Porn actor Stephen Clancy Hill had reason to be tense as he sat inside a Van Nuys production house late on the evening of June 1. He was about to lose his crash pad.
Hill had lived at the porn studio for nearly a year in exchange for performing menial tasks and, occasionally, landing fleeting parts in the "fem-dom" movies it produces. But the owner thought Hill exhibited strange behavior. He wanted the bit-part actor to move out.
Late that evening, Hill found himself alone inside a 900-square-foot room with studio manager Christopher Rachal, whose tasks now included getting the 34-year-old actor to leave. Hill sat on a couch, repeatedly and obsessively watching a battle scene from director Ridley Scott's violent swords-and-religion epic Kingdom of Heaven. He pestered Rachal to join him in watching the DVD.
Rachal didn't want to be sociable. "I was trying to get him out," he recalls.
Finally, Rachal relented and crossed to the couch. As he neared, Hill "reached behind his back and came up with a machete," Rachal says. The weapon, a studio prop used in the course of making the company's faux "castration" videos, was a simple aluminum sword manufactured with a dulled blade.
But Hill had somehow managed to sharpen it to a vicious and keen edge. The first blow, a lumberjack's roundhouse, ripped a deep gash into Rachal's left shoulder, which nearly took off his arm. To defend against what would surely be a follow-up strike, Rachal grabbed another studio prop — a hospital bed — and created a barrier between himself and his attacker.
The makeshift berm did little to slow Hill, who began climbing over the bed, amped on adrenaline and anger. "He had a look in his eye like he wanted to kill," Rachal recalls.
A second swing arced in, and Rachal grabbed the blade with his bare right hand, watching in horror as "it was nearly cut in half. I could see tendons."
Hearing the commotion, three other men rushed in. Hill was "standing on a piece of furniture, saying, 'I'm going to kill you all,' " recalls Yuri Drell, a neighbor from a nearby business.
Seeing the bloody sword and Rachal lying seriously injured on the floor, the men tried to calm Hill down. It seemed to be working, until Hill noticed they all had cell phones in hand and were calling 911.
He went wild.
The porn industry is many things. Subtle is not one of them. So when Porn Inc. went searching for a job title for people like Stephen Hill, the choice was "mope." It's based on the off-camera life of these fringe actors, hangers-on who mope around the studios hoping for a bit role, which if they're lucky might bring them $50 plus food — and the chance to have sex with a real, live woman.
The mope — as a person and as a job — came to rootless, shambling life in 1995, when the porn industry, seeking The Next Big Thing, latched on to the idea of the "extreme." An enterprising, Svengali-like British expatriate, John Bowen, who went by the name John T. Bone, hit upon the idea of an "extreme mega-gangbang" involving his Trilby, Grace Kwek, a tiny Singaporean with the adopted stage name Annabel Chong.
Shot as The World's Biggest Gang Bang, the concept was bare-bones: Chong would engage in various sex acts with up to 300 men as a camera recorded the action. Of course, finding that many men already in the porn business and willing to work in such a situation could have been potentially difficult, and prohibitively expensive. So the call went out through various sex weeklies and adult magazines for men who thought they had the right stuff for such an endeavor.
In the end, about 70 made it to the shoot and helped Chong perform 251 sex acts (there was an on-set running tally). The movie, which had all the sex appeal of a National Geographic film of frogs spawning in a mud puddle, nevertheless captured the imagination of the porn-buying public and became one of the biggest-selling tapes of its era.
The porn industry took notice, and it wasn't long before numerous copycat productions were being cranked out, each seemingly claiming a bogus world record for either number of participants or sex acts completed. The mope had gained a foothold as a new kind of employee — one who inhabits the dark benthic zone at the bottom of the bottom, a movie-extra subspecies often tinged with maladjustment.
The average rate for a mope is $50 a movie, $75 if the porno gods are feeling benevolent. So financially, mopehood is a losing proposition in an industry where just getting the HIV testing required to work costs $135.
"They're worthless, D-list load-droppers," says Jim Lane, also known as Jim Powers, the director of such fare as Young and Anal 39, Ganged and Banged and White Trash Whore 40.
Unlike mainstream Hollywood extras, Lane notes, "Mopes don't know they're mopes." Instead, most cling to a delusion. "They all think they're going to be stars and millionaires."
Performer Tucker Slain, from Lexington, Ky., exemplifies the mope attitude. His allegiance is to metal music and "big tits." As he tells it, "I moved to Los Angeles to be a musician, but you can be successful in porn if you have the cock and the look. Rock stars don't get to do this kind of thing anymore. Long gone are the days of Poison."
