Around 2 a.m. on June 2, 2007, Hugues de la Plaza left the company of his friends at the Underground SF bar in the Lower Haight. It had been a fun night; the 36-year-old sound engineer had just gotten a new job with LeapFrog and friends recalled he was lively and jovial. 

“He was laughing, he was smiling, he was hitting on girls,” Marin Thompson told “48 Hours.” “Classic Hugues.”

The half-mile walk to his apartment at 462 Linden St. would have taken about 10 minutes. A security camera on Linden captured de la Plaza arriving at his home, a triplex with three front doors all in a row, and heading in for the night. A neighbor heard the door close. 

Once inside, he made himself a snack of rice and peas — crime scene photos show the unfinished plate and the autopsy found traces in his stomach — and used his computer to look at dating sites and check out real estate in Argentina, where he was contemplating buying a home. Sometime before 3 a.m., a half-dozing neighbor heard a “thud” come from de la Plaza’s unit. 

A view down Linden Street in San Francisco. Hugues de la Plaza was found dead in his apartment in the two-story yellow building seen at right.

A view down Linden Street in San Francisco. Hugues de la Plaza was found dead in his apartment in the two-story yellow building seen at right.

Google Street View

“Then, as I was listening to noises, I heard [de la Plaza’s] door open and close, then open and close again a few minutes later, and then I heard footsteps running down the stairs,” Orion Denley, a hotel concierge, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008.

It was jarring, sure, but who hasn’t heard doors slamming and loud sounds from a neighbor? “It didn’t sound like a scuffle going on at all,” Denley said. He went back to sleep.

At 8 a.m., one of de la Plaza’s neighbors came outside to get their morning newspaper. They saw blood all over the front porch. They called 911, and two San Francisco police officers arrived shortly after. After receiving no response from knocking on the front door, they went around back. They peeked through a kitchen window and saw more blood, so they broke down the rear door to get in. There, they found de la Plaza, stabbed three times in the chest, neck and abdomen. He was dead.

The front of 462 Linden St. in San Francisco, where Hugues de la Plaza died in June 2007.

The front of 462 Linden St. in San Francisco, where Hugues de la Plaza died in June 2007.

Google Street View

The front and back doors had been bolted from the inside. No windows were forced open. And there was no sign of an intruder.

It was the beginning of San Francisco’s most confounding locked-room mystery — one that remains unsolved 15 years later.

It wouldn’t take long for investigators to come into conflict with de la Plaza’s loved ones. After surveying the scene, SFPD detectives began wondering whether this was a suicide. Although there was blood all over, only de la Plaza’s footprints were found tracked through the house. If he’d been attacked, he never called 911 — or even shouted out to a neighbor — for help. And, of course, there were the locked doors. They began working off the theory that de la Plaza had taken drugs at the bar, come home and killed himself. 

Fifteen years on, de la Plaza’s ex-girlfriend Melissa Nix believes she may have inadvertently validated their supposition. The pair met when she was 27 and dated for four years. Although the relationship didn’t work out, Nix remained fond of de la Plaza and knew his parents back in France. She says she was the one who called to tell them their only child was dead.

FILE: Melissa Nix listens to Francois de la Plaza, the father of Hugues de la Plaza, at a press conference on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009. 

FILE: Melissa Nix listens to Francois de la Plaza, the father of Hugues de la Plaza, at a press conference on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009. 

Michael Maloney/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

When Nix first spoke with an SFPD detective, she asked if there was a possibility de la Plaza had taken his own life.

“I planted that seed, but I didn’t have access. I wasn’t in San Francisco, I didn’t know anything. I was totally blind,” she says. “… I’m thinking narcissistically that someone killed themselves over a broken heart. And thinking back, I realize plenty of people have bad breakups and don’t hurt themselves.

“He’s dating, he’s partying, he’s going to Burning Man, he’s thinking about moving to Argentina and buying real estate there with the money he saved. He was somebody who was living a pretty full life, with or without Melissa Nix.”

Nix, a journalist who was in Virginia when de la Plaza died, flew to San Francisco to begin a yearslong campaign for justice. It was obvious to friends and family the police investigation was dead-ending before it even began. If de la Plaza killed himself, where was the deadly knife? Police, improbably, speculated that after brutally stabbing himself three times, he had gone over to the kitchen sink and washed the knife clean. 

“They tried to convince us for two weeks or more that he was killed with a steak knife,” Nix says. Investigators later determined a red substance found on the knife in question was actually just a tomato stain. A toxicology screen also came back — there were no drugs in de la Plaza’s system when he died. “There’s a perfect storm of being manipulated, because within the first 48 hours they’d lost all the leads,” Nix says.

A crime scene photo from inside Hugues de la Plaza's Linden Street apartment. 

A crime scene photo from inside Hugues de la Plaza’s Linden Street apartment. 

Melissa Nix

Dr. Venus Azar conducted the autopsy for the medical examiner’s office. Along with the three blows that killed him, Azar noted a number of blunt-force trauma injuries, including small abrasions to the forehead, lip and arm.

