Jimmy Carter's nephew had tragic connection with Oakland gay couple

  • by Ed Walsh, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday March 2, 2023
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The Oakland house where William Spann, former President Jimmy Carter's nephew, died in 1997. The gay couple who lived in the house died by murder-suicide two years later. Photo: Ed Walsh
The Oakland house where William Spann, former President Jimmy Carter's nephew, died in 1997. The gay couple who lived in the house died by murder-suicide two years later. Photo: Ed Walsh

Former President Jimmy Carter's closest connection to the San Francisco Bay Area may have been his nephew, William Carter Spann, who called himself the "Bad Peanut." He died more than two decades ago at the Oakland home of a troubled gay couple whose lives ended two years later in murder-suicide.

Jimmy Carter, 98, entered into hospice care, his family announced last month. Carter won the 1976 presidential election and served a single term from January 1977 to January 1981.

Spann died at the age of 51 in 1997. He abused drugs and was living with AIDS. Spann had been in and out of California prisons for most of his life. His crimes included armed robbery and weapons possession.

Spann had said that his family had disowned him but later took it back, noting that the president was supportive of him. Carter paid for his nephew's methadone treatments and provided him with other support to help him turn his life around, according to published reports.

Spann was the son of Gloria Spann, Jimmy Carter's sister, who died in 1990. One of Spann's robberies was of the Mint Tavern, a legendary gay bar in San Francisco that is still in existence as The Mint, a karaoke bar, located at 1942 Market Street. Spann was survived by a 12-year-old son and his former wife. After his death, his family requested donations be made on his behalf to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Spann's son, Richard Andrew "Drew" Spann, died in 2005 at the age of 20 in a car crash in Yuba City, California, according to published obituaries.

Spann died on a hammock on the front lawn of a home on Richmond Boulevard in Oakland where gay couple Francisco Esparza, 39, and Robert John Lothammer, 62, lived. Lothammer was a former teacher at Oakland Tech, and neighbors said Esparza had a flamboyant personality, got by doing odd jobs, and was an animal lover who took in stray dogs.

Esparza met Spann on Market Street in San Francisco on February 2, 1997. Spann was trying to sell his leather jacket for $5 for drinking money, when he met Esparza. The two pooled their money to buy a half-pint of vodka, the Associated Press reported. Esparza invited Spann to his home in Oakland. Spann's cause of death was acute ethanol poisoning, the medical term for alcohol poisoning.

The New York Times reported in 1976 that Spann testified in San Francisco Superior Court that he met and began a relationship with an inmate at San Quentin Prison where they served time for three years and continued the relationship after being released in 1975.

Decades ago, others in San Francisco also recalled Spann.

"He was a good friend of mine, such a sweet guy," well-known medical marijuana activist Dennis Peron told the Bay Area Reporter in 1999. Peron died in 2018 at 72. Peron said he met Spann at the medical marijuana club he founded and said that he thought Spann drank to cope with loneliness.

"People would drink with him but were never with him," Peron said. He recalled hugging Spann and getting the feeling that Spann never wanted to let go.

Oakland Police told the B.A.R. in 1999 that they believe Esparza killed Lothammer before hanging himself. Lothammer was found near the couple's sofa with traumatic injuries. The Alameda County Coroner's Bureau told the B.A.R. that Lothammer's death was classified as a homicide and died as a result of traumatic injuries to his neck and head.

When asked for any additional information on the 1999 case last week, Oakland Police responded that the inquiry would be forwarded to the Public Record Request Unit. By press time, that unit had not responded to the request.

Lothammer and Esparza's relationship had been characterized by years of abuse, Charles Webber, a longtime friend of Lothammer, told the B.A.R. in 1999. Webber said Lothammer was afraid of Esparza but continued to stay with him because of his low self-esteem. They met at the legendary Mission district gay bar Esta Noche in 1992. The bar closed in 2014. Webber said a pivotal moment came a year into their relationship when Esparza was acting "wildly" and police were called. But when police asked him if he wanted Esparza removed, Lothammer said no.

"He was hopeless about finding someone else or that things would get better," Webber told the B.A.R. "Robert had let things go too far too long. He was too wanting to have somebody."

After the couple's death someone left a bouquet of flowers on the fence in front of the home and someone wrote a sign with the words "Two men died here of domestic violence," then-neighbor Julia Harper told the B.A.R.

Esparza, an immigrant from Mexico, had apparently given his last name as Noyola to reporters who interviewed him after Spann's death. Esparza was identified shortly after his 1999 death as Francisco Esparaza-Noyola but the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau told the B.A.R. this week that he is listed on his death record as Francisco Esparza.

A representative for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta told the B.A.R. in 1999 that the library had a file on William Carter Spann and that he added a B.A.R. article on the murder-suicide to that file.

While Lothammer and Spann died two years apart at the same home but under very different circumstances, friends of both men believe loneliness ultimately was their real killer.

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