Wonderland Gang

Wonderland Gang

The Wonderland Gang was a group of drug dealers involved in the Los Angeles cocaine trade during the late 1970s and early 1980s; their homebase was located on Wonderland Avenue in the Laurel Canyon area.[1] On July 1, 1981 four members of the gang died in the Wonderland murders. LAPD detectives were on record as saying the crime scene was more bloody and gruesome than that of the Tate-LaBianca murders.

Contents

Members

Members of the gang included:

  • Ronnie ("Ron") Lee Launius[2] (b. May 18, 1944 d. July 1, 1981) (leader)
  • William Ray ("Billy") DeVerell (b. February 14, 1937 d. July 1, 1981)
  • Joy Audrey Gold Miller (b. May 14, 1935 d. July 1, 1981) (DeVerell's girlfriend)
  • David Clay Lind (b. October 24, 1938, d. November 16, 1995)
  • Susan A. Launius (b. 1951; survived attack) (wife of Ron Launius)
  • Tracy Ray McCourt (b. February 20, 1949, d. October 18, 2006)


The Wonderland Gang mainly trafficked in the burgeoning cocaine trade of the era, but despite its role as being the most influential and feared cocaine distributorship of its time in Los Angeles, most of its members were heroin addicts. Drugs were regularly dealt from Miller and DeVerell's residence at 8763 Wonderland Avenue in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles. The two bedroom split-level house was leased in Miller's name. Miller and her live-in boyfriend DeVerell were the usual residents, with Ron Launius and his wife, Susan, as houseguests. Pornographic film actor John Holmes was a frequent visitor who would purchase cocaine from the Gang. Lind, ordinarily a resident of the Sacramento area, came to Los Angeles in the summer of 1981 at Launius' behest, to aid in their growing drug distribution business. Bringing with him his girlfriend Barbara "Butterfly" Richardson, the pair slept on the living room sofa during their stay at the Wonderland house.

Billy Deverell

Billy Deverell, one of the oldest members of the gang, acted as Launius' right hand man and a voice of reason. Lind characterized him as an otherwise noble individual who had been lured into the drug world because of the easy money, and indicated that Deverell experienced periods of self loathing for his actions, during which he expressed a desire to leave drugs behind. In addition to dealing drugs, Deverell was also a heavy heroin user and had been arrested thirteen times in relation to his habit. The autopsy performed on him after his murder turned up numerous injection scars on his inner forearms, in addition to hyperplasia of the lymph nodes, a common sign of narcotics abuse.[citation needed]

Joy Miller

Billy Deverell's girlfriend, and the individual who actually rented out the Wonderland house. A divorced mother with adult children, Joy was a heroin user who had fallen in with the Wonderland gang through her self-immersion in drug culture. By the time Holmes had become involved with the group, Miller had been treated for breast cancer and had a double masectomy. Holmes claimed this did nothing to reduce her opiate usage.[citation needed]

Ron Launius

A United States Air Force veteran of the Vietnam era, Ronnie Lee Launius had been convicted of smuggling heroin from Vietnam back to the United States in the corpses of dead American soldiers.[citation needed] Reportedly, at the time of his death, police investigators throughout California -- largely in the Sacramento area -- had 27 open homicide cases they believed were perpetrated by Launius.[citation needed] In May 1974, he was arrested for and charged with the 1973 murder of a reputed police drug informant who had been killed over a botched drug deal. After a key witness for the prosecution died in an unrelated police shootout, the murder charges against Launius were dropped. That same year, however, Launius was convicted of smuggling heroin and cocaine across the US/Mexico border and eventually served three years out of an eight year sentence in a federal prison.[3]

Launius and his wife Susan were married in Carson City, Nevada on April 16, 1971. He is buried in Lodi, California.[4]

Susan Launius

While not an official member of the gang, Susan Launius was married to gang member Ron Launius and had a drug habit. She was the only survivor of the brutal Wonderland attack the night of July 1, 1981. Having suffered severe head-injuries and amnesia following the attack, Launius still resides in southern California.

