THE DEVIL AND JOHN HOLMES
John Holmes was a porn star. Eddie Nash was a drug lord. Their association ended in one of the most brutal mass murders in the history of Los Angeles.
Deep in Laurel Canyon, the Wonderland Gang was planning its last heist. It was Sunday evening and the drugs were gone, the money was gone, the situation was desperate. They’d sold a pound of baking soda for a quarter of a million dollars: There were contracts out on their lives. Now they had another idea. They sat around a glass table in the breakfast nook. Before them were two pairs of handcuffs, a stolen police badge, several automatic pistols and a dogeared sheet of paper, a floor plan. They needed a score. This was it.
There were seven of them meeting in the house on Wonderland Avenue, a jaundiced stucco box on a steep, winding road in the hills above Hollywood. Joy Audrey Miller, 46, held the lease. She was thin, blond, foulmouthed, a heroin addict with seven arrests. She had two daughters, had once been married to a Beverly Hills attorney. A year ago, she’d been busted for dealing drugs out of the Wonderland house. Six months ago she’d had a double mastectomy. Her lover was Billy DeVerell. DeVerell, 42, was also a heroin addict. He had a slight build, a pockmarked face, a record of thirteen arrests. “He looked like a guy in a dive bar in El Paso,” according to a neighbor.
Sharing the house with Miller and DeVerell was Ronald Launius, 37. Blond and bearded, Launius had served federal time for drug smuggling. A California cop called him “one of the coldest people I ever met.”
The house at 8763 Wonderland rented for $750 a month. There was a garage on the first floor; the second and third floors had balconies facing the street. A stairway, leading from the garage to the front door, was caged in iron. There was a telephone at the entrance, an electronic deadbolt on the gate, two pit bulls sleeping on the steps.
Though elaborately secure, the house was paint-cracked and rust-stained, an eyesore in a trendy neighborhood. Laurel Canyon had long been a prestige address, an earthy, woodsy setting just minutes from the glitter and rush of Tinseltown. Tom Mix and Harry Houdini once lived there among the quail and scrub pine and coyotes. Later, in the Sixties, the canyon attracted writers and artists, rock stars and gurus. Number 8763 Wonderland Avenue had some history of its own: Paul Revere and the Raiders once lived there.
By the Eighties, former California governor Jerry Brown was living on Wonderland Avenue, and Steven Spielberg was building on a lot not far away.The house at 8763 had passed from a raucous group of women– neighbors recall naked women being tossed from the first-floor balcony– to the members of the Wonderland Gang. Things at the house were always hopping, someone was always showing up with a scam. Miller, DeVerell and Launius
needed drugs every day. They were always looking for an opportunity. Jewelry stores, convenience stores, private homes– they would try anything, as long as it meant money or drugs.
“There was a lot of traffic, all day, all night,” says a neighbor. “Everything from Volkswagens to a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. They threw brown bags of dope off the balcony. There was shouting, laughing, rock & roll twenty-four hours a day.”
At the moment, on this evening of June 28th, 1981, Wonderland Avenue was quiet. Five men and two women were meeting in the breakfast nook, sitting in swivel chairs, leaning against walls. The floor plan before them showed a three-bedroom, high-end tract house on a cul-de-sac in the San Fernando Valley. It had a pool and a sunken living room, a white stone façade. Inside was a painting by Rembrandt, a jade and ivory collection, sterling silver, jewelry
and, most appealing of all, large quantities of money and drugs.
The man who owned the house was named Adel Nasrallah. He was known as Eddie Nash. A naturalized American, Nash came to California from Palestine in the early Fifties. In 1960 he opened a hot-dog stand on Hollywood Boulevard. By the mid-Seventies, Nash held thirty-six liquor licenses, owned real estate and other assets worth over $30 million.
