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Calaveras Officials Discount Scope of Mass Murder

Times Staff Writer

Some evidence that had led officials to believe that 20 or more mass-murder victims were buried at a remote cabin site near Wilseyville has proved to be “unfounded,” a Calaveras County official said Wednesday.

Because of this, and because no new bones have been unearthed at the remote cabin site since last Thursday, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Jim Stenquist told a news conference here, “there is no estimate now” of the number of victims.

At the same time, officials now say that they are aware of only two videotapes made at the home of suspected mass-murderer Leonard Lake, who apparently took his own life after being arrested in South San Francisco last week. The videotapes reportedly show scenes in which women are threatened and sexually humiliated.

Calaveras County Sheriff Claud Ballard said as recently as Tuesday that “at least 20" bodies and “a dozen” videotapes would be found at Lake’s home.

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Earlier, San Francisco Police Chief Cornelius Murphy, whose department is assisting in the probe, said that perhaps 25 bodies could be unearthed.

But Stenquist, referring to new information uncovered by investigators, said the actual figure is likely to be less than those estimates.

“You have to remember that those estimates were based on evidence,” he said, " . . . (and) some of it was unfounded.”

Past Descriptions

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He declined to be more specific, but in the past officials have described more than 40 bags of evidence collected at the site, including women’s clothing, photographs, jewelry and personal papers.

In San Francisco, Police Inspector John Hennessey said Wednesday that Murphy’s figure represented the number of people who “could be associated with Lake and (accomplice Charles) Ng.”

“We are not saying there are 25 bodies up there,” he said. “We are saying that Ng and Lake have been involved with 25 people who are now missing.”

Two Skeletons Found

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Stenquist confirmed that two nearly complete skeletons have been unearthed by investigators digging into “burn sites” and other areas on the 2 1/2-acre parcel, located about 150 miles east of San Francisco, used by Lake and Ng.

In addition, he said, searchers have collected a “bag of bones” and bone fragments. Deputies at first said that there were five bags of bones and that they “believed” the bones were from other human bodies, but Stenquist softened that assessment.

In the bag containing bone fragments, “they don’t know what they got,” Stenquist told reporters. “It could be dog bones; it could be chicken bones; it could be human bones.”

However, Hennessey said, San Francisco Coroner Boyd Stephens is “reasonably sure” that the bones are human. “I don’t think we’ve unearthed a pet cemetery up there,” he said.

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Stenquist corrected earlier reports that four bodies had been confirmed by officials, although Hennessey said he still believes that bone fragments could account for two more bodies.

Camper Family Found

In addition, Stenquist said, officials had found a family of campers that had been reported missing and considered potential victims.

Stenquist also retracted Ballard’s statement Tuesday that the search for bodies will extend beyond the property where Lake lived. However, he said, officials had checked some of the many abandoned gold mines that honeycomb the county, but ended the search when nothing was found.

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It will be “at least probably a month more” before digging at Lake’s cabin will be finished, Stenquist said.

Still No Connection

“We’re trying to develop the evidence we have now,” he said. “At this time, we still have no connection between (potential victims’) names and pictures” from videotapes found in the secluded, yellow, two-story cabin.

But Hennessey said his agency has made several “positive IDs” of people in the tapes. He would not say how many people were identified or who they were--only that they were not from San Francisco.

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Ballard and others said videotapes found at the site include scenes where Lake and Ng verbally abuse, humiliate and threaten women apparently being held against their will.

In one scene related by Ballard, Ng used a large knife to rip the shirt and brassiere off one woman as she wept.

‘It Is Pathetic’

The scenes reportedly do not include shots of physical torture or bloodletting, but do reflect the attitude of a man described by Ballard as “one of the most insecure men I’ve ever seen; so insecure, it is pathetic.”

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The San Francisco Chronicle, citing unnamed sources, published what it said was a passage from a diary kept by the former Marine and “survivalist.”

“The perfect woman for me,” the diary entry read, “is one who is totally controlled, a woman who does exactly what she is told and nothing else. There is no sexual problems with a submissive woman. There are no frustrations, only pleasure and contentment.”

Meanwhile, Officer Carri Lucas of the San Francisco Police Department, who joined Stenquist at the news conference, said the state Department of Justice will use a computer to coordinate the investigation.

The case has grown increasingly complex over the last week, and now involves police in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, where potential victims have been reported missing, and in San Mateo County, where Lake was arrested during a shoplifting incident and later apparently committed suicide while in police custody.

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Other Investigations

In addition, authorities in Amador County near here and Mendocino County north of San Francisco are reportedly prepared to investigate Lake’s activities in their jurisdictions.

There also is a nationwide manhunt for Ng, who fled the shoplifting incident in which Lake was arrested and is believed to have left California. He is being sought on murder, kidnaping, false imprisonment and burglary charges filed here and in San Francisco.

An affidavit filed with the FBI warrant says that on June 6 Ng, who was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps after being convicted in 1982 of stealing weapons, called a San Francisco gun shop in an effort to secure an Uzi submachine gun that he was having repaired. The clerk declined, saying that he could only send the gun to another dealer.

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Sparsely populated Calaveras County (pop. 20,710) has asked the state for up to $500,000 in financial aid to investigate the case. The county already has put all 35 of its sworn officers on emergency 12-hours shifts in order to maintain regular patrols.

Contributing to this story was Times staff writer Saul Rubin in San Francisco.


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