Although Slain claims to have once made $500 for a scene, those gigs are rare. But Slain's not ashamed of any lack of recognition. "I have no desire to be a porn star," he says. "I'm a rock star who does porn, not the reverse." That he doesn't have a band or a record deal doesn't seem to faze him.
This carefree affectation isn't uncommon among Slain's peers. Jordan Lane, a refugee from Weirton, W.Va., prefers to be called a "midlevel gonzo performer" rather than a mope, although he admits that either term makes him the human equivalent of "a piece of furniture" in the porn business.
"I came to Los Angeles to reinvent myself as a writer and underachiever," Lane says. "I can bottom-feed with the best of them." And, so far, he says, porn affords him a living. "You don't have to work hard, but you have to save hard," he says with a kind of poignant bravado.
Mark Kulkis, the head of Kick-Ass Pictures, a company that specializes in specific niche porn such as foot-fetish and gangbang material, says, "We pay $50 for a foot job. And we shoot one a week for the site. There are only so many of those gigs to go around. These guys are hanging on the edge economically."
Pornography producer-director Mike Ramone agrees and offers an explanation for why some men seek out mope work. "They're probably sex addicts," he shrugs.
Ambitious mopes who hope to break out of their niche sometimes come up with gimmicks and catchphrases in a misguided bid to establish an identity and stand out from the pack.
Hill, whose screen name was Steve Driver, used to say his signature was "monster hands." According to set photographer Gia Jordan, Hill "would wear these hands, like, from a Halloween costume. That was his shtick. He'd jack off on the girl with the hands and when he'd come he'd yell, 'Monster hands!' It was ridiculous."
Alana Evans, one of Hill's co-stars in the porn spoof Palin: Erection 2008, says that Hill — despite having a featured role as Barack Obama in the movie — was unlikely to be a breakout star.
"He was one of the new type of guys," Evans says. "He wasn't strong or dominant. He was scared. He struggled in his scenes. I knew he'd never be the next Lexington Steele. He'd rarely talk to the women. He was, like, a total nerd."
Hill was the youngest of four sons born to a black mother and a white father, a software developer who worked on the Space Shuttle launch-control system at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Stephen Hill lived with the family until his parents split up. The boy moved to Washington, D.C., and then Maryland with his mother but spent part of every summer in Florida with his father.
The move to D.C. was traumatic for the younger Hill, recalls his father, David Hill, now 68 and retired. "His mother obtained housing in a poor, all-black area," he says. "Stephen was severely mocked at his inner-city school because of his light skin and slight build but mainly because of the fact that he spoke standard English."
To counter the bullying, Hill was enrolled in a martial arts class, where, his father says, "He developed a strong attachment to Japanese culture that remained with him his entire life."
During his junior year in high school, Hill went to stay with his father in Florida. There, he showed an interest in becoming an Air Force pilot and joined the Junior ROTC program. Under the influence of the ROTC, Hill "developed an interest in guns and started talking like a young conservative," his father says.
The elder Hill also noticed bizarre personality traits starting to emerge. "He refused to wear his glasses, believing he could use willpower to improve his vision," David Hill says.
After requiring metal plates and surgery to repair an arm broken during a basketball game, Hill stated a desire to return to Maryland and enter the University of Maryland specifically for its Air Force ROTC program. "I did not discourage him," David Hill says. "But because of his eyesight and the metal plates in his arm, I felt it was unlikely he would be accepted for pilot training."
At the university, Hill was overwhelmed by his classes and did poorly, his father recalls. His main interest was ROTC, through which he had begun to take flight instruction. "Even in that he did not do well," David Hill says. And at the end of his sophomore year, Hill was rejected for officer training with the ROTC.
In 1998, his final year at the university, Hill found himself in serious trouble when, after he asked for extra time to finish a paper for his Math 111 class, his request was refused by the instructor, a graduate student. Hill lost his temper and mentioned that he had a gun. According to The Washington Post, he asked the instructor, "What's more important to you, giving me an A or your life?"
Hill's threat was reported to the administration, and he was picked up by campus police. Before his trial, he underwent a psychological evaluation and was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. At his trial, he admitted threatening his instructor, but claimed he did so only after the instructor solicited oral sex from him, a claim the instructor denied.
David Hill says his son was convicted on charges of firearms possession on campus and was sentenced to house arrest. During this time — he served eight months — Hill became obsessed with pornography, his father says. "Stephen ended up spending all his time viewing pornographic movies, which he had mail-ordered over the Internet. He ran his credit cards up to over $20,000."
After completing his sentence, Hill worked for a time in the mortgage-title industry, but, his father notes, "His police record and bad credit caused him to lose jobs."
