5 Years Later: The Laurel Canyon Murders
Enjoy. It is over 2,000 words and contains a lot of info.
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5 YEARS LATER: THE LAUREL CANYON MURDERS
July 6, 1986
ARNIE FRIEDMAN, L.A. Daily News Staff Writer
Illustration: 7 photos (I wish! Where are they 😉
Lookout Mountain Avenue meanders through the heart of heavily wooded Laurel Canyon, past a few wood-frame and stucco houses perched on hillsides.
Tiny side streets with quaint names such as Hermits Glen and Horseshoe Canyon Road branch off the narrow main avenue as it passes by an elementary school playground.
Wonderland Avenue splits away from Lookout Mountain just past the playground. Its houses are clustered close together.
Five years ago, this neighborhood where residents cling fiercely to their privacy was shattered by a crime so horrible that Los Angeles police at first compared it to the Charles Manson family murders.
Four people were found bludgeoned to death in a split-level home on Wonderland Avenue. The house is a mile from the home of Jerry Brown, who was governor of California on July 1, 1981, when the murders occurred.
One of the two women who live in the home now calls it the “Death House.” The other says it’s haunted — or at least it was when she moved in last October.
She says she heard thuds and their two black cats became skittish for no reason. Six months later, a neighbor showed them an old magazine story about the murders.
The strange noises continued for another week, then went away, she says.
Those involved in the case also talk of being haunted — and it hasn’t gone away. They say they still carry emotional scars and frustration in a case that has seen arrests and one trial, but no convictions.
The lives of the players in the twisted case — from investigators to suspects — have changed, in some cases drastically.
- One of the investigating officers who believed he had the key to the murders has left the Los Angeles Police Department for a small Southern California town, where he is studying at a Christian seminary. He believes the people who committed the murders would be in prison now, had he been allowed to handle the case his way.
- An actor who became famous for playing a detective in X-rated movies — and the man police still think knows the answers to the puzzle — says he now crusades against drugs in his adult films.
- A nightclub owner whose Studio City home supposedly was robbed just before the murders lost his licenses to operate the clubs and has moved to Encino. He went to prison on unrelated drug charges and received an early parole to have surgery.
- The nightclub owner’s bodyguard — a huge man who police say took part in the deadly raid on the Wonderland Avenue house — just got out of prison after serving time on drug and assault convictions. He is not to associate with his former boss while he serves out his three years’ probation, even though he too came back to Los Angeles.
- The only survivor of the murders has returned to her hometown in rural Northern California near Marysville. She was partially paralyzed after the attack and could remember nothing except a vision of “three shadowy figures.” One investigator whose partner had kept in touch with her says, ”She’s recovered as best as can be expected.”
- The deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case is a judge in Los Angeles traffic court. He says the case might have been solved had one of the police detectives handled the investigation the way he was told.
- Another detective, one of the two primary investigators on the case, continues to work on it — in between other assignments. “I feel no different than I did five years ago,” said Detective Tom Lange. “I think we know who was involved and I think we know why.”
It was about 4 o’clock in the morning when at least three intruders — one who may have unlocked the door — crept into the two-bedroom, split-level home on Wonderland Avenue. They carried at least one threaded pipe authorities believe was used to bludgeon the victims.
When the intruders were through, two men and two women lay dead. The woman who survived had deep gashes in her head and neck and was unconscious when found.
The body of Joy Audrey Miller, 46, who had rented the house, was found sprawled on her bed in the upstairs bedroom. The body of her live-in boyfriend, William R. Deverell, 44, was in a corner of the bedroom.
The body of a house guest, Barbara Richardson, 22, of Sacramento was found on the living room floor alongside a sofa. Her boyfriend, David Clay Lind, also of Sacramento, had been there with her, but he left the night before the killings occurred.
In the rear bedroom on the first floor, the body of another house guest, Ronald Launius, 37, of Yuba City was found on the bed. His wife, Susan, who arrived only the day before from Northern California, was found unconscious and huddled in a corner of the bedroom.
Susan Launius was beaten so badly that surgeons removed part of her skull. Launius, now 34, later would testify that all she remembered about the attack were the shadowy figures entering the bedroom.
Nearly 12 hours after the attack, a professional mover who had been working next door heard moans from the back of the home and dogs barking outside. He saw the front door ajar, went in and saw the blood-spattered living room and a body.
A next door neighbor, Charles Fazio, later would testify that he and his wife had been awakened by “thumping and groans” about 4 a.m., but they did not sense what was happening. He and other neighbors said they had grown accustomed to noise and a stream of visitors at all hours of the day and night at the house.
Police from the beginning believed the murders were drug related. They said the four people killed had drug records, although the survivor did not.
Homicide detectives and prosecutors say the motive for the Laurel Canyon murders was vengeance because of a robbery 2 and one-half days before at the Studio City hillside home of Adel Nasrallah, better known as Eddie Nash.
