Leonard Lake

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Leonard Lake
Undated photograph
Leonard Thomas Lake

(1945-10-29)October 29, 1945
DiedJune 6, 1985(1985-06-06) (aged 39)
Cause of deathSuicide by cyanide poisoning
Other namesLeonard J. Hill
Leonard Blake
Alan Drey
Tom Meyers
Jim Bright
Ted White
Charles Gunnar
Donald Lake
Randy Jacobsen
Robin Stapley
Paul Cosner
Spouse2nd wife: Claralyn Balazs (divorced)
Conviction(s)Previously convicted of vehicle theft to one year of probation; never convicted for the murders
Victims11 confirmed, 25 suspected[1]
Span of crimes
CountryUnited States
Date apprehended
June 2, 1985

Leonard Thomas Lake (October 29, 1945 – June 6, 1985), also known as Leonard Hill and a variety of other aliases, was an American serial killer. During the mid-1980s, he and his accomplice, British Hong Kong-born Charles Ng, raped, tortured and murdered an estimated eleven to twenty-five victims at a remote cabin near Wilseyville, California, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, located 150 miles east of San Francisco.[2] After his 1985 arrest on unrelated charges, Lake swallowed cyanide pills that he had sewn into his clothing and died four days later. Human remains, videotapes, and journals found at Lake's cabin later confirmed Ng's involvement, and were used to convict Ng on eleven counts of capital murder.[3][1]

Early life[edit]

Leonard Lake was born in San Francisco, California. When he was six years old, his parents separated, whereupon he and his siblings moved in with their maternal grandmother.[4]: 91  Lake was reportedly a bright child, but after habitually photographing his sisters nude, which his grandmother apparently encouraged, he became obsessed with pornography.[5]: 134  He then reportedly extorted his sisters to perform sexual acts.[5]: 159  Lake also collected mice and killed them by dissolving them in chemicals, in the same manner he would later dispose of his human victims' corpses.[4]: 91 

After attending Balboa High School, Lake enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1964.[6] He served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War as a radar electronics technician. During this period, Lake was first diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder.[7] After what was termed a "delusional breakdown" in Da Nang, he received psychotherapy and, in 1971, a medical discharge.[4]: 91 

Lake settled in San Jose and enrolled at San Jose State University, but dropped out after one semester upon becoming enamored of the hippie lifestyle in San Francisco. He moved to a commune there, and married briefly in 1975. The marriage dissolved after his wife discovered that he was making and appearing in amateur pornographic movies, usually involving bondage or sadomasochism.[4]: 92 

For the next eight years, Lake lived at the Greenfield Ranch, a 5,600 acre back-to-the-land settlement near Calpella, north of Ukiah, California. There, he met and eventually married Claralyn Balazs — nicknamed "Cricket" — who became involved in Lake's fantasies and appeared in many of his pornographic films.[4]: 93  Lake's growing fear of impending nuclear holocaust prompted him to begin construction of a "bunker" on the settlement grounds, until the owner of the property became aware of the project and ordered it halted.[4]: 94 


FBI mugshot of Charles Ng, April 30, 1982
Prison mugshot of Charles Ng, June 12, 2007

Lake met fellow former Marine Charles Ng, originally from Hong Kong, in 1980 or 1981. Sources claim the two met through a survivalist magazine advertisement Lake placed.[8] Lake was managing the Philo Motel in Philo, California at the time. Ng had escaped from a military prison following a conviction for weapons theft and stayed at the motel for a time and then moved into a house along with Lake and Balazs. Several witnesses testified that Ng was very subservient and allowed Lake to order him around and speak to him in a condescending, disparaging manner. Ng stated that he looked up to Lake "like a brotherly, fatherly figure". In April 1982, police raided the house and arrested Ng and Lake on weapons charges. Ng was returned to Fort Leavenworth to complete his sentence. Lake jumped bail and began life as a fugitive, using various aliases and wearing disguises in an attempt to hide his true identity. In July 1984, Ng was dishonorably discharged after serving time for theft and desertion, and rejoined Lake and Balazs. Ng first stayed in an apartment rented by Lake's sister before moving into an apartment on Lenox Ave in San Francisco in the fall of 1984. Lake was living in Wilseyville in a cabin owned by Balazs' parents by this time. Next to the cabin, Lake had built a structure described in his journals as a "dungeon". Lake had already murdered his own brother, Donald Lake, and a friend Charles Gunnar, stealing their money and identities.[4]: 92 [3]