“No information has been obtained that elucidates the manner in this case,” Azar wrote. “Although no one has any knowledge of suicidal ideation or attempts by the decedent, the scene is not inconsistent with self-inflicted stab wounds. However, it is not possible to rule out homicide. Therefore, the manner will be undetermined.”

In interviews, Azar was also indecisive.

“I did not call this a suicide at the scene,” Azar told “48 Hours” in 2010. “In fact, I remember saying, ‘This is a homicide.’ I’ve been swayed back and forth because none of this makes sense. Who would want to kill this guy? What’s the motive? It wasn’t robbery. There’s no evidence of a struggle.”

At the same time, she has also pointed to de la Plaza missing appointments and spending more money than usual in the weeks before his death. “That can be an indicator of someone who is depressed. Who knows? I didn’t know the man,” she told the Chronicle in 2009.

De la Plaza’s grieving parents hired a private investigator and filed a complaint with the French government about SFPD’s work on their son’s case. It became something of a minor international scuffle, with the French government sending forensic experts to San Francisco to reexamine the evidence. In 2009, father Francois de la Plaza held a press conference in the city, announcing through a translator that French investigators determined the case was a homicide. They believed de la Plaza opened his door and was attacked on the front porch. He managed to get back inside and lock the door behind him before dying from blood loss. 

​​“Based on the angle of entrance, he could not have done it himself,” Francois said of his son’s wounds. “No knife was ever found. For them, it was rather obvious.” He called it “appalling” that “one of the richest countries in the world, and one of the richest cities in that country” needed prodding from French authorities to properly investigate the case.

The uproar prompted SFPD to solicit multiple outside reviews of the case. In September 2009, a Los Angeles Police Department investigation speculated that de la Plaza’s cause of death was likely suicide, but pointed to the many issues with SFPD’s initial investigation making a definitive determination impossible. In particular, LAPD blamed poor communication at the scene for a probable loss of evidence. A second review, done by former San Francisco Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Ferenc, was clear in its conclusion: This was a homicide.

Hugues de la Plaza was found stabbed to death inside his apartment at 462 Linden St. in San Francisco. 

Hugues de la Plaza was found stabbed to death inside his apartment at 462 Linden St. in San Francisco. 


Ferenc found blood splatter on the exterior apartment wall “consistent with cast off from the arm movements of a knife being plunged and removed from the decedent.” He believed de la Plaza’s assailant likely attacked him from the lower landing of the front stairs. Once de la Plaza was back inside, Ferenc said the severity of his neck wound would have caused him to “exsanguinate and expire in a matter of a minute or two,” too quickly to locate his phone and call for help. Ferenc also noted a “faint” marking along de la Plaza’s hand, which may have been a defensive wound.

As for who might have done it, friends have a few theories. De la Plaza loved women and dating, and he wasn’t cautious about who he hooked up with; in the process, he may have drawn the ire of a jealous partner. He was also an occasional cocaine user, and Nix wonders if he might have stiffed the wrong dealer. She thinks the efficiency of the attack — three quick, deadly blows to the neck and torso — suggests a perpetrator with a criminal history. And as for the neighbor’s security camera, which police say didn’t capture anyone leaving de la Plaza’s residence that night, it was motion-activated and blurry, not like the high-def Nest cameras so common today.

“Anybody who’s actually casing the joint would figure out how to evade that camera,” Nix says. “This is a criminal who knew what he was doing.”

“Hugues was promiscuous. Or he’s got $100,000 in the bank and he’s not paying up. Those are the two things I think about,” Nix adds. “Neither paint him in a very good light, but he was a terrific person who I think was going through a hard time. I wouldn’t still be so upset about it if he hadn’t made such a difference in people’s lives and made life more fun and kooky. … I’ve never met anybody like him.”

As the years have gone by, Nix’s fury at the police department has since turned into frustration at the political machine. At the time, San Francisco was experiencing a spike in homicides, and short-staffed, overworked police may have already been stretched to the limit when de la Plaza’s death occurred that summer. Nix is angry that then-Mayor Gavin Newsom didn’t do more to push the case forward and allocate more resources to the police department. “Gavin Newsom just passed the buck,” she says. “It should have stopped with him.”

“It was not politically expedient for them to pay attention to it,” she adds. “That does not excuse police misconduct. We’re talking about a f—king murder. We’re talking about somebody who has a former girlfriend who was a reporter, the French government intervening, coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, worldwide coverage. And they will not investigate it properly.

“He was a white tech guy. You have to think about all the other victims in that city, the majority people of color, who never get those resources.”

A spokesperson from the San Francisco Police Department told SFGATE the case is still open and de la Plaza’s manner of death remains undetermined, just as Azar ruled 15 years ago. There are no suspects.

Nix now lives on the East Coast. Last year, she flew to France to visit with de la Plaza’s parents and friends. Over the years, they’ve become close, joined together in love for Hugues and the immense grief they still carry with them.

“It doesn’t ever go away. I think all we’re asking for is for it to be reopened as murder,” Nix says. “Just give us the dignity, stop gaslighting and call a spade a spade. It was a murder. Fifteen years have passed and it may never be solved. Can you at least give us that?”

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