Mug shot, 1982
|Born||Charles Chi-Tat Ng
December 24, 1960
British Hong Kong
|Nationality||Hong Kong (British National Overseas)|
Conspiracy to commit murder
Span of killings
|State(s)||Calaveras County, California|
|July 6, 1985|
Charles Chi-Tat Ng (traditional Chinese: 吳志達; simplified Chinese: 吴志达; Jyutping: ng4 zi3 daat6; born December 24, 1960 in Hong Kong) is a serial killer. He is believed to have raped, tortured and murdered between 11 and 25 victims with his accomplice Leonard Lake at Lake's cabin in Calaveras County, California, in the Sierra Nevada foothills 150 miles east of San Francisco.
After his 1985 arrest and imprisonment in Canada on robbery and weapons charges, followed by a lengthy dispute between Canada and the United States, Ng was extradited to California, tried, and convicted of 11 murders. He is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Ng was born in Hong Kong, the son of a wealthy Chinese executive and his wife. As a child, Ng was harshly disciplined and abused by his father. As a teenager, Ng was described as a troubled loner and was expelled from several schools. After his arrest for shoplifting at age 15, he went, at his father's insistence, to Bentham Grammar School, a boarding school in North Yorkshire, England. Not long after arriving, Ng was expelled for stealing from other students and returned to Hong Kong.
Ng moved to the United States on a student visa in 1978, and studied biology at the College of Notre Dame in Belmont, California. He dropped out after one semester. At that time, he met Leonard Lake. Soon after, he was involved in a hit-and-run accident, and to avoid prosecution he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
U.S. Marine Corps
Although not a United States citizen, Ng became a Marine with the help, he said, of a recruiting sergeant, and false documents attesting to his birth in Bloomington, Indiana. After less than a year of service he was arrested by military police for the theft of automatic weapons from MCAS Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. Rather than face a court-martial, Ng deserted the Marines and made his way back to Northern California, where he reunited with Lake. In 1982, federal authorities raided their mobile home in Ukiah, seizing a large stash of illegal weapons and explosives. Released on $6,000 bond, Lake jumped bail and drifted around northern California using a series of pseudonyms. Ng was returned to the Marines' custody, and pleaded guilty on the theft and desertion charges. Under the terms of the plea deal, after serving 18 months in the military stockade at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, he was paroled and dishonorably discharged.
After his release Ng immediately contacted Lake, who was renting a remote cabin near Wilseyville, California, in Calaveras County east of San Francisco, and invited Ng to join him. Lake had custom-built a dungeon next to the cabin. By then, Lake may have already murdered his brother Donald and his friend and best man, Charles Gunnar, in order to steal their money and Gunnar's identity. Over the next year, Lake and Ng indulged in an orgy of rape, torture, and murder. Their victims included their neighbor Lonnie Bond, his girlfriend Brenda O'Connor, their infant son Lonnie, Jr., and Harvey and Deborah Dubs and their young son Sean. The two men apparently killed the men and babies immediately and kept the women alive, raping and torturing them before murdering them, or allowing them to die as a result of the mutilation they suffered. Other victims included workmates of Ng's, relatives and friends who came looking for Bond and O'Connor, and two gay men. In all, the two are believed to have murdered between 11 and 25 victims at the cabin.
Their rampage might have gone on longer if not for Ng's kleptomania. On June 2, 1985, he was caught shoplifting a vise from a San Francisco hardware store, and fled the scene. Lake later drove to the store and attempted to pay for the vise, but by then police had arrived. Officers noticed that Lake bore no resemblance to the photo on his driving license, which carried the name of Robin Stapley, a San Diego man reported missing by his family several weeks earlier. They then searched Lake's vehicle, found a gun equipped with a silencer in the trunk, and arrested him. After a fingerprint search identified him as Lake, he swallowed cyanide pills that he had sewn into his clothes and died four days later.