Over the next year, Lake and Ng began a pattern of rape, torture, and murder. Lake and Ng targeted women but were not hesitant to abduct entire families. After killing the men and children to get them out of the way, Lake would hold the women captive in a custom-built room in the bunker at the ranch, tie them up and torture and rape them, and eventually kill them. Lake allegedly did not allow Ng to enter the rear portion of the bunker, telling him "that is my domain". Lake also lured men to the compound with promises of work but would instead rob and murder them, after which Lake stole their identities. After killing the victims by shooting them, they would either bury them in shallow graves on or near the property, or burn them and scatter the bones. Police found over forty pounds of burned, crushed bone fragments scattered around the Wilseyville property. Charles Ng was convicted of murdering eleven people, but because of the massive amount of burned, shattered bone fragments found at the cabin, they are thought to have killed as many as twenty five people.[9] Lake is known to have committed several murders without the assistance of Ng, and wrote in his journal that Ng was initially "very hesitant to get involved with my plan". Known victims include Lake's brother, his best friend, his neighbors, multiple people met through newspaper advertisements, tenants of a boarding house where Lake had rented a room, two men who had advertised gay sex (one of whom survived), and two workmates of Ng.[3]

Known Victims[edit]

  • December 1982 - Donald Lake, 32 was the younger brother of Leonard Lake. Donald was hit by a train as a child and suffered mental problems as a result of the accident. He was described as a very nice, gentle man by acquaintances but Leonard resented him because his disability required the full attention of their mother, resulting in Leonard being raised by their grandparents. Leonard referred to him as a "leech" in conversations with his ex-wife Claralyn Balazs, and said that he did not deserve to live. In December 1982, Donald was living with his mother in San Francisco, California when Leonard stopped by on a road trip up north and asked Donald to come along to a house sitting job. Donald was never seen again, and his mother reported him missing. Leonard resurfaced on New Year's Day in 1983 to rent a room in a house on 19th street under the false name "Alan Drey". Leonard stole Donald's identity, opened up a P.O. box in his name, and began cashing his disability checks. Leonard later forged a letter to their mother claiming to be Donald and that he had moved away to live with drug dealers in Reno, Nevada. It is believed that Donald was the first person murdered by Leonard.
  • May 22, 1983 - Four months later, Lake moved in with his friend, Charles Gunnar, 36. Gunnar was a former postman and drama coach from Morgan Hill, California. He was best man at Lake's wedding to Balazs in 1981. They had a lot in common as they both valued survival skills and the weaponry world. On May 22, Lake invited Gunnar to go on a road trip to Las Vegas or Tahoe for rest and relaxation after his divorce. Gunnar left his daughters with a babysitter. A couple of days later, Lake returned alone in Gunnar's van and told the babysitter that Gunnar ran off with a woman. Charles Gunnar was never seen again. After the murder, Lake stole Gunnar's identity and began to cash his government checks. Lake introduced himself as 'Charles Gunnar' to most of the people he met while living in Wilseyville. Gunnar's body was not found by police during the initial 1985 investigation, but was unearthed in 1992 when a subsequent owner of the Wilseyville property was digging down to install a footing for a new garage.
  • April 1984 - Jeffrey D. Askren, 30 of Sunnyvale vanished in April 1984. His late model Honda automobile was found a few days later in the West Point area of Calaveras County, near Lake's home.
  • July 11, 1984 - Donald Giulietti, 36, a radio personality from San Francisco, California was spending time in his apartment expecting a visitor. Giulietti was an openly gay man who lived with another man named Richard Carrazza. Giulietti placed a personal ad in a low-key newspaper offering to give oral sex to straight men. That night a stranger knocked on the door and Giulietti assumed it was someone taking him up on his offer. As soon as Giulietti opened the door, a man whipped out a pistol and shot him in the head at close range. Carrazza ran from the back room into the study and found Giulietti on the floor. Carrazza was also immediately shot in the chest and left for dead. The shooter fled and Carrazza survived the attack. Carrazza called 911 and when the police questioned him, he was able to give a description of the shooter. Carrazza described being shot by a small Chinese man wearing prescription glasses. Carrazza, the only known survivor victim of Lake or Ng, would go on to identify Ng as the shooter.
  • July 25, 1984 - Harvey Dubs, 29; Deborah Dubs, 33; Sean Dubs, 1, lived in San Francisco, California in 1984. Harvey was selling video equipment in July of that year and placed an advertisement in a local newspaper. Deborah was speaking on the telephone to a friend on July 25 when the doorbell rang at their family's apartment. Deborah told her friend that she had to end the conversation, as two men who were interested in the items had arrived at their home. Deborah, Harvey, and Sean have never been heard from again. A neighbor across the alley saw an Asian man leave their residence struggling to carry a large duffel bag later in the day. The same neighbor observed an unidentified vehicle drive away from the Dubs's apartment on July 26, the day after the family disappeared, with the Asian man in the passenger seat and a bearded man driving. Another neighbor who lived in the apartment below the Dubs' heard footsteps a few days after the family had been reported missing, and saw an Asian man exiting the Dubs' front door with a large duffel bag and a suitcase. She walked outside and called out to the man, but he ignored her and briskly walked away down the street. Once he reached the end of the street, a vehicle quickly pulled around the corner and the man got in the passenger seat. The car quickly sped off. Later that evening, the same neighbor was returning home and believed she could see the same man in the Dubs' apartment through the living room window and once again heard footsteps upon going inside. A man identifying himself as 'James Bright' called Harvey's employer in late July and claimed that Harvey had to go to Washington for a family emergency. The unidentified man terminated the conversation when Harvey's coworker became suspicious. Years later, the coworker described being played a tape by investigators and stated that the voice on the tape was "quite similar" to the voice she heard over the telephone. The voice on the tape was Leonard Lake. A receipt in Harvey Dubs' name, and videotape equipment from the Dubs' San Francisco home were found at Lake's cabin.
