Wonderland Gang

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The Wonderland Gang were 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 three 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.

Members[edit]

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)
  • 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)
  • Tracy Ray McCourt (b. February 20, 1949, d. October 18, 2006)

Their associates included:

  • Susan A. Launius (b. 1951; survived attack) (Ron Launius's wife)
  • Barbara Lee Easton Richardson (b. October 17, 1958; d. July 1, 1981[2]) (David Lind's girlfriend)

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 or scrounge 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.[citation needed]

Ron Launius[edit]

A United States Air Force veteran of the Vietnam era, Ronnie Lee Launius (37)[3] had been convicted of smuggling heroin from Vietnam back to the United States in the corpses of American soldiers.[4]

Reportedly, at the time of his death, at age 37,[3] police investigators throughout California – largely in the Sacramento area – had 27 open homicide cases they believed were perpetrated by Launius[4] 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.[5] A California cop called the blond, bearded Launius “one of the coldest people I ever met.”[3] Another policeman 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 being cool under pressure. His associate David Lind once said of Launius "You could put a gun to his head and his pulse would never break 70." His brazen and fearless nature led both to his dominance of his chosen profession, as well as his demise involving the events leading up to his death in the Wonderland Murders.

Launius and his wife Susan were married in Carson City, Nevada on April 16, 1971. He is buried in Lodi, California.[6]

Billy Deverell[edit]

Billy Deverell (42),[3] 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. By day, DeVerell was a career overhead crane operator. In addition to dealing drugs, Deverell was 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]

David Lind[edit]

A member of the Aryan Brotherhood, David Lind was a biker gang member and heroin addict 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 reputedly died of a heroin overdose in 1995, but other accounts indicate that he was spirited away to the federal Witness Protection Program.[citation needed]

Tracy McCourt[edit]

Little is known about McCourt other than he was the driver of the vehicle, a 1975 Ford Granada, that carried the Wonderland Gang to Eddie Nash's home 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 so he 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".[7]

Joy Miller[edit]

Billy Deverell's girlfriend, and the individual who held the lease on the Wonderland house. "Thin, blond[e], and foul-mouthed", 46-year-old[3] Joy was a divorced mother with two adult daughters (and the ex-wife of a Beverly Hills attorney,[3][8] 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 arrested seven times, been treated for breast cancer, and six months before had a double masectomy.[3][8] Holmes claimed this did nothing to reduce her opiate usage.[citation needed]

Associates[edit]

Susan Launius[edit]

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.[3] Having suffered severe head-injuries, amnesia, and a severed finger[3] following the attack, Launius still resides in southern California.[citation needed]

Barbara Richardson[edit]

Like Susan Launius, 22-year-old "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. However, they were apparently not exclusive (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.) Richardson was the youngest of the group. Her four tattoos were images of a flower, a mushroom, a butterfly, and Minnie Mouse.[9] 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.[10]

Criminal enterprises[edit]

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 revenues through burglaries and armed robberies of rival drug dealers. It was this last line of business that ultimately led to the Gang's sudden and violent end.[11]

Wonderland Murders[edit]

Main article: Wonderland Murders

Nash robbery[edit]

On June 29, 1981, the Wonderland Gang, composed of Ron Launius, Tracy Ray McCourt, David Lind, Billy Deverell, Joy Miller,[12] and 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.[8]

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.[citation needed] The object of the robbery was to steal a hoard of cash, heroin, and cocaine that Holmes claimed was in a safe embedded in the floor of Nash's bedroom, as well as some antique guns that, ironically, 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.[citation needed]

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.[11]

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

Murders[edit]

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[citation needed], whereas others claim Holmes was kidnapped by Nash's henchmen when they recognized Holmes walking around wearing some of Nash's jewelry.[citation needed]

Around 3:00 am, 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 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 part of her skull removed, and lost part of one finger.[citation needed] Neither Lind nor McCourt were 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.[13]

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 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 another party was taking place. The house was notorious for round-the-clock mayhem and debauchery.[citation needed]

Suspects[edit]

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.[14] 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.[citation needed] But in the end, given Lind's leads, police zeroed in on the murders as a "revenge hit" ordered by Nash.[citation needed]

Los Angeles County prosecutors made the decision to charge John Holmes with four counts of capital murder. Holmes' murder trial began on June 3, 1982. 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, other than Holmes' bloody handprint on Ron Launius' bedrail.[citation needed]

Holmes' two 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. The defense called no witnesses and Holmes himself did not testify. On June 25, 1982, Holmes was found not guilty of all charges.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] The jury found no connection between the gruesome and bloody crime scene video and Holmes, however.[citation needed]

