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Murder in a Santa Monica Squat

Photo by Debra DiPaolo

On the morning of his daughter’s death, Edward Geoghegan had no reason to suspect that anything was amiss. The 14-year-old Shevawn had certainly had her problems — she’d run away from home several times, and she still affected a goth style, with green strands of hair above shaved temples and a dog collar around her neck. She wore a Betty Boop watch and carried a butterfly pocket knife for protection. But she was attending her therapy sessions, and her parents had successfully petitioned the courts to have her put on probation. There seemed to be cause for optimism.

Related Links: more on the Geohegan murder from surfsantamonica.com

Shortly after 11:30 on the morning of Tuesday, February 24, 1998, Shevawn announced she was going to the Third Street Promenade, her frequent hangout. When she failed to return by 6 p.m., her parents paged her, but their calls went unanswered. They grew concerned that their daughter had run away again.

They paged her throughout the eve ning and reported her missing to police at midnight. On Wednesday morning, Edward Geoghegan and his daughter’s friend Candace Sanford walked the length of the Promenade, showing drifters and strangers pictures of Shevawn. Then, armed with a flashlight and a crowbar, the father began entering abandoned buildings frequented by his daughter and her runaway friends. Early Thursday morning, "in response to suggestions by one of Shevawn’s friends," Geoghegan entered an abandoned mental-health building at 1525 Euclid St., where Shevawn was said to hang out with squatters.

The structure was dark and labyrinthine and anything but comforting. On the walls of the old Spanish-style courtyard building were pentagrams scrawled in blood and the crucified body of a headless bird. An impaled lizard hung from the ceiling on a hook. On the wall of one room, a heart had been drawn along with the words "Will you be my victim?"

In Room 13A, Geoghegan discovered at the foot of a cot a pair of black Doc Marten ankle boots with green soles. There was no question that they were Shevawn’s. "I went to the central area and screamed her name."

After screaming and waiting in the building for 30 minutes, Geoghegan went home to pick up his wife, Eileen, and they headed over to the police station. At 9 a.m., they returned to the scene with two officers, and Geoghegan showed them the room where he found his daughter’s boots. But the officers found no other evidence of Shevawn.

Geoghegan, a clinical lab technician who comes from a long line of New York City cops, spent the rest of the day going from squat to squat, while his wife combed the streets gathering information. Later that day, Shevawn’s friend Candace nervously approached Geoghegan and told him word on the street was that Shevawn was dead in the basement of the mental-health facility. Geoghegan called police, and they returned to the Euclid squat, this time with a Fire Department searchlight.

At around dusk, Detective Ann Marie Gray informed Geoghegan that the officers had "found something in the basement wrapped up tight." "They could see the black hair," Geoghegan said. "I immediately knew it was my daughter. I just collapsed on the sidewalk. I just went down."

Earlier this month, Glen Mason, 23, was convicted of Shevawn’s murder. Last week, a second suspect, Elizabeth Ann Mangham, 17, pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in connection with the death, and two days later police apprehended the final suspect, Dennis Scott, 23, on the streets of Birmingham, Alabama. A caller had tipped them off after seeing the drifter’s face on the popular television show America’s Most Wanted. Scott, who went by the street name Jimmy "Linus" Turner, was extradited to Santa Monica last week.

The strange and deeply disturbing case of Shevawn Geoghegan has shed light on a deadly mix of teenagers, runaways and criminal drifters who hang on the trendy Third Street Promenade by day and retreat at night to abandoned buildings. "I’m going to take you to a place you’ve never been," Mason’s defense attorney Marc Lewinstein told the jury in his opening argument last month. "In this place, the rules we live by are different. Up is down, night is day . . . This is the squatters’ place."

By all accounts, Shevawn Geoghegan was, at the time of her death, a tough little girl with a big mouth and an attitude to match. An only child, she had been raised to be assertive. "She decided when to get rid of the bottle," her father said, "when to go to the potty." Now he worries that it was that same assertiveness that "got her in trouble." A reading disability had put Shevawn behind in school, and she soon felt ostracized, Geoghegan said. She suffered from severe depression.

By age 12, Shevawn, who liked to hang out with her friends on the Promenade, was romanced by the hard-edged life of the drifters who congregated with their pet rats, puppies and snakes in the middle block of the shopping strip. "The street was a place she could be smart," her father said.

