The Wonderland Murders Explained

What on Earth could one of the most famous adult industry stars of the 1970s have in common with one of the most famously bloody murder scenes in the history of Los Angeles? More than you think, it turns out. The legendary 1970s adult entertainment star John Holmes may have been best known for a certain physical property, but he also developed a bit of a reputation for hanging with the wrong crowd ... or, rather, two wrong crowds, which apparently didn't get along with each other at all.

Due to reasons that will become obvious in a moment, Holmes' exact role in the Wonderland murders of 1981 is unclear. The whole situation was a bit of a mess — not just because of all the blood, but also because there were lots of (more or less allegedly) bad people involved. What we do know, however, is that July 1, 1981 will forever live in criminal history infamy. But what really happened that day, and how did things escalate to a point that left four people dead on the floor of a house on 8763 Wonderland Avenue? Let's take a closer look at the bloody, shady history of the Wonderland Murders. 

The tragic descent of John Holmes

To fully understand what events led to the Wonderland murders, you need to look into the life and times of the notorious John Holmes. As The New York Times puts it, Holmes was a very popular and prolific adult movie performer, who became famous for his many escapades in the nascent industry in the 1970s. Though he died in 1988, at just 43-years-old, his IMDb page reveals that he had no less than 231 credits as an actor, the vast majority of which were porn. 

As Salon tells us, however, Holmes' life wasn't all roses and disrobement. Over his years of increasing fame, he developed a massive cocaine addiction, which took a toll on his professional life. His habit — which allegedly cost him as much as $1,500 per day — also started costing him job opportunities, and the producers who had been lining up to cast him eventually turned their back on him. 

Holmes knew why this was, too. "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," he said. "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.'" This behavior led to a huge decrease in his income, which caused him to turn to small-time crime – and some very questionable company.

The dangerous Mr. Eddie Nash

A key person when it comes to the Wonderland murders is nightclub owner Eddie Nash. According to Salon, Nash was the kind of guy who had $1 million in cocaine stashed in his house, which he eventually went to prison for. However, that's far from the only thing authorities have suspected him of over the years. As the Los Angeles Times tells us, Nash was a fearsome nightlife magnate whom John Holmes once called "the most evil man I've ever known." However, it's worth noting that there was a time when the men's relationship was — at least on surface — far warmer than that chilly comment implies.

Per LA WeeklyNash's real name was Adel Gharib Nasrallah, and he built his empire from a measly hot dog stand into a massive night club empire that reportedly included as many as 36 locations, including hot clubs like the Paradise Ballroom. Reportedly, he was also heavily involved in the drug trade that flourished in these establishments. All in all, the stories make Nash seem like the kind of guy you definitely didn't want to cross, especially if you were far more small-time than him. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the Wonderland Gang did. As a surviving member of the group, David Lind, put it, "the certain type of dope dealer you didn't rob was Mr. [Nash]. It was obvious from the time we got in the house that we were over our heads."

John Holmes meets Eddie Nash

The exact circumstances of the first meeting between John Holmes and Eddie Nash are unclear, but as LA Weekly tells us, the two soon became close enough that Nash was known to refer to Holmes as his brother. Perhaps their meeting was inevitable, considering that both were notorious operators in Los Angeles' seedy underbelly. According to Salonthe pair may simply have been impressed with each others' respective lines of work, and the similar reputation they shared. "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," Bill Margold, who knew both Nash and Holmes, has said. "Nash was about as mysterious as [Holmes], and I think that mutual mystery attracted them to each other."

Regardless of the reason the pair originally became close, Holmes was clearly aware of how dangerous Nash was, and even warned a female acquaintance, Dawn Schiller, that the nightclub owner could make people disappear. The relationship between the magnate and the porn star was also pretty clearly skewed in the former's favor, thanks to Nash's power and access to drugs and Holmes' relative destitution and drug addiction. As a result, Holmes did some pretty unsavory things to keep in Nash's good graces — and to have access to his drugs.

