Mur­der in Won­der­land

The fallen king of porn, the night­club don of Hol­ly­wood, and a mas­sacre in Lau­rel Canyon: Real Crime vis­its one of la’s blood­i­est mur­der houses

Real Crime - - Taken From His Tent - Words Sabina Stent

There is a house in the Hol­ly­wood Hills that holds a dark se­cret: it was once the scene of a bru­tal mass mur­der. Hol­ly­wood has al­ways had a dark heart. For all of its glam­our and glitz there are the crimes, deal­ings and mur­ders that spill blood over the di­a­mond- glit­ter­ing ex­te­rior: from the golden age’s crimes – Thomas H. Ince dy­ing on board Wil­liam Ran­dolph Hearst’s yacht and the shoot­ing of Wil­liam Des­mond Tay­lor – and then, in 1969, the Man­son mur­ders, which claimed the lives of six peo­ple, in­clud­ing Sharon

Tate’s un­born child. Los An­ge­les had thought it had seen it all, that there was no more blood to spare and that its most hor­rific mur­ders would be de­ter­mined by a cult leader and his de­ranged fol­low­ers. Only it wasn’t: the event that would re­sult in what the LAPD would re­fer to as the most hor­rific crime scene they had ever en­coun­tered would oc­cur some 12 years later.

In the early hours of 1 July 1981, four peo­ple were mur­dered at 8763 Won­der­land Av­enue, Los An­ge­les. A fifth per­son sur­vived. It has since be­come known as one of the most grue­some un­solved mur­ders in Hol­ly­wood his­tory. De­spite ar­rests and much- pub­li­cised court ap­pear­ances, lawyers were deft: to this day, no in­di­vid­ual has been im­pris­oned for the bru­tal crime.

Im­mor­talised as the ‘ Won­der­land mur­ders’, or some­times ‘ Lau­rel Canyon mur­ders’, the heinous crime con­tin­ues to fas­ci­nate for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons: the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved, the mo­tives, as well as the worlds the per­pe­tra­tors and vic­tims in­hab­ited. For a time all fin­gers pointed to the porn ac­tor John Holmes, whose hand print was found at the mur­der scene. But was Holmes re­ally ca­pa­ble of or­ches­trat­ing a mass slay­ing like this?

Holmes is only a small part of the story. This was a case with a his­tory, with leads, with fa­mous faces and du­plic­i­ties, drugs and money. Po­lice had their sus­pi­cions and mo­tives were ev­i­dent, but within the world of those in­volved, there was no such thing as an in­no­cent party.

The Won­der­land Gang

Dur­ing the late 1970s and early 1980s the house on Won­der­land Av­enue was home to a group known as the ‘ Won­der­land Gang’. Sit­u­ated in the Hol­ly­wood Hills, or the canyon area of the Santa Mon­ica moun­tains, its lo­ca­tion was not ex­actly what you would con­sider the bad part of town. Jerry Brown, the then- gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia, lived a few streets away. Yet it was a no­to­ri­ously noisy nar­cotics haven with all- hours com­ings and go­ings- on. The house was a place of res­i­dence, of business, and a front for deal­ers and buy­ers.

There were five key mem­bers of the gang: ‘ leader’ Ron­ald Lee ‘ Ron’ Lau­nius, Wil­liam Ray­mond ‘ Billy’ Deverell and his girl­friend Joy Audrey Gold Miller, David Clay Lind and Tracy Ray­mond McCourt. Only Billy and Joy lived at the house – Joy held the lease. To­gether with their as­so­ci­ates Su­san A. Mur­phy Lau­nius ( Ron’s wife) and Bar­bara Lee ‘ But­ter­fly’ Eas­ton Richard­son ( Lind’s girl­friend), they dealt co­caine and made the oc­ca­sional heroin deal.

