When Officer Daniel Wright, of the South San Francisco police, responded to a routine shoplifting call at South City lumberyard, he had no idea what he was about to uncover. All that he knew was that a sales clerk had witnessed an Asian man hiding a bench vise inside his jacket, and had asked another employee to call the police.
When he arrived at the scene he pulled up next to a 1980 Honda Prelude and was approached by the clerk and another larger man with a beard. The clerk pointed out the vise, which lay in the open trunk of the Honda and told Wright that he had seen the Asian man put it there before running off.
Wright looked into the car and saw another bag containing what he thought was a handgun. After a closer inspection of the bag, he found a loaded .22 revolver and a silencer. At this point, the bearded man approached Wright and showed him a sales receipt. “Here’s the receipt,” he said. “I’ve paid for the vise my friend took, there’s no need for the police.” Without answering, Officer Wright returned to his car and used his radio to check the Honda’s registration number. While he was waiting for a response he asked the bearded man,
“Who does this car belong to?”
The man replied, “Lonnie Bond.”
“Where is he?” Wright asked.
“Up north,” came the reply.
At that time, Wright returned to the radio and was informed that the Honda’s registration number “838WFQ” belonged to a Buick, registered in the name of Lonnie Bond. After advising the man that swapping registration plates was a crime, Wright asked for I.D. and was given a driver’s licence in the name of Robin S. Stapley, a 26-year-old San Diego resident. At that point, Wright became increasingly suspicious, as the bearded man looked considerably older than the age stated on the license.
Wright then picked up the gun and asked the man, “Don’t you know it’s illegal to carry a silenced weapon.”
“It’s not mine, it belongs to Lonnie. I just use it to shoot beer cans.”
Wright then used the radio a second time to check the serial number of the weapon and found that it was registered to Robin S. Stapley.
“You’re under arrest,” Wright told the bearded man.
“Owning an illegal weapon.”
“I told you, it’s not mine,” the man replied.
“You say that you’re Stapley right? Well the gun is registered in your name.”
After handcuffing the man and reading him his rights, Officer Wright locked him in the rear of the car and returned to the sales clerk to obtain a description of the other man, which he then broadcast. — “Asian male, slight build, about twenty-five, last seen wearing a parka.”
After arranging for the Honda to be towed to the police impound yard, Wright drove his prisoner to South City police station where he was placed in an interrogation room and told to empty his pockets. Among his possessions, he had a travel receipt in the name of Charles Gunnar.
“Who’s Gunnar?” Wright asked.
At that point, another officer advised Wright that the vehicle identification number on the Honda revealed that it belonged to a man named Paul Cosner who had been reported missing to the San Francisco Police nine months earlier. When Wright told the bearded man what he had been told, the man went pale and asked for a pen and paper and a glass of water.
“Are you going to write a confession?” Wright asked.
“No,” the man answered, “Just a note to my wife.”
After asking for his handcuffs to be released, the man scribbled a short note and placed it in his shirt pocket.
“I can have that delivered for you if you like,” Wright told him.
The man then said, “I didn’t think a lousy bench vise would bring me to this.”
When Wright asked him to repeat what he’d said, the man continued. “My friend’s name is Charlie Chitat Ng, Chitat, pronounced Cheetah and Ng, pronounced Ing.”
Leonard Lake (AP)
He then told Wright that his real name was Leonard Lake and that he was a fugitive wanted by the FBI. Without saying another word, Lake then took something from the lapel of his shirt and placed it in his mouth. Within seconds, his eyes rolled back in his head as he went into convulsions. Wright called for help and checked the prisoner’s pulse. He was alive but just barely. Police later discovered that Lake had taped two cyanide capsules to the underside of his shirt lapel.
As the paramedics carried Lake to an ambulance and conveyed him to hospital, Wright wondered why a man would want to kill himself over a stolen car; he was soon to get his answer.
It wasn’t long before South San Francisco police knew that they had more than a simple case of shoplifting on their hands especially when they discovered bloodstains on the front passenger’s seat of the Honda, a bullet hole above it near the sun visor and two spent shell casings under the seat. Paul Cosner, 39, the original owner of the Honda and a trader of used cars, had disappeared on November 2, 1984 after he told his girlfriend that he was meeting with “a weird looking guy,” to show him the car. He was never seen again.