Some of the drifters had been booted out by their parents because they were unruly, or pregnant, or gay, according to social-service workers. Others were sexually or physically abused, so they ran away. Many were outsiders who had heard about the Promenade through a network of runaways who drift from town to town. And then there was Shevawn.

Unlike the runaways, Shevawn had a home to return to each night, but she tried to fit in, emulating the tough lifestyle and look of the "Promenade rats." "I was attracted to her tough exterior," said her best friend, Tanya Zerkov, 17, who hung out first with skaters on the north end of the Promenade. "The mouth she had, the way she could tell you to fuck off by just her look. Shevawn was always the youngest and she was the shortest and she had this baby face. She had to prove herself."

The first time they met, Shevawn was kneeling down on the Promenade biting her dog, Misery, who had just bitten her. "I had never seen anything like that," Tanya recalled. "I said, ‘Hi, I’m Tanya.’ She said, ‘Hi, I’m Shevawn,’ and she went back to biting her dog."

"She was an individual, and she wanted to test the limits of everything," said another of Shevawn’s friends, Kim Calder, 16, who drifted to Santa Monica after running away from her Nevada home. "She was so passionate about everything. A situation that was trivial was like the end of the world for her."

At 13, Shevawn ran away from home for the first time, venturing to Hollywood, where a drifter’s life is dangerous and crime rampant. By the time she ran away a third time, her parents had installed a caller ID box on their telephone (Shevawn always checked in at home) and followed her trek on a map. She made it as far as Knoxville, Tennessee, where she lost her dog and spent her 14th birthday living in a tunnel.

"The driver of the van she was in drove away without her dog," Geoghegan said. "That broke her heart in a way I couldn’t tell you . . . It was the thing that finally broke her runaway thing. She found out the street was not that attractive."

Shevawn, who prosecutors say was sexually active before she hit her teens, first met Glen Mason on the Promenade and began an on-and-off relationship with him nine months before her death. Like many of the squatters who drift from town to town — Tucson, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, Berkeley — the Texas native ended up in Santa Monica, where he lived in abandoned buildings battered by the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

"He came into town, and I remember Shevawn saying, ‘Who’s that cute squatter?’" Tanya said. "He walked on the Promenade and stood in front of Woolworth’s and just stared. He had on tight black pants, really, really dirty. He stunk. You could smell him."

"He had something about him — you just had to listen," Kim said. "He had this captivating presence, this clarity and otherworldly quality. His eyes burned through you. He was mysterious."

Kim and Tanya soon learned that Mason, who went by the street name Jason Ballis, was dabbling in Satanism and had ambitions of becoming a Generation X Charles Manson, even imitating the cult killer’s intense stare.

"He talked about being like Charles Manson," Kim said. "People see that confidence and power, and they grab onto it. That was his whole thing. He wanted to be compared to something evil. He craved attention, and he craved power."

Mason soon began to preach and practice Satanism. He read Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, which became a handbook of sorts. He also followed the incantations and spells from the Necronomicon, a mock treatise said to have been written in Damascus in the eighth century by the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred. He even gave a copy to Tanya and Shevawn. "We were scared at first," Tanya said, "but we read three pages of it and started laughing."

But Mason took seriously the book whose cover promised to reveal "the long-forgotten formulae for evoking incredible things, beings and monsters into physical appearance." "He decided that there really was this race of ancient spirits he was going to summon from below," Kim said. "He was a Satanist. He really believed it."

In the boarded-up Flamingo Motel next door to the RAND Corp., the Cold War research center near the Santa Monica Pier, Mason practiced his Satanism, studying LaVey’s book and scrawling inverted pentagrams on the walls. When the 81-unit motel was raided by police, triggering a stampede of squatters, Mason moved into the abandoned Euclid Street mental-health facility, where a decade earlier social worker Robbyn Panitch was stabbed to death by a demented patient.

"I think [Mason] picked that squat," Kim said. "He wanted the creepiest, most fucked-up squat he could find."

"I didn’t like the idea of an abandoned mental hospital," said Tanya, who never stepped inside. "When you look at the outside of that squat, you start making up stories of what could have happened there."

Like many of the buildings abandoned after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the former Santa Monica West Mental Health Services building was a perfect shelter for homeless drifters. Santa Monica’s strict rent-control regulations and housing policies made it difficult to tear down the battered structures, and the homeless found ways to slip through fences and enter through broken windows or fire escapes, sometimes even boring holes through exterior walls.

