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Wonderland Gang

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The Wonderland Gang was a group of drug dealers involved in the Los Angeles cocaine trade during the late 1970s and early 1980s; their home base was located on Wonderland Avenue in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles, California. On July 1, 1981, three members and one associate of the gang died in the Wonderland murders (also known as the "Four on the Floor murders" or the "Laurel Canyon murders"). LAPD detectives were on record saying the crime scene was bloodier and more gruesome than that of the Tate-LaBianca murders.

Contents

Overview

The Wonderland Gang mainly trafficked in the burgeoning cocaine trade of the era, but despite its role as the most influential and feared cocaine distributorship of its time in Los Angeles, some 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; Ron Launius and his wife, Susan, were house guests.

David 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. Lind and Launius had become friends while in prison and promised to deal drugs together upon their release. Lind and his girlfriend Barbara "Butterfly" Richardson rode down to the Wonderland house on Lind's motorcycle and slept on the living-room sofa.

Adult-entertainment legend John Curtis "Johnny Wadd" Holmes (b. August 8, 1944; d. March 13, 1988), was a frequent visitor who would purchase or scrounge cocaine from the gang.

Members and associates

Members of the gang included:

  • Ronnie ("Ron") Lee Launius (b. May 18, 1944; d. July 1, 1981) (Leader)
  • William Ray ("Billy") DeVerell (b. February 14, 1937; d. July 1, 1981)
  • David Clay Lind (b. October 24, 1938; d. November 16, 1995)
  • Tracy Ray McCourt (b. February 20, 1949; d. October 18, 2006)
  • Joy Audrey Gold Miller (b. May 14, 1935; d. July 1, 1981) (DeVerell's girlfriend)
  • Their associates included:

  • John Curtis "Johnny the Wadd" Holmes (b. August 8, 1944; d. March 13, 1988)
  • Susan A. Murphy Launius (b. 1951; survived attack) (Ron Launius' wife)
  • Barbara Lee Easton Richardson (b. October 17, 1958; d. July 1, 1981) (David Lind's girlfriend)
  • Ron Launius

    A United States Air Force veteran of the Vietnam era, Ronnie Lee "Ron" Launius (37) had been convicted of smuggling heroin from Vietnam back to the United States in the corpses of American soldiers.

    Reportedly, at the time of his death, at age 37, police investigators throughout California – largely in the Sacramento area – had 27 open homicide cases they believed were perpetrated by Launius. 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 year, however, Launius was convicted of smuggling heroin and cocaine across the US/Mexico border and eventually served three years of an eight-year sentence in a federal prison. A California police officer described the blond, bearded Launius as "one of the coldest people I ever met". Another officer commented, upon hearing of Launius' death, "I suppose they won't need many pall bearers". When asked to elaborate, the policeman explained: "A trash can only has two handles".

    Launius was known for remaining composed under pressure. His associate, David Lind, once said of him: "You could put a gun to his head and his pulse would never break 70". Launius' brazen and fearless nature led both to his dominance of his chosen profession as well as his demise, stemming from the events leading up to his death in the Wonderland Murders.

    Launius and Susan Murphy (the sole survivor of the Wonderland murders), were married in Carson City, Nevada on April 16, 1971. He is buried in Lodi, California.

    Billy Deverell

    William Ray "Billy" Deverell (42), 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 decent 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 stop dealing and using illegal drugs. Deverell was a professional overhead crane operator. He was also a heavy heroin user and had been arrested 13 times in relation to his addiction which is part of the reason which he stayed in the gang. The autopsy performed after his murder identified numerous injection scars on his inner forearms, in addition to hyperplasia of the lymph nodes, a common sign of narcotics abuse.

    David Lind

    A member of the Aryan Brotherhood, David Clay Lind was a thief, heroin addict and ex-convict who befriended Launius when the two men served time in prison together. In 1981, at Launius' behest, Lind traveled to Los Angeles to join the Wonderland gang and assist them in running drugs. By the time of the Wonderland murders, Lind had been incarcerated several times for burglary, forgery, assault, and assault with intent to commit rape. Specifically at the time of the murder, Lind testified in court that he was at a motel in the San Fernando Valley, consuming drugs with a prostitute. 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 reportedly died of a heart attack at the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in 1995.

