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The Wonderland Murders

Pornstars and gangsters can be dangerous combo!


There are a few murders in LA history that have gone on to become international phenomena. OJ, Charles Manson, The Black Dahlia are known well beyond the borders of Los Angeles. The crimes here have everything they need to become media sensations. As Kenneth Anger wrote in his infamous True Crime deep dive Hollywood Babylon, Hollywood is where “the sex goddesses, the starlets, the matinee idols, the American aristocracy, and the Mafia moguls meet.” On July 1st, 1981, many of those elements would collide on Wonderland Ave. to become one of LA’s most notorious true crime stories: The Wonderland Murders.


“John Holmes was to the adult film industry what Elvis Presley was to rock n roll. He simply was the King.” -Bob Vosse (Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes.) At the height of his career, it was rumored that his penis was insured by Lloyd’s of London for $14 million ($1 million per inch!) Unfortunately, just like an erection, nothing lasts forever (and if it does see a Dr.) 


Medium



Holmes had a major drug problem and it began to affect his work. By the late 70’s he was more known for holding himself up in his trailer, doing coke for hours, halting productions. And his size was irrelevant when he stopped being able to perform. At his height, Holmes was making $2,000 a day. But, at his lowest, his cocaine habit was costing him $1,500 a day. Holmes began a downward spiral. He stole luggage from LAX, sold drugs, and prostituted himself to support his drug habit. Eventually, he fell in with a low level criminal crew called the Wonderland gang.


Named for the street the gang lived on, they operated out of a little multi-level home tucked into the hills off of Laurel Canyon. Members of the gang came and went, but a few spent more time there than others. 1. Joy Miller, a once upon a time Beverly Hills housewife turned heroin addict. The house was leased in her name. 2. Joy’s BF, Bill DeVerell. He was regarded as a somewhat tragic figure who lamented his own addiction, which made it hard for him to find work. 3. Ron Launius was a career criminal that had been kicked out of the military for smuggling drugs back in the dead bodies of his fellow soldiers. He was a person of interest in as many as 2 dozen homicides by 1981. 4. Susan Launius, Ron’s wife, was also living in the home on Wonderland. Other members of the gang included David Lind, Barbara Richardson (gf of Lind,) and Tracy McCourt. The gang dabbled in cocaine, heroin, and armed robbery.


Through Holmes, the gang achieved a connection to Eddie Nash. Nash was big time; he arrived in America with $7 and created a real estate (and drug) empire. He started with hotdog stands and rose through the LA nightclub scene to become one of the most notorious figures on the strip. How Holmes and he connected isn’t really known, but it’s said they were close. It is unlikely this was a true friendship though, Holmes most likely maintained a good connection with Nash to enable his drug habit. Nash was a well known cocaine dealer, and Holmes most likely said what he had to make sure the snow kept falling. Holmes would confide in his then wife that he thought Nash was “evil” and that he was the kind of person that could make others disappear. It’s clear that Holmes knew exactly who Nash was and what he was capable of doing to someone that crossed him. That makes his actions in 1981 even more foolish.


Eddie Nash arrested
Eddie Nash

Boris Yaro/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images


The Wonderland gang used Eddie Nash as a fence for their stolen goods and as a source of drugs. Through Holmes’ visits to his home, it became a known fact that Nash was sitting on a mountain of drugs and cash. A plan began to form in the mind of the Wonderland gang. John Holmes would go to the house and leave a side door open. The gang would then slip in and rob Nash blind. On June 29th, 1981, Holmes went to Nash’s home in Studio City to buy crack cocaine. While making his purchase, he made mental notes about the layout of the home and where the goods were stashed. Before leaving, Holmes left a side door unlocked. He returned to the Wonderland hideout to find the crew high on heroin. He waited for them to recover, but by the time they did, Holmes was paranoid. He returned to Nash’s with some made up excuse and checked to see that the door was still unlocked. According to some reports, Holmes returned to the house 3 times that day (went early and forgot to leave the door unlocked.) Finally, the gang was ready for action. 