A witness later would testify that the three men who robbed Nash’s home took something more important than Nash’s possessions. They robbed him of his pride.
During the robbery, the witness said, Nash dropped to his knees and asked to say a prayer for his children. One of the robbers had accidentally fired his revolver, the witness said, and Nash’s 300-pound bodyguard was grazed by the bullet.
Nash never reported the robbery or conceded that it happened. But the witness said he was there and was one of the robbers.
Although Nash was out of the country and unavailable for an interview, one of his lawyers, Paul Caruso, said, “He still denies vociferously any and all connection with the so-called Laurel Canyon murders.”
In 1981, Nash, a Lebanese immigrant who became a U.S. citizen, owned five Los Angeles nightclubs and was under investigation by narcotics officers.
One of the clubs — the Starwood nightclub in West Hollywood — burned down a few years ago. Another — the Seven Seas in Hollywood — is now called the Club Hollywood and operated by different owners, although Nash still owns the property.
The Alcohol Beverage Control Board revoked four of Nash’s liquor licenses because of his drug conviction. Before the ABC could act on the fifth license, the Starwood, the state Franchise Tax Board suspended Nash’s corporation that operated the nightclub. The tax board also suspended his four other corporations that operated the remaining nightclubs.
“Eddie is keeping a very low profile right now — minding his own business,” said Dominick Rubalcava, another of Nash’s lawyers.
Rubalcava said Nash, now 57, has “no operating businesses at all,” but manages “fairly extensive” real estate holdings, both in and out of Los Angeles.
Nash and Gregory Diles, the bodyguard who was wounded in the Studio City robbery, both have served prison terms since the Laurel Canyon murders, but not because of the killings.
Police and prosecutors still say they are suspects in the Laurel Canyon case. Diles was arrested five months after the murders, but prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to bring him to trial.
Diles, now 35, served four years of an eight-year term on drug and assault with a deadly weapon convictions. He was paroled from the men’s prison at Chino June 12 and has refused to be interviewed.
“He wants to shy away,” John Dovey, a prison spokesman, said prior to Diles’ release. “He said he would just go with things as best he could.”
Marshall Lundsberg, the deputy regional parole administrator, said Diles lost about 100 pounds in prison and currently is looking for work.
Nash’s eight-year sentence for possessing nearly $1 million in cocaine for sale was cut in half by a Los Angeles judge after he was told Nash needed to leave prison for a delicate operation.
Rubalcava said Nash had the surgery within two months of his December 1984 release from prison. A bony tumor was removed from Nash’s sinus cavity between his brain and eyes. It turned out to be benign, Rubalcava said.
The attorney also said Nash’s arrest and imprisonment on the drug charge saved his life.
“Eddie would be dead right now if he had continued to use cocaine at the same level he was using it at the time of his initial arrest,” Rubalcava said.
The only person prosecuted for the killings was John C. Holmes, the X-rated film star who admitted having cocaine dealings with both Nash and the Wonderland Avenue residents.
During the 1982 trial, Frank Tomlinson, while a police detective, testified that Holmes told him he had set up the Nash robbery, then was forced by Nash to unlock the Laurel Canyon home at the time of the attack.
Out of fear for himself and his family, Holmes said he would not name the people he had let into the house.
Tomlinson testified Holmes told him that just after Nash’s home was robbed, the nightclub owner forced Holmes to name the robbers.
The detective testified that Holmes said Nash got the names of his family from Holmes’ address book and warned “that if he ever talked to the police, he would kill someone in his family.”
“He (Nash) had him (Holmes) taken at gunpoint to the house on Wonderland and he (Holmes) knew what was going to happen there, but he had no choice . . ., he had to set things up and let them (the killers) in,” Tomlinson testified.
The detective testified that Holmes told him he was in the house when the murders occurred, but “he himself did not hurt anyone.”
Holmes’ palmprint was found on a bed railing above Ronald Launius’ head.
Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Ronald S. Coen, who was the prosecutor, contends Holmes would have been convicted and the killers might have been implicated if Tomlinson had pinned down Holmes’ role when he questioned him.
“We gave him (Tomlinson) certain directions and he didn’t follow them,” Coen said. “I asked him to ask Holmes if he let the people in not only with the knowledge, but with the intent, that the occupants would be killed.”
Coen said Tomlinson only asked Holmes, “Did you open the door and let them in?”
The former prosecutor said the jury that acquitted Holmes in June 1982 found the actor lacked the intent.
Tomlinson contended Coen was looking only for a conviction of Holmes. The detective said he was trying use Holmes to find the actual killers and solve the entire murder case.
Tomlinson, now 47, also insisted it was not mishandling on his part that lost the case — it was because Los Angeles Police Department brass switched strategy and prosecuted Holmes instead of keeping him as an informant.