Needing a fresh start, Hill asked his father for help. In December 2006, Hill moved to Los Angeles. "We set him up in an apartment in the San Fernando Valley," his father says. Hill tried working for another title company, but his father says he soon was laid off and decided to try his hand at acting.
Soon his father started to receive startling mail from his son. "He started sending us pictures of his 'girlfriends' in sexually explicit poses," says an incredulous David Hill.
Stephen Hill's sister-in-law later told the elder Hill, "Everyone knew Stephen had only moved to L.A. to become a porn star."
David Hill says he and his new wife met one of the women on a trip to L.A. in 2007. "She was a stripper and dressed the part. My wife and I were deeply embarrassed, as was the girl, when we took them to a fine restaurant. Stephen was oblivious, though, and acted quite proud of her."
Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Stephen Hill met and befriended another mope when the two of them worked on a gangbang scene. His name was Herbert Wong, and he went by the porno-ridiculous name of Tom Dong.
Wong, 30, never really had a gimmick — unless it was being an Asian man, still something of a rarity in porn.
Wong was a mystery to his colleagues and employers. A Chinese immigrant, he was raised in the San Gabriel Valley and reportedly attended the University of California, Riverside. His skill with computers and cameras seemed to indicate a background in IT, but he kept his past to himself.
Raven, the single-named director and production manager for Glendale-based Kick-Ass Pictures, says Wong had held a regular job, "a computer tech, I think. I don't know where. He didn't talk about it much." At one point, Wong maintained a home in Canoga Park, Raven says. "He lived for a while in the Bella Vista Apartments on DeSoto off the 101 — the porno apartments."
Wong eventually got a shot at the brass ring; at least, it was a shot in the mind of a mope. The son of a well-known '80s action-film star produced a big-budget porn epic that featured Wong — as Tom Dong, of course. It was reportedly shot for $50,000, a spectacular budget in the increasingly stingy porn world, and Wong was humiliated, abused and constantly told by his director to "chink it up" for the camera.
Wong, hoping for his chance, did as he was told ... and the film has yet to be released. Its existence is still mainly just a whispered rumor.
As his friendship with Hill grew, Wong often relied on him for transportation, and Wong managed to secure gangbang screen work for Hill. It wasn't long before they were being regarded as something of a package deal. "They were the Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan of porn," Raven recalls.
But they never caught on. Hill and Wong remained mired in porn's lower depths, which is where they were stuck when they were taken in by Eric Jover, 31, owner of Ultima DVD, the studio where the attack occurred. Jover, who met Hill through Wong, hired them both in 2009, paying them with pocket money and room and board.
"Tom was a good performer and he recommended Steve, so I took him on," Jover says.
But over time, the working arrangement began to fray. Jover blamed it on Hill's "true self" becoming apparent.
"He was notorious for owing people a lot of money," Jover says. "He owed a buddy of mine quite a bit of money and he'd been dodging the guy for a while. There was one time when my friend — the guy he owed money to — visited the studio and Steve thought he was trying to sabotage him. Out of nowhere, Steve just ran into the room and punched the guy in the face. Tom and I had to hold Steve back. I had to try to talk to my friend to not call the cops."
Hill's apparent learning disability also may have presented a stumbling block. "I had him updating some of our Web pages, creating galleries for us," Jover says. "Everything he did had to be reworked."
Hill's greatest failing, and one that was absolutely detrimental in his line of work, was a lack of personal cleanliness.
Female porn actor Charley Chase recalls, "I only worked with him once. It was a boy-girl scene and it was terrible. Mainly from bad hygiene." Chase pauses for a moment before trying to put a chirpy spin on things: "But he was really polite."
Chase's friend and fellow porn actress Cece Stone says Hill once gave her a ride to a shoot. "He picked me up because I didn't have a car. I got in and the whole inside smelled like body odor. We were about a mile away from where he picked me up, and I just got out at the next light and walked off."
Jover tried to remedy the situation by installing a shower in the studio. "It had hot water, cold water. We just couldn't get the funk out. Everyone that worked with him on camera was uncomfortable. He was dead weight."
Finally, Jover asked Hill to leave. "I gave him two weeks' notice and I also gave him some money so he could find a place," Jover says.
But Hill wasn't ready to leave.
"I asked him to call his parents or an old roommate or something," Jover recalls. "I gave him two more weeks and those two weeks passed. Three days before the incident I said, 'You're going to have to leave or I'm going to have the police come and escort you out.' "
Hill's life was disintegrating. Several weeks before the attacks, he was involved in a disturbing incident on the campus of California State University, Northridge, which eerily echoed the 1998 threat at the University of Maryland.
