In the police investigation of a brutal crime scene, one man was at the center of it all: legendary porn star John Holmes.
John Holmes was a legend of the porn industry and revered in circles as a stud. But in 1981, years after his successful career and star fading, Holmes was a desperate man with his own internal demons to live up to. He's estranged from his wife, holding onto a relationship with his teenage mistress, and living as a junkie in search of his next fix. But one fateful night left four people dead and John as a key suspect in one of the most grisly murders in Los Angeles. Was he partly responsible for what happened at Wonderland Avenue?
On the afternoon of July 1, 1981, Los Angeles police responded to a distress call at 8763 Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon and discovered a grisly quadruple homicide. Drug dealers Ron Launius, Billy Deverell, Barbara Richardson, and the homeowner Joy Miller were found brutally murdered, bludgeoned to death with lead or steel pipes, and Launius's wife, Susan, was left in critical condition. The police investigation that followed -- led by detectives Sam Nico, Louis Cruz and Mike Peters -- would unearth a seedy world of drugs and violence, ultimately revealing a motley crew from L. A.'s underbelly including ex-con David Lind, nightclub impresario Eddie Nash, and porn legend John Holmes as well as Holmes's estranged wife Sharon and his teenage lover Dawn Schiller.
The movie looks at the events that led up to the infamous Wonderland Murders in Los Angeles on July 1, 1981, as well as the investigation. What is known for sure is that four people were murdered in their Wonderland Avenue apartment, apparently as retaliation for their robbery of a notorious L.A. nightclub magnate named Eddie Nash. What is not known is what part porn star John Holmes played in the murders. The police investigation relies on the testimony of two men: Holmes himself, and a biker named David Lind who took part in a robbery of Eddie Nash's house two days earlier, and whose girlfriend, Barbara, was one of the victims. Lind claims that Holmes had to have taken part directly in the murders (and, in fact, his hand print was found at the crime scene). However, Holmes claims that he only set up the robbery and the hit, but wasn't in the apartment at the time of the murders. Now the police are caught in a dilemma: who are they supposed to believe? A biker with a heroin habit who has a personal ax to grind against Holmes, or a porn star with a notorious cocaine habit who is also known in many circles as a pathological liar?
- John Holmes and Dawn Schiller
Los Angeles, June 29, 1981. We are first introduced to the teenage girlfriend of legengary porn actor John Holmes - the underage Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth). She is on the streets and is picked up by a holy roller named Sally (Carrie Fisher) after she and Holmes break up. She eventually calls Holmes to come and get her. Holmes (Val Kilmer) arrives at the apartment and they have sex and snort cocaine in the bathroom before being discoverd and flee the holy roller's house.
After a 'drug-run' to a house located on Wonderland Avenue in the wooded Laurel Canyon neighborhood, Holmes and Dawn check into a motel where they both get high from snorting more cocaine and freebasing. The next morning (June 30), Holmes leaves Dawn to travel to an answering service in Santa Monica to check his phone messages and mail where he has it sent, leaving Dawn alone in the motel room with her pet dog to keep her company. He tells her that he will return in a few hours, but Holmes does not return. During the night, Dawn is woken up by a disturbing vision of violence. The next morning, (July 1) Dawn continues to remain alone the whole day.
While watching TV of the late afternoon news, Dawn sees a newscast that states four people were murdered at a rowhouse on Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon, the same one she had been to with Holmes the day before. Shortly thereafter, Holmes finally arrives back at the motel room, looking tired and dishevelded, and wearing different clothes then when he left two days prior. He does not want to talk about where he was and instead takes a valum pill and goes right to sleep.
The story eventually moves onto two city detectives, Nico and Cruz (Ted Levine and Franky G), investigating the crime scene and their contact with Holmes. Another officer and L.A. vice cop named Billy Ward (M.C. Gainey) intervenes with the investigation, himself being a colleague of Holmes whom is his C.I. (Criminal Informant) handler.
David Lind's story
The next major character introduced is David Lind (Dylan McDermott). While getting drunk at a local bar, he hears of his friends' murders at Wonderland on the TV set at the bar and soon discovers his girlfriend was there. While at the crime scene, he is picked up by the same two L.A.P.D. Detectives Nico and Cruz (representing real-life detectives in the case, Tom Lange and Bob Souza).
