Notice Detective Tom Lange just in front of the fire rescue man. The cop back there in casual clothes… well, it must have been his day off. To quote Bob Sousa “Is this gonna ruin my 4th of July weekend?”
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This bio/death announcement article ran in the L.A. Times on March 14, 1988.
John C. Holmes, ‘King’ of 1,000 Porno Films, Dies at 43
March 14, 1988| RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer
John C. Holmes, the pornographic film star who became a central figure in the unsolved 1981 Laurel Canyon murders, died Saturday night at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Sepulveda, associates said Sunday. He was 43.
A hospital administrator refused to comment on the cause of death. Reports had been circulating that Holmes was suffering from AIDS and that he had been hospitalized for an extended period.
Last June, pornographic film producer and distributor William Amerson, who had a long-term business relationship with Holmes, said Holmes was suffering from colon cancer, not AIDS, and that the actor underwent surgery in October, 1986, for removal of a malignant tumor.
Confirming that Holmes had died, Amerson declined further comment, declaring “I can’t talk. It’s kind of an emotional time.”
Called “the King” of X-rated films, Holmes appeared in more than 1,000 sexually explicit movies and peep show loops between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, said his longtime associate, Bill Margold of West Hollywood, who appeared in several Holmes films.
“He was the pioneer in X-rated films,” Margold said. “There’s only one king.”
On the screen, Holmes appeared as an inexhaustible virility symbol who claimed to have had sex with thousands of women. An early 1980s sex film, “Exhausted,” was supposed to be a biography of his life. Holmes’ last film, “Hollywood Confidential,” was made two years ago.
Holmes, said Los Angeles writer and film critic Kenneth Turan, “was very much proud of his work. He liked what he was doing.”
In Turan’s 1974 book, “Cinema,” Holmes told the writer that well-produced pornography had a more lasting impact than most films produced for the general public. “No emotion is stronger,” he said. “It’s a lasting thing.”
Off the screen, said his former wife, Sharon Holmes of Glendale, Holmes kept to himself about his film exploits.
The couple was divorced in 1984, after almost 20 years of marriage. During that time, Sharon Holmes said, she never saw any of his films. “He knew it was not something I was particularly happy about,” she said. “But he said the money was good.”
Holmes commanded $2,000 a day at the height of his career.
In the late 1970s, Sharon Holmes said, her husband “got into drugs heavily. He lost control of what he’d been doing–lost control over his films, his life.”
Holmes was born in Ashville, Ohio, and joined the Army before his high school graduation, serving three years in West Germany. After he left the service, he held several jobs in Southern California, including ambulance driver, warehouseman and door-to-door salesman.
His start in pornographic films probably occurred when, to make ends meet, he was posing for nude photographs which caught the attention of a producer of sex films. By the 1970s, he had become an established X-rated star, making films here and in Europe.
Although he worked with most of films’ top sex stars during his career, Holmes apparently had few friends in the industry and, associates said, did not socialize with the women with whom he had sex.
“He was virtually friendless by his own decision,” said Margold.
A few weeks ago, Los Angeles police reinterviewed Holmes in his hospital bed about the 1981 murders of four people on Wonderland Drive in Laurel Canyon. Although police have declined to discuss the interview, it was believed to have been triggered by the emergence of a new witness in the case.
Holmes, after several months in hiding, was arrested in Florida and charged in December, 1981, with the killings. Although the prosecutor argued that Holmes actually committed one of the slayings, a jury acquitted him. Holmes then spent 111 days in jail on contempt charges for refusing to identify the killers, saying he feared for his life.
The murders, believes Sharon Holmes, “will remain unsolved. He told me he could have told (police) everything. But he wanted to stay alive.”
Holmes, she said, is survived by his mother, Mary, who lives in Ohio; two brothers, Edward and Dale; a sister, Anna, and a stepbrother, David.
Well, when I walked in the house, you know, after I had been there a little while, John was rattling off about “long time money and lots of cocaine,” you know.
So McCourt and the guys(?) would go with John and case the place…wait in the car like Dawn for hours.
Well, we planned it. We made a couple of dry runs. We had to call it off a couple of times. One time everybody was going to forget it and me and Billy were going to do it and John kept going in the house and doing so much cocaine he wouldn’t come out for 45 minutes, three or four hours later, sometimes.
We stopped and he told us to get him. He went like this (shaking his fist out the window): “Get him!” So we went to the house and did, you know.
Tucking guns away when they came out of Nash’s. What a sight!
Well, they were carrying a shower curtain with something in it and a briefcase and everybody was tucking guns in their pants ad what have you.
And then Holmes’ attorney Earl Hanson chimes in and Tracy confuses him with his answers:
Q: Mr. McCourt, prior to the time that this robbery took place in the home of Mr. Nash had you been living, sir, at the Wonderland address?
A: Not on a regular basis. No. I just had been staying there about five days and when that happened, no, I wasn’t living there.
