Walter J. Taylor papers, 1934-2000

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Taylor, Walter J.
Walter J. Taylor was incarcerated at San Quentin and Folsom prisons from 1968 to 1973. While in jail, he founded the Sisters of Motivation and the Community Concern for Prisoners organizations to help African American convicts. He was also arrested, but never charged, as a suspect in the "Stinky Rapist" crimes in Berkeley, California, from 1973 to 1978. Collection consists largely of materials from Taylor's time in prison and as a community activist, post-prison, in Berkeley, California, during the 1970s. The majority of the materials comprises Taylor's incoming correspondence during his incarceration, which includes letters from a variety of people, especially women participating as pen pals in the Sisters of Motivation organization. Other frequent writers are Taylor's girlfriends, family members, and community organizations that he had contacted regarding his imprisonment and the general condition of black male prisoners. Post-prison materials consist largely of letters of recommendation and thanks relating to his job as a youth counselor; creative writings and poems about black culture and beauty; business flyers for his music store; and Community Concern for Prisoners materials. Collection also includes several folders of news clippings, most of which relate to Taylor being the prime suspect for the "Stinky Rapist" crimes in Berkeley from 1973 to 1978. Acquired as part of the Human Rights Archive at Duke University.
3 Linear Feet
Approx. 1950 Items
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

This collection consists of personal papers; prison and legal materials; post-prison materials; organizational papers; business flyers; community and campaign ephemera; creative works and writings by Taylor; correspondence; and news clippings.

Taylor's Personal Papers consist of items like his birth certificate, school diplomas, and certificates. These are the only materials in the collection that date from his childhood and youth. The Prison and Legal Materials Series includes items such as police reports and accounts of Taylor's burglary in 1967, San Quentin Inmate Advisory Council certificates, and grades from his classes at the prison's school. Though this is a small series, it offers insight into Taylor's activities while at the San Quentin and Folsom prisons from 1968-1973.

Post-Prison Materials include information about Taylor's activities following parole in 1973. His work for the Thresholds program is documented through letters of thanks from Oakland officials and school districts, as well as booklets about the program itself. Other materials include items from Taylor's post-prison job search, such as his work for KDIA radio. Later materials offer insight into Taylor's passions following his parole. There are several flyers and other promotional material for Taylor's record store, Oldies But Goodies, as well as documentation of a business loan. The series also documents the political scene of San Francisco in the 1970s, including rosters and candidate lists, materials from the Black Book business directory, and flyers from Taylor's run for the Oakland Community Action Agency's administrative board. This series also has the only portion of the collection dealing with Taylor's life post-1981; travel documents suggest that he was at least visiting the Caribbean in 1999-2000. Finally, there are some miscellaneous materials in this series, including flyers, leaflets, and other general materials that document life in the San Francisco area but do not relate specifically to Taylor's activities.

Materials in the Organizational Papers derive from the Sisters of Motivation, started by Taylor while in prison, and Community Concern for Prisoners, which he appears to have founded after his release from jail. This series includes sign-up sheets, letters of support from public officials and community members, and general information about the organizations. It also contains flyers and bulletins from the CCP's various events, including one with Maya Angelou and other prominent San Francisco artists and writers.

Taylor's Writings and Creative Works include a wide range of materials, beginning with poems and songs and ending with political reflections and essays on black culture. Common themes are the oppression that he faced in prison, the beauty of black women, and the struggle of African Americans for justice. Some of these materials were published as letters to the editor or as poems in black newspapers; others were simply compiled by Taylor into booklets.

The Correspondence Series comprises the largest part of the collection. The original order, based on the writer and recipient of the letter, has been retained. Most of the correspondence dates from Taylor's time in prison from 1968-1973, but there are letters from both before and after. The outgoing correspondence from his time in prison is divided into four parts. The first is Taylor's general correspondence with family, friends, community organizations, politicians, and potential employers. The other three groups consist of Taylor's letters to three girlfriends: Barbara Cheatem, Carolyn Kitson, and Alice/Betty Jo (her full name is not clear).