David Lind

A member of the Aryan Brotherhood, David Lind was a biker gang member and heroin addict who befriended Launius when the two men served in prison together. In 1981, at Launius' behest, Lind traveled to Los Angeles to join the Wonderland gang and assist them in running drugs. At the time of the Wonderland murders, Lind had been incarcerated several times for burglary, forgery, assault, and assault with intent to commit rape. Lind's position in the drug underworld was and remains murky due to allegations by rival drug dealers that he worked as a police informant. Lind died of a heroin overdose in 1995.

Barbara Richardson

Like Susan Launius, "Butterfly" Richardson was not an official member of the Wonderland Gang. Richardson was a girlfriend of David Lind's at the time of their arrival at the Wonderland house, however, they were apparently not exclusive.[5] She was the youngest of the group at 22 years old. Her four tattoos were images of a flower, a mushroom, a butterfly, and Minnie Mouse.[6] Both Richardson and Lind were said to be police informants in the Sacramento area not long before they traveled to Southern California. Richardson possessed intravenous drug injection site scars as reported in her official autopsy.[7]

Tracy McCourt

Little is known about McCourt other than he was the driver of the vehicle that carried the Wonderland Gang to Eddie Nash's home the night of the robbery. In the years after the Wonderland murders, McCourt was reported to have moved to Colorado. In 2001, he reportedly had been wanted by the Colorado Springs Police Department for "assault with a deadly weapon and failure to comply on the original charge of distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance".[8]

Criminal enterprises

The Wonderland Gang was mainly known for its drug sales, which concentrated on cocaine and the occasional heroin deal.

But like any modern business enterprise, the Gang was diversified. In addition to drug distribution, the Gang gained additional revenues through burglaries, and armed robberies of rival drug dealers. It was this last line of business that ultimately led to the sudden and violent end of the Gang.[9]

Wonderland Murders

Nash robbery

On June 29, 1981, the Wonderland Gang, composed of Ron Launius, Tracy Ray McCourt, David Lind, Billy Deverell, Joy Miller, and [10]John Holmes, conspired to launch a brutal home invasion and robbery upon Eddie Nash, a reputedly powerful organized crime figure. During this invasion, Launius shoved a gun barrel down Nash's throat, and Lind shot Nash's bodyguard, Gregory Diles, in the back. Racial epithets were also hurled at Nash and Diles.[11]

The robbery was an inside job set up by John Holmes, who was a close associate of Mr. Nash. Nash regularly referred to Holmes as "my brother". Early in the morning of the robbery, Holmes visited Nash's mansion ostensibly to party and to buy drugs. But on his way out, he left a patio door unlatched.

Holmes actually went to Nash's three times that morning. The first time, he forgot to unlatch the patio door. The second time he returned to the Wonderland hideout but some of the Gang members were extremely intoxicated from the heroin to which they were addicted. After the gang members revived, Holmes was worried that the patio door may have been locked again, so he returned to Nash's a third time, purchased some crack cocaine, unlatched the door, and notified the Gang that the home was ready for invasion.

Launius, Deverell, and Lind performed the invasion and robbery, whilst McCourt waited outside in a stolen Ford Granada and served as lookout. To avoid leaving any identifying traces, the men had previously dipped their fingers in a product known as "Liquid Band-Aid" so as to not leave any fingerprints behind.[12]

The robbery was a seemingly successful haul for the Gang, as they made off with more than $1,200,000 worth of cocaine, heroin, quaaludes, cash, antique guns, and jewelry.[13] But the events of the next two days would prove this to be a Pyrrhic victory.

Murders

Following the robbery, John Holmes ended up at Eddie Nash's home. Accounts of how Holmes arrived there vary; according to some sources Holmes went there himself to try and make himself appear innocent, whereas others claim Holmes was kidnapped by Nash's henchmen when they recognized Holmes wearing some of Nash's jewelry.

