High above Los Angeles, in Laurel Canyon, stands a split level home at 8673 Wonderland Avenue. It is not the largest nor the most extravagant home in a neighborhood full of lower-level entertainment executives, but it is notorious for what occured there on July first, 1981.
The first body was found in the ransacked lower level living room, stretched out on the floor in front of the sofa, one arm thrown up as if to protect himself. Blood was splattered on three of the room's four walls, on the furniture, even inside a coffee cup left on the table. It was smeared across a light switch and covered the ceiling beams in up and down strokes, from the killers striking their victim in the head with an iron pipe, over and over again. Blood followed the victim around the room until he collapsed on the floor near a stack of records and a potted plant, ripped from its ceiling hook in the struggle.
A bedroom down the hall told the same story. A section of the west wall was covered in blood from the floor to nearly halfway up the wall. There was no body - the victim had somehow survived. On the bed, however, the covers still pulled up to her chest, was the body of a woman, her head beaten nearly beyond recognition. A telephone sat on the floor next to a bedside table, along with a pair of bloody boots and an overturned chair with blood covering its legs. The closet door was left ajar, its contents strewn all over the room. When the police arrived, the light was still on and the water still running in an adjacent bathroom, as if whoever had done this had surprised their victims in the middle of preparing for bed.
Up a short flight of stairs, on the third level of the home, lay the bodies of the third and fourth victims. The killers had left blood on both sides of the stairwell and on the door to the bedroom, which opened up to the third victim, a woman, lying on her back on the bed, arms at her sides, her legs thrown over the edge of the bed. Her face stared out from beneath drawers and clothing thrown on top of her body when the killers tore the room apart. The last body, a man, was propped up in a partial sitting position, resting against a television stand, the bloody TV screen turned to channel 3, showing only static. Their blood had splashed onto the ceiling and all four walls. They had died the same way as the others, beaten in the head, the rest of their bodies untouched.
Several miles away, a man named John Holmes took a Valium and crawled into bed, exhausted. In his sleep he screamed, "Blood! Blood!"
John C. Holmes was born on August eighth, 1944, on his mother's kitchen table. There are few very specific details of his childhood, although we do know that he was the youngest of four children. His father was an alcoholic, prompting his parents' separation and his mother's subsequent marriage to an abusive, brutal man named Harold. When Holmes was a teenager, Harold threw him down the stairs. John struck back, punching his stepfather in the face. He then went to his mother and asked her to sign papers allowing him to join the Army - otherwise, he said, he would kill Harold. His mother signed the necessary paperwork, and John Holmes, sixteen, was sent to Nuremburg, Germany with the military. He would later say, "The Army was good for me. I can't honestly say that it taught me any morals or sense of responsibility. I had been raised with those qualities. What it taught me was that there was a whole world of sex I had yet to discover."
He was discharged three years later and set out for California. Shortly after Christmas of 1964, John met a nurse, Sharon Gebenini. He played the romantic, picking her flowers and "courting" her, Sharon would later remember. They were married five months later.
While in his third year at UCLA, John disappeared one night into the bathroom with a tape measure. According to his wife Sharon, he announced, "I think I've found what I want to do." While she was appalled at the very idea of her husband going into the porn business, she felt is was a "passing fancy." It wasn't.
John Holmes, with the help of his reputed thirteen and a half inch penis, (a figure in great dispute in the intervening years,) would go on to star in 2,500 adult films. The sixties and seventies were the early years of commercially available pornographic films, and the public was eager to see them. Films could be shot in one day for $750 and edited, cut, and ready for the distribution within a week. Holmes' tall, lanky, Every-Man countenance, along with his abnormally large endowment, made money, and sales of his films and adult films across the board increased greatly. John's most successful films were the Johnny Wadd series, a succession of films centered around Holmes playing - badly - a private investigator. Colleagues would later say that Holmes lived Johnny Wadd.
Art began to imitate life when Holmes became an informant for the LAPD vice squad, following his 1972 arrest for pimping and pandering, stemming from his involvement with the adult films. In those days, making a pornographic film was illegal. Many times the cast and crew would not know where filming was to take place until just before it began, enabling them to elude the police. After his arrest, Holmes became an informant in order to escape the charges, tipping off police to the location of a film shoot and prompting the arrest of those involved.
Needless to say, Holmes' status as an informant, and the adult film industry istelf, did not lend itself to close personal relationships lasting any longer than a particular scene. Sharon Holmes said, "[He] never considered anyone in the business his friends, [and] called them dirt, slime, bastards." Perhaps the one person John could count on was Sharon, who stuck by him throughout his career, although, at Sharon's behest, theirs became a purely platonic relationship after his foray into pornography.
In 1976 John met and befriended sixteen year old Dawn Schiller, a runaway. The girl moved into John and Sharon's home, later becoming Holmes' mistress. By that time, Holmes was also indulging in a legendary cocaine habit, one that would eventually cost him $1,500 a day to maintain. Holmes explained, "In the middle of a scene, I would disappear for long stretches, but my co-workers knew where to find me: in the bathroom doing freebase. I became the butt of jokes, which traveled around like wildfire. 'To get Holmes to work,' they said, 'you have to leave a trail of freebase from the bathroom to the bedroom.'" His habit was not only expensive, but wreaked havoc on his ability to perform in adult films, as heavy cocaine use will affect the ability to have an erection. Holmes was quickly setting himself up for a terrible end, both with his inability to gain income from films and with his addiction. He was blacklisted by directors and producers, and turned to thievery to supply his habit, resulting in an arrest for stealing a computer. In a pathetic existence that was quickly spiraling to its bitter, bloody end, he'd also been breaking into cars and stealing luggage from the baggage claim at area airports.
