The once "King of Porn" John Holmes, now a disheveled, limping mess, led three desperate men up a flight of concrete steps to kill everyone they encountered. On July 1, 1981, around three in the morning, they reached the iron security gate of the two-story house on Wonderland Drive, a dingy, pale structure the color of faded mustard. Two of the men gripped sawed-off lengths of lead pipe, the handle ends wrapped with duct tape. The third man, breathing hard and making wheezing noises, nervously clutched a baseball bat.
Holmes's hair hung straggly and dirty against his bruised, sallow, puffed face. His eyes were sunken and red. He muttered to a pair of pit bulls slumped on the porch, watching the men. With an empty breath, as though the wind had been socked from his lungs, he spoke into the intercom. "It's John. I've got some good shit . . ."
A female answered. "Everybody's crashed in here. Are you alone?" Yeah, he said. She'd open the door, she said. He could bring the shit in and leave it, but he'd have to take off.
"Okay . . ." he said, touching the damp noses of the dogs. For a second he flashed on the wind in faraway trees-big trees. He could smell pinesap. There was a white-tailed deer-slender, a streamlined body with thin legs and strong muscles. He could see the soft, blood-filled velvet covering the antlers and he wanted to touch it. . . He started to reach out his hand.
The men pressed at his back when the gate was opened. She'd unlocked the door. Holmes tried to step aside, to hang back, but one of the men, a hulking black giant, prodded him between the shoulders with the end of a pipe.
He was shoved ahead as the men rushed forward, pushing into the house as if catapulted across the threshold. Clenching his eyes, John turned away, every nerve pulling like a piece of wire. He wanted to crawl into a hole - a dirty drain and be sucked to kingdom come. The awful sounds of the pipes and bat filled the air, and the girl who'd answered the door was on the floor. John opened his eyes and stared at the young woman he'd known as Barbara - dead between a couch and coffee table, a pool of blood spreading around her head.
"Jesus Christ -" John groaned.
"He ain't here tonight," the black man said, shoving Holmes farther into the house, almost as if he were a shield. The other men maneuvered in the dark, killing as they went. Cries were cut short by the thuds of the pipes and bat, sickening sounds like wet cement sacks slung against a sidewalk. "Don't kill me!" a man screamed. John recognized the voice but he'd never heard the terror it now contained. More blows extinguished further cries. The men hurried from room to room, the threaded ends of the pipes leaving tracks on the skulls and skin. Hair and blood and bits of bone and brain spattered walls, beds, and ceilings.
A pipe was thrust into John's hand and he leaned over a bed in one dark room. The metal was sticky with blood. "Go on," he was told. "Do it!"
He didn't know if the shape on the bed was dead or alive, but closing his eyes again he raised the pipe and took a swing. It felt like metal smacking chunks of mashed melon.
With the speed of a train rushing past, the intruders killed two men, two women, and thought they'd killed a third female until she started moaning. One man turned back. "Hey, bitch!" he said. "You still singin'? Thought we'd put you to sleep-" The girl made garbled sounds and feebly raised a hand to shield her cracked head. Another blow of the pipe struck so hard it severed half a finger from her hand. Blood flew against the wall as though thrown from a bucket.
"They all dead?" one man asked. "Nobody else here?" They were looking at Holmes, so drained that he looked like a ghost. "Get what we came for and let's split," the black man told the others as Holmes slunk toward the front door, his squinting eyes looking straight ahead. He didn't want to see the dead girl on the floor or any more blood. The King of Porn fumbled his way to the porch, hands sticky, shaking, and stinking. He hadn't killed anybody. That's what he told himself. They'd forced him to be there - to get into the house. They wanted his fingerprints on that piece of pipe.
Backing away, the dogs eyed Holmes as he tried to puke in the bushes. He couldn't bring anything up. Guts wrenching, he staggered down the steps, gasping for air but unable to breathe. He climbed into the car and slumped on the rear seat, the sounds of the night washing over him in sick, penetrating waves.
Minutes later the other men were on the street. One carried the bloody pipes and bat wrapped in a towel and toted another bag. They had drugs, guns, jewelry, and money. One man, laughing as he got into the car, said, "Every fucker dead in there." As they drove away from the building, the black man turned and stared at Holmes. "A good, fast job," he said. "Only thing we didn't do is cut their eyeballs out." The laughing man kept laughing.
