Nancy Jo McClellan. Photo: Courtesy of McClellan family and friends/BPD
Nancy Jo McClellan. Photo: Courtesy of McClellan family and friends/BPD

A 72-year-old woman who was stabbed in South Berkeley in September has died after nearly three weeks in medical care, according to authorities.

Nancy Jo McClellan of Emeryville died Wednesday at approximately 2:30 a.m., said Berkeley Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood.

McClellan remained in the ICU following the stabbing, and died in a Berkeley care facility where she had been transferred Tuesday, according to police. Over the weekend, her family had decided to take her off life support when she failed to recover from the attack, according to community members familiar with the case.

Police will now seek murder charges against Kamau Berlin, the 18-year-old Richmond man authorities say was responsible for McClellan’s death. It is the second homicide in Berkeley this year.

“Our investigators are in touch with the district attorney’s office,” Greenwood said Wednesday morning. “We will do what we need to do to get more charges.”

Berlin was arrested by police the day of the stabbing, Sept. 19. He has been charged by the Alameda County district attorney’s office with attempted murder. He is a Berkeley Unified School District student, according to BUSD spokesman Mark Coplan.

Police say Berlin tried to steal McClellan’s Honda, then stabbed her twice in the throat when the car wouldn’t start. The assault took place at approximately 4:30 p.m. at Otis and Russell streets, not far from the Ashby BART station.

McClellan was head gardener at the Berkeley Zen Center at 1929 Russell St., adjacent to where she was attacked. Sojun Mel Weitsman, who runs the center, said there had been a wedding and reception that day, which McClellan had attended. She was on her way home when the confrontation took place.

Weitsman said McClellan had served as gardener at the zen center for 15-20 years, and was a member of the meditation-based community as well. Earlier in her life, she had studied acting, and was also involved in the local art community due to her performance and improvisation pursuits. He said she was very dedicated to her work in the garden.

“She was very protective of our garden, and was always worried that people were going to do something with it,” Weitsman said. “She was kind of abrasive but, at the same time, most people liked her.”

Weitsman said, over the past few weeks, members of the zen center have jumped in to take care of McClellan and offer support, visiting her in the hospital. He said she suffered a stroke during the attack in September, and never regained consciousness.

“It’s been very hard on the members,” he said. The center will organize a memorial service, but it has not yet been scheduled. (Berkeleyside will post the information when it is available.)

A commenter on Berkeleyside who identified herself as Maya said McClellan “was loved by many,” adding, “May God grace Nancy with gardens in heaven!”

Weitsman said zen center members have expressed concerns about safety in the neighborhood since the attack. There has been a community meeting about the incident, and a second meeting with police is in the works.

“There have always been people wandering in and out, talking to themselves on the street,” he said, of the neighborhood. “It’s kind of a crossroads, even though the street is blocked on one end. It’s about a block from BART. There’s always potentiality.”

A 2011 photograph of Kamau Berlin. Source: Facebook
A 2011 photograph of Kamau Berlin. Source: Facebook

According to court papers describing what took place the day of McClellan’s stabbing, a witness said she was in the area when she saw a woman on the ground bleeding from the face. A young man was trying to start a nearby Honda, but was unsuccessful.

The woman asked the witness for help, and the man picked her up and put her into the back of the car. He told the witness he was “just trying to help her,” according to police.

“He’s not helping me,” McClellan told the witness, and continued to ask for assistance. The witness called 911.

A second witness later heard McClellan screaming for help, and looked outside to see a young man making “punching motions” into the rear passenger area of the parked Honda.

When officers arrived, they found Berlin on Otis south of Russell. He fled into residential yards, going westbound and onto rooftops, police said. In the meantime, another officer performed CPR on McClellan until paramedics arrived.

An officer was able to detain Berlin on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, near Otis. He had blood stains on his face and on the front of his shirt and pants, according to court papers. Both witnesses identified Berlin as the person they saw near the Honda.

McClellan had been stabbed twice in the throat with a knife, severing her carotid artery. She was taken to Highland Hospital for treatment.

The coroner’s office will now perform an autopsy to determine McClellan’s cause of death, whether it was due to the stabbing or other complications.

According to court papers, Berlin made “incriminating admissions” to the crime during jail phone calls.

The Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Berlin with attempted murder, including enhancements for the use of a knife, committing a violent crime on the elderly, and inflicting great bodily injury. He also was charged with attempted carjacking with a deadly weapon.

Teresa Drenick, district attorney’s office spokeswoman, said information about new charges might be available Thursday.

Berlin is scheduled to enter a plea after arraignment Oct. 24 at 9 a.m. at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland.

According to the Alameda County sheriff’s department, Berlin also has pending charges in Dublin related to burglary and receiving stolen property.

He remains in custody at Santa Rita Jail, where he is being held without bail.

This story was updated slightly after publication following a statement released by police in the afternoon.

Op-ed: After fatal stabbing, be the change in South Berkeley (10.08.14)
Teen charged in stabbing of 72-year-old woman (09.24.14)
18-year-old arrested in stabbing of 72-year-old woman (09.22.14)
Breaking: Berkeley police arrest suspect in homicide attempt of woman in 70s (09.19.14)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...