The quiet, winding streets of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon are home to many of Hollywood’s elite. But the swanky enclave has many ghosts. Most notably, 8763 Wonderland Ave., a modest little split-level home with iron framework balconies, was the scene of the Wonderland murders. On July 1, 1981, this home was the site of four murders so bloody and gory that police have gone on record to say it was more gruesome than the Manson Family killings in nearby Benedict Canyon at the home of director Roman Polanski and his wife, the late Sharon Tate. Here are 15 must-know facts about the unsolved Wonderland murders.
On July 1, 1981, the bodies of four known drug dealers were found at 8763 Wonderland Ave. in Los Angeles. The Wonderland Gang had trafficked in drugs, mainly cocaine, during the late 1970s.
The murder scene was so gory that the coroner had to scrape the remains of Ron Launius, Billy DeVerell, Joy Miller, and Barbara Richardson off the floor, furniture, walls, and ceiling. A fifth person, Launius’ wife, Susan Launius, survived the massacre.
The crime shocked Hollywood and was quickly named the “Four on the Floor Murders,” then, more literally, the “Laurel Canyon Murders,” and most famously, the “Wonderland Murders.”
People have been tried, convicted, and acquitted for the murders, but, to this day, police have not been able to pin the crime on anyone.
It’s still an open case, although police are pretty certain they know who was behind the slaughter.
John Holmes, the famous porn star, has been linked to the crime. He’s one reason why the mystique surrounding the murders persists.
You might think you know most of the details about the Wonderland murders, but there are a lot of interesting facts that have been overlooked or forgotten.
Here then, are 15 must-know facts about the sordid tale of drugs, porn, theft, and unsolved murder.
#1 – A Gang of Heroin-Addicted Cocaine Dealers
The Wonderland Gang was an influential group of drug dealers in Los Angeles. They thrived during the heady cocaine-fueled days of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The group consisted of Ron Launius, David Lind, Joy Miller, Billy DeVerell, and Tracy McCourt.
Susan Launius (Ron’s wife) and Barbara “Butterfly” Richardson (David Lind’s girlfriend) also frequented the gang’s house, but were not official members.
The group’s base was a split two-level, two-bedroom house in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles. The house was leased in Miller’s name. Miller and her boyfriend, DeVerell, were the main tenants of the home; Ron and Susan Launius were house guests.
Lind and his girlfriend, Richardson, would drive to the Wonderland house and sometimes sleep on the living room sofa and floor.
The Wonderland Gang was well known for dealing cocaine, but would sometimes expand their reach and sell heroin. While cocaine flowed out of the doors of the gang’s house on a regular basis, those who lived in the house developed a taste for heroin and were, for the most part, addicts.
In addition to drugs, the Wonderland Gang generated cash by carrying out burglaries and armed robberies of rival drug dealers.
#2 – 8763 Wonderland Ave. Had a Storied History
Laurel Canyon was once a much-lauded bohemian artist refuge. It is where Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young first got together, and where Frank Zappa entertained Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger at his dilapidated log cabin. The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, The Doors, and Joni Mitchell also lived in the neighborhood.
Laurel Canyon was the inspiration behind the Doors’ song “Love Street,” The Mamas and the Papas’ “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon),” and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Our House.”
Before 8763 Wonderland Ave. became the home of the Wonderland Gang, it was home to the legendary rock band Paul Revere and The Raiders. After that, the house was rented to a wild group of women in the 1960s and early 1970s. Neighbors recall naked women being tossed from the first-floor balcony.
The house was then rented to the Wonderland Gang for $750 a month.
There is a garage on the first floor. On the second floor is a living room with a balcony facing the street, a kitchen, a dining room, and a bedroom. The third floor contains a main bedroom with an ensuite bathroom, as well as a balcony overlooking the street.
When the Wonderland Gang occupied the space, they made some adjustments to ensure it was a secure facility. A stairway that led from the garage to the front door was caged in iron. There was a telephone at the entrance, an electronic deadbolt on the gate, and two pit bulls guarding the steps.
It was a fortress that not just anyone could access.
“There was a lot of traffic, all day, all night,” recalled on neighbor. “Everything from Volkswagens to a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. They threw brown bags of dope off the balcony. There was shouting, laughing, rock and roll, 24 hours a day.”
#3 – Porn Star John Holmes Ran with the Wonderland Gang
The one common thread throughout the Wonderland murders is porn star John Holmes, aka Johnny Wadd.