But what they didn't know as the car sped over Laurel Canyon was that the girl they'd beaten twice to make sure she was dead was still alive.
Twenty-five-year-old Susan Lanius lay crumpled in one ransacked bedroom, her skull broken in such a freaky way that chunks of bone angling into her head were keeping her from bleeding to death. Her husband, Ron Lanius, thirty-seven, hadn't been as lucky. He lay dead in another bedroom, beaten so severely his forehead looked caved-in or blown off by the blast of a shotgun.
Crowded in the rear seat, but like he was alone-a condemned man - the thought struck Holmes that he should have killed himself. Should've eaten poison or thrown himself from the moving car, but he lacked the guts. He was an empty man, turned inside out. The black man gave him a rock of cocaine like dropping a chunk of rice into a beggar's cup. Holmes's bloodstained fingers shook as he fired a lighter and sucked at the fumes. Grunting noises leaked from his throat as the L.A. night swallowed the car.
Unconscious and near death, Susan Lanius kept moaning as the sun soon crawled into the smog, the agonizing day dragging ahead with four dead bodies - almost five-sprawled in the house.
Later that day a professional mover, working next door to the house on Wonderland Drive, heard moaning sounds coming through an open window. "Like someone in awful pain," he said. "Those dogs kept barking - never shut up. Then that moaning from inside - someone sick or injured . . . They weren't calling for help, just moaning like they were dying . . ." The dogs were circling the porch, moving up and down the steps and avoiding the partially opened front door. The security gate was hanging open. Walking cautiously, warily past the dogs and saying, "Good boys, good boys," the mover reached the front door and knocked. "Hello? Anybody home?" No answer. Nudging the door open a little further, he saw the blood on the floor.
"I stuck my head around the edge of the door and was looking at the body of a young woman. Dead and all beaten, her face down on the floor, one side of her head against her upper arm. There was blood everywhere, but that moaning was coming from down a hall past the kitchen . . ." Venturing no farther, the mover backed out quickly and hurried down the steps to call the police.
An ambulance rushed Susan to the hospital, transfusions going into her as blood seeped from the coagulated head wounds and gashes on her neck. "She was more dead than alive," a medical attendant says. "I didn't know if she'd make it. . ."
The surgeons quickly removed part of her skull to try to keep her alive. They couldn't tell the extent of the brain damage or if she'd live or not.
Detectives and crime lab technicians searched the house, videotaping the scene while attempts were under way to identify the victims. Forty-six-year-old Joy Miller had been beaten to death in an upstairs bedroom. The house had been rented in her name. The body of the man she lived with, Billy Deverell, two years younger than Miller, was slumped in a corner, fully dressed, his entire body streaked with blood. The young woman on the living room floor was twenty-nine-year-old Barbara Richardson, with a Sacramento address.
Deputies from the coroner's office bagged the four bodies, then moved them from the building while a neighbor told detectives that he and his wife had been awakened early that morning by ". . . sounds of people groaning. Someone screaming, and then these thumping-thumping noises. There's people in that house all hours, all night long . . . all the time. We didn't know what it was. Loud music, parties . . . Fights and yelling, and half the residents on Wonderland know that woman's running a crack house out of there. The police know it."
As the investigation proceeded, homicide detectives received a call from a man saying he was someone who should've been killed with everyone else in the house. "That's what's supposed to have happened," he said, adding a kind of laugh. "Probably I should've been killed more than anyone else." He'd been away on business, he said, when the "killing party" took place, as he put it. Barbara Richardson, his girlfriend, had come down from Sacramento. The caller knew each of the victims and said he knew how and why they'd all been killed.
"How do you know everyone's dead?" he was asked. The detectives did not tell him that Susan Lanius was still alive - so far.
"Listen," the caller said, "I'm not going to jive you, man, and you're not going to jive me. Let's get that straight right out front. I got a call this morning and I was told in no uncertain terms what's happened and to keep my ass clean out of it."
"Who are you?"
Without hesitation, the caller identified himself as David Lind, a biker and a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. "I'm no angel," he admitted. "You know what I mean. We've been doing drugs, see, that's the business, the scene. Right now I'm in San Gabriel on business. I came down to L.A. to fucking do business." He was asked about Susan Lanius, and Lind said she had joined her husband on Wonderland the day before.