In 1989, a new witness came forward, Liberace's former boyfriend, Scott Thorson.[15] 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 for nearly one hour until he confessed to his complicity, and that he identified the Wonderland gang as the perpetrators of the robbery.[16]

Nash and Diles were tried in 1990 in an unusual proceeding in which two separate juries observed the same trial.[13] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] Police also suspected Diles' younger brother, Samuel, as being one of the assailants in the Wonderland Murders, however he was never charged.[citation needed]

After Holmes' death in March 1988 from AIDS, 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 taking place which was committed by three of Nash's henchmen, but otherwise did not participate 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.[citation needed]

Where are they now?[edit]

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 Wonderland Gang.

  • Ron Launius, Billy DeVerell, Joy Miller, and Barbara Richardson all died in the 1981 massacre.[3]
    • Launius is buried at Lodi Memorial Park and Cemetery in Lodi, CA[17]
    • DeVerell is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Covina Hills) in Covina, CA[18]
    • Miller is buried at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA[19]
    • Richardson is buried at Saint Marys Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in Sacramento, CA, under her father's last name (Easton).[20]
  • Susan Launius survived the attack[3] and lives in southern California.[citation needed]
  • David Clay Lind (b. October 24, 1940[21]) died of a heroin overdose[citation needed] on November 16, 1995 in Sonoma County, CA. He is buried at Santa Rosa Memorial Park in Santa Rosa, CA.[21]
  • Tracy Raymond McCourt died of unspecified causes on October 18, 2006. He is buried at Congregation Emanuel Cemetery in Denver, CO[22][23]

Others allegedly involved in the Nash robbery or Wonderland attacks:

  • Gregory Dewitt Diles also died in 1995, from liver failure.[citation needed]
  • Samuel Lawton Diles, Gregory's brother, died in 2002 of unspecified causes.[citation needed]
  • John Curtis Holmes died in 13 March 1988 from medical complications due to AIDS.[8]

The other assailants who participated in the bludgeoning attack on the Wonderland Gang have neither been identified nor prosecuted; their fate and whereabouts are unknown.[citation needed]

2003 film[edit]

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 was released. It was directed by James Cox. Kilmer plays the role of John Holmes.[24][25]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.salon.com/people/feature/2000/06/09/wonderland
  2. ^ "Barbara Lee Richardson". Find A Grave. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Sager, Mike (May 1989). "The Devil and John Holmes". The Rolling Stone. 
  4. ^ a b Cass Paley, quotation in the director's cut of Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, 1998
  5. ^ "Slaying Victim Was Once Charged In Drug Murder". The Palm Beach Post (Palm Beach, CA). Associated Press. July 4, 1981. 
  6. ^ Fagan, Kevin (July 8, 1981). "Slain Man's Mother: 'He Wasn't Mad'". Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, CA). p. 1. 
  7. ^ "Tracy McCourt". Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO). October 29, 2001. [dead link]
  8. ^ a b c d MacDonell, Allan (2 October 2003). 2, 2003 "In Too Deep". LA Weekly. 
  9. ^ LA Medical Examiner's autopsy report, 81-8538, conducted immediately after the Wonderland Murders.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ a b Jacobs, Rodger (2005). Long Time Money and Lots of Cocaine. LuLu Press. 
  12. ^ David Lind testified in the preliminary hearing for John Holmes in 1982 that Miller and Richardson attended the planning meetings of the Nash robbery.
  13. ^ a b Timnick, Lois (March 21, 1990). "Trial Begins for 2 in Grisly Laurel Canyon Murders of Mid-1981". LA Times (Los Angeles, CA). 
  14. ^ Becklund, Laurie (January 18, 1991). "Two Acquitted in Second Trial for '81 Laurel Canyon Murders". LA Times (Los Angeles). 
  15. ^ Thorson, Scott (1988). My Life with Liberace. New York Publishers. ISBN 1-877961-11-6. 
  16. ^ Timnick, Lois (March 27, 1990). "Revenge Against Burglars Led to Slayings". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA). 
  17. ^ "Ronnie L. Launius". Find A Grave. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  18. ^ "William "Billy" Deverell". Find A Grave. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Joy Audrey Gold Miller". Find A Grave. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  20. ^ "Barbara Lee Richardson". Fina A Grave. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  21. ^ a b "David Clay Lind". Find a Grave. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  22. ^ Ancestry.com SSDI Death Index Database
  23. ^ "Tracy Raymond McCourt". Find A Grave. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  24. ^ IMDb.com
  25. ^ Variety