The car and the property were later moved to San Francisco as detectives from the Missing Persons Unit there were investigating the disappearance of Paul Cosner. Among the property were several bank and credit cards and other documents in the name of Robin Scott Stapley, which had been found in the glove compartment. A check made with San Diego police revealed that Stapley was one of the founding members of the San Diego chapter of the “Guardian Angels,” a national organization that had been formed to protect private citizens from criminal attacks and generally aid the police. He had been missing since the previous April.
Another bankcard, in the name of Randy Jacobsen was also found amongst the property as was a Pacific Gas and Electric bill in the name of Claralyn Balasz. The address shown on the bill was a post office box in Wilseyville, California, a region one hundred and fifty miles east of San Francisco at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. After checks with P G&E, police discovered that Balasz was Lake’s ex-wife and was living in San Bruno, just a few short miles from the lumberyard where Lake had been arrested.
On Monday, June 3, 1985, two detectives from S.F. Missing Persons, Tom Eisenmann and Irene Brunn, went to interview Balasz. When asked about the Wilseyville address, Balasz told the police that it related to a cabin that her father owned near San Andreas, Calaveras County. When the detectives asked for directions to the cabin, Balasz explained that it was in a remote location and could only be found by someone familiar with the area. The detectives then made arrangements for Balasz to take them to the cabin the following day, as they first required authorization from the Calaveras Sheriffs Department to conduct a search.
The following day, after meeting with Sheriff Ballard and obtaining the necessary clearance, Eisenmann, Brunn and two other officers supplied by Ballard met Balasz and Lake’s mother Gloria Eberling at a grocery store located on Highway 88 a short distance from the cabin. When the detectives asked Balasz why she was late for their appointment, she explained that she had been to the cabin prior to meeting them. The police then advised her that if she had removed any evidence she could be found guilty of obstructing justice. Balasz explained that she had been looking for videos that Lake had taken of her in the nude and had only wanted to save herself from embarrassment.
Shortly after, Balasz led them up Blue Mountain road and after just two turns, they drove past a cinder-block structure and came to the cabin. Contrary to Balasz’s advice it had been relatively easy to find. After asking Balasz to unlock the cabin, Brunn and Calaveras Deputy Sheriff Varain conducted a search of the interior while Eisenmann and the other deputy looked around the grounds.
The Wilseyville cabin and bunker.
(SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)
(SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)
The cabin was comprised of two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The first thing that Brunn noticed on entering the room was a spray of reddish coloured stains on the living room ceiling. On one wall was a mural of a forest scene, in the middle of the scene was a single, small caliber bullet hole. Entering the kitchen, Brunn found another similar bullet hole in the floor. The master bedroom held a four-poster bed that had electrical cords tied to each of its posts. Bolted through the floor at each corner of the bed were heavy eyebolts and above it, a 250-watt floodlight had been fastened to the wall.
To one side of the bed was a dresser, which contained an assortment of women’s lingerie, many of which were soiled with dark red stains. Moving to the bed, Brunn lifted one corner of the mattress. Below it was a second mattress; it too was heavily stained with what looked like dried blood. Returning to the front room she was shown a television and two items of audio duplicating equipment by Deputy Varain. All the serial numbers had been erased. Brunn later found that the audio equipment belonged to Harvey Dubs, a San Francisco resident who, with his wife and baby son, had disappeared on July 24, 1984. The family had last been seen by a neighbor who saw them talking to two men who had come to the house to enquire about the equipment which Harvey Dubs had advertised for sale in a local paper.
Brunn then left the property with Varain and drove to the office of the San Andreas District Attorney and spoke with Assistant DA John Martin who, after listening to their report, agreed that they had sufficient evidence to request a search warrant for the whole property. After obtaining the warrant from Judge Douglas Mewhinney, Brunn and Varain returned to the property and conducted a brief interview with Balasz and Eberling, questioning them about their previous visit to the cabin. Eberling refused to answer any questions and Balasz became evasive stating only that her parents had bought the cabin from “the fat guy.”
A Grisly Find
When she had finished with Balasz and her mother, Eisenmann took Brunn to another part of the yard and showed her an incinerator with thick fireproof walls that were capable of withstanding extreme temperatures. Aware that the previous occupants of the cabin were in some way involved in the disappearance of several people, Brunn and Eisenmann decided that a detailed examination of the entire area, including the incinerator and the mysterious concrete bunker, was a priority. As their search warrant didn’t cover the locked bunker, Brunn asked Balasz if she would give them consent to search it. Balasz responded to their request angrily, suggesting that they talk to Lake’s partner, Charles Ng.