The detective retired from the police force three months after Holmes’ acquittal. He is studying at a Christian seminary while working as a church counselor.
He asked that the Southern California community where he also serves as chaplain for a small police department not be identified because he has received death threats in connection with other cases he investigated during his 21 years as a Los Angeles officer.
After Holmes was acquitted, he remained in jail for several weeks because he refused to testify about the killings at a Los Angeles County grand jury investigation. He finally relented and testified, but no indictment was returned.
When he was released, he returned to the adult film business.
In a telephone interview, Holmes, now 41, blamed what turned into a $1,500-a-day cocaine habit for his Laurel Canyon involvement and for losing ”everything — everybody, every penny.”
Holmes said that because of his involvement with cocaine, his wife left him and he lost his business, which he has built back up over the years.
“The things that happened to me were a little unjust, but it showed me one thing,” Holmes said. “I will not ever, ever touch any form of drugs again.”
He said he is now an anti-drug crusader who warns of the evils of cocaine in adult films and commercials he is making through his Sherman Oaks-based company, Penguin Productions.
Holmes, who declined to be be interviewed in person, says police should spend their time tracking cocaine dealers instead of “victimless crime” sex films.
Tom Lange, one of the two principal investigators of the Laurel Canyon killings, said he hopes to resolve the case — someday.
“The case remains open, regardless of the outcome of Holmes’ trial,” Lange added. “We do from time to time get information regarding the players and the whole thing.”
He said his partner, Bob Souza, had remained in contact with Susan Launius, the survivor, before Souza went on a health disability leave.
“She wanted to make a clean break (after the murders),” Lange said. ”She’s lucky to get away with her life.”
But, he added, Launius “probably still is looking over her shoulder.”
Lind, now 45, the other person who was at the Laurel Canyon home shortly before the murders, served a prison term on a drug charge and now lives in Northern California.
It was Lind, a former bounty hunter who chased bail jumpers, who testified at the Holmes trial about the Nash robbery two nights before the killings.
He said he and two of the Wonderland Avenue victims — Ronald Launius and Deverell — held up Nash at gunpoint and left with cocaine, heroin, jewelry, guns and cash.
Lange said Lind was visiting friends in the San Gabriel Valley when the killings occurred. Lange said it was “lucky for him,” because Lind was a target.
Coen said Nash in his conversations with authorities always tried to put the blame for the murders on Lind.
“He blames David Lind for the murders . . . in other words, David Lind tried to kill his own girlfriend,” Coen said. “I don’t even know if we ever got on to that (as a possible motive). I was laughing so loudly.”
It was during the questioning of Lind after the murders that police learned of the Nash robbery and began focusing their investigation on Nash and Diles.
Police also suspected Diles’ brother, Samuel Lawton Diles.
Samuel Diles, now 34, had been a bouncer at one of Nash’s clubs, the Kit Kat in Hollywood.
In 1983, he was arrested after police said he hit Michael Nolan, the brother of Assemblyman Patrick Nolan, in the head with a gun. Diles went to prison on an assault conviction and is out on parole.
In recent days, the current Wonderland Avenue tenants became so unnerved at the prospect of attention surrounding the anniversary of the killings that they made plans to leave town.
“We don’t need crank calls and don’t need people with Thomas Guides . . . looking for the ‘death house,’ ” said Christine, a staff member of a home video production company who refused to give the last names of either her or her roommate, Marcy.
“Our neighbor said there were people coming up here for two years with Thomas Guides looking at the place,” she added.
Christine said she didn’t learn what had happened in the house until shown the magazine article last spring. It is Marcy, her roommate, who believed the place was haunted.
Rachel Rybicki, who owns the Wonderland Avenue home, said she had told Marcy about the killings when Marcy moved in.
“Maybe she (Marcy) just didn’t want to tell her (Christine) so she wouldn’t get spooked,” Rybicki said.
Rybicki, who is trying to sell the home, says she still gets “a bad taste to my mouth” when reminded of the murders.
“I ended up in a psychiatrist’s office,” she said.
As escrow was about to open on the house 10 days ago, Rybicki had not told the buyers of its past.
“There’s no reason for them to know about that,” Rybicki said. “You don’t give every (buyer) . . . the history of the house.”
Photo Captions. I don’t have the photos. Sorry about that.
(1) Four people were found bludgeoned to death in this split-level
home on Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon in 1981. Police compared
the slayings to the Manson family murders.
Bob Halvorsen-Daily News
(2)…AND THE ONE WHO SURVIVED
Susan Launius, who survived the Laurel Canyon murders, testifies
at a preliminary hearing of porno star John Holmes.
-Daily News file photo
(3–6) VICTIMS OF A KILLER
(7) THE INVESTIGATOR