The Wonderland murders, also known as the Four on the Floor Murders or the Laurel Canyon Murders, are four unsolved killings that occurred in Los Angeles on July 1, 1981. Five of the six targeted to be killed in the known drug house on Wonderland Avenue were present, and four of the five died from extensive injuries: Joy Miller, Billy DeVerell, Ron Launius, and Barbara Richardson. Launius' wife, Susan Launius, survived the attack. The attack was allegedly masterminded by organized crime figure and nightclub owner Eddie Nash. Porn star John Holmes was arrested, tried, and acquitted for his involvement in the murders.
Robbery and murders
The Wonderland Gang was centered around the occupants of a rented townhouse at 8763 Wonderland Avenue in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles: Joy Audrey Gold Miller (whose name was on the lease), her live-in boyfriend William Raymond "Billy" DeVerell, David Lind, and the gang's leader, Ronnie Lee "Ron" Launius. All four were involved in drug use and drug dealing.
On June 28, 1981, the group met with friends Tracy McCourt and John Holmes, a porn star and known drug addict. They had decided to rob the home of Eddie Nash, né Adel Gharib Nasrallah, wealthy owner of several Los Angeles-area night clubs and drug dealer. Holmes, whom Nash had befriended, visited the house, ostensibly to buy drugs. While at Nash's home, Holmes unlocked a back door for the gang to enter later. Holmes then went back to Wonderland in order to report back to Launius and the others.
The next morning, June 29, DeVerell, Launius, Lind, and McCourt went to Nash's house. While McCourt stayed with the car, a stolen Ford Granada, the other three entered through the unlocked door. Invading the home, the trio handcuffed Nash and his live-in bodyguard, Gregory Diles. During the course of the subsequent robbery, the group took money, drugs, and jewelry; threatened to kill Nash and Diles; and accidentally grazed Diles with a bullet. They then went back to the Wonderland Avenue townhouse to split up the money.
Nash suspected Holmes had been involved and ordered 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 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. The beating was witnessed by a former boyfriend of Liberace's, Scott Thorson, who was buying drugs at Nash's home.
In the early morning of July 1, 1981, two days after the robbery, an unknown number of assailants entered the Wonderland Avenue townhouse. DeVerell and Launius were present, along with Launius' wife Susan, DeVerell's girlfriend Joy Miller, and Lind's girlfriend, Barbara Richardson. Each occupant present was bludgeoned repeatedly with what was later determined by the medical examiner and detectives to be a striated steel pipe. Susan Launius was the only one in the home who survived, albeit with serious injuries. A left palm print belonging to John Holmes found on the bed railing above Ron Launius' head gave homicide detectives reason to believe John Holmes was present at the site of the murder. Holmes denied participation in the killings or being there when the murders happened. Later, however, he admitted to his ex-wife Sharon Holmes and girlfriend Dawn Schiller that he was forced to watch the killings, but he denied participating in them.
According to court testimony, David Lind survived because he was not at the house at the time of the murders, having spent the night at a San Fernando Valley motel with a prostitute and consuming drugs there. Shortly after the news media reported the murders, Lind contacted the police and informed on Nash and Holmes, thus giving them a start to their investigation.
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. Following arrest and conviction for the cocaine charges, Nash spent two years in prison.
Because of the palm print 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. 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. 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.
Holmes died six years later on March 13, 1988, as a result of AIDS complications, at a VA Medical Center in Los Angeles. 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. During an interview several years following his 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. 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. Yet on his deathbed, Holmes refused to answer the detectives's inquiries about whether he took part in the murders or divulge anything else about his involvement.
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. 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 pled guilty to the RICO charges and to money laundering. He 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.
In popular culture
- The 1997 film Boogie Nights, which is loosely based on the life of John Holmes, includes a sequence inspired by the Wonderland murders.
- The 2003 film Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer as John Holmes.
- The murders were ranked #7 in an E! Entertainment Television documentary, 20 Most Horrifying Hollywood Murders.
- Thorson, Scott (1988). My Life with Liberace. New York Publishers. ISBN 1-877961-11-6.
- Scheeres, Julia. "Crime Library: Notorious Murders: Celebrity: John Holmes: The Wonderland Murders". TruTV. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
- Goldsmith, Susan (September 20, 2001). "A Really Good Deal Ex-nightclub owner may serve only 37 months in Wonderland murders". New Times Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA).
- Osterwalder, Joan (October 12, 2001). "Ex-Nightclub Owner Sentenced to Three Years in Prison". City News Service.
- D'Angelo, Mike (July 13,2009). "Boogie Nights". The AV Club.
- "Wonderland". About.com Hollywood Movies. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
- Basten, Fred; Holmes, Laurie & Holmes, John C. (1998). Porn King: The John Holmes Story. John Holmes Inc. ISBN 1-880047-69-1. Describes some of the events from John Holmes' perspective.
- King, Larry (August 12, 2002). "Interview with Scott Thorson". CNN/Transcripts: Larry King Live.
- Gilmore, John (2005). "Bad Eddie & Other No Good People". L. A. Despair: A Landscape of Crimes and Bad Times (JohnGilmore.com). Includes an account of the Wonderland Murders and the life and death of John Holmes.
- Jacobs, Rodger (1995). Long Time Money and Lots of Cocaine. Contains the complete transcript of Holmes' February 1982 preliminary hearing.
- Los Angeles Police Department (February 13, 2002). "News about Nash's federal conviction". LAPDonline.org.
- "In Too Deep". LA Weekly. October 2, 2003.
- Stephen Lemons (June 9, 2000). "Return to Wonderland (With his old pal Eddie Nash to be arraigned Monday in a 19-year-old murder case, the restless ghost of legendary porn star John Holmes once again stalks L.A.)". Salon.
- Sugar, Jennifer; Nelson, Jill C.; Margold, William (2008). John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches. BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1593933029.
- Schiller, Dawn (2010). The Road Through Wonderland. St. Martins Press. ISBN 9781605420837.
- Negron, Chuck (2000). Three Dog Nightmare. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 1-933669-13-6.