Brunn asked for more details on Ng and was told that he was an Asian who normally hung out with Lake. When asked if she had seen Ng recently, Balasz told the detectives that Ng had rung the previous day and asked her to drive him to his apartment to pick up a paycheck. She then told them that Ng had packed a suitcase with clothes, a .22 handgun, ammunition, a large amount of cash and two I.D’s, a California driver’s license and a Social Security card, both in the name of Mike Kimoto. Afterwards she had driven him to the United Airlines terminal at San Francisco airport but had no idea where he was going.
(Harrington & Burger)
(Harrington & Burger)
Balasz was then asked for more information on Lake and told the detectives that she and Lake had met at a Renaissance Fair in Marin County and had married after dating for a short time. As his best man Lake had chosen Charles Gunnar, a long time friend who at just 5’8″, weighed nearly four hundred pounds, prompting Balasz to christen him “the fat man.” Shortly after the wedding, which was paid for by Gunnar, the couple moved to Philo in Mendocino where Lake found work managing a motel. Within a year, Ng arrived and moved in with Lake and his new wife. According to Balasz, Lake and Ng got on well, as they were both former marines. In 1982, five months after his arrival, Ng left for several days and returned late one night driving a pickup. Balasz told the detectives that on the night of Ng’s return, he and Lake had performed a strange dance in the yard and later unpacked some crates from the truck and placed them in a shed.
Early the following morning, an FBI swat team raided the property and arrested Ng and Lake and charged them in relation to the theft of weapons from a military base in Hawaii. Lake was later released on $30,000 bail, which was paid by Gunnar, while Ng, who was still considered a serving member of the Marine Corps, was court-martialled and sentenced to two years in Leavenworth prison. Not wishing to go to jail, Lake made plans to run off and hide in the mountains and asked Balasz to go with him. When she refused, the relationship broke down and Lake moved into the cabin alone.
Although Balasz had spoken freely about her life with Lake, when Brunn pushed for further details on his relationship with Ng, Balasz became angry, refused the detectives permission to enter the bunker and demanded to speak with an attorney. Shortly after, Balasz and Eberling left.
After relaying the information regarding Ng’s movements and alias to their office, Brunn and Eisenmann left the site to request an additional search warrant for the bunker. Because of the information they had uncovered, their request was given top priority and a joint task force was set up to search the entire site. San Francisco police chief, Cornelius Murphy, authorised a twelve-man unit and Sheriff Ballard of Calaveras County assembled a team of five men and placed Lieutenant Bob Bunning in charge. Deputy Chief of Inspectors Joseph Lordan was placed in charge of the San Francisco detachment.
On Tuesday, June 4, 1985, the search began. The first task was to set up a base camp while a locksmith was summoned to unlock the bunker. A preliminary examination of the area around the bunker was then conducted which revealed a cleared area ten feet in diameter that showed traces of lye and a long trench that seemed to contain articles of clothing. Fearing a gravesite, Sheriff Ballard ordered the searchers to focus their attention on those areas while he sent an officer to find out who owned the neighbouring property. Within hours a team of “sniffer” dogs and their handlers, a forensic specialist and two additional patrolmen had joined the search.
While Ballard was coordinating his search party, the officer returned from the house next door with more disturbing information. The owner of that property, Bo Carter, who had been contacted by telephone, informed the officer that the house was a rental. Some weeks before, his tenants, Lonnie Bond, his partner Brenda O’Connor and their infant son Lonnie Jr., had fallen behind on their rent so he had sent a real estate agent to collect it. When the agent arrived, a man calling himself Charles Gunnar came from the direction of the cabin and told him that the tenants had left ten days previously. At that time, the agent informed Carter that another man, by the name of Robin Stapley, had been living with the Bonds prior to their disappearance. The agent had also told Carter that an eroded bank near the boundary between the two properties had been recently dug up.
Disturbed by the news, Carter went to the site a week later to inspect his property. When he arrived, a man calling himself Charlie Gunnar had approached him and watched as he inspected the house. Carter said he didn’t worry about Gunnar until he saw a TV news item about a man who took cyanide following his arrest for a weapons charge. The news item had also shown the man’s picture and given his name. According to Carter, the man he had seen near the cabin was Leonard Lake. After hearing the story, Ballard sent searchers to find the area described by the agent.