The doomed Wonderland Gang

The Wonderland murders have many names, but arguably the catchiest one is based on the victims of the crime — the so-called Wonderland Gang. According to Salonthey were a loose collective of drug dealers, evidently named after their base of operations on 8763 Wonderland Avenue. John Holmes reportedly fell in with the Wonderland Gang because of his own drug habit. They were almost certainly not his first choice of company, seeing as The Globe and Mail tells us that the gang was extremely small-time. However, beggars can't be choosers. Holmes was in serious debt, and pretty much no one would sell him drugs anymore, so he had to work in whatever circles he still had access to.

As the Los Angeles Times tells us, at least one witness in the court proceedings around the Wonderland murders later told that the gang was affiliated with Eddie Nash through Holmes. As the waning adult industry superstar was on good terms with Nash, he became a courier of sorts between the parties. The Wonderland Gang stole stuff, and Holmes took it to Nash's place and traded the haul for drugs. If things would have stayed that way, the story might have ended very differently. Unfortunately, on June 29, 1981, things took a turn for the worse. 

Eddie Nash gets robbed

According to UPI, the road to the Wonderland murders was paved with bad intentions. John Holmes was involved with both the small-time Wonderland Gang and the considerably wealthier Eddie Nash, and as prosecutor Ron Coen put it, the adult entertainment star eventually noted "that Eddie Nash was ripe for robbery." Though Holmes presumably didn't take part in the actual robbery, he was allegedly instrumental in the plot, and purposefully left a door at Nash's house open in order to allow the Wonderland Gang to enter. 

The gang's haul consisted of drugs, jewelry, and cash money, and its value ranges from Coen's estimation of $10,000 to the $1 million reported by LA WeeklyHowever, possibly the thing that sealed the gang's fate was the sheer humiliation they caused Nash. The robbers surprised the nightclub owner with his bodyguard, Gregory DeWitt Diles, who received a minor gunshot wound in the process. Reportedly, Diles was terrified down to his bones and was certain that he'd die. "Eddie Nash fell to his knees," prosecutor Coen later described the situation. "He humiliated himself by asking permission to say his prayers." 

Eddie Nash allegedly forced John Holmes to help with his revenge plan

From this point on, the events are going to be pretty much peppered with "allegedly" and "as the story goes," simply because the law has never officially been able to make sense of things. However, as the story goes, the Wonderland Gang's robbery went with nary a hitch, and Holmes had his share of the haul, but as Salon tells us, the group's luck was about to turn. Nash soon figured out the culprits, and it didn't take long to find out that Holmes had been the thieves' inside man because, as LA Weekly notes, he had connections and debts to both Nash and the Wonderland crew — and was the only connection between the two. 

Exactly how things proceeded from Nash figuring out Holmes' connection to the robbery and the Wonderland murders is unclear, but the generally held belief is that the encounter wasn't very pleasant. Per UPI, the authorities certainly thought that Nash forced Holmes to "set up" the murders as revenge — and there is some evidence that the porn star himself was present at the scene when the crime took place. 

The Wonderland murders were extremely brutal

The Wonderland murders happened on July 1, 1981, when the killer(s) stepped in the Wonderland Gang's den without any sign of breaking and entering, as the Los Angeles Times tells us. The events that took place inside happened just 40 hours after Nash was robbed, and they were hardly muted. One neighbor woke to the screams of a man who was begging for his life. Four people died in the attack: William Deverell, Ronald Launius, Joy Miller, and Barbara Richardson. There was also one survivor, Susan Launius, whose moans alerted a passerby a few hours after the incident. However, the injuries she suffered in the incident caused her brain damage.

The crime scene was just about as brutal as they get, and per LA Weeklythe victims were beaten to death with lead pipes. "We are talking about five people that were bludgeoned with a metal pipe, beaten, having their heads beaten in, having their faces beaten in," Deputy District Attorney Carol Najera described the damage. "Four of these people died of this beating. One of them had her skull cracked open and remembers virtually nothing about this." 

