Longform Wonderland Article


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Angels in the Smog

“History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind”

–Edward Gibbon

***

June of 1981 was the hottest month in the city’s recorded history. July would be heavy with smog.

Long time money affords a change in locales – lots of cocaine to move and old habits make it hard to leave the present one. Barely a day had passed since the talk between the two men of moving away and they had settled back down into complacency, albeit a guarded one. Loose ends prevented a clean break – Drugs and valuables needed to be fenced and other technicalities existed, including a court date. There had been a promise to a bail bondsman friend to attend those proceedings. A free ride to the airport was arranged. A flight bound for Sacramento. But the ticket would go unused. An unknowing passenger, maybe on standby could catch a break – maybe a businessman would luck out with a little extra elbow room on the busy weekday flight just before the even busier 4th of July holiday weekend.

This night was hot though. A few friends had come by; one was a half-ass celebrity. His biggest hit record from ten years ago lay on the turntable. Two of the female visitors had obviously been excited to meet him. He was not feeling well though and left early, besides, he was billed to perform at the large 4th of July festival in Long Beach in a few days. Chuck needed to get his shit together, and he would. At that concert his voice sounded on par, the song “One” being the highlight for the drunk, stoned and sweat-soaked baby-boomer crowd: men shirtless and sunburned, women with cigarette packs in their cleavage all cheered on.

Everyone else was tired too so this was to be an early night. The party the night before was raucous, if exclusive and private. Toasts were made and there was endless speechifying. The mostly middle-aged gang was now officially worn out. Everyone needed rest, tomorrow was a new day.

A beautiful young blonde woman is reading a paperback on the couch under the white lamplight, menthol cigarettes and a cup of water nearby on the dark coffee table. A free spirited girl, she often read such books, even during her high school days. This book was penned by the spiritual scribe Evelyn Underhill and titled Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. Published seven decades earlier, it was and is a paperback that you would find any typical twenty-two-year-old young woman, searching for answers, to be reading.

Under the low-glow of the stove’s overhead bulb, the forty-six-year-old lady of the house prepares two small bowls of peaches and cottage cheese for herself and fiance. This was her perfect remedy for a queasy stomach, and help settle down to a long, gentle heroin nod. On the television was Murder on the Orient Express. The pair eased into a peaceful slumber, volume low on the television, the gentle hum of the window air conditioner provided added ambiance and comfort.

Two others cuddled in the back bedroom, a long awaited attempt at reconciliation. It was hot though, and a box fan on the floor was their only reprieve. This room had no window air-conditioning unit. Just in front of the room’s backdoor which led to the back patio, a large leather suitcase is against the TV stand. She had come to stay indefinitely it seemed.

The two pit-bulls, Dylan and Carla, rest out back in the middle of the open concrete back yard, trying to catch the rare flurry of cool wind. The city is suffocating, even in the hills. Dylan is messed up and mean; Carla is a sweet dog, raised and trained from a puppy by her master, Billy DeVerell.

Outside the front wall and metal gate on the narrow street, a man walks his dog. Next door a woman dozes off in bed to the low drone of voices on the television. Out the window at the top of the hill there is a sign containing an all-seeing-eye on a telephone pole, it reads: THE NEIGHBORHOOD PATROL SEES YOU.

***

“This place is magical,” a man said. “I can come here at 3 or 4 in the morning and get good food. It’s a special corner. The whole atmosphere is inspirational.”

A few moments later, he decided what else to say: “Life goes on.”

Such was the mood in 1989 at Tiny Naylor’s Café. Customers had just received the news that the beloved restaurant, with its admired Googie architecture, would not be designated as a cultural landmark in Studio City. The property owners had jumped at big money. In its place would be built a $15-million-dollar two-story shopping center. Tiny’s employees would be given jobs at the chains other L.A. restaurants but the guys at the classic old car wash next door, once frequented by actors Telly Savalas and Sharon Gless, were out of luck. All eighty of them were told by the boss to find new jobs.

Exactly eight years earlier, a disheveled looking John Holmes, wearing bloody jeans and a crumpled, blood stained shirt, stumbled up to the diner at 4 in the morning – but not to get food. Besides, he had no money in his pockets. Everything he owned or had stolen from others was taken from him at Eddie’s house many hours before. Kicked out of the car by the thugs who murdered the group at Wonderland, John had just made the three-mile walk down the hill on Laurel Canyon Boulevard from Lookout Mountain. Tiny Naylor’s had a payphone so John called someone he knew would help him: Dottie Glickman.

Dottie was the pretty wife of one of Eddie Nash’s shady, yet sometimes legit cohorts, Hal. Harold “Hal” Glickman, ran a medieval-themed restaurant in Burbank called the King’s Arms and he was also a bail bondsman who operated out of Hollywood. But where Nash remained quite teflon with his drug deals, schemes and frauds, Hal was an embarrassment. In 1981 when the people at Wonderland had been killed, Hal had been in prison serving a sentence for trying to bribe a judge, all the while Dottie was having a fling with Eddie. And Eddie treated Hal like an employee.