    Tracy McCourt

    Little is known about Tracy Ray McCourt other than he was the driver of the 1975 Ford Granada that carried the Wonderland Gang to Eddie Nash's home on the night of the robbery. Originally McCourt was designated to take part in the home invasion itself, but a day or so before the event, conspirator David Lind (who derisively referred to McCourt as "Titmouse Tracy") took away McCourt's handgun, and McCourt was relegated to driving duty. In the years after the Wonderland murders, McCourt was reported to have moved to Colorado. He spent considerable time in the Colorado prison system, but when he was free he operated a successful mobile phone franchise. 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".

    Joy Miller

    Joy Audrey Gold Miller was Billy Deverell's girlfriend and the leaseholder of the townhouse at 8763 Wonderland Avenue. "Thin, blond[e], and foul-mouthed", the 46-year-old had two adult daughters (and was the ex-wife of a Beverly Hills attorney). Miller 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 arrested seven times, been treated for breast cancer, and six months before had had a double mastectomy. Holmes claimed this did nothing to reduce her opiate usage.

    Susan Launius

    While not an official member of the gang, the then 25-year-old 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; she suffered severe head-injuries, amnesia, and a severed finger following the attack.

    Barbara Richardson

    Like Susan Launius, the then 22-year-old Barbara "Butterfly" Richardson was not an official member of the Wonderland Gang. Richardson was David Lind's girlfriend at the time of their arrival at the Wonderland house. The youngest of the group, she sported four tattoos: images of a flower, a mushroom, a butterfly, and Minnie Mouse. Both Richardson and Lind were said to be police informants in the Sacramento area not long before they traveled to southern California. Richardson's official autopsy report documented that she possessed intravenous drug injection site scars.

    Criminal enterprises

    The Wonderland Gang was mainly known for its drug sales, which concentrated on cocaine and the occasional heroin deal. Additionally, the Gang gained revenues through burglaries and armed robberies of rival drug dealers. It was this last line of "business" - the armed robbery of Eddie Nash - that ultimately led to the Gang's sudden and violent end.

    Nash robbery

    On June 29, 1981, the Wonderland Gang, comprising Ron Launius, Billy Deverell, David Lind, Tracy Ray McCourt, and Joy Miller, and their associate, John Holmes, conspired to launch a brutal home invasion and robbery upon Eddie Nash, a reputedly powerful organized crime figure who usually referred to himself in the third person as "The Nash". 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, and the lights were left on.

    The robbery was an inside job set up by Holmes, who was a close associate of Nash's. (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 the patio door to the kitchen unlatched. The objective of the robbery was to steal a hoard of cash, heroin, and cocaine that Holmes claimed was in a safe embedded in Nash's bedroom floor, as well as to retrieve some antique guns that the Wonderland Gang had stolen from another businessman and then subsequently, using Holmes as an intermediary, sold to Nash in exchange for drugs.

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

    Launius, Deverell, and Lind performed the invasion and robbery, while 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.

    The robbery was seemingly successful, yielding a lucrative haul for the Gang; they absconded with more than $1,200,000 worth of cocaine, heroin, quaaludes, cash, the antique guns, and jewelry. But the events of the next several days would render this a Pyrrhic victory.

    Murders

    Following the robbery, Holmes ended up at The Nash's home. Accounts vary as to how and why Holmes arrived there; according to some sources Holmes went there himself to try to make himself appear innocent, whereas others claim Holmes was kidnapped by Nash's henchmen when they recognized Holmes walking around wearing some of Nash's jewelry. For example, Scott Thorson, a former boyfriend of Liberace's, who was buying drugs at Nash's home, wrote in his memoir My Life with Liberace (1988) that Nash had ordered Gregory Diles to bring Holmes to his house, and Diles found Holmes on a street in Hollywood, wearing one of the rings that had been stolen from The Nash, and brought him back to Nash. Nash directed Diles to beat Holmes, and Nash threatened to kill Holmes and his family, until Holmes identified the people behind the robbery. Thorson witnessed the beating.