  • August 1984 - Maurice Rock, of San Francisco, disappeared from a Carl Street rooming house known as the "Pink Palace". Lake had rented a room at the Pink Palace under the pseudonym "Alan Dray". Some time after Rock disappeared, the woman renting the room next to Rock saw a man removing a refrigerator from his room. The man introduced himself as 'Steve' and offered to photograph her. She agreed, but felt unsettled and changed her mind once 'Steve' came to her room with his camera equipment. She later identified the man as Lake. Rock's remains were recovered from the Wilseyville property.
  • August 1984 - Sheryl Okoro, of San Francisco disappeared from the Pink Palace rooming house. Photographs, an 11 page letter written by Okoro, and remains were recovered from the Wilseyville property.
  • October 15, 1984 - Randy Jacobson, 36 of San Francisco, disappeared from the rooming house after becoming involved in a business deal with Lake. His identity was subsequently stolen by Lake. Lake also tried to steal Jacobson's van after the murder, but was unsuccessful as the van was towed away before Lake was able to move it. Jacobson's remains were buried under the chicken coop on the Wilseyville property.
  • November 2, 1984 - Paul Cosner, 40, was last seen in San Francisco, California on November 2. He was employed as a used car dealer at the time of his disappearance. His brown 1980 Honda Prelude disappeared with him. Cosner had advertised the vehicle for sale in a local newspaper and told his fiancée that he had found a potential buyer, whom he described as "weird." He said he was leaving his apartment at 7:30 p.m. to meet the buyer and would return at 8:00 p.m. to watch a television program with her. He was never heard from again. Strange messages from an unidentified caller were left on his answering machine after his disappearance. Lake was arrested with Cosner's car on June 2, 1985. There were two bullet holes in the car, one in the front passenger door and another in the roof above the front passenger sun visor. Personal effects including Cosner's driver's license, glasses, and other paperwork were found buried in a bucket on the Wilseyville property. Cosner's remains have never been found.
  • January 20, 1985 - Clifford Peranteau, 23, was a coworker of Charles Ng at Dennis Moving Company in San Francisco, California in 1985. Peranteau was last seen in San Francisco on January 20. He has never been heard from again. In April 1985, Lake sold Peranteau's motorcycle to a man in West Point, California. Several of Peranteau's personal belongings including an engraved pen/pencil set were discovered in an apartment owned by Ng.
  • February 24, 1985 - Jeffrey Gerald, 25, worked as a mover at Dennis Moving Company with Ng and spent evenings playing drums for the band Crash And Burn. On February 24, he vanished after saying he was going to help Ng move for a side job. The following day, February 25, 1985, the owner of a church youth campground in Wilseyville confronted Lake's neighbor Lonnie Bond and a friend for firing guns through the trees while camp was in session nearby. After Bond and his friend explained to the man that they only shoot into the dirt, the camp owner walked next door to the house of a man he knew as 'Charles Gunnar' and knocked on the door. After several minutes of knocking, Lake answered the door with a sheet wrapped around his arm and otherwise appeared to be naked. The sheet appeared to have a significant amount of blood. When questioned, Lake said he had severely cut himself on a circular saw. A doctor in Jackson, California later testified that he treated Lake on February 25, 1985 for a fresh gunshot wound to his fingers. A magazine advertisement was later posted by 'Charles Gunnar' for the sale of Jeff Gerald's car.
  • April 12-15, 1985 - Michael Carroll, 23, had served time with Ng in Fort Leavenworth and they remained acquainted afterward. He and his girlfriend Kathleen Allen, 18, were spending time in a Milpitas, California motel room where they were temporarily staying. At 10 p.m. one night, Carroll told Allen that he had to do something and would be back in the morning. Carroll never returned. A few days later, on April 14, Allen received a phone call at the Milpitas Safeway where she worked. The caller told her that her boyfriend Michael was at Lake Tahoe and may have been shot. She immediately told her boss that she had to leave and go to Lake Tahoe to be with Carroll. She was last seen getting into a brown/gold car with a bearded man in the parking lot of the Safeway. The following day, Allen called her boss at the Safeway and requested 4 weeks off to be with Carroll in Lake Tahoe. A later search of telephone records revealed that each of these calls to the Safeway were made by someone at Lake's Wilseyville property. Allen appeared in a videotape found at Lake's home and her last paycheck was sent to a town near his cabin, according to San Jose police. Carroll was also mentioned in the videotape and his driver's license was found at the cabin.
  • April 19, 1985 - Lonnie Bond Sr., 27, his live-in girlfriend Brenda O'Connor, 19, their son, Lonnie Bond Jr., 1, and a family friend Robin Scott Stapley, 26, who went by his middle name. The Bond family moved into the house next door to Lake in January 1985. Lonnie Sr. and O'Connor disliked their neighbor, whom they knew as 'Charles Gunnar', who they claimed was "extremely obnoxious, rude, and demented". Lake disliked the Bonds because they constantly fired weapons on their property and regularly left the main gate to their shared driveway unlocked. O'Connor felt uncomfortable with Lake because he repeatedly asked her to pose naked for him. On April 18, 1985, Bond and a group of friends returned to a friend's house from a Yuma, Arizona motorcycle rally. Bond armed himself with a .22 pistol and left for Wilseyville, telling a friend that he was going to confront Lake over his sexual advances toward O'Connor. Likewise, Stapley had picked up a newly purchased .22 Ruger on April 16 and joined Bond in Wilseyville. None of them were ever seen again. Calaveras County Sheriff Claude Ballard said investigators believe O'Connor appeared in a videotape in which Ng cuts her clothes off with a butterfly knife as Lake tells her that her "baby is going to be taken away" and was "sound asleep, like a rock". When Lake was arrested on June 2, Lonnie Bond's license plate was affixed to the car he was driving - the Honda Prelude stolen from Paul Cosner. Police said that Lake was in possession of Stapley's gun and driver's license, and initially identified himself as Stapley when he was arrested. The bodies of Lonnie Sr. and Stapley were found buried in Wilseyville in a shallow grave about a mile from Lake's property. O'Connor and Lonnie Jr. have never been found.

