Before Michael and Suzan "Bear" Carson became the San Francisco Witch Killers they were just two unstable divorcées partying it up in the '70s' psychedelic drug culture. When they met, they were Susan Barnes, an unhappy mother of two teenaged sons, and James Carson a busboy/pot dealer with a master’s degree in Chinese studies and father to one daughter. Due to who-knows-how-many drugs, an unwavering commitment to their crazy ideology, and probably some voices in their heads, the San Francisco killers decided to rid the world of witches. The young killer couple's resemblance to the rest of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood allowed them to easily vanish into the flower child crowd.
The twisted saga of these killers saw them change names and jobs, but their allegiance to each other never waned as they traveled throughout the US and Europe spreading their macabre bastardization of Islam. Rife with contradictions, their quest to destroy witches ironically sent them down some pretty witchcraft-y paths, like getting married at Stonehenge or claiming that thunderclaps told them to kill someone. While eventually convicted of three murders, Michael and Suzan Carson likely committed more killings during their travels. Both remain incarcerated and still voice no remorse for their crimes.
According to Michael’s daughter, Jenn, Suzan tipped her already mentally ill father over the edge. Michael turned violent in the final year of his marriage to Jennifer’s mother, but it was not until he met Suzan that he became a killer. Once he became her accomplice, she renamed him Michael, after the archangel who fought the devil in the Christian Bible. Suzan was almost ten years older than Michael and by all accounts she was the puppet master and he the weak-minded student of her deranged ideologies. If we distil Suzan’s rhetoric down to single pitch it would be,
Suzan: “Let's take a bunch of psychedelics, change our last name to Bear, convert to Islam, and start hunting witches.”
Suzan created a DIY religion that she called Islam but was really an elaborate collage of justifications for the couple’s future crimes. Homosexuality, abortion, and witchcraft were causes for death, but drug use, murder, theft, anarchy, and driving without a license were just fine.
In 1978 the couple began traveling around Europe. Along the way they preached the ethos of their religion and their crusade against witchcraft. It failed to catch on, as they apparently lacked that Charlie Manson charm. It might also have been due to the glaring contradictions and ideological non-sequiturs that plagued every aspect of their belief system. In expected, oxymoronic fashion the two were wed at Stonehenge beneath the light of the moon. What’s more witchy than a moonlight wedding at the site of pagan worship?
The first victim of the Witch Killers was their Haight-Ashbury roommate Keryn Barnes, a twenty-three year old aspiring actress. According to Suzan, while hitchhiking in a rainstorm she received clear orders to return home and end the life of her roommate, who apparently had been a witch all along. Since childhood, Suzan claimed to be psychic, and in her confession she stated the reason for killing Barnes was that she was a "psychic vampire witch" who blocked Suzan's own psychic abilities.
The actual reason is much more mundane and petty. Suzan and Michael grew upset with Barnes after she declined to enter a polyamorous relationship with the couple. In March of 1981 Suzan commanded Michael to hit Barnes over the head with a frying pan as the young girl was preparing herself a snack. The frying pan did not complete the job and Suzan commanded Michael to stab her, which he did 13 times. They would later claim self defense.
The second person they were convicted of killing was their old coworker Clark Stephens from their time working on a marijuana farm in Humboldt County. During their time as fellow ranch hands working for Stephens, the couple became displeased with his heavy drinking and loud voice. Seeing his behavior as disrespect towards God, the Bears thereby deduced Stephens must be a witch.
In May of 1982 they shot Stephens using an old pistol filled with expired bullets. It took two bullets in the head to kill Stephens; in an attempt to prevent the body from being sniffed out they covered it in chick manure and burned it, burying the remains in the woods. The body was eventually found, and because they buried him near his ID, Stephens was quickly identified and their camouflage efforts went up in flames.