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In Too Deep 

In the summer of 1981, porn legend John Holmes stepped into an abyss of drugs, mayhem, and murder. Meet the wife and the girlfriend he almost took with him

Thursday, Oct 2 2003
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Almost everything publicly known about porn king John Curtis Holmes is apocryphal, anecdotal, secondhand or informed by conjecture. Except for the cock. Thirteen inches long, as thick around as a man’s wrist, hard on demand, coming on cue: the appendage of the pathological braggart’s most outlandish boast — and it turns out to be true. At once raw footage and special effect, the fabled tool appeared in hundreds of XXX epics, creating the first — and possibly last — superhero of the blue screen, polyester-bad private detective Johnny Wadd.

Before Johnny Wadd, though, there was the gangly hillbilly kid from Ohio, born in 1944, product of an impoverished childhood, a puking drunk of a father, followed by a violent drunk of a stepfather. A stint in the Army, hitched up to nurse Sharon Gebenini, a budding career as a forklift operator. Holmes’ special quality, so to speak, was discovered, in the late 1960s, by a skin photographer in a Gardena poker club men’s room. By the time the ’70s had shifted into high, Holmes’ monster of a penis had become the most recognizable and marketable prop in the history of porn.

Later, as the ’80s dragged in, the Holmes hydraulics became unreliable and the bookings dropped off. The cult fell away. The film Wonderland focuses on a fateful two weeks during that period, at the end of which the actor left a palm print above a blood-soaked deathbed at the Wonderland Avenue scene of the notorious “Four on the Floor” murders of July 1, 1981. Four people bludgeoned to death, another left for dead. The film, directed by James Cox and starring Val Kilmer as Holmes, approaches the slayings from multiple viewpoints and attempts to clarify exactly what happened during that orgy of lead pipes and skull fragments.

The gruesome murders were retribution for a home-invasion robbery, two days earlier, of underworld kingpin Eddie Nash. On the morning of June 29, four strung-out ex-convicts had sneaked through an unlatched sliding door into Nash’s ranch-style house in the hills above Studio City. The door had been left unlatched for the robbers by Holmes, whom Nash had often spoken of as a “brother.” Nash and his 300-pound bodyguard, Gregory DeWitt Diles, were rousted out of bed at gunpoint. A pistol went off, and Diles suffered a grazing flesh wound. Nash, the story goes, fell to his knees at the sound of the shot and begged for time to pray. The robbers absconded with cocaine, heroin, Quaaludes, money, weapons and jewelry, a haul that was valued by the U.S. Department of Justice at something like a million dollars. They left Nash and Diles humiliated and stewing inside the house.

Eddie Nash. Real name Adel Gharib Nasrallah, an immigrant of Lebanese — or is it Palestinian? — parentage. In 1960, Nash set up a hot-dog stand on Hollywood Boulevard. By the late 1970s, if you were young, happening and in L.A., you could hardly spend a night on the town without putting money into Eddie Nash’s pocket. One count has Nash holding 36 liquor licenses, mostly in the Hollywood area. Gays dancing at the Paradise Ballroom. Straights doing the hustle at the Seven Seas. Pogo-happy punk rockers at the Starwood. Interracial funk fans at Soul’d Out. Horny loners at the Kit Kat strip clubs. The cover charges and bar receipts all led to Eddie. If you were a doper, chances are Nash was making some change off you there as well.

Nash had evolved into a notorious, well-rounded crime lord and entrepreneur. The Wonderland Gang, in comparison, consisted of clumsy dope pushers who relied on crude rip-and-run robberies of lesser dealers to maintain their habits and inventory. Their hideout was a much-frequented stucco party house on Wonderland Avenue, leased to Joy Audrey Miller, a 46-year-old heroin addict and ex-wife of a Beverly Hills lawyer. Her live-in boyfriend was Billy DeVerell, 42, also addicted to junk. Ronald Launius — who, like DeVerell, honed his charisma in a prison yard — was the 37-year-old alpha dog of the pack. Along with overnight guest Barbara Richardson, 22, they all died as a direct result of knowing John Holmes and fucking with Eddie Nash.

Veteran LAPD detectives, just 12 years after Helter Skelter, claimed they had never seen so much blood at one crime scene.

Much of the movie focuses on determining the exact nature of Holmes’ complicity in the Laurel Canyon butchery. He was indebted both to Nash and to the Wonderland pushers. He was also the sole connection between the two camps. Beyond dispute is that Holmes effected the entry of the Wonderland Gang into Nash’s house, and that he later provided access to the Wonderland house for Nash’s agents. He is assumed to have been inside the residence to witness the murders, and to have somehow gotten himself “wet” doing so.

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