|Attack type multiple homicide|
Perpetrators total unknown
Non-fatal injuries Susan Launius
|Non-fatal injuries Susan Launius|
Weapon Striated steel pipe
|Target Billy DeVerellRon LauniusSusan LauniusDavid LindJoy MillerBarbara Richardson|
Location 8763 Wonderland Avenue in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles, CA
Date July 1, 1981; Early morning (UTC−08:00 Pacific)
Deaths Joy Miller; Billy DeVerell; Ron Launius; Barbara Richardson
Suspected perpetrator John Holmes (acquitted); Gregory Diles (acquitted); Eddie Nash (acquitted)
The Wonderland murders, also known as the Four on the Floor Murders or the Laurel Canyon Murders, are four unsolved murders that occurred in Los Angeles on July 1, 1981. It is assumed that six people were targeted to be killed in the known drug house of the Wonderland Gang, five of whom were present. Four of those five, Billy DeVerell, Ron Launius, Joy Miller, and Barbara Richardson, died from extensive blunt-force trauma injuries. Only Ron Launius' wife, Susan Launius, survived the attack, allegedly masterminded by organized crime figure and nightclub owner Eddie Nash. He, his henchman Gregory DeWitt Diles, and porn star John Holmes were at various times arrested, tried, and acquitted for their involvement in the murders.
The Wonderland Gang was centered on the occupants of a rented townhouse at 8763 Wonderland Avenue, in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles, California: Ronnie Lee "Ron" Launius (the leader), Joy Audrey Gold Miller (the lease-holder), William Raymond "Billy" DeVerell (Launius' right-hand man and Miller's live-in boyfriend), and David Lind. All four were involved in drug use and drug dealing. Tracy Ray McCourt was also involved with the gang.
Members of the gang had committed a brutal home invasion and armed robbery at Eddie Nash's home two days earlier, on June 29, 1981. Nash suspected Holmes had been involved.
Following the robbery, Holmes ended up at 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 on the late afternoon of June 30, 1981, wrote in his memoir My Life with Liberace (1988) that Nash had ordered Gregory Diles to bring Holmes to his house. Diles found Holmes on a street in Hollywood, wearing one of the rings that had been stolen from Nash, and Diles brought Holmes back to Nash's residence. Nash directed Diles to beat Holmes who was tied up to a chair and punched several times by Diles. Nash threatened to kill Holmes and his family, until Holmes identified the people behind the robbery. Thorson witnessed the beating from another room through an open door.
Wonderland Gang murders
Around 4:00 am, on July 1, 1981, two days after the Nash robbery, Holmes and a number of unidentified men entered the townhouse at 8763 Wonderland Avenue and bludgeoned to death Launius, Deverell, Miller, and Richardson; the weapons were believed to be hammers and/or striated (threaded) metal 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, 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, and McCourt was at his own home.
Although neighbors would later report hearing screams around that time, 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 to the crime scene heard Susan Launius moaning and went to investigate. When questioned, neighbors said that the Wonderland gang's drug-fueled parties often included loud, violent screaming and disruptive noise, so that 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.
Police action and trials
Los Angeles Police Department detectives Tom Lange and Robert Souza led the murder investigation and searched Nash's home a few days after the crime. There they found more than $1 million worth of cocaine, as well as some items stolen from the Wonderland house.
An initial theory of the bludgeoning murders centered around Holmes. His left palm print was found at the scene, Holmes was arrested and charged with four counts of murder in March 1982. The prosecutor, Los Angeles District Attorney Ron Coen, attempted to prove Holmes was a willing participant who betrayed the Wonderland Gang after not getting a full share of the loot from the robbery of Nash's house. However, Holmes' court-appointed defense lawyers, Earl Hanson and Mitchell Egers, successfully presented Holmes as one of the victims, having been forced by the real killers to give them entry to the house where the murders took place. After a three-week publicized trial, Holmes was acquitted of all criminal charges on June 26, 1982. For refusing to testify or cooperate with authorities, he spent 110 days in jail for contempt of court.
Shortly after the murders, in her first newspaper interview in July 1981, Holmes' first wife, Sharon Gebenini Holmes, stated that Holmes had told her he'd known the people in the Wonderland house and that he had been there shortly before the murders occurred. She did not divulge any additional information to police.
Holmes died six years later on March 13, 1988, as a result of AIDS complications, at a VA Medical Center in Los Angeles. One month before Holmes died, two police detectives visited him at the VA hospital to question him about what he knew about the murders. Nothing came out of the visit because Holmes was barely awake, and his responses to their questions were incoherent. Even on his deathbed, Holmes refused to answer the detectives' inquiries about whether he took part in the murders or divulge anything else about his involvement.
During an interview several years following Holmes' death, Sharon stated that Holmes had come to her house the morning after the killings, with blood splattered all over his clothes. Holmes was personally uninjured, and he did not give her any details to explain the condition of his clothing.
In 1990, Nash was charged in California state court with having planned the murders, and Diles was charged with participating in the murders. Thorson testified against them, but the trial ended with a hung jury vote of 11–1 for conviction. The second trial in 1991 ended in acquittal for both Nash and Diles. Diles died in 1995.
In 2000, after a four-year joint investigation involving local and federal authorities, Nash was arrested and indicted on federal charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for running a drug trafficking and money laundering operation, conspiring to carry out the Wonderland Murders, and bribing the sole holdout juror of his first trial. Nash, already in his seventies and suffering from emphysema and several other ailments, agreed to a plea bargain agreement in September 2001. He admitted to having bribed the lone holdout in his first trial, a young woman, with $50,000, and pleaded guilty to the RICO charges and to money laundering. He also admitted to having ordered his associates to retrieve stolen property from the Wonderland house, which might have resulted in violence including murder, yet he denied having planned the Wonderland murders. In the end, Nash received a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.