Around 3:00 in the morning on July 1, two days after the Nash robbery, John Holmes and a number of unidentified men entered the Wonderland house and bludgeoned to death Launius, Deverell, Miller, and Richardson; the weapons were believed to be hammers and/or lead pipes. Ron Launius' wife, Susan, suffered severe brain damage in the attack but ultimately survived and recovered, although she was left with permanent amnesia regarding the night of her attack. Neither Lind nor McCourt were present for the attack, as Lind was consuming drugs with a prostitute in a motel and McCourt was at his own home.[14]

Although neighbors would later report having heard screams, no phone calls were placed to the police until 4:00 in the afternoon on July 1, 12 hours later, when furniture movers working at the house next door to Wonderland heard Susan Launius moaning and went to investigate. When questioned, neighbors said that the drug-fuelled Wonderland parties often included loud, violent screaming and disruptive noise, so that when they heard the murders occurring, they simply believed that another party was taking place. The house was notorious for round-the-clock mayhem and debauchery.

Suspects

When the crime scene was discovered by the LAPD, there was no shortage of suspects, as the Wonderland Gang had made many enemies during its reign at the top of the LA cocaine trade.[15] A contract was out on their lives as they had scammed a fellow drug dealer by selling him baking soda of an amount that seemed to be $250,000 worth of cocaine. But in the end police zeroed in on the murders as a "revenge hit" ordered by Nash.

Los Angeles County prosecutors made the decision to charge John Holmes with four counts of capital murder. David Lind was the lead witness for the prosecution, which was led by District Attorney Ron Coen. But Lind could testify to no more than the fact that the Gang had robbed Mr. Nash's house. In his testimony, Lind alleged that the entire Nash robbery was, in fact, concocted by John Holmes, as well as the Wonderland murders. As lurid as this testimony was, Lind had no testimony directly relevant to the commission of the Wonderland murders themselves, and there was no forensic evidence tying Holmes to the murder. Holmes' court appointed lawyers, Earl Hanson and Mitchell Egers, painted a successful defense about Holmes being the innocent victim who was forced against his will by the real killers to lead them to the Wonderland Avenue house. On June 25, 1982, Holmes (having never taken the witness stand to testify on his own behalf) was found not guilty of all charges.

The Holmes trial was a milestone in American jurisprudence, as it was the first criminal trial in which videotape was introduced into evidence and played at the trial. The jury found no connection between the gruesome and bloody crime scene video and Holmes, however.

In 1989, a new witness came forward, Scott Thorson, the former boyfriend of Liberace.[16] Based on his deposition, formal charges were filed against Eddie Nash and Gregory Diles, his bodyguard. In court, Thorson testified that on the afternoon of June 30, 1981, he was partying at Nash's home when John Holmes was brought in and taken to another room. Thorson claimed that while he was standing in the doorway to the other room, he saw Holmes beaten severely by Nash and Diles until he confessed to his complicity, and that he identified the Wonderland gang as the perpetrators of the robbery.[17]

Nash and Diles were tried in 1990 in an unusual proceeding in which two separate juries observed the same trial.[18] The Nash jury returned a hung verdict, voting 11-1 to convict, and the Diles jury also returned a hung verdict, but with an 11-1 vote to acquit. As in the Holmes trial, David Lind recounted his testimony regarding the robbery of Nash.

In 1991 Nash and Diles were retried in a similar dual-jury proceeding, and this time they were both found not-guilty by 12-0 verdicts.

Nash later admitted to having bribed the lone holdout juror in his first trial, and to having ordered his associates to retrieve stolen goods from the Wonderland Gang. He denied having ordered the murders and received four-and-a-half years in prison for unrelated charges. Police also suspected Diles' younger brother, Samuel, as being one of the assailants in the Wonderland Murders, however he was never charged.