Known for his 13” appendage, Holmes was one of the most prolific porn stars of his time. He started in the porn business around 1968 and performed in more than 2,270 hardcore films. At the height of his popularity, Holmes earned $3,000 a day.Holmes claimed to have slept with more than 14,000 women, but that number has been disputed. It may only have been in the low thousands.
By the early 1980s, Holmes’ career was limp…and he had become addicted to freebasing cocaine.
He was also deep in debt. So he resorted to breaking into cars and stealing luggage from LAX airport to feed his $1,500-a-day cocaine habit. Holmes was also stealing money from his dealers, including the Wonderland Gang.
Still, the fact that Holmes was stealing from the Wonderland Gang overshadowed the work he did for the gang as a seller. When the gang found out what he had been doing, they pummeled him and told him to fix the situation or else.
Holmes, understandably, was afraid. He knew how dangerous the Wonderland Gang was. So he devised a plan to keep himself in their good graces by suggesting that they rob one of his wealthy friends, known drug dealer Eddie Nash (no relation to Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young).
Nash, born Adel Gharib Nasrallah, was a drug dealer who owned several nightclubs in L.A., including the Starwood and the Kit Kat Strip Club. All told, Nash held 36 liquor licenses, owned real estate, and owned other assets worth over $30.0 million.
Holmes drew a map of the floor plan of Nash’s house and pointed out where Nash kept his cash and valuables.
#4 – June 29, 1981: Wonderland Gang Robbed Eddie Nash
The Wonderland Gang decided it would be a good idea to rob Nash’s Studio City mansion.
In the early hours of June 29, the gang gave Holmes $400.00 to buy drugs from Nash. Holmes spent a number of hours with Nash that day, coming and going multiple times.
On one of those occasions, Holmes left a sliding door open, giving the Wonderland Gang unfettered access to Nash’s home. Holmes returned to the Wonderland Avenue house and told the gang that the coast was clear.
Later that day, Ron Launius, DeVerell, McCourt, and Lind stormed Nash’s house. Lind took the lead, with a .357 Magnum revolver in one hand and a stolen San Francisco police detective’s badge in the other.
Nash, 52, and his bodyguard, Gregory DeWitt Diles, a 300-pound martial artist, were in the living room.
“Freeze!” yelled Lind. “You’re under arrest! Police officers!”
DeVerell and Ron Launius covered Nash while Lind tried to subdue Diles with handcuffs. As Lind fumbled with the handcuffs, the gun went off and Diles was burned by the muzzle flash.
Nash fell to his knees and begged for his life. The robbers dragged Nash to the bedroom, and Lind put the handgun to Nash’s head and asked for the combination to the floor safe. Nash refused at first, but he became more amenable to the idea after Ron Launius put the barrel of the gun into Nash’s mouth.
Nash gave the men the combination to the safe. The gang made off with eight pounds of cocaine, heroin, 5,000 Quaalude pills, jewelry, guns, and over $185,000 in cash.
When the gang got back to the Wonderland Avenue house, DeVerell, Lind, and Ron Launius decided to short-change both Holmes and McCourt. They gave Holmes $3,000, even though he knew that they had stolen a lot more than that from Nash.
Ron Launius and Holmes argued, which led to Holmes getting punched in the stomach before was told to leave.
#5 – June 30, 1981: John Holmes Beaten up, Snitched on Friends
Nash immediately suspected that Holmes was in on the robbery. The normally-broke Holmes had $400.00 on him earlier that day and he visited his house three times on the day of the attack.
Now, Holmes was smart enough to not go back to the Wonderland Avenue house, but he wasn’t smart enough to lay low. The famous porn star not only stuck around L.A., but he proudly wore a ring that was stolen from Nash.
Holmes was spotted by the unhappy Diles, the injured bodyguard, who took Holmes back to Nash’s house to answer some questions. It was there that Holmes was tied to a chair and summarily beaten up.
Nash knew of the Wonderland Gang but he had never formally met them. To ensure that Holmes would cough up the names of the intruders and lead Nash to them, Nash took out Holmes’ address book and threatened the lives of his family and friends.
The thrashing was supposedly witnessed by Scott Thorson, Liberace’s old flame, who was at Nash’s place to score some drugs. Thorson’s claims that Holmes was beaten up were never officially verified, but the story rings true.
