When researching topics to be used as subject matter for my books & blogs, I seek out illustrations of man’s disregard for human life. In my book, “The Darker Side of Evil,” we take a look at 10 African-American murderers who operated in complete anonymity while destroying communities from the inside out and how the media helped them do it. In each blog post, I’ve examined the lives of serial murderers throughout American history and their crimes against humanity.
There are several adjectives that I may use to describe my personal feelings for these perpetrators and their acts of depravity. Anger, hatred and disgust are a few that immediately come to mind. Three days ago I began researching the exploits of Leonard Lake and Charles Ng; at the end, there was only one word to describe my feelings for the last 72 hours; sheer and utter horror.
Born in Hong Kong on December 24, 1960, Charles Chi-Tat Ng, (Charles Ng) was born to a wealthy corporate executive and his wife. Throughout his childhood Charles exhibited a compulsion for theft which led to his constant expulsion from various schools throughout his youth and into his teenage years. After moving to the United States as a young man, Ng was involved in a hit and run. To avoid consequences and with the help of a recruiting sergeant that provided falsified documents, Ng; who was not a U.S. citizen, joined the Marine Corp in 1980. After serving less than a year, Ng was charged with, escape from confinement, attempted desertion andtheft of heavy weaponry. Sentenced to 14 years, Ng’s sentence was commuted and he was dishonorably discharged and released in 1982.
The story of Leonard Lake begins in San Francisco. Born on October 29th of that year young Leonard would be raised by his grandparents from the age of six due to his parents separation. From his youth, Lake exhibited a preoccupation with pornography from a young age, often taking nude photos of his sisters. Encouraged by his grandmother, Lake was said to have participated in sex with his elder sisters regularly until he enlisted into the Marine Corps in 1965.
Lake endured two tours of duty in Vietnam. It was during his time in the service that he was diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder and given a medical discharge in 1971. Obsessed with the “hippie,” lifestyle, Lake lived on communes of such that practiced the ideology of free love throughout the seventies. During his hippy years Lake would often produce, direct and star in his own porno movies. He also developed the desire to “possess,” slaves. Lake would often make bondage and other deviant sexual behavior an aspect of his self-produced films. Toward the end of the decade, Lake would eventually be charged and convicted for grand theft. Released from custody in 1980, he soon married Claralyn Balasz, a woman he had met back in 1977. Not long after that he met Charles Ng.
Having the Marine Corp in common the two men developed other shared interests, such as firearms. They began collecting automatic weapons from illegal sources, and a team of federal agents raided their ranch in April 1982, arresting Lake and Ng for firearms violations. Due to his past charge of escape, Ng was denied bail. Lake, however, was granted a $6,000 bond which he posted and skipped on immediately. Lake, using the name Charles Gunnar, floated around northern California. Claralyn Balasz divorced Lake during this time though they remained friends.
Ng would be sentenced and confined at Leavenworth federal penitentiary. Paroled after 18 months, Ng soon resumed his relationship with Lake and moved with him to a cabin owned by the family of Claralyn Balasz in Wilseyville, California. Next to the cabin, Lake constructed a bunker, similar to a dungeon. Within the fortified walls of this dungeon the men kept video equipment and illegal weapons. The men also kept instruments of torture. On this unassuming property, atrocities were committed that would shock society to its core. The actual number of people that these men abducted, tortured, raped and murdered remain unknown still today.
Initially, Lake and then Ng once released; begin killing the neighbors and their families. Lake had already murdered his own brother Donald, who had stopped by for a visit. Acquaintances such as Charles Gunnar had been killed for his money and identity. Rural neighbors Lonnie Bond, his girlfriend Brenda O’Connor and their infant son, Lonnie Jr. had been murdered as well as Harvey and Deborah Dubs and their young son, Sean. In these instances, the men and children were killed immediately. The women were held hostage while being raped and tortured repeatedly.