To sup­ple­ment some of the gang’s bur­geon­ing ad­dic­tions, they branched out into armed rob­beries, usu­ally tar­get­ing

Po­lice had their sus­pi­cions and mo­tives were ev­i­dent, but within the world of those in­volved, there

was no such thing as an in­no­cent party

fel­low deal­ers or raid­ing houses. But it was never enough – they needed to aim higher. Why steal from those on a sim­i­lar fi­nan­cial foot­ing when they could take from the rich­est night­club owner in Los An­ge­les?

The Rob­bery

Ed­die Nash was a self- styled king of Hol­ly­wood. Born in Pales­tine to a fam­ily of hote­liers, he em­i­grated to Los An­ge­les in the 1950s. By the 1960s he had opened up a hot­dog stand on Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard, and by the 1970s he owned sev­eral restau­rants and night­clubs. He al­legedly held 36 liquor li­censes in Hol­ly­wood — it was vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to have a night out on the town with­out sup­ple­ment­ing Nash’s bank ac­count. Be­ing such a promi­nently wealthy fig­ure would al­ways at­tract at­ten­tion, es­pe­cially the un­savoury and un­war­ranted va­ri­ety.

A chain re­ac­tion of vi­o­lence be­gan on the night of 29

June 1981, when mem­bers of the Won­der­land Gang robbed Nash’s Stu­dio City home to the value of $ 1 mil­lion. Both

Nash and his body­guard, Gre­gory DeWitt Diles, were present dur­ing the rob­bery. DeWitt Diles was shot and in­jured, while nar­cotics, money, weapons and jew­ellery were taken from the prop­erty. In­stant as­sump­tions were made that the gang had had some as­sis­tance. Some­one who knew Nash more than likely had a hand in or­gan­is­ing the deed. John Holmes came to mind, and he fell un­der a cloud of sus­pi­cion a few days later when DeWitt Diles spot­ted Holmes walk­ing around Hol­ly­wood wear­ing some of Nash’s stolen jew­ellery.

But it was some­thing more spe­cific than the stolen jew­ellery that im­pli­cated Holmes in the rob­bery: on the morn­ing of the crime, Holmes had vis­ited Nash’s home a ru­moured three times, al­legedly leav­ing a slid­ing door open on the last occasion. What had led the erst­while ‘ king of porn’ to re­sort to petty rob­bery?

The Porn Star

The legacy and rep­u­ta­tion of John Holmes is no­to­ri­ous: the well- en­dowed adult movie star had made his name in an in­dus­try that he later came to de­spise. He be­lieved that his body was his meal ticket, mov­ing to Los An­ge­les with his then- wife Sharon in the mid 1970s to seek his fame and for­tune. For a time his as­sets served him well – he was the A- list celebrity of the porn in­dus­try. Yet as his star power rose, so did his prob­lems, his needs and his thirst. Once a tee­to­taller, he started dab­bling in il­le­gal sub­stances, which proved to be the nail in his pro­fes­sional cof­fin. He couldn’t ‘ per­form’ un­der the in­flu­ence, and his wan­ing ca­reer led to his in­creas­ing use of drugs.

By Christ­mas 1979 he was reg­u­larly snort­ing lines of co­caine, and by 1980 had re­sorted to steal­ing in or­der to sup­port his drug habit. He was iso­lat­ing ev­ery­one around him, turn­ing in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent, es­pe­cially to his young girl­friend Dawn, who he es­sen­tially groomed and then pimped out for drug money. Soon the only peo­ple who would tol­er­ate his ac­tions were the deal­ers, for whom he acted as de­liv­ery boy, re­ceiv­ing pay­ment in the form of $ 1,000 co­caine mar­bles in­stead of cash.

He was down- and- out. It re­quired dras­tic ac­tion. In great debt to both Nash – who had bailed him out on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions – and the gang who he owed money to, Holmes ‘ pre­sented’ Dawn to Nash as a gift on Christ­mas Day 1980, un­der the im­pres­sion that it would help al­le­vi­ate his debt. It only made things worse, and after Dawn re­turned home with less co­caine than he had ex­pected, Holmes beat her sav­agely. She was 19 years old. Four days later, on her 20th birth­day, Holmes sent her back to Nash. When Dawn fi­nally man­aged to run from Holmes, he re­peat­edly at­tempted to lure her back with false prom­ises. He in­sisted on a plan: a fi­nal deal that would make them rich and turn their world around for the bet­ter and be a fresh start. He planned to rob Nash’s prop­erty.