The police get on John Holmes' case

The Wonderland murders were the kind of crime that tends to draw considerable interest from the authorities, and as the Los Angeles Times tells us, the police were quick to connect John Holmes to the gruesome murder scene. This was presumably aided by the fact that, according to UPI, they discovered his palm prints near one of the victims, which was a pretty clear insinuation that he had been present on the scene.

According to LA Weekly, the police were just one of Holmes' problems at this point. He had a history as a police informant during his days as a porn star, happily snitching on industry people he didn't get along with to a Vice Squad connection. It is possibly the combination of this reputation and the mess he found himself in that caused a surprising amount of people to go after his head. "We were told that Eddie's was only one of the contracts out on John," Holmes' girlfriend Dawn Schiller said. "There were all these mysterious other people John was about to rat on. People were afraid he was going to inform."

Trials and acquittals

The Wonderland murders remain unsolved to this day, though as Salon points out, it's not because people don't know who did them — it's just because there's no official conviction. In fact, as the Los Angeles Times tells us, the police have considered the case essentially solved for quite a while even though a conviction hasn't materialized. "There is no mystery, because we know who is involved and we know why," the lead investigator of the case, Detective Tom Lange, stated in 1988. "[But] we have a certain set of rules to follow that the people who go out and perpetrate crimes don't."

Per LA Weekly, John Holmes was the first to stand trial in 1981, but he was acquitted in 1982. The only jail time he received for the case were the 111 days for contempt of court, because he refused to answer the grand jury's questions until Eddie Nash was locked up for an unrelated narcotics charge. As for Nash, he went to court for the murders in 1990, but a single dissenting juror caused a hung jury and a mistrial. A second attempt in 1991 acquitted him entirely.  

According to LAPD Online, he didn't get away entirely scot-free. In 2001, Nash pled guilty to a number of racketeering charges that effectively proved that he was involved in planning the murders, and threatened and bribed witnesses and a juror. For this, he served ... a total of one year in prison.

John Holmes may have privately admitted his role in the killings

Though John Holmes was acquitted of the Wonderland murders himself, his connection to them has long been fairly clear, though its exact nature is uncertain — or, at least, has never been officially revealed to the public. According to Los Angeles Timesthe authorities believe he was an active party, and the porn star himself told a biographer that he was forced to witness the murders while one of the culprits was threatening him with a gun. 

However, arguably the most interesting version of the story comes from John Holmes' wife, Sharon, who says that the broken man told her the real story a few weeks after the incident. According to her, her crying husband revealed that the actual crime was committed by three thugs, and he was forced to lead them to the site and stand by as the events transpired. While John didn't actually reveal the names of the culprits, he said that he knew them — and that this meant he was in mortal danger.   

Some have called Sharon Holmes' account into question, and noted that John was such a notorious liar that he simply couldn't be trusted. However, if true, this alleged confession offers a lot of insight into the terrifying events.

The Wonderland murders had a huge impact on pop culture

As a high-profile, bloody murder case right at the edge of Tinseltown, it's no surprise that the Wonderland murders have made their mark on pop culture — especially because the case involved a celebrity of sorts. As LA Weekly tells us, a 2003 crime drama based on the movie, Wonderland, had some considerable star power behind it, with Val Kilmer as John Holmes, Kate Bosworth as Dawn Schiller, and Dylan McDermott as surviving Wonderland Gang member David Lind. Character actor Eric Bogosian takes on the role of the ruthless Eddie Nash. 

However, you might be more familiar with the fictionalized version of the story. Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 drama Boogie Nights tells the story of a Holmes-esque character called Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), whose downfall stage involves a creepy encounter with a shady drug dealer called Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina). Per SalonJackson's character was heavily influenced by Nash, even though the story plays out slightly differently and the entire situation is (rather messily) resolved at the robbery stage. Anderson has actually stated that a Rolling Stone article about Holmes and the Wonderland murders was a major influence on this particular plot point. "There was this great Rolling Stone article, and I remember the description of this guy Eddie Nash in Speedos and the sheen of sweat on his body," the director said.