Oscar “Zeta” Acosta was an American attorney, politician, and novelist in the Chicano Movement. His family grew up in Riverbank, California which is where he went to high school, before joining the U.S. Air Force. After college he passed the California bar exam and became an antipoverty attorney and eventually an activist attorney for the Chicano movement, defending Chicano groups and activists.
His work on many controversial cases, such as the Chicano Walkout case in 1968, gained notoriety and eventually aroused suspicions from the LAPD. They later linked him with the Chicano Liberation Front, which was responsible for numerous bombings throughout California.
Runs for LA sheriff in 1970 to make a point about how the law treats people differently, the point was not to win but to get people’s attention specifically to the Chicano people. He vowed to reform the police department if elected on the grounds that the current institution was wildly racist.
While his work within the political sphere gained him a place in LA political history, it was his unhinged relationship with Hunter S. Thompson that allowed him to secure a spot in U.S. literary history. Thompson used their friendship as inspiration for his most famous countercultural novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The novel featured Acosta and Thompson’s wild exploits with drugs and other high-risk behavior in the setting of Las Vegas.
In May of 1974 Acosta disappeared while traveling in Mazatlan Mexico. The last contact that Acosta had was believed to be with his son, Marco, when he told him that he was “about to board a boat full of white snow.” But based on his father’s behavior, Marco has said, “The body was never found, but we surmise that probably, knowing the people he was involved with, he ended up mouthing off, getting into a fight, and getting killed.” According to Thompson, Acosta’s disappearance very well could have been an act of political assassination or murder at the hands of a drug dealers. Acosta is presumed dead.
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