    Around 3:00 am, on July 1, two days after the Nash robbery, 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 striated (threaded) metal pipes. 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 the attack, had to have part of her skull surgically removed, and lost part of one finger. Neither Lind nor McCourt was present for the attack, as Lind was consuming drugs with a male prostitute, called Shilo Watts, in a motel in Sacramento, and McCourt was at his own home.

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

    Suspects

    When the LAPD discovered the crime scene, 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. A contract was out on their lives, as they had scammed a fellow drug dealer by selling him baking soda, when he thought he was buying $250,000 worth of cocaine. But in the end, given Lind's leads, police zeroed in on the murders as a "revenge hit" ordered by Nash.

    Los Angeles County prosecutors charged Holmes with four counts of capital murder. Holmes' murder trial began on June 3, 1982. 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 Holmes, as were 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, other than Holmes' bloody handprint on Ron Launius' bedrail.

    Holmes' two court-appointed lawyers, Earl Hanson and Mitchell Egers, painted a successful defense portraying Holmes as an innocent victim who was forced against his will by the real killers to lead them to the Wonderland Avenue house. The defense called no witnesses, and Holmes did not testify. On June 25, 1982, Holmes 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. As previously stated, the jury found no connection between the gruesome and bloody crime scene video and Holmes, however, aside from his handprint.

    After Holmes' death from AIDS, in March 1988, his first wife, Sharon Holmes, came forward and stated that at around 5:00 am 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 being committed by three of Nash's henchmen, but otherwise he did not participate in it.

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

    Nash and Diles were tried in 1990 in an unusual proceeding, in which two separate juries observed the same trial. The Nash jury returned a hung verdict, voting 11–1 to convict; the Diles jury also returned a hung verdict, but with an 11–1 vote to acquit. As in the Holmes trial, 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 was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for unrelated charges. Police also suspected Diles' younger brother, Samuel, of being one of the assailants in the Wonderland Murders; however, he was never charged.

    Aftermath

    As of January 2007, the sole survivor of the robbery at Eddie Nash's mansion is Nash himself, and Susan Launius is both the sole survivor of the Wonderland murders and the only living member of the Wonderland Gang.

  • Ron Launius, Billy DeVerell, Joy Miller, and Barbara Richardson all died in the 1981 massacre.
  • Launius is buried at Lodi Memorial Park and Cemetery in Lodi, CA
  • DeVerell is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Covina Hills) in Covina, CA
  • Miller is buried at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA
  • Richardson is buried at Saint Marys Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in Sacramento, CA, under her father's last name (Easton).
  • Susan Launius survived the attack and lives in southern California.
  • David Clay Lind (b. October 24, 1940) died of a heroin overdose on November 16, 1995 in Sonoma County, CA. He is buried at Santa Rosa Memorial Park in Santa Rosa, CA.
  • Tracy Raymond McCourt died of unspecified causes on October 18, 2006. He is buried at Congregation Emanuel Cemetery in Denver, CO
  • Others allegedly involved in the Nash robbery or Wonderland attacks included:

  • Gregory Dewitt Diles died in 1995, from liver failure.
  • John Curtis "Johnny the Wadd" Holmes died 13 March 1988, from medical complications due to AIDS.
  • Samuel Lawton Diles, Gregory's brother, died in 2002 of unspecified causes.
  • Any other assailants who might have participated in the bludgeoning attack on the Wonderland Gang have neither been identified nor prosecuted; their fate and whereabouts are unknown.

    Film

  • The film Boogie Nights (1997), which is loosely based on the life of John Holmes, includes a sequence inspired by the Wonderland murders.
  • Wonderland (2003) is a crime-drama film about the Wonderland Murders, starring Val Kilmer (as John "The Wadd" Holmes), Kate Bosworth (as Dawn Schiller), Dylan McDermott (as David Lind), Carrie Fisher (as Sally Hansen), Josh Lucas (as Ron Launius), Christina Applegate (as Susan Launius), Lisa Kudrow (as Sharon Holmes), Janeane Garofalo (as Joy Miller), and Eric Bogosian (as Eddie Nash), and directed by James Cox.
  • Television

  • The murders were ranked #7 in E! Entertainment Television's documentary, 20 Most Horrifying Hollywood Murders (2006).
  • References

    Wonderland Gang Wikipedia


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