Arrest and suicide[edit]

On June 2, 1985, Ng was caught shoplifting a vise from a hardware store in South San Francisco and fled the scene on foot, throwing the vise into the trunk of a brown Honda. Lake attempted to pay for the vise, but by then police had arrived.[4]: 93  Officers noticed that Lake bore no resemblance to the photo on his driver's license, which carried the name of Robin Scott Stapley, a San Diego man reported missing by his family several weeks earlier. Lake was arrested after a gun equipped with a prohibited silencer was found in the trunk of his vehicle, a 1980 Honda Prelude, and was later positively identified via a fingerprint search. At the station, Lake was placed in an interrogation room where he was given a pen, paper, and a glass of water. A short time later, a detective entered the room to conduct an interview and found Lake violently convulsing on the floor. The notepad contained a brief suicide note. At the hospital, it was determined that he swallowed cyanide pills that he had sewn into his clothes. Lake never regained consciousness and died four days later on June 6.[4]: 93 

The license plate on Lake's vehicle was registered to Lonnie Bond, but the VIN on the Honda itself was registered to Paul Cosner, who had disappeared from San Francisco in November 1984. A utility bill found in the Honda led detectives under the command of San Francisco Police Homicide Lieutenant Gerald McCarthy to the property in Wilseyville, where they found Stapley's and Bond's trucks, and the dungeon. In a makeshift burial site nearby, police unearthed over forty pounds of burned and crushed human bone fragments corresponding to a minimum of eleven bodies.[4]: 94  A phone line trench 100 feet long and 10 feet deep was found to be filled with trash, personal effects of victims, and two intact skeletons. Another intact body was found buried under a chicken coop. Two bodies found about a mile from the cabin were later identified as Bond and Stapley. They had been gagged and executed by gunshots to the head.