Just two days after the alleged beating of the porn actor, members of the Wonderland Gang were savagely beaten to death.
#6 – John Holmes Opened the Door for Wonderland Murderers
John Holmes was not just forced to name the perpetrators of the robbery; he was allegedly forced to participate in and/or watch the murders take place. Holmes was staying at the Wonderland residence at the time of the murders and he was accused of opening the door to let the killers in on July 1.
After the murders, the killers apparently kicked Holmes out of their car at the corner of Lookout Mountain and Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Holmes limped down to Ventura Boulevard, where he called a friend, who gave him a ride.
At 5 a.m., Holmes arrived at the home of Sharon Holmes, his wife. She would say years later that John Holmes confessed to being at the crime scene and letting the murderers into the house. He never revealed to her the names of the killers though.
#7 – The Motive Might Have Been Revenge
The idea that the Wonderland murders were revenge might explain the extent to which the intruders savagely beat the inhabitants of 8763 Wonderland Ave.
(Please note that images some may find graphic or disturbing follow.)
The bloodied body of Richardson, 22, was found lying on the ground near the couch where she had been sleeping.
Miller, 46, was found dead in her bed. The body of DeVerell, 42, was found slumped at the foot of the bed, leaning against a TV stand.
In the second bedroom, Ron Launius, 37, was lying dead in a pool of blood.
Susan Launius, 25, was supposed to be the fifth victim, but she miraculously survived. She was found on the floor next to the bed where her dead husband was found.
The neurosurgeon who worked on Susan—and the police at the scene—said her injuries were just as bad, if not worse, than those who had died. The force of the blows to her skull were so great that skull fragments were embedded in her head and actually prevented her from bleeding to death.
Even though Susan Launius had lost a lot of blood, she recovered—although brain damage left her with permanent amnesia. She is unable to recall the events of July 1, 1981.
#8 – Loyal Drug Customers Ignored Dead Bodies
Police were not the first people to stumble upon the four dead bodies belonging to the Wonderland Gang. It is thought that at least six to eight drug customers went to the house in the early hours of July 1.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, none of the drug customers called police after finding the dead bodies. It is not known whether they knew that Susan Launius was still alive. Regardless, they left the only survivor of the attack alone in the house.
Around 4 p.m. on July 1, two people told movers who were working at the house next door that they heard moaning. The movers looked inside the front door and saw the body of Richardson, so they called police.
#9 – Neighbors Thought Screams Were Just Typical Debauchery
Police weren’t called until about 12 hours after neighbors first heard screams coming from the Wonderland Gang house. The reason? It was a drug house that was notorious for 24-hour noise, mayhem, and debauchery. Screams and other loud noises were common there. As the murders were taking place, neighbors just assumed that the Wonderland Gang was having a party. And no one was going to go over and ask the gang members to keep the noise down.
#10 – Murder Scene More Gruesome Than Manson Family Killings
When police finally entered the Wonderland Avenue home, they were shocked at what they saw, comparing it to the Tate/LaBianca murders perpetrated by the Manson Family a few years back. Police said that this crime scene was even more gruesome, however.
Investigators videotaped the entire murder scene. The Wonderland murders would go on to become the first trial in the U.S. that used videotape footage as evidence.
The property had been ransacked, with the floors covered in paper, books, drawers, and clothes. As expected, drug paraphernalia was found everywhere. Blood splatter soaked the beds, carpet, and walls. Bodies were found in beds and on floors.
Police were pretty sure that the killers had brought guns to the house, but they quickly determined that the suspects used pipes to murder their victims. Heading up the stairs, police found a hole in the wall. Embedded in the wall were marks similar to those found at the end of a pipe.
Susan Launius was rushed to the hospital before police captured video footage, but the video shows a bloodstained wall where she was found.
Video footage first captured Richardson, her head covered, soaking in a puddle of blood. Her body was wrapped in a blanket on the floor beside a couch. It looked as though she had rolled off the couch during the attack.
Ron Launius’ bloodied body was found on a bed, unrecognizable.
DeVerell and Miller were found in another bedroom. Miller’s body was on the bed, covered in ransacked debris. DeVerell was on the ground, leaning against a TV stand. It looks like he may have put up a fight.
We have a link to the Wonderland murders crime scene footage here. The video is very graphic and is not suitable for all viewers.