Then Holmes met nightclub owner Eddie Nash.
Porn industry insider Bill Marigold says, "There was an interest on Holmes' part toward Nash for the drug culture, and an interest from Nash toward Holmes for the adult-entertainment, fast-lane lifestyle. Nash was about as mysterious as the King [Holmes' industry nickname], and I think that mutual mystery attracted them to each other."
At around the time Holmes met Nash, he had also befriended - and was temporarily living with - a group of addicts, drug dealers and criminals living at 8673 Wonderland Avenue. It is not clear how Holmes began running drugs between the Wonderland crew and Eddie Nash, but at some point Holmes set Nash up to be robbed by his housemates. He visited Nash's home and left a back door unlocked so that the robbers could gain entry. The robbery was successful, netting seven kilos of cocaine, one ounce of pure heroin, five thousand Quaaludes, antique guns, cash, and jewelry, a haul worth 1.2 million dollars.
Eddie Nash may have been an unsavory character, but he was not stupid. Details aren't readily available about what transpired, but somehow Nash caught up with Holmes and the Wonderland gang, and Holmes' safety and the safety of his family was threatened. To drive home the point, during the night of July first, 1981, John Holmes either willingly participated in or was forced to participate in the murders at Wonderland Avenue. Ronald Launius, William DeVerell, Barbara Richardson and Joy Audrey Miller were beaten to death that night. (Launius' wife survived the attack.) It is not clear if Holmes actually delivered any of the blows himself, although his bloody palm print was found on the wall above the bed where one of the victims was found.
The morning of the murders, John knocked on Sharon's door. She had not seen him since March, and now he was back, standing at her door in the pre-dawn hours, covered in blood. "I've been at a murder," he said. He told her he'd been forced to let the murderers into the house, that all they'd meant to do was take money and drugs (which explains why the house was ransacked), and that he was supposed to have received cocaine for his participation. Sharon allowed John to shower and sleep, although she later said that she was frantic to get him out of the house. He left at six a.m. and went to a hotel where he was staying with Dawn Schiller.
Two days later, he was arrested and then released after turning state's evidence. He and Dawn fled to his sister's home in Montana before taking off for Florida. They ended up at the seedy Fountainhead Inn in North Miami, where, Dawn said later, John became violent and wanted her to prostitute. After Holmes beat her severely, Dawn turned John in to the police, and he was extradited to California to stand trial for the Wonderland murders.
On June twenty-fifth, 1982, John Holmes was acquitted of all charges relating to the killings. Prosecutors had failed to prove that he had any intent to kill, although court psychologists had called him "very sociopathic".
Holmes was a free, but he was by now a broken man with a dubious legacy and an all-consuming addiction shadowing his every footstep. He begged his wife to let him come back home, but Sharon told him to "get the fuck out my life." Dawn had left him as well. In the documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, fellow adult film actor Don Fernando told of Holmes saying, "The worst pain is that nobody cares about me anymore." Sharon, who'd filed for divorce in 1982, lamented that she'd wished Holmes had had "something else to do with his life.....His life had no meaning."
Holmes was quickly spinning even further out of control. In 1987 he wed porn actress Misty Dawn (Laurie Holmes) in Las Vegas at the Little Chapel of the Flowers. He called a friend and moaned, "I think I'm married. I'm all fucked up. I'm not sure, but I've got a ring, Laurie's with me and I think we're married." Their realtionship was tumultuous, if anything. Manager Bill Amerson recalled the Holmes tried to run his new bride over with her own car, and said, "John liked her because she was nasty, she would do anything." At this point, John was taking up to fifty ten milligram Valiums a day in order to come down from the increasing amounts of cocaine he was using. Photographer Joel Sussman summed up Holmes lifestyle at the time, "[He] was on a spiral he could not stop."
That same year, John was diagnosed with HIV. There are dissenting viewpoint as to how Holmes acquired the virus, although the most likely assumption is that he contracted it at some point during his porn career. (The use of condoms was not mandatory in films at that time.) Some believe that Holmes may have been using cocaine intravenously, although both Sharon and Holmes' manager said that John was "terrified of needles."
A virtual pariah in the American porn industry, John turned to Europe to ply his trade and make money. He traveled to Italy to make films, blowing off the risk of infecting others. "They're gonna end up with it anyway." His wife Laurie explained, "We needed the money, that's all there is to it."
The lifestyle he'd been leading for so long caught up with him on March thirteenth, 1988. Holmes died in a hospital bed at the age of 43, a victim of AIDS. Laurie would not allow his family or friends to visit Holmes before his death. He was cremated and his ashes were tossed off a boat into the water off the coast of California.
"He'd do anything for anybody - except himself," manager Bill Amerson said in the documentary Wadd. "[He was] like a little brother. The death of John Holmes really hurt me, and still does."
Holmes' legend resurfaced in May of 2000, when he was named as a co-conspirator on a sixteen-count federal indictment against Eddie Nash, now in his seventies and very ill. The indictment included charges of racketeering, money laundering, narcotics trafficking, and the Wonderland murders. Nash, however, has already beat the rap twice for the murders, once in 1990 with a hung jury, and again in 1991 with an acquittal.
Nearly twenty-five years later, with no convictions, the Wonderland murders remain unsolved.
Thanks to Kdimm for the videos!