Grisly Probe of Torture Murders Enters 2nd Year
In the year since the discovery of a mass graveyard in a remote hideaway in the Sierra Nevada, forensic pathologists still are trying to determine how many people were murdered and who they were.
Calaveras County Coroner Terry Parker said the tedious and gruesome task of sorting through heaps of charred bone fragments and other human remnants will continue but, “I don’t know if we’ll have any luck.”
The remains of at least 11 people were unearthed at the two-acre mountain retreat of Leonard Lake, whose arrest for shoplifting led authorities to the grisly discovery.
Lake killed himself by swallowing a cyanide capsule shortly after his arrest on charges that he stole a $75 vise in South San Francisco on June 2, 1985. He had been driving the car of one of the victims.
25 People Missing
Only six bodies have been identified but authorities estimate that as many as 25 missing people may be linked to the case, which apparently involved kidnapings and sexual torture.
In a videotape found on the property, two women are seen pleading in vain for mercy.
Lake’s accused accomplice in the slayings, Charles Ng, 25, is serving a four-year sentence in Canada for armed robbery. An extradition request is expected soon to permit his trial in California on nine counts of murder.
“It was like a nightmare,” said Sheriff Claud Ballard, reflecting on the discovery of the human remains and torture chamber at Lake’s hilltop home.
“One thing led to another. It snowballed. I don’t think anyone would have guessed what we had up there,” Ballard said.
Forty-five pounds of charred and hacked human bones and 2,000 pieces of evidence--ranging from weapons to the videotape--were found buried around the Lake property during two months of excavation by police last summer.
Blood Led to Bodies
Blood on the seat of the stolen car that Lake was driving and other evidence led investigators to the buried bodies near the rural town of Wilseyville, about 150 miles east of San Francisco.
Ng escaped to Canada, where after an international manhunt he was captured in July in a shoplifting incident. Ng, who fired a weapon during his arrest, injuring a guard in the hand, was convicted of armed robbery.
Ballard said the videotape will be used to try to persuade Canadian authorities to extradite Ng. Authorities say the tape shows Ng and Lake sexually tormenting Kathleen Allen, 18, and Brenda O’Connor, 20, who were later found slain.
“The expressions on their faces, you never forget anything like that,” Ballard said. “They’re asking for help, but there’s no help there.”
Many Calaveras County residents do not want Ng brought back because of the expense of his trial. Assistance from the FBI and other police departments helped prevent the investigation of the case from bankrupting the county. The state also provided a hasty infusion of financial aid.
‘We Don’t Want Him’
Parker believes that Ng “could probably be convicted” but said, “We don’t want him back here.”
Parker said he wants Ng to disclose what he knows about the identities of the victims, but added, “I don’t know why he would say anything.”
Among those missing are Allen’s boyfriend, O’Connor’s husband and a friend who was staying at O’Connor’s home next door to Lake’s mountain home.
Also missing is the San Francisco man whose car Lake was driving on the day of his arrest and a family of three whose stolen video equipment was found at the Lake house.
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