Just next to Tiny’s Café is Dupar’s All-Hours Restaurant, which is another beloved eating spot in Studio City. It is also the place where John would drop Dawn when he went to Eddie Nash’s house. And he did so a few days after the Wonderland attack, when he went to Eddie’s to borrow money before his flight from the law that fateful July of 1981. John Holmes loved diners and coffee shops. But he wasn’t a night owl by choice. The all night hours of diners agreed with his having no home, his drug of choice lifestyle – freebase, and his late hours due to said drug. And Holmes loved his black coffee steeped with sugar and coupled with Marlboros or Winstons to take the edge from his stimulants.

In about 1983, Holmes even recorded his famous audio tapes while discussing Wonderland with his ghost writer at a diner — as one can hear him asking for more coffee, the bill or calling the waitress ‘honey’. The taped interview and the arrangement to meet at the coffee shop was another acting ploy by Holmes – trying to impress this beat-writer from Orange County – and convince him that Eddie or David Lind or others were out to get him. These paranoid assumptions may have been correct.

***

Homicide detectives often find out about a fresh murder by receiving a phone call in the middle of the night, for that is when most homicides occur – especially in Hollywood. For the Wonderland murders though, Lange would be enjoying his long Fourth of July weekend out at a friend’s ranch, north of the city near the town of Lancaster.

Frederick Douglas Lange, better known by his nickname Tom – bestowed upon him by his sisters – was born in 1945 and was in his mid-thirties at the time of the Wonderland slayings. Tom was a Marine Sergeant during the Vietnam War and was recipient of the Bronze Star, which was awarded to him after saving a fellow soldier who had been wounded and trapped in a minefield.

Lange returned home to L.A. after refusing to re-enlist. He bounced around the country for a year seeing the sights and visiting relatives of his friends who had died in ‘Nam. By the late 60s, he was working at a filling station in Los Angeles when a friend and customer, an LAPD cop, encouraged him to take the department’s aptitude tests. Tom aced those entrance tests, signed up, got his training and then graduated from the police academy in 1968. He was to become a famous, decorated cop; a real sleuth-hound on the street.

By 1976, Tom was promoted to investigator at Central Division. One of his first assignments was finding the Skid Row Stabber, who was killing homeless men. Lange got him after identifying a palm print (Bobby Joe Maxwell was his name) and this impressed the brass which earned Lange an assignment at Robbery/Homicide Division in 1978.

The small-role actor Frank Christi, who had appeared in The Godfather, was shot and killed in his Hollywood hills driveway in 1982. The case was worked by Lange from the beginning. But this cold case would not be officially solved until the time of the O.J. Simpson trial, nearly fifteen years later. The murder was only solved when a government witness, Tony “the Animal” Fiato, was offered a deal and given immunity and protection. When they got the first break in the case in 1988, Lange had the same partner he had when he visited Holmes at the VA Hospital – Enoch “Mac” McClain. The Christi murder was the result of a row over a woman.

But in 1981, Tom Lange’s partner in Robbery/Homicide was Robert Souza. Souza had been sitting on a floating-chair in his backyard pool, sipping a beer, and about to fire up his grill when he got the call. At first, Souza didn’t hear the house phone ringing, but when he finally picked up, his supervisor Ron Lewis shouted “Where the hell have you been? We got a quadruple up in the Hills!” Souza then sarcastically asked his boss, “Is this going to ruin my long weekend?” It would.

***

Joy Miller of Wonderland had pined for Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night for a long time. “It was actually a big problem”, says Julia Negron. “I was home with the kids, and Chuck would have to go out and purchase our supply of drugs … Joy would give him a handful of pills and let him sleep it off on the couch … one time, I needed to speak to him about something important, and she told me he was sleeping … well I was so angry at her that I drove over to her apartment in Brentwood and in the ensuing argument, I ended up pushing her against the wall.”

If not for an abortion, Julia would have had a child with her first husband, John Densmore, the drummer for the Doors. He did not want the baby and after about five years of marriage, which coincidentally saw the end of the Doors with the death of singer Jim Morrisson, the couple would break up and divorce. Julia soon rebounded, and like any hot groupie, landed straight into the arms of Berry Oakley, the bass player for The Allman Brothers. Before Oakley’s motorcycle death, this union would produce a baby boy: Berry Oakley, Jr. Their lovechild would also go on to become a famous and accomplished musician.

By 1981, the Julia and Chuck show were living in Laurel Canyon around the corner from Joy and Billy at Wonderland. While they stayed holed up at their house for days on end keeping druggie-hours, they delighted in the delivery of fine food from Greenblatt’s Deli on Sunset Boulevard. With its huge menu and selection, late operating hours and delivery, there was always something good to cure the munchies after a heroin nod.

Some other dealers had threatened Chuck; they shot up his house and had even stolen his Mercedes for unpaid drug debts. Chuck owed Joy money as well. At one point, as Chuck prepared to go out with the band on a brief tour, it was decided that Julia and the two boys should stay at Joy’s house. “We stayed for a few weeks in the back bedroom – the Launius bedroom. As partial payment for the favor and for some drugs, we gave her a bureau, a couch and some other really nice furniture. Of course, later on, we would not want that stuff back. Joy also had our jewelry, including both of our wedding rings.”

