket and shot him. The bullet passed through Napoleon’s hat and lodged at the base of his brain. But he did not collapse. Instead, he staggered out of the saloon and into the street. Opusich followed him, firing three more shots.
According to The San Francisco Examiner, “Two bullets lodged in the head of his victim and two went wide of their mark.” Napoleon fell on the sidewalk on the corner opposite the saloon. Opusich, satisfied, then attempted to turn the gun on himself, but he was seized by two police officers Connelly and Cayot.
The police summoned a patrol wagon and forced Opusich in. Then they lifted Napoleon’s limp form in as well. They went first to the Harbor Hospital, where police surgeon Dr. S. B. Robinson took charge of Napoleon. He was alive but unconscious and mortally wounded. Petrovich died at 3 a.m., approximately nine hours after Vido Opusich shot him. Napoleon’s pockets yielded no weapons or information that could shed light on the shooting.
Vido Opusich, meanwhile, presented a sorry spectacle as he was being led from the patrol wagon to the city prison, according to The San Francisco Call. “With tears streaming down his face, he stood before the desk sergeant and tremblingly answered the questions put to him.”
He was booked on a murder charge. According to Opusich, his motives for killing John Petrovich were both chivalrous and defensive. He maintained tearfully he was “forced to shoot.”
“He was determined to kill me and I had to defend myself,” Opusich told police. He explained that Napoleon had accosted him, while he was walking with his fiancée, Miss Amelia Zipfel as they were out walking five months earlier. “Knowing the desperate character of the man, I paid little attention,” Vido continued. “I was afraid he would shoot me if I called him to account. Afterwards, he threatened to kill me if I continue to make love to Miss Zipfel.”
The police listened silently, their faces betraying nothing to the young man.
“I told him I was not afraid of him and he struck me across the forehead with a brass measure,” Opusich told them. “He inflicted a serious wound. Had it not been for a friend who went to my rescue, I’m convinced he would have sent me to the morgue. Since then, I learned he was declaring that he would not only send me to the Coroner, but that he would riddle Miss Zipfel with bullets.”
“How did you come to shoot him?”
Opusich said he bumped into Napoleon at the saloon, and the waiter approached him, swearing to do him bodily harm. “I believed my life was in danger, so I drew my revolver and fired four shots at him. A policeman grabbed me and placed me under arrest. I am sorry that it happened but I was forced to shoot him.”
“Opusich wept bitterly at the conclusion of his version of the trouble and, as he seemed to be on the verge of collapsing,” The San Francisco Call reported. “He was placed in a cell and a watch placed over him.”
The police were skeptical of Vido’s statement. It contradicted all witness accounts of the shooting, and was later called further into question by Miss Zipfel. Police found the young woman in her Mason street boarding house. Miss Zipfel admitted she knew Opusich, but said she was not engaged to him nor had she seen him for weeks. She added that she did not know John Petrovich, nor could she remember a time when she was insulted by anyone.
The authorities also visited the restaurant where Napoleon was employed. The owner said a feud started between the men because Opusich owed Napoleon money. Friends of Napoleon said the whole difficulty arose out of a blow delivered in a spirit of fun.
Not everything the young prisoner said was a lie, but the police soon learned the real motive for murdering Napoleon was far less complex, albeit much darker.
Go to Part 2!