Q: But you had been staying there? Is that correct?
A: Yes. But not living there. No. I had no clothes there. I had no personal items there. No, I was not living there.
Q: I understand that but what I am asking you is: Were you spending your nights there?
A: Well, I spent three nights there. If that is spending my nights there, yes, I spent three nights there in the house.
Q: By that –
A: No, I wasn’t living there.
Q: I understand that.
Q: But you had gone there and you had spent at least three nights there? Is that correct?
Q: Were you sleeping on the couch or the bed?
A: On the couch. Yes. On the bed.
Tracy had met Susan Launius before, or on the day of June 30, when she arrived and before the murders?
Q: Who did you know at that house on Wonderland?
A: Bill, Joy, Ronnie – I didn’t – I hardly barely knew his ex-wife and I didn’t know –well – I met Barbara.
Devastated, Tracy had to force the thoughts of his friends being murdered out of his mind.
A: I believe it was two days and I – I – I had a bit of a hassle trying to forget some of this so I have to, you know, search in my head to remember it.
Q: I understand.
A: It was a shock.
So Lind called him “Titmouse Tracy”. Probably to his face, so he does not seem fond of Lind at all.
Q: With regard to those two days and nights, I think you said, of constant planning, who was present during that planning?
A: John, me, Ronnie, Billy and Joy and the girls, but they didn’t get involved, really. They were just there. It was just us fellows but then, all of a sudden, David Lind pops up from nowhere. I don’t know where he came from.
Q: Did he more or less show up at the last –
A: Yes. He did.
Q: And he kind of somehow invited himself into the group?
A: Yes. Right. Exactly.
Lind states in his testimony that Tracy had a gun. Tracy says he never had a gun.
Q: Is there any particular reason you were designated as the driver?
A: Well, I was originally supposed to – before this other party took his gun back – I was supposed to go in the house. It just turned out, you know. I was going to go in there with a gun.
Q: Suddenly you ended up without a gun?
Liquid Band-Aid. I didn’t even know that stuff was around back then.
Q: I see. Was anything done, for instance, with regard to putting some substance on the fingertips?
A: Yes there was.
Q: When was that done?
A: Ron put some crap on my hands. I don’t know what it was.
When there at Nash’s with Holmes or casing the place with the others. He was at both doors?
Q: You never went into the Nash residence?
A: I just made it to the back door one time. The front door another time. But I never had been in it, no.
Reading the newspaper. That never looks suspicious. I once asked a guy why he was parked in front of my house reading a newspaper all day. He said he was a private investigator trying to catch some guy cheating on his wife.
Q: At some point did you hear a shot?
A: Yes, I did. I was reading the newspaper.
He did something. He got nervous! stayed right there.
Q: As a result of that shot did you do anything?
A: Yeah. I got nervous but I didn’t do anything else because I stayed right there.
Tracy got nervous/frightened upon seeing a car that looked like Nash’s out on Wonderland, so he left in a cab back to North Hollywood…
Q: When you came back to the Wonderland address and after the loot was divided up did you stay there for some period of time before you left?
A: Not too long. As soon as the money was divided up I left, about five minutes later.
They were supposed to move out but never did. The coroner’s report lists Ronnie’s hair as brown or dark brown, so I think he may have died his hair. Speculation… Nash lived 5 minutes away and had seen their faces.
A: Me and Billy and Ronnie promised each other we were all going to move the same, next day, and it didn’t happen.
Q: Were you all going to move?
Q: Move out of the residence?
Q: Were you going to move out?
A: We were all going to move out.
Q: Well, did you all move out?
If Bill Vlick was the supplier for Joy, then this statement confuses me. Vlick was caught with heroin in June, 1980 so I think by 1981 he had quit dealing in heroin and the gang was forced to go to other dealers. Also, maybe Vlick would not accept trade or collateral for drugs. Maybe he wanted cash, so the gang had to go to Nash and others. I’m really confused by the gang’s money situation. I think they were really broke, it was the end of the month, and rent was due.
Q: That residence was used as a location for sale of narcotics. Isn’t that correct?
A: It was also used as a place to live.
Q: I understand that. But was it a place where narcotics were being sold?
A: Not that much narcotics. Most of the narcotics was – did prior to that robbery we had to go out and get somewhere.
And then Earl Hanson is mad at him again…
Q: All I’m asking you –
A: No. There wasn’t that much sales going on there. That I saw.
Only the “niche” would be allowed in. Like Chuck Negron, people who knew Joy, or Ronnie’s dealer buddies:
Q: Would anybody have any trouble, to your knowledge, getting into that house?
A: Sure, they would. Definitely. Ronnie, the people that did come and go were all of a certain, shall we say, niche, or whatever, you know? I mean, if you weren’t in that little clique you didn’t just walk in that house or you were not even around none of those people.
Who is Mike? Ron knew him.
Q: After the robbery did you have an occasion to go back to that residence?
A: Yes. One time.