"We've been boosting," he said, "hitting places, stealing shit, and turning the goods to this Holmes guy-a jerk-off porn star-"
"You talking about John Holmes?" the detective asked.
"Yeah, that's the dude," Lind said. "That's donkey dick. A fucking middleman who goes back and forth on deals with Eddie Nash."
"Right, man. Nash. That's who I'm talking about. Nash and Holmes. A pair of fucking ducks."
The police were stunned. One detective said, "It was coming so fast out of the blue that we just stood there with our mouths open. We'd been leaning on Eddie Nash for years -- I'm talking years! The fucker's file was practically four feet thick with every kind of dirt you can imagine. Rubbing his crap on a lot of people this side of the law as well. Not only cops, but higher up - city government. He had his goddamn fingers into the feds. Nash has been the worst ass in L.A., and we've been trying to bust him the last twenty years I've been on the force. And Holmes? For Christ's sake, John Holmes has been a goddamn police informant!"
"Get this David Lind right now," the detectives were ordered. "We'll cut a deal with him, and if the Lanius girl lives, then we've got a witness and the goods to nail Nash."
Detectives interviewed David Lind, who kept popping pills throughout the meeting. Looking older than his years, with a bushy white beard and arms covered with tattoos, Lind seemed to smirk with every answer. "This donkey dick," he said, "has been taking shit to Nash and trading for dope. He's a fucking crack head who'll boost anything you've got - your stereo, goods out of your closet and the trunk of your car, guns, furs, bike jackets. . . You name it, he's swiped it, and takes his cut out in dope. You got the picture? That's the deals we've had and what happens is Holmes comes up with a scam to rip off Nash - his buddy. Supposed to have a safe full of dope and cash, so says Holmes who's in and out of Nash's pad all the time. So it went down two days ago. We hit Nash's house and the nigger he lives with got pushed around. What happens is a gun goes off by accident and the nigger gets scraped…
"I shoved a gun in Nash's mouth and he started to pray-" Lind laughed. "Mind you, I had no intention of whacking the dude, just getting his stash, which we did. So what you're looking at here with everyone getting wasted is Nash getting back in a retaliation move. He brought the nigger and Holmes and they're the ones that whacked these people -- including my woman. They would've wasted my ass for sure since I shoved the piece in Nash's kisser and had the fucker pissing his pants -- these little bathing suit sort of panties, like a chick's underwear. If I hadn't been out here in San Gabriel dealing the shit we ripped off the fucking Arab, you'd be sacking me in one of your bags."
Eddie Nash had slipped out of every attempt by the law to bust him for more than two decades. The prospect of nailing Nash could prove the city's major coup. "A lot of years," Detective Tom Lange says, "we'd been working his narcotics trafficking, the bribery, the murders, his wire fraud, and money laundering- whatever it is you can think up that's illegal and rotten, Nash is doing it or behind it or he owns it." A case of mass murder directly linking Nash to the homicides was being dropped right into their laps. They almost did a jig in the D.A.'s office.
Nash's real name was Adel Gharib Nasrallah, born in Palestine of Lebanese parents. He'd arrived in the United States in the early 1950s, claiming his family had owned several hotels in Palestine until 1948. "The creation of Israel forced them into refugee camps," Nash would say. "My brother-in-law was gunned down in the street by Israeli soldiers… I barely escaped the same fate, only a very slim chance." By age fifty-two, younger or older depending on which records one handled, Nash, a tall, grey-haired cocaine addict, confided in Walter Schneider, a Hollywood lawyer, that his dreams were still filled with the muzzles of guns and bullets flying over his head. Nash had developed a limp and a habit of quickly glancing around, always watching his back. "I want to see a bullet coming - if it is coming," he said. "I do not want to be killed like a dog."
Eddie's nightmares dimmed in the bright lights of Las Vegas, but he'd claim he yearned for his home, for his land. He told Schneider about a tree he'd climbed as a boy. "The roots grew out of the ground. They would speak to me, and as much as I miss my home, I cannot go back. . . . I have no home and no past except memories of pain. There is an urgency to the frightening dreams I have. When the earth is taken away from beneath you, there is nowhere to go except to run. You must run, and I have had to run or die. Only running has kept me alive."