On June 2, 1985, Ng was spotted shoplifting by a local hardware store clerk. The clerk immediately notified authorities, however, when they arrived, Ng had left the premises. The clerk informed the responding officer that the white Honda Prelude that the thief had arrived in still remained in the lot. In the car sat Leonard Lake and when confronted by the officers, Lake identified himself to them as Robin Stapley and had a driver’s license in that name. The initial search of the vehicle turned up the vise Ng had stolen as well as a .22 caliber revolver with a silencer. The officers ran the car to find that it was registered to a Paul Costner. Both Robin Stapley and Paul Costner had been previously reported missing. Lake was placed under arrest and transported to the police station.
At the station, Lake confessed his real name and that he was a wanted fugitive. He also told authorities that the name of the shoplifter was Charles Ng. After requesting a cup of water Lake was found convulsing and foaming from the mouth. It was found later that Lake swallowed a cyanide pill that had been taped to his shirt lapel.
During the search of the vehicle police noticed several blood stains throughout the car. Noticed also were several shell casings as well as a bullet hole in the interior of the vehicle. Within the glove box several ID’s and credit cards in different names were found along with utility bills for the cabin in Wilseyville in name of Claralyn Balasz.
Police contacted Claralyn Balasz about the discovery and questioned her concerning Ng. After some prodding, she eventually admitted taking Ng to run various errands and dropping Ng. off at the airport. Balasz also agreed to take officers to the cabin in Wilseyville.
The following day, Balasz accompanied by Lake’s mother, Gloria Eberling at a grocery store located on Highway 88 a short distance from the cabin. The ladies led the officers up Blue Mountain road to the cabin. As they approached the officers felt an ominous presence come over them as they gazed upon the structure comprised of cement blocks next to the small cabin. The cabin consisted simply of two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. Upon entering, the officers immediately noticed a blood-like spray on the wall. Spotted next was a small caliber bullet hole in the wall and one in the floor of the kitchen. The master bedroom held a four-poster bed that had electrical cords tied to each of its posts. Bolted through the floor at each corner of the bed were heavy eyebolts and above it, a 250-watt floodlight had been fastened to the wall.
The officers then found lingerie of assorted sizes and types; all with blood stains. Throughout the house was video equipment, all registered to a person named Harvey Dubs. Unbeknownst to the officer at that time, Dubs, his wife and child; had been missing since July 24, 1984. They had been last seen at the cabin by neighbors.
The law enforcement officials immediately left to obtain a search warrant for the rest of the property. As they waited on the warrant, officers returned to the property and conducted a brief interview with Balasz and Eberling. Fearing possible implication, the women stubbornly refused to answer any of the officers questions. Aware that a tremendous evil had been committed on this property the officers asked Balasz for permission to open the bunker. Her advice to them was to take it up with Mr. Ng.
The following day, Tuesday, June 4, 1985, a full search of the property was authorized. A task force comprised of several officers was assembled to conduct the search. San Francisco police chief, Cornelius Murphy, authorized a twelve-man unit and Sheriff Ballard of Calaveras County assembled a team of five men and placed Lieutenant Bob Bunning in charge. Deputy Chief of Inspectors Joseph Lordan was placed in charge of the San Francisco detachment. As they began the search around the bunker officers noticed a trench which seemed to contain clothing coming from underground, all with a top coat of lye.
Noticing that a nearby house seemed abandoned, officers contacted the landlord of the property, Bo Carter. During an interview Mr. Carter told officers that when he had recently come to collect rent from his tenants he was greeted by a man claiming his name was Charles Gunnar. The man explained to Carter that the tenants, Lonnie Bond, his partner Brenda O’Connor, their infant son Lonnie Jr. and another man named Robin Stapley had abruptly moved ten days prior. Carter also informed officers that an eroded bank near the boundary between the two properties had been recently dug up.
The officers entered the bunker. The main room was a twenty-foot by twelve-foot workshop area with a range of hand tools and power saws hanging on a plywood wall next to a workbench. The tools were found to be encrusted with a dried brownish substance, possibly blood. They soon found that the plywood tool rack was in fact a door leading to a smaller room. Inside were a double bed, a side table, books and a reading lamp. On one wall was a wooden plaque with the legend “Operation Miranda” carved into it. The room also contained military equipment including uniforms, boots and a vast array of weapons, including assault rifles, shotguns and machine guns. On the floor, police found a work shirt and a baseball cap with the words “Dennis Moving Service” embroidered on them. Forensic technicians recovered several fingerprints from the weapons and tools, prints that were later positively identified as belonging to Ng and Lake.