Q: To your knowledge did someone named Mike go?
A: Yes, but Mike had been up there before. That is the only reason he ever was able to, and that is the only reason I even took him up there, because he had been up there before, you know.
Q: But, in any event –
A: And Ron knew him.
Q: Do you recall telling Tom Lange on the next day which was Tuesday you were staying in an apartment over on Lemp Street?
A: Yes. I was staying there.
Q: Did you see someone named Jimmy Vegas?
A: Yes, I saw Jimmy Vegas there.
Q: Do you recall telling that to Tom Lange?
A: Yes, I think I did.
Ron Coen objects to a question by Hanson, and Tracy fires this off before the judge can respond to the objection:
THE WITNESS: I said there was no heavy dope. There was a little bit of weed being sold there but there wasn’t no China White traffic. That is hard enough to find in the first place.
Hanson has no more questions, but Coen asks a few more, including this one:
Q: When you mentioned you have to be a particular type of clique to enter that residence, based upon staying there and knowing the residents as you did, was John Holmes the type of person that Ron Launius would allow inside the house?
Wonderland investigator, Nils Grevillius, interviewed David Lind’s brother and it’s also in the Lind preliminary testimony, that the day before the murders, Lind left Wonderland to go and visit his old buddy, James Fuller, in Monrovia, CA. That’s a good 30 miles away from Wonderland. Jim Fuller was lead guitarist for The Surfaris:
While there at James’ house, Dave says in his testimony that he met a few girls (Cindy and Terri) who gave him a ride back to the San Fernando Valley, where he partied with them all night. The valley is much closer to Wonderland so Dave was working his way back I guess. In the prelim testimony for Holmes’ trial, he does not say they were prostitutes. It does not really matter, but he may have told cops that, or mentioned it at the Nash/Diles trials. The “spending the night with prostitutes in the Valley” thing could be an embellishment by a writer. I don’t know if they were or not. If they were, Big Dave was being tag-teamed while poor Barbara was alone on the couch.
The next morning, Wednesday, July 1, David spoke with the fence, Fat Howard Cook, who knew about the killings and put Dave in touch with Jimmy Arias AKA Mr. Vegas. Then, Mr. Vegas spoke with David and said “Don’t go to the house, everyone is dead”. Mr. Vegas also had a fellow with him named “Paul” (most likely Paul Kelly?). They were to take Ron to the airport for a court date in Sacramento. In the prelim testimony, David never mentions Fat Howard, but Nils says Dave spoke to Fat Howard first, just like in the movie Wonderland.Anyhow, Nils said that Jim Fuller was in the Surfaris, the surf rock band who did “Wipe Out”. Jim is known as the Godfather of Surf Music:
His name is on the “Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame”.
The extensive Wonderland Timeline has been updated with all kinds of stuff.
Just like John Holmes at one point, they were housed in the “High Profile” section of the jail, so they were well taken care of and no other inmates could mess with them. This book looks pretty good, I just don’t know how full of shit Todd Bridges is. With a story like his though, he’s bound to drop some names. I like the part about Lyle Menendez’s wig. Classic, I had heard about that before, including how at their parents funeral, Lyle delayed the service for like an hour, so a wig guy could come make the necessary adjustments to that squirrel on his head.
The “Johnnie” at the beginning is Johnnie Cochran. But of course.
During the making of the 2003 film, Wonderland, the scenes where David Lind is telling his stories in the interrogation room to the cops were filmed at the old L.A. Herald-Examiner newspaper office building. A fire broke out during this part of filming and made some of the people involved feel quite superstitious, as if Lind or Holmes were nearby. Strangely enough, that old newspaper produced some of the best articles and photos of the Wonderland story, initially and also throughout the various court trials over the next decade.
The people we know the least about are of course the most mysterious. Now all of the ‘gang’ minus Holmes and Billy were middle-class kids growing up and from good, loving families, even David Lind. Very little is known about Ron and Barbara because their families have not spoken much at all to the media. As Nils Grevillius said, these murders devastated people, so why should they. It is just a missed opportunity that most of the info gleaned about the characters were from retired cops telling the actors this or that. Barbara and Joy are pretty much just extras in this film. In his video below, Tim Blake Nelson makes some good cultural observations about the eras in question, but he really did not know anything about Billy Deverell at all. That’s a shame really. A good 3+ hour remake would be awesome. Where is Scorsese when you need him.
Josh Lucas talks about Launius. He says Ron is the victim of his own lack of discipline and not drugs. But, those two things sort of go hand in hand. There is also the lure of easy money. When my dad got out of the Navy in 1970, the best job he could get was $75 a week ($450 today). Not terrible, but I think Ron was facing the same prospects for work when he got out of the Air Force. Dealing in narcotics meant easy money and easy access to drugs for Ron, and so it goes.
Jeanine Garofalo makes a few good points about drugs and how they stunt emotional and social development of users.
Billy was the only person who had ever worked for a living for most of his life.