The following day, the bunker was opened. Sheriff Ballard, Detectives Brunn and Eisenmann and the Calaveras County Information officer, Jim Stenquist, conducted the initial search. The main room was a twenty-foot by twelve-foot workshop area with a range of hand tools and power saws hanging on a plywood wall next to a workbench. On closer inspection, many of the tools were found to be encrusted with a dried brownish substance, possibly blood. Attached to the bench was a broken vise. As they inspected the room further, the detectives checked the dimensions of it and discovered that it was smaller than the size it seemed from the outside and deduced that there may be a hidden room. They soon found that the plywood tool rack was in fact a door leading to a smaller room. Inside were a double bed, a side table, books and a reading lamp. On one wall was a wooden plaque with the legend “Operation Miranda” carved into it.
Inside the bunker.
Police would later learn that the name was derived from a book called “The Collector” by John Fowles, which was found in the bookshelf. The book tells the story of a butterfly collector who kidnaps a beautiful woman and keeps her locked in his cellar where the woman eventually dies.
The room also contained military equipment including uniforms, boots and a vast array of weapons, including assault rifles, shotguns and machine guns. On the floor, police found a work shirt and a baseball cap with the words “Dennis Moving Service” embroidered on them.
In a bookshelf on the far wall, between books on explosives and chemicals, the searchers found a small window that appeared to be made up of multiple panes of glass, possibly soundproofed. On another shelf was a military “Starlight” scope which, initially designed for snipers, was capable of viewing objects in extremely low light conditions. On another wall were twenty-one candid photographs of young girls in various stages of undress, most of which were taken outdoors. Two of the pictures had been taken in front of wallpaper with a cartoon character motif.
Police would eventually identify the wallpaper as being the same as that in the South City Juvenile Hall, the same location that Claralyn Balasz worked as a teacher’s assistant. All twenty-one women were later identified and found to be alive and well.
After checking their measurements again, the detectives found that there was another discrepancy indicating that there may be a third room behind the small window. Sheriff Ballard was informed but refused the searchers permission to continue with the search until the forensic technicians had collected evidence from the first two rooms.
The first find by the technicians was a single adult fingerprint taken from the bookshelf window. Later they found other prints on and around the same window, which were retained until the fingerprint records of Lake, Ng and missing person files could be obtained for comparison.
The fingerprints on and around the window were later positively identified as belonging to Ng and Lake.
The fingerprints on and around the window were later positively identified as belonging to Ng and Lake.
As the technicians continued their analysis, searchers outside uncovered two bones beside the driveway but were unable to ascertain if they were human. They were later sent to Doctor Boyd Stephens, San Francisco’s Chief Medical Examiner for further analysis.
The second day at the site, the lab crew responsible for the search of the cabin found additional evidence in the form of a .22 calibre bullet that was removed from the wall of the main bedroom. Under the springs of the bed in the same room, they found a diary, which later proved to be written by Leonard Lake and described in chilling detail how he and Ng had selected, raped, and murdered numerous victims. It also described how Lake, an ardent survivalist who feared nuclear war, had planned to build a series of bunkers across the country complete with supplies, weapons and female sex-slaves. The diary further spelled out his intention to use his female captives to repopulate the world.
By 5.00pm on the second day, the initial forensic analysis of the bunker had been completed and Ballard ordered Brunn and Eisenmann to continue their search of the interior. After checking what looked like a sealed room, Brunn found a secret door behind a bookcase that led into the room with the window. The room itself was only three foot three inches wide by seven and a half feet long with a six-foot ceiling. Inside they found a narrow bed, a chemical toilet, air freshener and a water container. Holes had been drilled in the wall to provide ventilation but had been baffled to exclude light. After closely examining both rooms at the same time, they discovered that the window was “two-way” glass. They later discovered a button beside it which, when pushed, allowed the occupants of the first room to hear any sounds from within the smaller room. Eisenmann than turned off all the lights in the bunker and, using the “Starlight” scope through the “viewing window,” was able to see Brunn clearly in the smaller room. They had discovered what looked like a “hostage cell.” When the newest information was relayed to Ballard, he left the site and returned to his office where he made plans for a full-scale murder investigation, which would include the FBI, the Californian Forestry Department and the Californian Department of Justice.