Outside investigators recovered two bones beside the driveway. Initially unsure if they were human, the question would soon be answered as a deputy found a human foot protruding from the ground. The grounds of the ranch were dug up and 12 corpses were uncovered in shallow graves. With the help of sheriff’s canine dogs they uprooted some fifty pounds of human skeletons and fragmented bones, teeth and partial remains of missing men, women and children. Among these victims were two families: Harvey Dubs and his wife, Deborah, and baby son, Sean; and Lonnie Bond and Brenda O’Connor and their baby son, Lonnie Bond Jr. The women had been sexually abused and killed after their husbands and infants were disposed of. Five of the bodies were of men lured to the ranch to be robbed and killed including Robin Stapley and Paul Cosner. Another corpse was identified as 18-year-old Kathleen Allen, who knew Ng because her boyfriend had once been his cellmate in prison. Investigators continued to uncover one horror after another as more skeletons were sorted out of scattered fragments.
Police also found an incinerator with thick fireproof walls that were capable of withstanding extreme temperatures. Within this apparatus were charred fragments of human bones (in excess of 45 pounds in total), but they were unable to determine the identity of the victims or their number. Additionally, the state attorney urged the public to help identify 15 bodies that had been uprooted on the ranch grounds.
Later, a sealed five gallon bucket was uncovered which contained a check book in the name of Robin Scott Stapley, jewelry, credit cards, driver’s licenses, wallets and two videotapes without labels and a third marked “M. Ladies Kathy/Brenda.” The first two videos were later viewed, the first showing Lake and Balasz at a Thanksgiving dinner. On the second, Lake had been filmed discussing his greatest fantasy – kidnapping a woman and enslaving her. The third video was the most disturbing; it showed a young woman, identified as 18-year-old Kathleen Allen, chained to a chair and later forced to perform a striptease while being taunted by Lake and Ng. In another part of the video, Ng could be seen clearly cavorting on a bed with Kathy while Lake took still photographs. The tape also included footage of Brenda O’Connor begging for information regarding her baby. In answer, Lake tells her “Your baby is sound asleep, like a rock.” Eventually, when the constant barrage of taunts and threats breaks her resolve, Brenda agrees to cooperate. Later in the tape she can be heard taking a shower with both men. On tape, Lake was heard to say, “By cooperating with us, that means you will stay here as a prisoner, you will work for us, you will wash for us, you will fuck for us. Or you can say no, in which case we’ll tie you to the bed, we’ll rape you, and then we’ll take you outside and shoot you. Your choice!”
Inside the cabin, between blood soaked mattresses officers found a diary written by Leonard Lake that described in chilling detail how he and Ng had selected, raped, and murdered numerous victims. His diary was crammed with sexual fantasies involving sex slaves he planned to keep in his bunker after a nuclear holocaust. He wrote: “God meant woman for cooking, cleaning house and sex. And when they are not in use, they should be locked up.” On another page he scribbled, “If you love something, let it go. If it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it.” No one knows how many people Lake killed during his lifetime, but it is thought that his first victim was his brother, Donald.
Leonard Lake escaped prosecution, having died by ingesting the cyanide pill. Ng caught a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Chicago; from there his whereabouts were unknown. His location remained a mystery until July 6, 1985. On that date Ng was arrested while shoplifting food from a market in Calgary, Alberta. On November 29, 1988, a Canadian judge ruled that Ng should be extradited to California for trial. Legal maneuvers stalled his extradition until 1991. By firing and hiring court appointed attorneys, Ng was able to delay the commencement of his trial until August 21, 1998. In the longest and most expensive trial in California history, Charles Ng was convicted of 12 counts of murder in February 1999. On May 3, 1999 Charles Ng was sentenced to death and currently resides on death row at San Quentin State Prison. To date there is no actual count of the victims of Charles Ng and Leonard Lake.