Nash had clubs of all kinds; he catered to all predilections. The Kit Kat was a strip club. The Seven Seas was a bus-stop joint across Hollywood Boulevard from Mann’s Chinese Theaters. It had a tropical motif, a menu of special drinks, a Polynesian revue, sometimes belly dancers. His gay clubs were the first in L.A. to allow same-sex dancing. His black club was like a Hollywood Harlem, jazz and pinkie rings and wide-brimmed straw hats. The Starwood, on Santa Monica Boulevard, featured cutting-edge rock & roll. In the late Seventies, Los Angeles police averaged twenty-five drug busts a month at the Starwood. One search of the premises yielded a cardboard box containing 4000 counterfeit Quaaludes. A sign on the box, written in blue Magic Marker, said, FOR DISTRIBUTION AT BOX OFFICE.
Nash was a drug dealer and a heavy user. His drug of choice was freebase, home-cooked crack cocaine, and he was smoking it at the rate of two to three ounces a day. He always had large quantities of coke, heroin, Quaaludes and other drugs at the house. His bodyguard, Gregory DeWitt Diles, was a karate expert and convicted felon who weighed a blubbery 300 pounds. According to one eyewitness, Diles once chased a man out of the Kit Kat and emptied his .38 revolver into the man’s car. The car was on the other side of Santa Monica Boulevard, across six lanes of traffic. The time was 2:30 in the afternoon. No one was injured.
Nash and Diles were well known on Sunset Strip. “Eddie Nash assumed he deserved a certain amount of respect,” says one denizen. “If somebody fucked with him . . .”
Now, in the breakfast nook, a tall, gaunt man with curly hair and a sparse beard pointed to the floor plan he had sketched. “Here, this back bedroom, that’s Diles’s room,” he said. “He keeps a sawed-off shotgun under the blanket. . . . Here, this is Nash’s room. There’s a floor safe in the closet, right . . . over . . . here.”
“You sure about this, donkey dick?” asked Tracy McCourt, the gang’s wheelman.
“Hey, it’s cool,” said John Holmes, 36, the man with the plan. “I know Eddie. He loves me. He thinks I’m famous.”
John Holmes was famous, at least in some circles. What he was famous for was his penis.
In a career that would span twenty years, Holmes made 2274 hard-core pornographic films, had sex with 14,000 women. At the height of his popularity, he earned $3000 a day on films and almost as much turning tricks, servicing wealthy men and women on both coasts and in Europe.
Since the late Sixties, Holmes had traded on his natural endowment. His penis, when erect, according to legend, measured between eleven and fifteen inches in length. Recently, however, Holmes’s biggest commodity had been trouble. He was freebasing one hit of coke every ten or fifteen minutes, swallowing forty to fifty Valium a day to cut the edge. The drugs affected his penis; he couldn’t get it up, he couldn’t work in porn. Now he was a drug delivery boy for the Wonderland Gang. His mistress, Jeana, who’d been with him since she was fifteen, was turning tricks to support his habit. They were living out of the trunk of his estranged wife’s Chevy Malibu. Holmes was stealing luggage off conveyers at L.A. International, buying appliances with his wife’s credit cards, fencing them for cash.
Holmes was into Nash for a small fortune. Now Holmes owed the Wonderland Gang, too. He’d messed up a delivery, had a big argument with DeVerell and Launius. They took back his key to Wonderland, and Launius punched him out, then hit Holmes with his own blackthorn walking stick. They told him to make good. He tried to think. Addled synapses played him
a picture: Eddie Nash.
“So you go in,” Launius was saying to Holmes, reviewing the plan. “You talk to Nash, whatever, you tell him you got to take a piss. Then what?”
“I leave the sliding door unlocked–this one,” said Holmes, pointing to the floor plan, “here, in the back. The guest bedroom. Then I leave. I come back to Wonderland. Tell you it’s all clear. Then you guys take him down.”
And so the plan was fixed. At midnight, the Wonderland people scraped together $400, and Holmes, whose pretense for entrance would be buying drugs, drove off to Nash’s house…
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