The day before the murders Joy had been calling the Negrons asking them to stop by again that evening. Being tired, Julia and Chuck stayed home but it was not for Joy’s lack of trying and telling her “I have something to give you.” The next morning, Wednesday July 1, the curiosity had gotten the best of Julia. With Chuck away at a Three Dog meeting to plan their 4th of July concert, Julia along with drug-buddy and family friend, Bruce Fisher, walked over to the Wonderland house.

Bruce Fisher is a musician, singer and songwriter. He released a few soft rock-disco albums in the late seventies. Bruce also co-authored a few famous songs, including the classic song “You Are So Beautiful”, which he penned along with Dennis Wilson and Billy Preston. It was a big hit for Joe Cocker. Bruce also appeared to critical acclaim lending lead vocals to several tracks on Quincy Jones’ first gold solo album.

The metal gate was ajar when Bruce and Julia arrived. The two pit bulls, Dylan and Carla, were lingering around the front of the house. This was odd, she thought, as Julia had never seen the gate left open before. As they entered and walked up the concrete steps, the front door was also ajar. There, they entered a phantasmagoria.

When describing the incident, Julia relayed “I still get the creeps when I think of Barbara Richardson laying there on the floor with her blood all over our couch.” She turned and immediately left to call police. As they made their way out the gate, Bruce and Julia made a shocked comment to movers who were working next door: “There are dead bodies in there.” Shocked and in disbelief, the movers took a glance inside the door and then also called police.

While Julia made the quick walk home to use the telephone, Bruce had stayed and loitered around at Wonderland. Curiosity or the need to find drugs got the best of him however and when cops arrived, they found him inside the house. He was cuffed and briefly detained in a squad car in the street. When he was released, he told neighbors and a reporter, “There’s a guy in there on the floor with blood all over his face … I didn’t know if the SOB who did it was still in the house!”

Julia described another encounter, “After the murders, the police came to my house to question me, they showed me a picture. I was shocked, because I met him at the house! It was John Holmes, and they said they were looking for him. I really didn’t know who he was. I had never heard of him. I would not hang out long at Joy’s. We were usually in and out. We would go up to her bedroom, do our business, and leave. But on one occasion, I stayed a bit longer. We were smoking cigarettes on the back porch and I remember talking to him. Nothing particular but I just remember that he was a really skinny, just a really greasy guy. I think he said that he was in the medical field. An orderly? I don’t know.”

Four people had been beaten to death, while a fifth victim clang to life. The attack was the resulting revenge for the daring robbery and assault of one of L.A.’s most wealthy businessmen and nightclub owners two days earlier. They day after the robbery, Holmes had been picked up by Nash’s bodyguard at the former’s message-answering service on Sunset. He was retrieving his phone messages when spotted and hauled by the collar and hair back to Nash’s high-end tract house in the Donas.

The weekend after the Wonderland murders – amidst a large festival crowd – a very bony and otherwise unhealthy looking Chuck Negron performed at the concert in Long Beach. This 4th of July celebration concert was part of a live simulcast on national television and radio entitled, “The Spirit of America Spectacular” on July 5, 1981. The concert stage was adjacent to the site where the Queen Mary rested, permanently docked in Long Beach, and was hosted by DJ’s Wolfman Jack and Charlie Tuna. The show included performances by other bands, including the Beach Boys, Pablo Cruise and Rick Springfield.

Everything told, there were four home-invasion robberies in this story, four murders, a maimed woman, and unknown murders committed over the course of some of these other player’s lives. Eddie Nash is pushing ninety-years-old now days, still living with his much younger Armenian girlfriend. Once said to have been a beauty queen, she and the aging lothario still share a nice-sized condo in Tarzana – living the good life. Of all the players in this story, Eddie went to many trials: acquittals, hung juries, one conviction, one copped-plea, served a few years at different prisons; ain’t karma a bitch? But “The Nash” still gets around okay, loves his walks, his visits with old friends at the coffee house, enjoys his fine wine, still drives, loves his big family dinners with his own, and his girl’s extended Armenian-American family – two of whom, which are believed by LAPD to have been men sent with Ed’s large African-American bodyguards to do Wonderland up and decorate the residents’ heads with lead pipes – to dispatch revenge, vengeance and south-land justice in the dead of night. For if one robs a man from an honor culture – a man such as Nash – then accidentally shoots his bodyguard, and puts a gun in Ed’s mouth, has him tearfully beg to say a prayer, but then lets him live, steals close to a million in cash, jewels and drugs – for that is a foolish decision that will carry consequences. Ed called John Holmes “my brother”, but his gifts of friendship, love and drugs was repaid with a double-cross. Holmes’ greed and the gang’s trust in the porn king set off the powder keg that was to become the forever dark night of the drugged-out 80s.

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