Holmes was not present dur­ing the rob­bery – it is al­leged that the Won­der­land Gang stormed Nash’s house after he had left and be­fore he had ar­rived back at the house in Lau­rel Canyon. Whether he was present at the time or not, he was firmly im­pli­cated in the crime. His par­tic­i­pa­tion had not gone un­no­ticed by Nash.

On see­ing Holmes after the rob­bery, DeWitt Diles dragged him to Nash’s home and beat a con­fes­sion out of him. Nash and Holmes had, un­til now, been civil to one another. De­spite once re­fer­ring to Holmes as his “brother”, Holmes knew

Nash had a dark side – he also once re­ferred to him as “the most evil man I have ever known.”

Mur­der in Won­der­land

It’s as­sumed that Nash or­dered the Won­der­land mur­ders as pay­back for the rob­bery, with some as­sis­tance from Holmes ( who was now even fur­ther in Nash’s debt). Ron Lau­nius, Billy Deverell and two other ac­com­plices, David Lind and Tracy McCourt, had com­mit­ted the armed rob­bery at

Nash’s home. Now it was their turn. On 1 July 1981 sev­eral men en­tered the Won­der­land prop­erty armed with heavy in­stru­ments, which would cause ex­treme trauma to their un­sus­pect­ing vic­tims.

De­spite neigh­bours hear­ing com­mo­tion in the early hours of the morn­ing, the po­lice were not called to the prop­erty un­til 12 hours later: re­moval men at a nearby prop­erty had heard moan­ing com­ing from the house and alerted the au­thor­i­ties, who found Su­san Lau­nius bru­tally beaten on the floor. The house was in­cred­i­bly loud at the best of times, and the in­ces­sant noise did not rouse any greater sus­pi­cion from the neigh­bours. Screams fell on death ears, buffered to a large ex­tent by the blar­ing tele­vi­sion sets that were still on when the po­lice ar­rived. The house was ran­sacked, there was blood ev­ery­where, and the bod­ies of Bar­bara Richard­son, Ron Lau­nius, Joy Miller and Billy Deverell were scat­tered around the prop­erty. Su­san Lau­nius, the fifth per­son present in the house at the time of the slay­ings, was found on the floor, still alive, with blunt trauma to the head.

The gang had orig­i­nally planned to move on after rob­bing Nash’s home, but only Tracy McCourt fol­lowed through with the plan. De­spite re­ceiv­ing a less- than- ex­pected cut of the tak­ings, he left town shortly af­ter­wards. He would later tes­tify that the en­tire group had planned to leave town and, given that Nash lived less than three kilo­me­tres away and had an un­savoury rep­u­ta­tion, could not un­der­stand why the oth­ers had re­mained.

Another Won­der­land Gang mem­ber, David Clay Lind, also an­tic­i­pated Nash’s bru­tal­ity: he had spent the night of the mur­ders away from the house with a male pros­ti­tute. McCourt spent the night in his own home. Lind died of a heroin over­dose in 1995, and McCourt died in 2006.

be­low- left Ed­die Nash was ar­rested in 1982 after a 7am raid on his home. Al­most one kilo­gram of co­caine was found in the prop­ertybe­low- Right John Holmes ap­pears in court, 22 De­cem­ber 1981, for his part in the Won­der­land mur­ders. In 1982 he was ac­quit­ted of all mur­der charges but was pun­ished for con­tempt of court

In the af­terma th of the rob bery on Nash, Holmes w as dr agged to Nash’ s home by his body­guard and had the iden­ti­ties of the rob­bers bea ten out of him

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