Mass Murder Probers Sift Through Library of Videotapes for Clues
Suspected mass murderer Leonard T. Lake “videotaped everything he did,” authorities said Tuesday, and a library of tapes found after his death may be the only way to piece together exactly what went on at Lake’s cabin hideaway.
“I don’t know what we have yet,” said Calaveras County Sheriff Claud Ballard, adding, “I believe he (Lake) videotaped everything he did. . . . We hope the videotapes will help us find out” whether Lake actually killed all the people he is suspected of killing.
Lake, 39, swallowed poison after being arrested in South San Francisco more than a week ago while in possession of a stolen car and handgun. His suspected accomplice, Charles Ng, 24, is still at large.
Ng, 24, was named Tuesday in a warrant issued by the FBI on a charge of unlawful flight and on local warrants listing charges of kidnaping, false imprisonment and burglary, authorities said.
Ballard said he believes the two men may have buried “at least 20" bodies on the 2 1/2-acre site in the Sierra foothills near here. Officials in San Francisco, where some suspected victims are believed to have lived, put the number at as high as 25.
Two bodies have already been removed from the site; they were described by Ballard as a man and a woman, both black. Parts of what are believed to be a third body also have been unearthed, as have several shopping-bags full of what deputies “believe” are fragments of human bones.
“The bones are in pieces, so there is no way of knowing how many bodies can be made with the bones,” said Officer Carri Lucas of the San Francisco Police Department, which is assisting in the investigation.
A team of about six investigators labored under a blazing sun with a backhoe and shovels to dig up bone fragments, clothing, papers and other personal effects from three sites on the property.
“It’s painstaking work,” said Lucas, adding that each shovelful of dirt is carefully sifted and screened by hand. “It’s a slow, not-fun, painstaking process.”
After finishing with those areas--at the base of a tree, in a recently filled telephone-cable trench and at what was described only as a “burn site"--they will canvass the rest of the property, Ballard said.
He said they will then start searching adjoining land, including a nearby rubbish incinerator because Lake, a Marine veteran, was known to have frequently wandered deep into the area’s dense scrub oak woods.
The case has generated a tremendous amount of speculation, but few facts as yet. Ballard and other officials here have said it will probably take months, and a careful study of the bone fragments and other evidence as well as Lake’s diaries and videotapes, to sort out exactly what happened.
“We still have a lot of investigating to do,” Ballard said while leaving the site, “and a lot of digging to do.”
At least 10 missing persons from as far away as San Diego have been identified as having known Lake or Ng, or as having been in contact with the two men shortly before disappearing.
The list includes Lake’s brother, Donald, and two entire families, but no one has yet been identified by authorities as having been kidnaped, held or killed by Lake or Ng.
Investigators said they are also checking on a group of between three and five campers who disappeared from a site about a mile from Lake’s residence.
“We want to make sure whose remains we have before we identify anyone, because we don’t want to raise or lower any one’s hopes,” said Lucas.
“Obviously, everyone in California with missing relatives is anxious. We are trying to keep the pain to a minimum.”
None of the diary entries studied or videotapes watched have detailed any killing, Ballard said.
However, he said one tape showed a woman believed to be Lake’s neighbor being threatened and humiliated before having her clothes cut off her with a knife. And other tapes and diaries have yet to be looked at. Some are in San Francisco, where investigators are trying to identify people reported missing there.
In addition, authorities have said that the personal possessions of other suspected victims have been discovered at the cabin.
Lake was in possession of a car belonging to another suspected victim when he was arrested in South San Francisco, 120 miles west of here.
Lake spent more than six years in the Marines, serving two of those years in Vietnam as a spotter for air strikes before being discharged in 1971.
He apparently met Ng in the Marines. Ng was born in Hong Kong but listed his birthplace as Bloomington, Ind., in order to enlist in 1979. He was convicted of stealing weapons from a Marine base in Hawaii in 1981. After serving time in military prison--including a brief prison break that included a visit to Lake in Mendocino county--he was released in June, 1984.
Both men were reportedly “survivalists,” or people who prepared for domestic anarchy by stockpiling food and collecting guns.
Despite talk of bodies, bones, sadistic videotapes and sacks full of kinky lingerie, Ballard implied that worse is to come.
“I’ve never run into anything like this,” he said. “I’ve been in law enforcement for 27 years, and I’ve seen a lot of terrible things, but nothing like this.”