Leonard Thomas Lake
October 29, 1945
|Died||June 6, 1985 (aged 39)|
|Cause of death||Suicide by cyanide poisoning|
|Other names||Leonard J. Hill|
|Conviction(s)||Previously convicted of vehicle theft to one year of probation Never convicted for the murders|
|Victims||11 confirmed, suspect to be 25 |
Span of crimes
|June 2, 1985|
|Imprisoned at||1980, 1982|
Leonard Thomas Lake (October 29, 1945 – June 6, 1985), also known as Leonard Hill and a variety of other aliases, was an American serial killer. During the mid-1980s, he and accomplice Charles Ng raped, tortured and murdered an estimated eleven to 25 victims at a remote cabin in Calaveras County, California, in the Sierra Nevada foothills 150 miles east of San Francisco. After his arrest in 1985 on illegal weapons, auto theft, and fraud charges, Lake swallowed cyanide pills that he had sewn into his clothing, and died four days later. Human remains, videotapes, and journals found at the cabin later confirmed Ng's involvement, and were used to convict Ng on eleven counts of capital murder.
Lake was born in San Francisco, California. When he was six years old, his parents separated, whereupon he and his siblings moved in with their maternal grandmother.:91 Lake was reportedly a bright child, but after habitually photographing his sisters nude, which his grandmother apparently encouraged, he became obsessed with pornography.:134 He reportedly extorted his sisters to perform sexual acts.:159 He also collected mice and killed them by dissolving them in chemicals, in the same manner he would later dispose of his human victims' corpses.:91
After attending Balboa High School, Lake enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1964. He served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War as a radar electronics technician. During this period, Lake was first diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder. After what was termed a "delusional breakdown" in Da Nang, he received psychotherapy and, in 1971, a medical discharge.:91
Lake settled in San Jose and enrolled at San Jose State University, but dropped out after one semester upon becoming enamored with the hippie lifestyle in San Francisco. He moved to a commune there, and married briefly in 1975. The marriage dissolved after his wife discovered that he was making and appearing in amateur pornographic movies, usually involving bondage or sadomasochism.:92
For the next eight years, Lake lived at the Greenfield Ranch, a 5,600 acre back-to-the-land settlement near Calpella, north of Ukiah in northern California. There, he met and eventually married Claralyn Balazs — nicknamed "Cricket" — who became involved in Lake's fantasies and appeared in many of his pornographic films.:93 Lake's growing fear of impending nuclear holocaust prompted him to begin construction of a "bunker" on the settlement grounds, until the owner of the property became aware of the project and ordered it halted.:94
Lake met fellow former Marine Charles Ng through a war gamer magazine advertisement he placed in 1981. In 1984, Ng was dishonorably discharged after serving time for theft and desertion, and Lake invited him to share a cabin near Wilseyville that he was renting from Balazs.:92 Next to the cabin, Lake had built a structure described in his journals as a "dungeon". He probably had already murdered his brother Donald and his friend and best man Charles Gunnar, stealing their money and Gunnar's identity.:92
Over the next year, Lake and Ng began a pattern of rape, torture, and murder. Their victims included their neighbor Lonnie Bond, his girlfriend Brenda O'Connor, their infant son Lonnie Jr., and Harvey and Deborah Dubs and their young son Sean. According to court records, they killed the men and infants immediately but kept the women alive, raping and torturing them, before murdering them or allowing them to die from their injuries.:92 Other known victims included relatives and friends who came looking for Bond and O'Connor, two gay men and some workmates of Ng.
Arrest and Suicide
On June 2, 1985, Ng was caught shoplifting a vise from a hardware store in San Francisco and fled the scene. Lake later drove to the store and attempted to pay for the vise, but by then police had arrived.:93 Officers noticed that Lake bore no resemblance to the photo on his driver’s license, which carried the name of Robin Stapley, a San Diego man reported missing by his family several weeks earlier. He was arrested after a gun equipped with a prohibited silencer was found in the trunk of his vehicle, and later positively identified via a fingerprint search. While in custody, Lake swallowed cyanide pills that he had sewn into his clothes, and died four days later.:93
The license plate on Lake's vehicle was registered to him, but the vehicle itself was registered to Paul Cosner, who had disappeared in November 1984. Lake's auto registration led detectives under the command of San Francisco Police Homicide Lieutenant Gerald McCarthy to the property in Wilseyville, where they found Stapley's truck and Bond's car, and behind the cabin, the dungeon. In a makeshift burial site nearby, police unearthed roughly 40 pounds of burned and crushed human bone fragments corresponding to a minimum of 11 bodies.:94
Two bodies, later identified as Bond and Stapley, had been gagged and executed by gunshots to the head. Police also found a hand-drawn "treasure map", leading them to two buried five-gallon buckets. One contained an assortment of ID papers and personal possessions, suggesting that the total victim count could be as high as 25. In the other were Lake's handwritten journals for the years 1983 and 1984, and two videotapes documenting their torture of Brenda O'Connor and Deborah Dubs. In one of the tapes, Ng is seen telling O'Connor, "You can cry and stuff, like the rest of them, but it won't do any good. We are pretty ... cold-hearted, so to speak." In the other, Dubs is shown being assaulted so severely that she "could not have survived".:94
Lake's wife, Claralyn Balazs, cooperated with investigators and received legal immunity from prosecution. Court records stated that Balazs turned over weapons and other material to authorities during the investigation. Balazs was called as a key witness in Ng's trial in 1999. Yet in a surprise move, Ng's lawyer, William Kelley, dismissed Balazs without asking any questions. Kelley later declined to explain his actions. Balazs was on the witness stand for a few minutes as Kelley read sections of her immunity agreement. Balazs was expected to shed light on what happened inside the mountain cabin that her parents owned.
Ng was captured in Calgary, Alberta and eventually extradited to California, where he was indicted on 12 counts of first-degree murder. Despite the video evidence, and the detailed information in Lake's diaries, Ng maintained that he was merely an observer, and that Lake planned and committed all of the kidnaps, rapes, and murders unassisted. In February 1999, Ng was convicted of eleven of the twelve homicides — six men, three women, and two male infants. Jurors deadlocked on the twelfth charge, but Ng was sentenced to death. The presiding judge noted that "Mr. Ng was not under any duress, nor does the evidence support that he was under the domination of Leonard Lake." As of February 2021[update], official California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) records show Ng still waits on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
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