Through Lind's story (told in flashbacks), we are introduced to some of the people who party at Wonderland during the early months of 1981. These people, known as the Wonderland Gang include the gang leader Ron Launius (Josh Lucas), Billy Deverell (Tim Blake Nelson), Lind's 22-year old girlfriend Barbara Richardson (Natasha Gregson Wagner), the home owner Joy Miller (Janeane Garofalo) and Ron's wife Susan Launius (Christina Applegate). John Holmes drifted into the Wonderland Gang after attending several of their wild parties at the house. Soon, unable to find enough work in the adult film industry to support his growing cocaine addiction, Holmes begins muleing drugs for the gang. On more then one occasion, Homes is accused of "snorting" or smoking some of the cocaine he is told to deliver to customers and he finds himself in trouble as he does not have the money to pay back Ron and the Wonderland Gang for the drugs he consumes for himself.
Lind also explains that Ron had a fondness for antique guns and quite frequently shows them off. When Ron learns that Holmes knows a notorious gangster and nightclub owner, an Arab immigrant with the alias of Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), he gives Holmes a pair of stolen antique guns to take to Nash so that Nash can fence them and they can split the loot.
Earlier... Nash met and befriended Holmes because of Holmes' notoriety as the adult film phenomenon Johnny Wadd. Holmes takes the guns to Nash, but Nash says the guns are too rare to be sold; they would be recognized right away and everyone involved would be apprehended. Rather than give the guns back to Holmes, Nash keeps them for himself.
Attempting to get back in the good graces of the gang, Holmes suggests robbing Nash's home. Ron is reluctant to go along with the robbery at first, but after Holmes gives him a rundown of what's there, he is quite eager for the big score. Holmes volunteers to draw them a map to plan the robbery, since he has been to Nash's house a lot. Holmes then visits Nash to buy drugs. On the way out, he leaves the back door to the kitchen unlocked so the Wonderland gang can have easy access.
The robbery of Eddie Nash
Lind continues to describe his involvment in the robbery; The next morning (June 29, 1981), the robbery is carried out by Ron Launius, Lind, and Deverell, while wheel-man Tracy McCourt waits outside in a car, serving as lookout. Neither Holmes nor any of the women are present when the robbery occurs. The Wonderland Gang gain access through the unlocked kitchen door and robs Nash at gunpoint. Lind accidentally fires his gun, wounding Nash's 320-pound black bodyguard, Greg Diles (Faizon Love). Racial epithets are hurled at Nash and Diles. The gang walks away with over one million dollars in cash, jewels and drugs. They bring their loot back to the Wonderland house to divide everything up. Holmes is unhappy with the cut he is given, even though he did not take part in the robbery. Ron tells him that it's conpensasion for drugs that he stole and squandered from them several weeks earlier.
The next morning (June 30), Nash finds out that Holmes helped plan the robbery. After Holmes gets his phone messages and mail from his answering service, he goes over to Nash's house where a gold necklace and ring he has on is recognized by Nash as one of the items stolen from his house the previous day.
Nash has Holmes beaten and finds his little black address book. He tells Holmes he will kill every person listed in the book, starting with his mother who lives in his hometown in Ohio, then his estranged wife Sharon, and his teenage mistress Dawn, if he does not give up the men who robbed him. He also threatens to cut off Holmes' penis, cut it into pieces, and shove it down his (Holmes') throat.
John Holmes story
Two days after the murders, both Holmes and Dawn are arrested by the police in their motel room and taken to police headquarters where they are both grilled about what they know about the Wonderland murders.
Holmes is placed by Detectives Nico and Cruz at a safehouse at the Biltmore Hotel as part of a deal with Billy Ward to cooperate with their investigation. Holmes demands that Dawn join him as well as his estranged nurse wife Sharon (Lisa Kudrow) whom is contacted and allowed to stay in the safehouse.
Holmes tells Ward, Nico and Cruz a slightly different version of the events of the robbery. In this version (another extended flashback), Holmes claims that while he indeed stole drugs from the Wonderland Gang, he felt threatened by them and they forced him against his will to plan the robbery of Eddie Nash's house. And on the following day after the robbery, when Homes drove to the answering service in Santa Monica to pick up his phone messages and mail, he claims that someone hiding in the back steat of his car put a gun to his head and forced him to drive to Eddie Nash's house where Nash confronted him about the robbery and that the robbers mentioned his name during the robbery. With Nash pointing a gun to Holmes head and aquring Holmes' black address book, he threatened to kill Holmes, as well as threatened to kill Holmes' mother in Ohio, his older sister in Montana, as well as his two older brothers, his younger half-brother David Bowman, plus Holmes estranged wife Sharon, and teenage mistress Dawn. Holmes caved in and was forced to name the Wonderland Gang as the perps who robbed Nash who then responds by telling Homes: "now you are going to do to those people on Wonderland what you did to me!"
Holmes then admits to driving Nash's bodyguard Diles and three other heavies to the Wonderland house on the early morning hours of July 1 and buzzed the intercom to the house where he asked Ron to let him in (with Diles holding a gun to Holmes head the whole time). Holmes then suddenly stops his story and refuses to tell anymore except that he just walked away after letting the gang inside the house and did not see anything.