Excavation in progress
On day three, the searchers were assisted by another specialist detachment of dogs and their handlers from the Californian Rescue Dogs Association. After an hour of fruitless searching, Ballard called for heavy equipment to begin digging up the site. During the same morning, Ballard received an unexpected visitor in the form of Gloria Eberling, Lake’s mother. She told Ballard that she had come because she was concerned about her other son, Donald who had disappeared two years earlier. Brunn, who was also present, asked Eberling if Balasz had removed anything from the cabin on the day they met and was told that Balasz had taken twelve videotapes from the main bedroom.
Balasz later gave police the twelve videos she had taken from the cabin which, as she had indicated, were of her and Lake having sex.
Ballard then asked Eberling if Lake’s condition had improved, she told him that her son had been officially pronounced brain dead and doctors were pressing her to switch of his life support.
For Ballard, the case was becoming a nightmare. He had evidence that suggested multiple kidnappings, rapes and murders and two main suspects but one was virtually dead and the other was in hiding, possibly in another country. All he could do was collect the evidence and wait.
Charles Ng mugshot
The FBI, meanwhile had determined that Charles Ng had taken a flight from San Francisco to Chicago but they were unable to ascertain where he had gone from there. After a check of his background, they found that he came from Hong Kong, had sisters in Toronto and Calgary, an uncle in Yorkshire, England and former Marine friends in Hawaii. They were aware that, with sufficient funds and several days’ lead, Ng could be in any of four locations. To assist in the search, they contacted Interpol and Scotland Yard and distributed Ng’s description worldwide.
All That Remains
On the fourth day of the search, Doctor Stephens arrived at the site and informed Ballard that the bones found near the driveway, were definitely human. Shortly after he arrived, another bone was found which appeared to have been cut neatly on both ends by a saw or similar cutting tool. As the search progressed, numerous items were unearthed from various locations. In the trench that ran from the bunker to the entry road, police found a plastic bag containing a letter addressed to Charles Ng and a receipt in the name of Harvey Dubs. Next they unearthed a shirt with the name “Scott” embroidered on it. Literally hundreds of items, which had to be painstakingly photographed and held for analysis, were removed from the site.
Paul Cosner (left), Robin Stapley, Victims
It wasn’t until the fifth day that the first bodies were found. The skeletal remains of two people seemed to be complete but the bones had been sawn into sections and badly burned. Ironically, at 8.00pm on the same day the skeletons were found, doctors at Kaiser Permanente Hospital switched off Leonard Lake’s life support — he died within seconds.
Later, a sealed five gallon bucket was uncovered which contained a cheque book in the name of Robin Scott Stapley, jewelery, credit cards, driver’s licenses, wallets and two videotapes without labels and a third marked “M. Ladies Kathy/Brenda.” The first two videos were later viewed, the first showing Lake and Balasz at a Thanksgiving dinner. On the second, Lake had been filmed discussing his greatest fantasy — kidnapping a woman and enslaving her. The third video was the most disturbing, it showed a young woman, identified only as Kathy, changed to a chair and later forced to perform a striptease while being taunted by two men, Lake and Ng. In another part of the video, Ng could be seen clearly cavorting on a bed with Kathy while Lake took still photographs.
Kathleen Allen, Victim
The young woman was later identified as eighteen-year-old Kathy Allen, a clerk at a supermarket in Milpitas. Allen was apparently lured to the site by Lake, who told her that her boyfriend had been shot. Police later revealed that Allen’s boyfriend, a known drug dealer named Michael Sean Carroll, had been Ng’s cellmate in Leavenworth.
The tape also included footage of another young woman named Brenda, which showed her begging for information regarding her baby. In answer, Lake tells her “Your baby is sound asleep, like a rock.” Eventually, when the constant barrage of taunts and threats breaks her resolve, Brenda agrees to cooperate. Later in the tape she can be heard taking a shower with both men.
Brenda O’Connor, Lonnie Bond
and Lonnie Jr., Victims
and Lonnie Jr., Victims
The second victim shown on the tape was nineteen-year-old Brenda O’Connor, Lake’s next-door neighbor. Police believe that her common-law husband Lonnie Bond and their baby, Lonnie Jr. were murdered by Lake and Ng prior to the tape being made.
As the search progressed, the searchers uncovered a partial skull, another plastic bucket containing personal items and a complete, albeit burned body. Within minutes four more bodies, including that of a child, were uncovered. Two were female, the other a black male. A short time later another plastic container and a long twelve-inch diameter metal tube were unearthed. Inside the container, police found 1,863 silver dollars, more wallets and credit cards. The tube contained a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. In another search of a mound of freshly dug earth some distance from the cabin, two more bodies were uncovered; both had been killed by a single, small calibre bullet to the head. The bunker was later completely demolished in the search for more bodies.
