By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Dawn contacted her family to let them know she was safe. At the urging of her brother, she told the police where to find John. He was watching a Gilligan’s Island rerun when the detectives knocked. He asked if they wanted some coffee . . .
Back in L.A., Holmes stood trial and, in late June of 1982, was acquitted in the Wonderland murders. A grand jury had been convened to investigate the killings, but Holmes refused to answer their questions. He was found in contempt and jailed for 111 days — until Eddie Nash had been found guilty on a separate drug charge and sentenced to prison. With Nash gone, Holmes told the grand jury enough to get away. The judge ordered his release.
Nash served only a fraction of his sentence. Nearly 20 years later, in 2001, he pled guilty to a laundry list of racketeering counts, including the Wonderland murders, and was sentenced to just over three years, of which he served approximately one year.
In 1982, Holmes came out of jail a free man, in a sense — off dope, for the first time in years. But the cock remained his only resource, and it took him back to porn. A former business partner, Bill Amerson, of whose two children Holmes was a godparent, set up a production company and brought Holmes in as an executive. For a while, he was relatively drug free, halfway reliable, but the old patterns soon resurfaced. Holmes, Amerson contends, embezzled something like a quarter-million dollars from him.
(Sharon Holmes is not surprised: “The moral [of Wonderland] for me is your choices and what you do with them. You dig down deep and find something. And John didn’t have anything to dig down and find anymore. That’s why he went back to the porn business. That’s why he went back to stealing.”)
After Florida, Dawn reunited with her father in Thailand, where he ran a hotel. She spent seven years in Southeast Asia, far beyond the reach of Holmes, where she earned high-school and college degrees. She came back to the United States in 1988. “I remember coming back in the late part of February, intent on finding John to tell him, ‘Look. I turned out better than you.’” Instead, she read in a newspaper that Holmes, age 44, lay dying of AIDS in Room 101A of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital on Sepulveda. “I felt bad he was sick,” she says. “I was going to go to the hospital. I was all ready to. But I didn’t have the nerve.”
After a press screening of Wonderland, a CNN journalist crept out of the projection room saying, “I feel like I need a shower.” And indeed, watching the movie is like being dunked in someone’s dirty bath water — John Holmes’, say, on the night of the murders — over and over again, for an hour and a half. You walk out of the theater thinking, What was the point of all this? Did anyone learn anything? Was anyone changed for the better? Not Holmes, anyway. Despite his complicity in so much death, and even after testing positive for HIV, he continued working in the XXX industry, knowingly exposing at least three blue-screen actresses to the virus.
When Dawn Schiller, sitting over coffee at a Beverly Hills hotel, tells of Holmes’ nasty depths, of the repeated pimping and beatings, she also manages to communicate something of the flawed, destructive humanity of the guy. “My memories are that I loved him,” she says. “I want to say that. I loved him. I don’t want to say that that wasn’t real, or that that wasn’t okay. I want to say that it was real, and that it was good. The times that I despised him and feared him are the last times that I remember with him, but they aren’t the only times. Right now, today, I remember the whole. He lost the battle. He saw it coming with the breaking of the pipe, all the way back then. He tried to stop the freight train.”
Sharon nods. “It was like putting a piece of chewing gum on the tracks,” she says.