Daniel James "Dan" White (September 2, 1946 – October 21, 1985) was a San Francisco supervisor who assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, on November 27, 1978, at San Francisco City Hall. In a controversial verdict that led to the coining of the legal slang "Twinkie defense," White was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder in the deaths of Milk and Moscone. Less than two years after serving a sentence of five years, White returned to San Francisco and committed suicide. San Francisco Weekly has referred to White as "perhaps the most hated man in San Francisco's history."[1]

Early lifeEdit

Daniel James White was born in Los Angeles County,[2] the second of 10 children. He was raised by working-class parents in a Roman Catholic household in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. He attended Riordan High School and was expelled for violence during his junior year. He went on to attend Woodrow Wilson High School [3] where he was valedictorian of his class. He enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1965 and served in the Vietnam War before being honorably discharged in 1972 and returning to San Francisco to work as a San Francisco police officer. He quit the force after reporting another officer for beating a handcuffed suspect.[1]

White then became a firefighter with the San Francisco Fire Department. While on the job, White's rescue of a woman and her baby from a seventh-floor apartment in the Geneva Towers was covered by The San Francisco Chronicle.[1] Due to his background, the city's newspapers referred to him as "an all-American boy".[4]


Election as supervisorEdit

In 1977, White was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as a Democrat from District 8, which included several neighborhoods near the southeastern limits of San Francisco. At this time, supervisors were elected by district and not "at-large," as they had been before and then again in the 1980s and 1990s. He had strong support from the police and firefighter's unions. His district was described by The New York Times as "a largely white, middle-class section that is hostile to the growing homosexual community of San Francisco." As a supervisor, White made it clear that he saw himself as the board's "defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics."[5]

Tenure as a supervisorEdit

Despite their personal differences, White and Supervisor Harvey Milk initially had several areas of political agreement and they reportedly worked well together. Milk was one of three supervisors invited to the baptism of White's new baby shortly after the election. White also persuaded Dianne Feinstein to appoint Milk chairman of the Streets and Transportation Committee.[1]

The Catholic Church proposed a facility for juvenile offenders who had committed murder, arson, rape, and other crimes in White's district in April 1978. White was strongly opposed, while Milk supported the facility, and this difference led to a falling out between the two.[1] White held a mixed record on gay rights issues, both opposing the Briggs Initiative and voting against an ordinance prohibiting anti-gay housing and employment discrimination.[1]

The assassinationsEdit

After the falling out between White and Milk over the proposed rehab center, White frequently clashed with Milk as well as other members of the board. On November 10, 1978, White resigned his seat as supervisor.[5] The reasons he cited were his dissatisfaction with what he saw as the corrupt inner-workings of San Francisco city politics, as well as the difficulty in making a living without a police officer's or firefighter's salary, jobs he could not hold legally while serving as supervisor. White opened a restaurant at Pier 39, which had failed to become profitable. After reconsidering, White reversed his resignation on November 14, 1978 after his supporters lobbied him to seek reappointment from George Moscone.

Moscone initially agreed to White's request, but later refused the reappointment at the urging of Milk and others. On November 27, 1978, White visited San Francisco City Hall to meet with the mayor and make a final plea to get his job back. He arrived that day by climbing through a first-floor window on the side of City Hall carrying a loaded gun and 10 rounds of ammunition. By entering the building through the window, White was able to circumvent the recently installed metal detectors. After entering Moscone's office, White pleaded to be reinstated as supervisor, but Moscone turned down his request. White then shot and killed Moscone by shooting him in the shoulder, chest, and twice in the head. He then reloaded his weapon and moved to the other side of City Hall to Milk's office, fatally shooting him five times, the final two head shots fired with the gun leaning against Milk's skull, as later determined by the coroner. White then fled City Hall, turning himself in at the San Francisco's Northern Police Station where he had been a police officer. While being interviewed by investigators, White recorded a tearful confession, stating, "I just shot him."