The Dubs Family (AP)
As the search wound down, the bodies of seven men, three women, two baby boys and forty-five pounds of bone fragments had been recovered, along with numerous amounts of property belonging to the deceased. In all, police found evidence suggesting that up to twenty-five people, who had previously been reported missing, may have been murdered in or around the Wilseyville compound but the fact that most of the bodies had been cut up, burnt and scattered around the site made identification extremely difficult. Eventually, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Charles Chitat Ng for twelve murders.
The victims would eventually be identified as Kathleen Allen, her boyfriend Michael Carroll, Robin Scott Stapley, Randy Johnson, Charles “The Fat Man” Gunnar (Lake’s best man), Donald Lake (Leonard’s brother), Paul Cosner, (the owner of the Honda), Brenda O’Connor, Lonnie Bond Snr., Lonnie Bond Jr., (Lake’s next door neighbors) and Harvey Dubs, Deborah Dubs and Sean Dubs. (The Dubs family had been abducted and killed after Ng and Lake went to their house in relation to audio equipment that Harvey Dubs had advertised for sale.)
Victims from left to right: top: Carroll,
Johnson; Bottom: Gunnar, Donald Lake
Johnson; Bottom: Gunnar, Donald Lake
Tracking a Killer
While Sheriff Ballard and his team were working twelve hours a day to unearth the grisly secrets of the Wilseyville compound, the FBI were gathering additional information on one of the people believed to be responsible for the carnage, Charles Chitat Ng.
Charles Ng (AP)
They learned that Ng had been born in Hong Kong on December 24, 1961. The son of a wealthy businessman, he was given every opportunity life could offer but Charlie developed a rebellious streak at a young age and was expelled from several schools. Anxious for his son to change his ways, his father sent him to a boarding school in Yorkshire, England where he would be under the protection of his uncle, who was a teacher at the school. After a short time at the new school, Charles was caught stealing from other students and a local department store and was, once again, expelled.
He then returned to Hong Kong until, at the age of eighteen, he obtained a student visa to study in the U.S. and attended Notre Dame College in Belmont, California. Obviously the life of a student didn’t appeal to him as he dropped out after just one semester. In October 1979, Ng was charged in relation to a hit and run accident. He was later convicted and ordered to pay damages. Shortly after, he enlisted in the Marines, even though he wasn’t an American citizen, listing Bloomfield, Indiana as his place of birth.
Charles Ng in 1982 (AP)
By 1981, Ng had been promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. His military career ended shortly after, however, when he and three accomplices stole military weapons from an armoury at Kaneohe Marine Base in Hawaii. A month later, he was arrested by the Military Police and locked up. Within days of his incarceration, he escaped and made his way to California where he met up with Leonard Lake. One story suggests that the two met as a result of an ad that Lake had placed in a survivalist magazine but this information cannot be verified. Not long after, he moved in with Lake and Balasz until the FBI arrested them for weapons offences.
Following his release from Leavenworth in June 1984, Ng returned to California and moved into the Wilseyville cabin with Lake. Ng should have been deported following his release from Leavenworth but the Marine Corps was still unaware that he was not an American citizen.
Don Giuletti, Victim
The FBI estimates their kidnapping and killing spree started within a month of their reunion. In July 1984, Donald Giuletti, a San Francisco disc jockey, and his roommate, Richard Carrazza, were shot by an Asian man who broke into their apartment and robbed them. Giuletti died in the attack but Carrazza survived and would later identify Charles Ng as his attacker. The pistol used in the attack was found at the Wilseyville site.
Gradually, the FBI were successful in tracing Ng’s movements after leaving San Francisco. On the day that Claralyn Balasz had driven him to the airport, he was seen boarding an American Airlines flight to Chicago. On his arrival, he booked into the Chateau Hotel under the name of Mike Kimoto before checking out four days later. He then met up with an unidentified friend and travelled to Detroit before crossing the border into Canada alone. A search of his apartment revealed a cache of weapons and property allegedly belonging to the victims as well as a pay slip from the Dennis Moving Company.
Leonard Lake at the
time of his arrest
time of his arrest
The FBI also compiled a dossier on Leonard Lake, who obviously hadn’t had the benefit of the privileged upbringing that Ng had enjoyed. He was born in San Francisco on October 29, 1945 to parents who were constantly fighting. His birth obviously did nothing to ease their domestic conflict as he was sent to live with various relatives until, at the age of six, he found a permanent home with his grandparents. According to statements taken from his friends and relatives, Lake was never able to come to terms with his feelings of rejection and abandonment.