Detective Joel Price of the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley Division says Hill was on campus but not a student. "His father became concerned for the safety of those on the campus and ended up calling LAPD and said his son was making crazy statements about killing people," Price says.
David Hill explains, "I received an alarming e-mail from Stephen in which he threatened suicide, saying if he was going, he would be taking a lot of people with him. I notified the police immediately and they shortly picked him up at the Northridge campus, where he often pretended to be a student to use the computers in the library."
When police found Hill, he had swords in his vehicle. Price says of the Northridge incident, "He didn't harm anyone, but he was locked up for 72 hours for a mental evaluation."
Price also notes that, even after being turned in by his father, Hill stayed in contact with him. "When he last spoke to his father," Price says, "it was in an e-mail exchange several weeks before the incident in regards to his 34th birthday."
David Hill says of the e-mail conversation with his son, "I offhandedly remarked that I was 34 when he was born. This must have depressed him a bit, since he replied indicating that he felt bad about not having a wife and family of his own.
"A few days later, I got a call from my brother saying he had seen a news report about a porn actor who attacked his fellow workers with a Japanese sword. He hoped it wasn't Stephen, but I knew it must be."
Moments after Hill attacked that June night, Jover, Wong and businessman Drell raced to the room to try to calm the situation as Rachal lay bleeding on the floor. Seeing the men dialing 911, Hill lunged at them.
The men turned and ran. There was a pileup at the door. Jover and Drell made it out first, bolting from the room untouched and racing outside the building. Drell recalls he was "three feet out" of the building when he heard "Tom being butchered. It was a high-pitched squeal."
Drell ran back in to confront Hill. He saw Wong on the floor. "Tom was bleeding everywhere. He was cut at the waist and his elbow was cut to the bone. He was turning purple."
Hill began swinging the weapon at Drell. "I have martial arts training, and that kicked in," Drell says. "I stepped into him and he hit the wall."
Still, Hill managed to inflict on Drell's shoulder a wound that took 23 stitches to close.
Jover was next. Hill pursued him outside on foot for about 20 yards before he jumped into his blue RAV4 and attempted to run Jover down. Jover eluded him. Hill sped off into the night.
Police soon arrived. Wong was taken to a hospital, where he died of internal injuries and loss of blood.
Police began searching for Hill. "We don't know where he went," Detective Price recalls. "He could have spent those days hiding out around Chatsworth Park. We were somewhat surprised that he stayed around here locally."
Three days after the attacks, as local news organizations gave descriptions of Hill and his 1998 blue Toyota RAV4, a witness spotted the car in the 8800 block of Azul Drive in West Hills and notified authorities.
Hill was hiding on the property of a nearby home when police set up a barricade and made contact with him.
Hill ran, but not far. The property where he was hiding ends at a cliff just outside the Chatsworth Nature Preserve. Hill had a samurai blade with him, one of several swords he kept in his car. He held the weapon against his chest, threatening to stab himself or fall on the blade.
Police settled in and tried to reason with him, tossing him bottled water several times during the day. For nearly eight hours, he held the LAPD SWAT team at bay.
With dusk approaching and crisis negotiators making no progress with Hill, the SWAT unit decided to wrap things up by using what the LAPD would later describe as a "less-than-lethal weapon."
As police moved in to employ tasers and bean-bag projectiles, Hill turned his back to them and seated himself on the cliff's edge, still holding on to his sword. With conscious effort, he pushed himself off the bluff.
He plunged 30 feet to a rocky outcropping, where the crash raised a huge dust cloud that slowly rose upward. Hill then cartwheeled another 20 feet in a grotesque free fall, having lost his sword on first impact. He came to a stop in another cartoonishly expanding billow of dust. He was dead.
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The attacks and subsequent suicide were big talk in the gossip-loving porn world, but Porn Valley quickly went back to business as usual. There were bigger concerns: falling DVD sales, Internet piracy and a brief industrywide production shutdown after a male performer was found to have contracted HIV.
Director Mike Ramone attempted to capitalize on the crime's brief notoriety by quickly putting out a compilation DVD featuring both Hill and Wong. It had the provocative title Porno Samurai Killer. The cover art showed Hill and Wong wearing masks — a Ronald Reagan one for Hill and fetishistic leather blinders for Wong. Both men looked puffy and doughy. Though not a hit, the DVD did give the two dead men a measure of stardom they never achieved as mopes.
David Hill says of the events, "We found the live coverage on television and the Internet and watched in horror. After many hours we got a call that Stephen was injured but in police custody, and then a final call that he had died.
"We went down to L.A. to arrange a funeral," his father says. "We invited some of his friends in the industry whose names we found on his MySpace page, but none of them showed up."