The incoming correspondence makes up the majority of the Correspondence series. Incoming letters are divided into: general correspondence; the Black Scholar organization; Bill and Ella Carter; Barbara Cheatem; Patricia Dickens; family members (including his parents and his children); Doris Johnson; Carlyn Kitson; his lawyers; public officials; Verdia Rhone; Allyna Robinson; Dorothy Rodgers; Jesse and Dottie Taylor (Taylor's sister and brother-in-law); Marie Taylor (Taylor's wife); and Joni Wetzcher. The "General" incoming file includes materials about Taylor's job search, his parole hearings, requests for help in getting divorced, and other materials about his health and well-being in prison. Topics of note in the letters from his lawyers and public officials include references to Taylor's protest against censorship of black newspapers and the invasion of prisoner privacy in the mail screening procedures, especially at Folsom Prison. The majority of women writing to Taylor pen pals from the Sisters of Motivation program.

The collection is rounded out by the News Clippings Series, most of which dates from Taylor's post-prison life. Some of the clippings are of Taylor's published letters to the editor or his poems; several are general black culture and society articles that do not appear to relate specifically to Taylor. The remainder of the clippings are coverage of the Stinky Rapist case, both from mainstream and black newspapers.

Acquired as part of the Human Rights Archive at Duke University.

Biographical / historical:

Walter J. Taylor was born on September 4, 1934, and was educated as a mechanic in the San Francisco area. He was convicted several times for burglary, robbery, and other crimes, and was sent to San Quentin prison in 1968 following a string of burglaries in Berkeley, California. While in prison he attended classes, read and wrote about African Americans' struggle for justice and civil rights, and served on the San Quentin Inmate Advisory Council. He was later transferred to Folsom Prison. Many of his letters from jail mention his campaigns for prisoner rights, including a right to privacy in prisoner correspondence and his protesting of the censorship of Black newspapers for prisoners.

While in prison, Taylor maintained an active correspondence with his family and friends. This was supplemented through prolific correspondence to pen pals that he met through Sisters of Motivation, an organization that he founded to enable communication between women and black male prisoners. Although the Sisters of Motivation literature claimed that it was not a dating service, Taylor's correspondence reveals that he had relationships with several women that he appears to have met through the organization.

Although he was up for parole several times previously, Taylor was eventually granted parole in 1973. He remained in the Oakland area as a counselor for Thresholds, a community advocacy group targeted at juvenile delinquents. He also served as a collections agent for KDIA Radio, and opened his own record store, Oldies But Goodies. Taylor remained an activist for prisoner rights, running at one point for the Oakland Community Action Agency's administrative board. He also founded the Community Concern for Prisoners organization to help African American men in prison. Throughout his life, Taylor appears to have been actively writing articles, essays, poems, and songs, and this activity continued as well.

In October 1978, Taylor was arrested and held for four days as a suspect in the Stinky Rapist case. The Stinky Rapist was a serial rapist in Berkeley and Oakland, California, who police believe raped at least 62 women, beginning in 1973 and lasting for five years. The rapist was deemed "stinky" because many of the women reported him having a foul smell. None of the victims were able to see their attacker, making it impossible to identify him. Taylor was suspected due to his being in the vicinity in several of the cases, as well as his reported sexual fetishes, his peculiar behavior, and his known contact with some of the victims, two of whom were members of the Sisters of Motivation. The evidence being circumstantial, however, led police to release him without charging him. Taylor subsequently reported severe repercussions for his business and his job. The rapes stopped shortly afterward, and the statute of limitations ran out in 1981.

Not much is known about Taylor's life following the Stinky Rapist suspicions. He is believed to have died in 2007.

Acquisition information:
The Walter J. Taylor papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2009 and 2013.
Processing information:

Processed by Meghan Lyon, December 2009

Encoded by Meghan Lyon, December 2009

Updated by Paula Jeannet and Sara Reams, May 2014

Accessions 2009-0269 and 2013-0210 are described in this finding aid

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
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[Identification of item], Walter J. Taylor papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University