Both Nico and Cruz have conflicting responses to the case. While Ward and Cruz belive that Holmes is telling the truth, Nico belives Lind's story and that Homes partook in the killings himself for a left-handed handprint was found at the scene of the crime on the baseboard in the bed where Ron was murdered. Yet all of the officers are unsure who is really telling them everything; Lind, a biker and crimminal with a heroin addiction and whom has a grudge against Holmes since his girlfriend was one of the victims; or Holmes, a porn actor with a cocaine addiction and whom is known in the social circles as a sociopath and a patholoical liar.
Holmes wife, Sharon, does not tell the police that (in another flashback sequence) that on the morning of July 1, a few hours after the murders took place, she was awoken at around 4:00 am by Holmes who arrived at her house, with his clothing splattered in blood. After helping him clean himself off and dispose of the bloody clothes, Holmes confided in Sharon that he witnessed a quadruple murder involving the robbery of Eddie Nash that he masterminded the previous day. Sharon allows him to take some spare clothes for himself and he sees himself off. After returning to Dawn's motel room where he goes to sleep, Holmes cries "blood! blood! so... so much blood..." in his sleep. Dawn is aware that something terrible happened, but does not say anything to him or anyone else.
About a week later, with little evidence to hold Holmes on and due to his lack of cooperation, Nico and Cruz release Holmes from house arrest but tell him that they will be contacting him soon again. Holmes tells Dawn and Sharon that they need to run because he suspects the police think he did the murders, and worst still, Eddie Nash might be comming after him too in order to make sure Holmes never talks about what really happened that night. Sharon refuses to leave town with them, but instead gives Holmes and Dawn some money and sees them on their way.
What really happened (July 1, 1981)....
The retaliation for the robbery is swift and fatal. At around 2:00 am on July 1, 1981, a small group of Nash's henchmen (including Holmes) led by Diles gain access to the house at Wonderland Avenue where Holmes (with a pistol to his head as he described) buzzes the intercom and asks Ron to let him in. Immediately, the gang attacks the people in the house, while Diles forces Holmes to watch the massacre. Ron Launius, Billy Deverell, Barbara Richardson, and Joy Miller are all brutally beaten to death with striated lead pipes with their blood and brain matter splattering all over the rooms where they are killed. Holmes is compelled by Diles to deliver blows to Ron Launius. Susan Launius is beaten but not killed. She survives and is questioned by Nico and Cruz in her hospital bed. She tells them (in a near comatose state) that she does not remember anything... only "shadows". (She wakes up during the attacks in her darkened bedroom to see two or three silhouette figures running into the room and immediately bashing her on the head several times with blunt objects. She is left for dead). Lind is not present during the attacks.
The final scene has Holmes waking up from a nightmare of a flashback to the murders. He tells Dawn that the need to continue driving on since they pulled their car over for the night. Dawn suggests driving to her hometown in Florida and Holmes agrees while he turns on the radio to listen to Gordon Lightfoot's popular song "If You Could Read My Mind". Holmes starts up the car and speeds away into the light of dawn away from L.A. and to an unknown future.
A disclaimer in the final shot reveals what happened to the characters involved:
David Lind testified against Holmes during his 1982 murder trial for the Wonderland murders, but could not offer any more evidence other than he had partook in the robbery of Nash's house. He died from a heroin overdose in 1995.
John Holmes fled to Florida with Dawn where she later turned him in to the police. He was returned to Los Angeles where he was tried and aquitted in June 1982 of the four murders on Wonderland Avenue. He resumed his career in the porn industry shortly therafter. He died from AIDS in 1988.
Dawn Schiller turned Holmes into the police in Florida after he beat and abused her where she left the country with her father where they lived in Thailand. She never saw Holmes again. She came back to the USA a few years after Holmes' death.
Homes estranged wife, Sharon, was never called to testify against her husband during his 1982 murder trial. It was after his death that she came forward to reveal that Holmes visited her on the day of the killings. She divorced Holmes in early 1983 after his aquittal. She recently retired from her profession as a hospital ward nurse and has never remarried.
Susan Launius survived the attack, with serious brain damage. She testifed at Holmes murder trial, but did not identify him being at the scene. She changed her name and her whereabouts are unknown.
Eddie Nash was arrested in July 1981 after a police raid on his house uncovered several items stolen from the Wonderland house during the murders, but his trial of masterminding the killings ended with a mistrial. A second trial in 1998 resulted with a conviction for posession of stolen goods and drugs, but not murder. He was released on parole in 2001. He currently lives in Los Angeles... a free man.