The license plate on Lake's vehicle was registered to Lake, but the vehicle itself was registered to Paul Cosner, who had disappeared in November 1984. Lake's auto registration led detectives to the property in Wilseyville, where they found Stapley's truck and Lonnie Bond's car, and behind the cabin, the dungeon. Officers noticed a foot poking through the earth and proceeded to unearth roughly 40 pounds of burned and smashed human bone fragments, corresponding to a minimum of 11 bodies. Police also found a hand-drawn "treasure map" that led them to two buried five-gallon buckets: One contained envelopes with names and victims' IDs, suggesting that the total body count might be as high as 25. In the other bucket were Lake's handwritten journals for the years 1983 and 1984, and two videotapes documenting the torture of two of their victims. In one of the tapes, Ng is seen telling victim Brenda O'Connor, "You can cry and stuff, like the rest of them, but it won't do any good. We are pretty ... cold-hearted, so to speak." In the other, Deborah Dubs is shown being assaulted so severely that she "could not have survived".
Ng, meanwhile, had fled to Canada, where his obsession with theft did him in yet again. On July 6, 1985, he was arrested in Calgary, Alberta, by the Calgary Police Service after he shot security guard Sean Doyle in the hand while resisting arrest for shoplifting. He was charged and subsequently convicted of shoplifting, felonious assault, and possession of a concealed firearm, and sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Following the completion of his sentence, he remained incarcerated pending extradition to the United States.
Ng fought a protracted legal battle against extradition on the grounds that Canada—which at the time had no death penalty, except for military crimes—would be violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by permitting him to stand trial in California for capital murder. A habeas corpus petition and an appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal were both denied. In 1991, the Canadian Supreme Court also ruled against him, and he was extradited to California later that year.
In Calaveras County, Ng was indicted on 12 counts of first-degree murder. After a change of venue to Orange County, he initiated a protracted series of pretrial motions and stalling tactics. He sued the state over his temporary detainment at Folsom Prison—where he was caught hiding maps, fake IDs, and other escape paraphernalia—and filed challenges against four of the judges assigned to his case. He lodged a long series of complaints regarding the strength of his eyeglasses, the temperature of his food, and his right to practice origami in his jail cell. Ng went through a total of 10 attorneys, some of whom ended up defending him a second time. After claiming that he had lost trust and confidence in all of his lawyers, he was allowed to represent himself—which delayed the trial another year while he researched applicable laws. His trial finally began six years after his extradition, in October 1998. Despite the video evidence and information in Lake's voluminous diaries, Ng maintained that he was merely an observer—that Lake committed all of the kidnaps, rapes, and murders unassisted.
Defense attorney William Kelley argued that Leonard Lake masterminded the murders, that Ng was dependent upon Lake for direction, that the abuse Ng suffered at the hands of his father was a mitigating factor, and that Ng's good behavior behind bars showed that he should be imprisoned for life rather than executed. The first witness for the defense, psychiatrist Stuart Grassian, testified that Ng had dependent personality disorder. Dr. Grassian admitted under cross-examination that he had not viewed the tapes that showed Ng participating in the crimes. Dr. Abraham Nievod, an expert in clinical psychology, agreed with the diagnosis of dependent personality disorder, and opined that Ng's behavior in the tapes indicated that he was attempting to "mirror" and please Lake. The defense called four prison guards, two sheriff's deputies, a prison library employee and a counselor who had contact with Ng while he was incarcerated. They all testified that Ng was a model prisoner. Four former Marines who had known Ng while he was serving in the Marine Corps testified that he was quiet and well-behaved. Ng's parents both testified about his troubled childhood, and expressed remorse for what their son had done.
In February 1999, he was convicted of 11 of the 12 homicides—six men, three women, and two male infants; jurors deadlocked on the twelfth charge—and sentenced to death. Ng's prosecution cost the State of California approximately $20 million, at the time the most expensive trial in the state's history. He currently remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
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- United States vs Charles Ng.
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