Prodding the ground near the cabin, police noticed loose dirt, leading them to two buried five-gallon buckets. One contained an assortment of ID papers and personal possessions, suggesting that the total victim count could be as high as twenty-five. In the other were Lake's handwritten journals for the years 1983 and 1984, and two videotapes . One videotape contained a 20 minute long manifesto recorded on October 23, 1983, in which Lake discusses his plan to build a "cell" and enslave women. The other tape, labeled 'M Ladies', documented the torture of Kathleen Allen and Brenda O'Connor. In one scene, Lake is heard telling O'Connor that her family is not liked by the neighborhood to which O'Connor replies "So we'll leave" and Lake coldly answers "Oh, you've already left. We've closed you down". Ng later tells O'Connor "You can cry and sob like the rest of them, but it won't do any good. We are pretty... cold-hearted, so to speak." In another scene, Allen is seen tied to a bed as Lake tells her "I'm having a little war within myself, between what I want to do and what we might call the decent thing to do. And for the moment the decent thing to do is winning. So rest". Both Allen and O'Connor were subsequently murdered.

Lake's ex wife, Claralyn Balazs, cooperated with investigators and received legal immunity from prosecution.[10] Court records stated that Balazs turned over weapons and other material to authorities during the investigation. She was called as a key witness in Ng's trial in 1999. Yet in a surprise move, Ng's lawyer, William Kelley, dismissed Balazs without asking any questions. Kelley later declined to explain his actions. Balazs was on the witness stand for a few minutes as Kelley read sections of her immunity agreement. Balazs had been expected to shed light on what happened inside the mountain cabin that her parents owned and rented to her and Lake.[10] It was later revealed that Balazs had removed boxes of papers and videotapes from the Wilseyville cabin in the time between Lake's arrest and the initial police search. Many videotapes referenced in Lake's journal were never recovered by investigators.

Ng, who had never legally obtained U.S. citizenship, was captured in a department store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on July 6, 1985. A store security guard suspected Ng of shoplifting and in the ensuing confrontation, Ng shot the security guard. Though wounded, the security guard was able to disarm and detain Ng until the police arrived. Ng served four and a half years in a Canadian prison, and tried to fight extradition to the United States on the grounds that he would be subject to capital punishment. In 1991, he was extradited to California, where he was indicted on twelve counts of first-degree murder. Despite the video evidence, and the detailed information in Lake's diaries, Ng maintained that he was merely an observer and that Lake planned and committed all of the kidnaps, rapes, and murders unassisted.[3][11]

In February 1999, Ng was convicted of eleven of the twelve homicides — six men, three women, and two male infants. Jurors deadlocked on the twelfth charge, the murder of Paul Cosner, but Ng was sentenced to death. The presiding judge noted, "Mr. Ng was not under any duress, nor does the evidence support that he was under the domination of Leonard Lake."[3] As of January 2022, Ng was still incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.[12] The last execution in California was in 2006. In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order placing a moratorium on the death penalty in California.[13]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Welborn, Larry (2011-02-25). "O.C. death row: 11 murders, maybe more". The Register. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
  2. ^ "Biography of Charles Ng". A&E Television Networks. Retrieved November 29, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e World: "America's serial killer sentenced to die", BBC News, 30 June 1999, access date 15 August 2013
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Greig, Charlotte (2005). Evil Serial Killers: In the Minds of Monsters. New York: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 0760775664.
  5. ^ a b Newton, Michael (1999). The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. New York, New York: Checkmark Books. ISBN 0-8160-3978-X.
  6. ^ Howard, John (16 June 1985). "Suspected mass killer leaves trail of mystery". Lawrence Journal-Record. Associated Press. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  7. ^ Lasseter, Don (2000). Die For Me: The Terrifying True Story of the Charles Ng & Leonard Lake Torture Murders. Pinnacle Books. ISBN 978-0-7860-1926-7.
  8. ^ The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers; ISBN 978-0-816-03978-4, pg. 153
  9. ^ Whittington-Egan, Richard; Whittington-Egan, Molly (1992). The Murder Almanac. Castle Douglas, Scotland: Neil Wilson Publishing. p. 104. ISBN 978-1-897-78404-4.
  10. ^ a b Yi, Daniel (January 8, 1999). "Defense Seeks to Put Ng on Witness Stand". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ "As Jury Meets to Decide His Fate, Ng Expects Death – latimes". articles.latimes.com. 1999-04-12. Retrieved 2015-05-20.
  12. ^ CDCR Division of Adult Operations (2018-08-06). "Death Row Tracking System – Condemned Inmate List". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved 2018-08-12.
  13. ^ CDCR (2018-08-12). "CDCR Inmate Locator". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved 2018-08-12.[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]