At the age of nineteen, Lake left home and enlisted in the Marines where he was trained as a radar operator. Following his specialist training, he was sent to Da Nang in Vietnam. According to his medical records, Lake was hospitalized during his first tour for “exhibiting incipient psychotic reactions.” Obviously his superiors did not consider his condition serious as he was treated and returned to his unit to finish his tour. A second tour lasted a few short months before it was cut short when Lake was deemed to be suffering from “unspecified medical problems” and returned to El Toro Marine Base in Orange County. In all, he served seven years, earning the Vietnam Service Medal, a Vietnam Campaign Medal and two other medals for good conduct. He was later discharged on medical grounds and went to live in San Jose, California.
Shortly after his release, he entered the Oakland Veterans’ Administration Hospital where he was treated for “psychological problems.” Following his release, he briefly attended college at San Jose State University. Five years after his discharge, he met Claralyn Balasz at a renaissance fair in Marin County where he ran a stall, charging visitors for photographs posed with a goat that he had disguised as a unicorn. In 1981, Lake and Balasz were married and moved to a commune, located in Philo, Mendocino County, Northern California. While in Philo, the Lake’s lived in a sprawling ranch that Leonard called “Alibi Run” where he allegedly grew marijuana. According to friends, it was about this time that Lake became delusional and converted his ranch into a “survivalist enclosure” and stocked it with weapons and supplies to ward off the “siege” that he believed was coming.
A Simple Theft
Although Charles Ng managed to elude a nationwide manhunt for thirty-four days, his penchant for shoplifting lead to his demise just as it had for Leonard Lake. On Saturday July 6, 1985, two security guards in a “Hudson Bay” store in Calgary approached Ng after he had attempted to leave the store with several grocery items secreted in a backpack. When they challenged him, Ng drew a gun and threatened them. A short scuffle followed, during which, one of the officers was shot in the hand before Ng was overpowered and taken into custody. He was later charged at Calgary Metropolitan Police station with robbery, attempted robbery, possession of a firearm and attempted murder.
As Charles Ng prepared to face the courts, news of his arrest reached the Calaveras Task Force. Any elation at his capture was soon dispelled, however, when John Cosbie, the Canadian Justice Minister, announced that under the terms of a 1976 extradition treaty with the United States, he had refused the request for Ng’s extradition as Canada, having abolished capital punishment, would not release any prisoner charged with a capital crime that carried the death penalty.
After the US authorities had recovered from their shock, two San Francisco detectives were sent to interview Ng in his Calgary jail cell. He told them that it was Lake who was responsible for most of the Wilseyville killings but admitted helping to dispose of Paul Cosner’s body. Following the interview, the US justice department made a renewed attempt to have Ng extradited but the Canadian authorities refused, as they were about to bring Ng to trial for offenses committed on Canadian soil. He was later tried and convicted on the Calgary shoplifting and assault charges and sentenced to four-and-a-half years imprisonment.
Ng the “lawyer” (AP)
As Ng prepared to serve his sentence, the United States Justice Department began what would become a long and protracted battle to extradite Charles Ng. The battle lasted almost six years, during this period Ng spent most of his time studying American law. During the extradition proceedings, evidence was tabled that Ng had drawn several cartoons, which, according to US attorneys, showed details of the Wilseyville killings that only someone with an intimate knowledge of the killings could produce.
A Costly Endeavour
Ng enters courtroom (AP)
After dozens of appeals and a seemingly endless round of hearings, the Canadian government finally acceded to the Californian government’s request and agreed to extradite Charles Ng on September 26, 1991. Within minutes of his release, Ng was flown to McClellan Air Force base where he was transferred to Folsom prison in Sacramento to await trial. What followed were the most drawn out, costly criminal proceedings in US criminal history, even outstripping the infamous O.J. Simpson case. Ng used every point of law that he and his string of attorneys could muster to delay trial proceedings against him.
The site for the trial was to be San Andreas but Ng constantly filed actions against the state of California, making formal complaints on matters ranging from alleged poor treatment and bad food to the claim that he was forced to take medication for motion sickness during the fifty-mile trip to the courthouse, which he claimed, made him drowsy and unable to take part in pre-trial proceedings. He gained further delays by dismissing his attorneys at regular intervals and later filed a $1 million malpractice suit against them for incompetence. At one stage he filed a motion with the San Andreas court applying for the right to represent himself but later withdrew it.
