July 1, 1981: The Unsolved, Gruesome Wonderland Murders


WHAT HAPPENED? (1)


On July 1, 1981, 4 people were brutally murdered in Los Angeles, California in an unsolved case known as the Wonderland murders, or the Four on the Floor murders. The 4 people were killed in the known drug house of the Wonderland Gang.


Though the crime is considered unsolved, it is believed the attack was masterminded by Eddie Nash, an organized crime figure and nightclub owner, along with 2 of his henchmen. They were tried, but acquitted for their involvement in the killings.


The LAPD detectives who went to the scene claim it was bloodier than the Tate-LaBianca murders.

BACKGROUND


The Wonderland Gang was around in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were a group of drug dealers involved in the LA cocaine trade. Though they were primarily involved in the cocaine trade from their Wonderland Avenue residence in LA, many of the members were heroin addicts. (2)


The home was leased in member Joy Miller's name, where she lived with her boyfriend, Billy DeVerell. Other common houseguests included member Ron Launius and his wife, Susan, as well as David Lind who had come from Sacramento to help the gang grow their drug distribution business. Lind also brought his girlfriend, Barbara Richardson. A frequent visitor and also frequent cocaine customer was John Holmes, a legendary adult-film star who starred as detective Johnny Wadd in a popular porn series. (2)


On top of drug distribution, the Gang also made money through burglaries and armed robberies of rival drug dealers. It was this side hustle that would ultimately lead to their demise. (2)


On June 29, 1981, Launius, DeVerell, Lind, and other member Tracy McCourt committed an armed robbery at the home of rival drug dealer Eddie Nash. This resulted in his bodyguard being shot, but surviving. Nash believed that John Holmes, the porn star, had been involved because he had been at his house 3 times that day. Once Holmes was found, Nash allegedly tied him to a chair, punching him and threatening his family until he revealed who had invaded their home. (1)

THE MURDERS (1)


In the wee hours of the morning on July 1, 1981, 2 days after Nash had been robbed, and unknown number of unidentified men went into the Wonderland house and, likely as revenge for the robbery, bludgeoned 4 of the residents to death. Among the dead included Launius, DeVerell, Miller, and Richardson (Lind's visiting girlfriend). The killers used a combination of hammers and metal pipes.


Richardson's body was found on the floor beside the couch she had been sleeping on. Miller was murdered in her bed, and her boyfriend, DeVerell, was upright at the foot of the bed. The hammer was left on the couple's bed. Launius was beaten to death on his bed. His wife, Susan, was beside him, gravely injured but alive. She suffered severe brain damage, but ultimately recovered. However, she suffered permanent amnesia about the night of the attack, and had to have part of her skull surgically removed.


On top of the murders, the house had been ransacked.


Neither Lind nor McCourt were at the home during the attack. McCourt had stayed at his own home, and Lind was doing drugs with a male prostitute in a motel. (Lind died of a heroin overdose 14 years later in 1995, and McCourt died in 2006.)


No calls were placed to police until 4:00 PM the following day, even though neighbors recall hearing loud screams at around 3:00 AM. Furniture movers working at the house next door heard a gravely injured Susan moaning and went to investigate. Neighbors claim they were used to "round-the-clock mayhem and debauchery" at the house and assumed the noise was just from a drug-fueled party.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS


The LAPD detectives in charge of the investigation, Tom Lange and Robert Souza, found over $1 million worth of cocaine and other items stolen from the Wonderland house at Nash's home a few days after the murders. Porn star Holmes was the star of the initial police theory, as his palm print was found at the crime scene. He was arrested and charged with all 4 murders in March of 1982, about 9 months after the killings took place. The prosecution tried to argue that Holmes was upset he didn't get a share of the loot from robbing Nash and he betrayed the Wonderland Gang in anger, whereas the defense team claimed he was merely a victim who had been forced by the real team of killers to let them into the Wonderland house. (1)


The trial went on for 3 weeks, and Holmes was acquitted on June 26, 1982, about a year after the trial. He did spent 110 days in jail for contempt of court after refusing to testify or cooperate with authorities. He died 6 years after his acquittal from AIDS. A month before he died, detectives visited in hopes of a deathbed confession, but he did not provide any information. (1)


A month after Holmes died, Sharon Gebenini Holmes, who I assume is his wife but cannot confirm, claimed that on the morning of July 1, Holmes had come to her house with blood on his clothing and told her that he had led 3 "thugs" into the Wonderland house, escorted them in, and watched as they bludgeoned the 5 people inside, but she never learned the names of the other 3 men. (1)


Nash was charged in 1990. Honestly, it is not super clear to me why he wasn't charged when $1 million of stolen drugs and goods were found in his home from the home of the deceased, but I suppose it wasn't enough. At this point, it had been 9 years since the murders. Nash went on trial, along with his bodyguard Gregory Diles, who had been shot in the initial robbery, but both were acquitted. Nash's acquittal was by slim margins in an 11-1 hung jury in favor of conviction (sounds like a bribe to me!). They were tried again in 1991, but it resulted in another acquittal. Diles died in 1997 from liver failure. (1)


In 2000, after a 4-year investigation on some other charges, Nash was arrested and charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for drug trafficking and money laundering, conspiring to murder, and bribing the sole holdout of the first trial. (Hey, the federal government agrees with me!) Nash was in his 70s at the time and struggling with multiple medical issues, and agreed to a plea bargain. (1)


In his plea, he admitted that he bribed a young jury member $50,000 to find him not guilty, and pleaded to the RICO charges and money laundering. And, most importantly, he admitted that he did order his associates to go to the Wonderland house and retrieve the stolen property, which, sure, may have resulted in violence, or maybe even murder. However, he denied that the murders were planned. (Because, right? Rival drug gangs normally just want justice. They didn't want to hurt anyone! They just wanted back what was rightfully theirs. And sure, sometimes you must bring hammers and pipes for that mission.) (1)


He was sentenced to 4 and a half years and prison and fined $250,000 for his crimes. He lived until the age of 85. (1,3)


Writing about murder, and not being wholly sympathetic to the victims is sort of a new feeling for me. Do I think they deserved to be horrifically beaten to death in their home? Absolutely not. But admittedly, there is a difference between writing about career criminals, drug dealers, and armed robbers getting killed and writing about innocent children. I hate to say they deserve it more, so I won't, but it is a little bit easier to come to terms with than some of the other stories I write.


But ultimately, 4 lives were still taken. And though the person who most likely orchestrated the crimes did serve time, it wasn't exactly for the murders and it was an extremely short sentence. Too little, too late. I would imagine working in the drug trafficking business in the 80s in LA, they expected some level of violence and instability, but to bludgeon 4 people to death with hammers and pipes is a bit beyond the expected amount of violence.


This story really has something for everyone. A heist, a famous male porn star, rival gangs, brutal murder, and bribery. It doesn't have justice, but it has just about everything else. The people who actually brought down the hammer have walked free, and 4 people are dead because of them. It is a wild story, and it happened 39 years ago today.

REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonderland_murders

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonderland_Gang

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Nash


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