Life in these buildings is treacherous, and order is imposed by self-styled "squat Nazis." At the Euclid squat, the role was seized by Glen Mason and his close friend Jason Yoakum, known on the streets as Mad Dog. "We were the kings of the lair," Yoakum testified during Mason’s trial. "We made the rules, and no one would rule over us."

As the Euclid squat Nazis (they also controlled a nearby squat on Idaho Street), Mason and Yoakum picked who had access — the password was "Oi," a common punk expression — and kept the building safe from police raids, making sure squatters entered early in the morning or late at night to escape detection by the neighbors.

Mason turned the mental-health facility into a place of worship, Yoakum testified in court. He attempted to communicate with Satan by placing his forehead on a pentagram painted on a wall with the blood of a pigeon he’d decapitated and crucified.

"He Tased it to death [with a stun gun] until the eyes were popped out, then cut the head with a machete," Yoakum said. "He crucified it on a wall . . . and had the head hanging on the other wall.

"A regular drawn pentagram is a symbol," Yoakum explained in his testimony. "The one he drew in blood is more a channel. It’s like a telephone. He would sit there and put his head to it and chant . . . He was mumbling or chanting or praying, talking to his god, Satan."

Mason also would hang a crucifix upside down, Yoakum testified, and char it with the flames from a burner as the other squatters looked on. Once, he hung a rabbit up, spray painting it and setting it on fire while it was still alive. Sometimes he retreated into a small closet where he worshipped in private, speaking in strange tongues.

"He believed in the full satanic belief that Satan was the supreme being above all," Yoakum said. "The body meant nothing. He wanted the soul. If he got the soul, it was a brownie point for Satan. It made him stronger."

Shevawn’s relationship with Mason was a rocky one. "They would break up, they would just always be breaking up," Tanya said. "The littlest thing would make them break up." The relationship soon became a battle of wills between the headstrong girl and the controlling drifter. "He knew how to push Shevawn’s buttons, and that’s what he did."

Several months before Shevawn’s murder, Mason left for Tucson, Arizona, where, according to trial testimony, he lived with a girlfriend, Jessica Barry, in a motel, taking speed and hanging out in the "Manson tunnels" that run under the city.

Life without Mason was good for Shevawn. Her spirits seemed to lift. "Those were the happiest times," her friend Tanya recalled. "She was carefree when [Mason] wasn’t around. Everybody was pretty sure he would never show up."

But the carefree days didn’t last. After police arrested Barry for running away and took her to a lock-down facility in Utah, Mason returned by Greyhound bus to Santa Monica to wait for her release. He called Shevawn from a pay phone and said he was coming for her. Shevawn called Jessica’s mother, Stephanie Barry.

"She was afraid. Her voice was shaking," Barry testified. "She asked me, ‘What does he want from me? Why is he coming back for me?’"

Mason, however, seemed to return a changed man. He had shed his detached manner and seemed downright friendly. "He came back kissing everybody’s ass," Tanya said. "He gave me a hug. We came to the conclusion people like [Mason] don’t change. We knew it wasn’t a miracle from God."

After his return, Mason grew suspicious of Shevawn, whom he considered a "loudmouth" who "gossiped" too much, Yoakum testified. "She wasn’t allowed to know anything about him," Yoakum said. "They were dating and something happened and they broke up . . . He said he wanted to kill her. I didn’t take him literally." Mason, Yoakum said, had a "hit list" consisting of Shevawn, Candace and her friend, Charles — three people he accused of snitching on him.

Shevawn was growing increasingly scared, her friends said, sometimes sleeping with a weapon by her side. "There were nights when she would call me and say, ‘Please stay with me, he’s going to kill me,’" Kim said. "I had a knife; she had a sword, a samurai thing."

The tension escalated one day when Mason showed up at Shevawn’s home. "He had threatened to hurt her dog, Misery," Tanya recalled in an interview. "We could sense the tension in the room. Three girls sitting with a weapon and the dog running around." Next door to Shevawn’s house was a rabbit hutch. Mason "picked up one of the rabbits, threw it on the cement, and it died," Kim said. "He threw another one in a bush." The girls talked about going to the police. "She was petrified of him, yet she loved him," Kim said. "She did think that she could change him. If she loved you, she would find any possible way to find good in you."