After Holmes' death in March 1988 from AIDS, his first wife, Sharon Holmes, came forward and stated that at around 5:00 a.m. on the morning of the murders, Holmes came to her house soaked in blood, claiming that as punishment for his involvement in Nash home invasion two days prior, he was taken to the house on Wonderland Avenue and forced at gunpoint to watch the massacre taking place which was committed by three of Nash's henchmen, but otherwise not participating in it. However no forensic evidence was ever produced that either Nash or Holmes was involved, with the exception of Holmes' handprint in blood on the bed where the body of Ron Launius was found.

Where are they now?

As of January 2007, the sole survivor of the robbery at Eddie Nash's mansion is Nash himself. Susan Launius is the only remaining survivor of the infamous Wonderland Gang.

  • Ron Launius, DeVerell, Miller, and Richardson all died in the 1981 massacre.
  • Susan Launius survived the attack and lives in southern California.
  • John Curtis Holmes died in 1988 from medical complications due to AIDS.
  • David Clay Lind died of a heroin overdose in 1995.
  • Gregory Dewitt Diles also died in 1995, from liver failure.
  • Samuel Lawton Diles died in 2002 of unspecified causes.
  • Tracy Raymond McCourt died of unspecified causes on October 18, 2006.[19]

The other assailants who participated in the bludgeoning attack on the Wonderland Gang have neither been identified or prosecuted; their fate and whereabouts are unknown.

2003 film

In 2003 a crime-drama about the Wonderland Murders, Wonderland, starred Val Kilmer, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott, Carrie Fisher, Josh Lucas, Christina Applegate, and Lisa Kudrow. It was directed by James Cox. Kilmer plays the role of John Holmes.[20][21]

References

  1. ^ Salon.com
  2. ^ Launius' grave marker photo at Find A Grave
  3. ^ "Slaying Victim Was Once Charged In Drug Murder". The Palm Beach Post. July 4, 1981. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=7DpLAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OCINAAAAIBAJ&dq=ronaldlaunius&pg=6622,946812. 
  4. ^ "Slain Man's Mother: 'He Wasn't Mad'". Lodi News-Sentinel. July 8, 1981. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Z-MzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=QTIHAAAAIBAJ&pg=5818,794077&dq=ronald+launius&hl=en. 
  5. ^ Lind testified at trial that at the time of the Wonderland murders, he was spending the night with a prostitute in the San Fernando Valley.
  6. ^ LA Medical Examiner's autopsy report, 81-8538, conducted immediately after the Wonderland Murders.
  7. ^ Ibid.
  8. ^ Colorado Springs Gazette, October 29, 2001
  9. ^ David Lind's court testimony as reprinted in Long Time Money and Lots of Cocaine, a book authored by Rodger Jacobs and published on the LuLu Press
  10. ^ While may have seen Miller and Richardson as innocent pawns in the Wonderland Murders, David Lind testified in the preliminary hearing for John Holmes in 1982 that Miller and Richardson, in fact, attended the planning meetings of the Nash robbery.
  11. ^ Allan MacDonell: In Too Deep. LA Weekly, 2 October 2003
  12. ^ Sworn testimony of David Lind during the preliminary hearing for John Holmes in 1982, as reported in the book Long Time Money and Lots of Cocaine, by Rodger Jacobs and published at LuLu.com
  13. ^ Lions Gate Productions feature film, Wonderland, 2002
  14. ^ "Trial Begins for 2 in Grisly Laurel Canyon Murders of Mid-1981", LA Times, March 21, 1990
  15. ^ "Two Acquitted in Second Trial for '81 Laurel Canyon Murders" , LA Times article, January 18, 1991
  16. ^ Amazon.com; My Life with Liberace - Scott Thorson, New York Publishers, 1988 ISBN 1877961116
  17. ^ LA Times news article, "Revenge Against Burglars Led to Slayings", March 27, 1990.
  18. ^ LA Times newspaper article, "Trial Begins for 2 in Grisly Laurel Canyon Murders", March 21, 1990
  19. ^ Ancestry.com SSDI Death Index Database
  20. ^ IMDb.com
  21. ^ Variety

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