Main article: Twinkie defense

At the trial, White's defense team argued that his mental state at the time of the killings was one of diminished capacity due to depression. They argued, therefore, he was not capable of premeditating the killings, and thus was not legally guilty of first-degree murder. Forensic psychiatrist Martin Blinder testified that White was suffering from depression and pointed to several behavioral symptoms of that depression, including the fact that White had gone from being highly health-conscious to consuming sugary foods and drinks. When the prosecution played a recording of White's confession, several jurors wept as they listened to what was described as "a man pushed beyond his endurance." Many people familiar with city hall claimed that it was common to enter through the window to save time. A police officer friend of White claimed to reporters that several officials carried weapons at this time and speculated that White carried the extra ammunition as a habit that police officers abide to. The jury found White guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than first degree murder. Outrage within San Francisco's gay community over the resulting seven-year sentence sparked the city's White Night Riots; general disdain for the outcome of the court case led to the elimination of California's "diminished capacity" law.[6][7]

Imprisonment and suicideEdit

White served five years of his seven-year sentence at Soledad State Prison and was paroled on January 6, 1984. Fearing White might be murdered in retaliation for his crimes, California State Corrections Officials secretly transported him to Los Angeles, where he served a year's parole. After satisfying the terms of his parole, White planned to return to his lifelong home of San Francisco; Mayor Dianne Feinstein subsequently issued a public announcement of his plans, and a statement formally asking White not to return. Nevertheless, White did move back to San Francisco and attempted to restore his life with his wife and children. His marriage soon disintegrated.

On October 21, 1985, less than two years after his release from prison, White committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to the inside of his car. White had been listening to a recording of Paddy Reilly's rendition of "The Town I Loved So Well" on the car's cassette player. White's body was discovered by his brother, Thomas, shortly before 2 p.m. the same day.[8]

White was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California, with a traditional government-furnished headstone issued for war veterans. He was survived by his two sons (seven and four years old), and an infant daughter.[8]


In 1998, Frank Falzon, the homicide inspector with the San Francisco police to whom White had turned himself in after the killings, said that he met White in 1984, and that at this meeting White had confessed that he had the intention to kill not only Moscone and Milk, but another supervisor, Carol Ruth Silver, and then-member of the California State Assembly (and future San Francisco Mayor) Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. also. Falzon quoted White as having said, "I was on a mission. I wanted four of them. Carol Ruth Silver, she was the biggest snake ... and Willie Brown, he was masterminding the whole thing." In 1975, Brown had authored the bill that legalized homosexuality in California. Falzon indicated that he believed White, stating, "I felt like I had been hit by a sledge-hammer ... I found out it was a premeditated murder."[9]

Portrayals in mediaEdit

  • The story of the assassinations is told in the Academy Award-winning documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), which came out about a year before White committed suicide.
  • During his run for mayor of San Francisco, former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra announced his intent to erect statues of Dan White all over the city so people could throw eggs at them to "relieve tension." While with the Dead Kennedys he performed a version of I Fought the Law with the lyrics re-written to be about the Moscone-Milk assassinations.
  • Execution of Justice, a play by Emily Mann, chronicles the events leading to the assassinations. In 1999, the play was adapted to film for Showtime, with Tim Daly portraying White.
  • The song Special Treatment for the Family Man by San Francisco band Tuxedomoon is a comment on the trial and verdict.
  • The assassinations were the basis for a scene in the 1987 Science fiction movie RoboCop in which a deranged former municipal official holds the Mayor and others hostage and demands his job back.[10]
  • Actor Josh Brolin was nominated for an Academy Award for playing Dan White in Gus Van Sant's 2008 biopic Milk, which opened with wide release from Focus Features. The film suggests that Milk believed White may have been a closeted gay man.[11] However, there is no evidence to suggest that Dan White was homosexual.[1]
  • Court psychiatrist Martin Blinder M.D. devoted a chapter of his 1985 book Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives to the Dan White case, including interviews. The book was written prior to White's release and suicide.
  • San Francisco punk music band The Cosmetics recorded the song "Twinkie Madness" about the Dan White case, and his "twinkie defense" in 1980.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Dan White's Motive More About Betrayal Than Homophobia. By John Geluardi. San Francisco Weekly. Published January 29, 2008.
  2. "California Birth Index", hosted at ancestry. "Daniel James White, born September 2, 1946 Los Angeles County"
  3. Mike Weiss, Double Play: The San Francisco City Hall Killings (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1984) pp. 49, 54.
  4. Ebert, Roger. Milk. The Chicago Sun Times. Published November 24, 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Turner, Wallace. "Suspect Sought Job", The New York Times, November 28, 1978. 
  6. Pogash, Carol. "Myth of the 'Twinkie defense'", San Francisco Chronicle, 2003-11-23, p. D-1. Retrieved on 2008-12-03. 
  7. Daniel James White Trial: 1979 - Double Execution. Net Industries. Retrieved on 2008-12-03.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Robert Lindsey (1985-10-22). Dan White, Killer Of San Francisco Mayor, A Suicide. New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-12-29.
  9. Weiss (1998).
  10. Template:Citebook
  11. Template:Citenews


External linksEdit

Wikipedialogo This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Dan White. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.. As with LGBT Info, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.

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