Ng in court, under guard (AP)
The delaying tactics continued as Ng’s attorneys applied to have the trial moved to Orange County as they believed that their client would not receive a fair trial in San Andreas. In support of this motion the attorneys tabled an independent survey indicating that 95% of the residents of Calaveras County already considered Charles Ng guilty of the Wilseyville murders. These and other motions were brought before the California Supreme court no less than five times until finally, on April 8, 1994, a San Andreas judge upheld the motion and ordered the trial moved to Santa Ana in Orange County. This action caused further delays when Orange County officials objected to the order on the grounds that the county was virtually bankrupt and unable to bear the costs of such a trial. The issue was eventually resolved when the state of California agreed to pay any costs incurred.
More years of legal wrangling ensued as Ng changed attorneys who in turn asked for further adjournments to prepare their case. At one point during the proceedings, Ng was housed in a small cage between appearances, as he was considered “highly dangerous.” The cage was later removed when a Federal magistrate described its use as “barbarous.” Even before the actual trial began, Ng had appeared before six different judges in a case that had amassed over six tons of evidence and other legal documents at a cost approaching $10 million.
Prosecutor Sharlene Honnaka (AP)
In October 1998 after thirteen years of delays and extended legal arguments, the trial of Charles Chitat Ng began. For the next few months, the jury, the media and the families and friends of the victims, heard state prosecutor Sharlene Honnaka relate how Leonard Lake and Charles Ng had selected and kidnapped their victims before taking them to the Wilseyville site where they sadistically tortured, raped and murdered them. To support the state’s case, Honnaka submitted the videos that were found at the site that clearly showed Ng and Lake torturing and abusing Kathy Allen and Brenda O’Connor. Evidence, including stolen property and photographs were also tabled further linking both men to the victims. Honnaka also attempted to submit excerpts from Lake’s diaries as evidence but Judge John J. Ryan refused to admit them, ruling that most of the material submitted bore no relevance to the case. Part of Lake’s military record was also withheld.
William Kelly (AP)
The defence countered, claiming that Ng was an unwilling accomplice to the more dangerous and demented Lake who was responsible for the murders while Ng merely participated in some of the sexual offences. Towards the end of the proceedings, Ng damaged his own case when he insisted on taking the stand, a move which allowed prosecutors to present additional evidence, including a picture of Ng in his cell showing the incriminating cartoons behind him on the wall next to a motto which read, “No kill, no thrill — no gun, no fun.”
William Kelley, Ng’s court appointed attorney, attempted to regroup by calling Claralyn Balasz to give evidence in support of his client even though the prosecution had previously granted her immunity. He later changed his mind when Judge Ryan advised him that Balasz had made prior statements implicating Ng.
Ng sits passively as his sen-
tence is read (AP)
tence is read (AP)
Finally, after a trial lasting eight long months, all the evidence had been heard and the jury retired to consider a verdict. Within hours they returned. They found Charles Chitat Ng guilty of the murder of six men, three women and two baby boys. The charge of murdering the seventh man, Paul Cosner, had been dropped previously owing to insufficient evidence.
Judge Ryan then followed the jury’s recommendation and imposed a sentence of death even though he had the option of sentencing Ng to life imprisonment.
Families of the victims react to the verdict
Ng’s cold stare, in court (AP)
At the time of writing, Ng and his attorneys are presenting appeals against the “harshness” of the sentence. This process alone could take another six years and perhaps another six million dollars, a grand total of almost twenty million dollars to convict one man, even though the evidence against him included videotape footage of two of the crimes in progress. But while Ng and people like him make a mockery of the American legal system, the question remains — What made them do it? What possessed them to kidnap, rape and torture their innocent victims including friends and family?
One suggestion is that Lake and Ng were already capable of such crimes as individuals but it wasn’t until they met that they began to fuel each other’s sado-sexual desires to inflict pain and death on others. The situation may be an example of what criminal psychologists call Gestalt, where “the organised whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts,” not unlike that other tag-team from hell, Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole. Whatever their motivations were, one clear fact remains, a court of law deemed that Charles Ng and Leonard Lake were jointly responsible for some of the most brutal and sadistic crimes in the annals of criminal history. It’s unfortunate that it takes so much time and money to bring such men to justice.