Tracy McCourt waited outside in their Ford Granada, acting as the gang’s lookout. DeVerell, Lind, and Launius entered the house through the unlocked door, dressed as police officers. They were quickly confronted by Nash’s security guard, Gregory Diles. They attempted to restrain him and, in the ensuing struggle, Diles was shot in the back. The shot woke Nash who ran in to find his bodyguard shot and his stash being raided. This is when the big bad Nash reportedly dropped to his knees and begged for his life, asking to say his prayers. He opened the safe for the Wonderland gang, who robbed him and left him there. They had done it, the gang had successfully ripped off one of LA’s biggest players for around $1 million worth of cash, drugs, guns, and jewelry. The gang divvies up the spoils, and Holmes takes some jewelry (he was apparently insulted with his small portion.) 

 

While the gang celebrated, Nash was plotting his revenge. You don’t just get to embarrass Nash the way they did and get away with it. He had debased himself, pleaded for his life, and now looked weak. Nash swore revenge and sent his goons to find the culprits. Apparently, Holmes was spotted wearing a distinctive ring - a ring of Nash’s. Nash had already suspected the man who came to his house 3 times on the day of the robbery and this didn’t help his case. Holmes was picked up by Nash's men and forcibly interrogated in front of Scott Thorson (Liberace’s boyfriend, played by Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra.) Eventually, it seems Holmes gave in and revealed his co-conspirators.


On July 1st, 1981, a group of unidentified people entered the home at 8763 Wonderland Ave. Moving from room to room, the group savagely beat the inhabitants to death with pipes and hammers. First was Barbara Richardson, sleeping in the living room. In the back room was the Launius couple (Ron and Susan.) Upstairs, Joy Miller was beaten to death in her bed and Billy DeVerell was found slumped over in the corner. Police discovered the bodies when movers, working next door, called them and said they could hear moaning coming from the Wonderland home.


Kevin P. Casey/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


Susan had been the one moaning. Somehow, she survived the horrific attack and had been lying there for 12hrs with a fractured skull. While Susan survived, she suffered brain damage and amnesia. She would never recall what happened that night. Susan was removed and the police documented the scene. Actual crime scene footage can be found in the special features for the movie Wonderland starring Val Kilmer. The cops, with the Tate murders still in their memory, said they “had never seen so much blood” at a crime scene. 


Detectives Tom Lange and Robert Souza began their investigation, step one was to question John Holmes. Step two was to build a case against Holmes. His (bloody?) handprint had been found on the headboard of Ron and Susan’s bed, so he was clearly present. Holmes had also, reportedly, worked with the LAPD as an informant, snitching on drug dealers and moguls in Hollywood. Detectives arrested Holmes in December of 1981 and he apparently confessed to being present at the time of the murders. The police put all their chips on Holmes and charged him with 4 counts of murder in March of 1982. And it was sure to be an open and shut case with the crime scene footage being used to demonstrate the savageness of the murders (this was the first use of tape as evidence in a murder trial.) Holmes, however, was acquitted of all charges. He did spend 111 days in jail for contempt of court when he refused to identify any of the people involved with the crime. Holmes’ lawyers argued that he had no involvement in the killings and that he was a victim of the whole ordeal. He was released just as Nash was going away for a cocaine charge.


Nash would be out soon after and both, he and John, were back to their old ways soon enough. John would die in 1988 of complications related to aids. In the fallout, one of Holmes’ ex-wives changed her story that Holmes never said anything about the murders. Sharon Holmes told the LA Times that John came to her home on the morning of July 1st, 1981. He was bloody and took a bath. John told Susan that he knew who the killers were and that someone wanted to kill him.


“I had to stand there and watch what they did.” 

Sharon responded “John, how could you? You knew these people?” 

John simply said “They were dirt.”

Sharon told the LA Times, “I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”


Nash would worm his way through two trials related to orchestrating the Wonderland murders. In 2001, he would take a plea deal after the FBI used the RICO act to bring Nash down. In the course of his many confessions, he admitted to bribing a juror in the first of the 2 trials and to sending men to the Wonderland house to retrieve the stolen items. He never admitted to ordering the killings. He served 4.5 years and died in 2014.


This is still, technically, an unsolved murder. But, as detective Tom Lange said “There is no mystery, because we know who is involved and we know why. . . .“There are other suspects that we feel are involved. . . . (But) we have a certain set of rules to follow that the people who go out and perpetrate crimes don’t.”


Thanks for reading!


Chris Westbrook

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