The day before the killing was stormy, with fierce El Niño rains swelling sewer lines, bursting manhole covers and sending hills sliding down onto Pacific Coast Highway. But despite the weather, Mason’s friend Yoakum decided to head for Hollywood. He had stolen a gun and a cell phone from his uncle’s house; now he wanted to sell them.

He unloaded the phone for $20, and the buyer threw in 10 hits of acid. But no one paid the $200 Yoakum wanted for the gun, so he returned to the squat on Euclid. There, he met up with Mason and two other squatters. They dropped the acid and began discussing what to do with the gun.

"We started frying out and hallucinating and started getting delusional," Yoakum testified in court. "[Mason] said, ‘Give me the gun, you’re frying.’ I took the clip and gave him the gun. We both felt safe. I couldn’t use it without the bullets."

Yoakum and Mason then went down Euclid and walked toward the beach in the rain. "He said, ‘Maybe we can find somebody to use the gun on. I have somebody in mind,’" Yoakum testified in court. "I said, ‘Who?’ He said, ‘The first person we see. The first person we see, we shoot.’"

The first person who crossed their path was Elizabeth Ann Mangham, 17, a friend who lived in a Colorado Avenue squat. "He said, ‘That’s not Liz, that’s our first victim, give me the gun,’" Yoakum said.

When Mason realized it was Liz, he set his sights on another victim, Charles, one of the names on his hit list. "We knew where he slept," Yoakum said. "I guess the plan was that I would have to kill him. He said, ‘It’s raining. No one will know.’ He started convincing me."

But Charles’ usual sleeping place by a shut-down staircase on the Palisades bluff had been washed away by the rains, so they looked for another victim. They spotted a man who ran from his car toward an apartment, and followed. "As we got closer, I don’t know, I couldn’t do it," Yoakum testified. "I felt lame that I couldn’t do it. I don’t know why I couldn’t do it. We walked right by. The acid got me messed up."

After demanding money at gunpoint from squatters in the Idaho Street building they also controlled, Yoakum and Mason headed back to the Euclid squat. The acid was wearing off. "I wanted to go to sleep," Yoakum testified. "It was like a hangover. Me and Linus [Turner] and Liz went to the room with the head in it, and he slept in his room."

The next day — it was late morning or early afternoon, it was hard to tell — Yoakum got up to go to the bathroom. He grabbed his jacket to go out and saw Shevawn sleeping in the doorway of Mason’s room. Mason spotted him and shut the door.

"That was the last I saw of her," Yoakum said.

The night before she was killed, Shevawn curled up on the couch with her mother, and they watched Tank Girl, one of her favorite films. "She was coming out of the darkness," her father said. "It was just a strange time. It was a speed bump. We were seeing the end of it. She was starting to change the way she dressed. We were seeing the end of the tunnel."

Friends never understood what drove Shevawn to visit the Euclid squat the next morning. According to testimony, she had sex with Mason. Later, the two played around on the bed, and things started getting rough. Ultimately, police allege, Mason, Mangham and Scott strapped Shevawn to a metal chair with duct tape and rope and stuffed a sock in her mouth. During interrogation by the police, Mason changed his story about what exactly happened, but in the end, the jury found that he had strangled Shevawn with a cloth strap.

It took approximately one minute to strangle the life out of Shevawn Geoghegan, whose body showed no trace of drugs or alcohol, Coroner Irwin Golden testified. According to testimony, the three suspects then took the body down the stairs, wrapped it in a sleeping-bag cover and hid it in a corner of the basement, covering it with wooden pallets.

Yoakum said that after the killing, an elated Mason pulled him aside on the Third Street Promenade and, sitting on a step, bragged about how he strangled Shevawn. "He was ecstatic," Yoakum said. "It seemed like he just won the lottery . . . He said, ‘Since you live at the squat, there’s something you should know.’ He said, ‘You know how I said we needed a body as a trophy.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Look in the basement.’"

On Thursday, July 15, Glen Mason was convicted of murder in the first degree. The stoic defendant — who spent most of the trial scribbling notes and scrawling drawings — showed no emotion when the jury’s decision was read.

After the verdict, which assured that Mason would spend the rest of his life in state prison, Shevawn’s family and friends wept, laughed and embraced in the hallway. Then they visited the abandoned mental-health facility, where a banner of a blindfolded woman holding the scales of justice decorated a makeshift memorial that had been carefully tended for one and a half years.


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