Changing his name, the lean coke-snorting Palestinian became Eddie Nash and slipped into the round-the-clock hustle of Vegas. "Eddie hooked to the money," says Schneider. "Got deals and nosed around with some highly motivated individuals. Nash was into drugs back then, though some like to say he wasn't dealing until he got to L.A. But that isn't the way it was, according to Eddie . . ."
Hitting the beat of L.A. like a shark in a tank of sardines, Nash slid in with the Hollywood crowd like lean fingers in a glove. "Eddie had an insatiable penchant for money and accumulating impressive stockpiles of drugs," says Schneider. "He also had a taste for young girls and kinky sex. He had two-way mirrors in his house, whips, and all that sort of apparatus. But his ethic was work hard, make money, and turn every dollar into two and then three, and then more. He had the secret of making money breed like rats. He believed in being independent of any person or government that could cause one to run. He'd say you put down roots as the roots of a tree that someone can't shake loose. That's why they've never been able to pin anything on Nash that'll stick. He's too smart. He's got the balls - the chutzpah - to call his shots, and once upon a time he looked me in the eye and said, 'I am going to take over this city.' He meant it."
The summer I first met Nash, he was running a hamburger joint in Hollywood, cooking, scraping the grill, waiting on tables, wearing an apron and a chef's hat, his face dripping with sweat. I was sharing hamburgers with actress Susan Oliver, who'd just rented an apartment on Hollywood Boulevard west of La Brea. Instead of hitting the Strip as we'd planned, we were walking along Hollywood and snuck into Eddie's before heading west. Susan had bought a "movie stars' homes" map to frame and decorate her mantel, and Nash said to her, "I have vendors selling those maps all over. I would have given you a dozen." Susan had also just purchased a late-model Mercedes convertible and Eddie said, "I could have gotten you a special deal on such a car . . ."
He'd seen Susan on television and wanted an autographed photo for the wall of his hamburger stand. He charged us half-price for the grub, explaining that he had to cover the wholesale, but when two plainclothes cops came in for coffee and a batch of fries, Eddie didn't charge them anything. Right away he gave one cop a folded-up plot plan, and when the officers left Eddie said it was a piece of property in the Valley he'd acquired. He was going to sell it to the cop.
"He is interested," Eddie said, "but would like to pay less than what I want." With a contagious smile he said, "You do not know when you might need a friend who is a policeman. I will get what I want and he will think he has stolen it from me, so that way we will both be happy."
A detective would one day tell me that Eddie was a man who greased every wheel that rolled, and he'd get ones rolling that had never budged. "He saw himself as a Palestinian prince charging across the desert, waving a sword," the detective said. "He envisioned he'd do princely deeds for the common folk - and us guys who could possibly stand in his way. He looks in a mirror and sees another Rudolph Valentino. He once said he'd gone out to visit Valentino's grave and took flowers with him. I ask you, who's kidding who?"
One day a woman brought her son, an autistic child, into the hamburger stand. The boy attended a school for handicapped children near the boulevard. Eddie was enamored with the woman and soon dated her, "to talk about the child." He took her to dinner and in a short time was buying her expensive presents. He offered to "fix it," he said, for the child to see a brain surgeon. "People owe me things," he told her. "There are no strings attached to what I do for others."
Schneider says, "Eddie'd ingratiate himself to people. He had them all around him. Gave them cash, like he'd pull money out of his pocket and peel off bills. 'Is this what you need?' he'd say to someone. They'd say he was a wonderful man. I know he had money when he got here from Vegas, and ties with Vegas that didn't quit. I knew there were strings attached - deep, deep strings - and overnight his fingers were into a dozen pies. You remember how Hitler tore up any agreement that'd been made with Germany to repay the world for the First War? That's in a sense what Eddie did. Talk about moxie! You had to hand it to Eddie. He was using cocaine and gave people dope. Supplied them with anything from weed and coke to smack. He said he knew their combinations by instinct, like he had the fingertips of a successful safecracker. There's a story for children about a day when it rains meatballs, and that same story applies to Eddie Nash, except it was raining money - day and night."
L.A. DESPAIR: A Landscape of Crimes and Bad Times
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SPADE COOLEY -SHAME ON YOU :: BILLY COOK - HARD LUCK
WONDERLAND CRIME SCENES :: BARBARA PAYTON :: BARBARA GRAHAM