#11 – The Wonderland Murders Remain Unsolved
The Wonderland murders still have not been solved.
But the police are more apt to say that the murders are “unresolved.” The police are pretty certain that they know who led the killers to the house and who committed the murders, but they don’t have enough evidence.
#12 – John Holmes Made a Teary Confession
In the weeks following the murders, Holmes made a surprising confession to his then-wife Sharon (they divorced in 1984). According to Sharon, John Holmes sat in a steaming bathtub one morning in July 1981, crying.
It was then that Holmes confessed that he had participated in the brutal murders of four people on Wonderland Avenue.
“There’s somebody out there who wants to kill me,” John told Sharon.
“Why?” she asked.
“The murders…I was involved…I know who did it,” was his reply.
Holmes went on to recount how he let three men into the home that belonged to the Wonderland Gang, escorted them in, and stood by as they savagely beat the five people inside the house.
“I had to stand there and watch what they did,” said John.
Sharon asked him how he could do that, saying “you knew these people.”
“They were dirt,” was his reply.
Holmes never told Sharon the names of the assailants.
Police believe there is more to the story, and that John Holmes actually took part in the murders.
Nevertheless, the bathtub confession casts doubt on the story that Holmes later told his biographer before he died on March 13, 1988 from complications related to AIDS. In that version, Holmes claimed he was held at gunpoint at another house while the killers went to Wonderland Avenue.
Sharon said that version is pure fiction.
#13 – John Holmes Spilled Details to LAPD
Police say they know that Holmes at least participated in the Wonderland murders, because they found his palm print on one of the headboards.
Once cornered by police, Holmes spilled details about the murders. Holmes was protected by police and hidden in a hotel, along with his wife Sharon and his girlfriend, Dawn Schiller.
Holmes refused to give up the names of the assailants and wouldn’t testify at his own trial.
Detectives were certain that Holmes had brought Nash’s men to the Wonderland address, despite knowing that Diles and the others would kill the Wonderland Gang members or whoever happened to be in the house at the time.
#14 – John Holmes Acquitted of Wonderland Murders
Holmes was tried for the murders based on his handprint that was found at the scene of the crime. Admittedly, the porn star had spent so much time in that house that it would be impossible to prove when exactly the print got there.
While prosecutors tried to portray Holmes as a willing participant in the Wonderland slayings, his lawyers argued that he was a victim and that the killers were still at large.
The jury agreed…and Holmes was acquitted of all charges.
That said, Holmes spent some time in jail for refusing to testify at trial, and for stolen property charges.
Holmes never gave a public statement on what happened on July 1, 1981. Secret testimony he gave before a Los Angeles County grand jury remains sealed.
“We have never heard the whole truth [about the killings] and we never will hear the whole truth,” said attorney Earl L. Hanson. It was Hanson, who, along with partner Mitchell W. Egers, successfully defended Holmes against the murder charges.
Hanson said Holmes never told him or Egers what happened on the night of the killings.
Detective Tom Lange, the lead investigator of the case, said, “There is no mystery, because we know who is involved and we know why… “
#15 – Eddie Nash Acquitted Twice (and Convicted Once)
Nash was arrested and charged in connection with the murders.
He was tried in 1990, but the trial ended with a surprise hung jury of 11-1. Nash later admitted in a plea agreement that he had bribed one juror, paying her $50,000.
Nash’s second trial in 1991 ended with a legitimate acquittal.
Then, in 1995, Nash’s bodyguard Diles died of liver failure.
Police were not willing to give up on Nash though. He was arrested in 2000 on charges of racketeering, money laundering, and tampering with a witness.
Nash pleaded guilty to some of the charges—including conspiracy for the Wonderland murders—in return for a reduced sentence. He was sentenced to 37 months and a $250,000 fine.
As all good defense lawyers are wont to do, Donald Re insisted that Nash’s actions had nothing to do with the murders.
According to Nash’s plea agreement, DeVerell, Lind, and Ron Launius robbed him at his Studio City home on June 29, 1981. The next day, Nash discovered who the robbers were and asked an associate at one of his nightclubs “to get together some people who could get the property back.”
Nash maintained that he only wanted the men to retrieve his stolen goods, but he also admitted that doing so could “lead to violence, which might have resulted in death.”
Nash didn’t spend too much time in jail; he was released early for health reasons. Eddie Nash died on August 9, 2014 at the age of 85.