Tragically this horrific tome turned out to be so influential that the killers named their project after the story’s victim. They called their horrific crime spree; “Operation Miranda”. Charles Ng and Leonard Lake weren’t alone in their appreciation for Fowles’ debut novel – serial killer Christopher Wilder, who killed eight women in the 1980s, was also said to have been an avid fan.
The crimes committed by Charles Ng and Leonard Lake are not for the faint of heart. Even those of us with a robust tolerance for horrific true crime stories, shudder at the thought of Ng and Lake’s actions.
In the early 1980s, the two men abducted, tortured, and murdered entire families at a remote cabin in northern California – often recording their terrible exploits on video. In efforts to create a stable of sex slaves, the duo terrorised, tortured and murdered potentially dozens of people (mostly women) in their makeshift bomb shelter in preparation of repopulating the planet after an impending nuclear holocaust.
Ng and Lake began kidnapping their victims in 1984, holding them prisoner at a remote property near Wilseyville, California. To fund the construction of a bunker the two had built to imprison their victims, Lake killed his own brother, Donald, stealing his identity and available assets. The two are known to have killed at least eleven people, though some estimate that the number is closer to thirty-five. While some victims were killed quickly, others endured days of torture and sexual abuse before being killed.
When authorities ultimately searched the Wilseyville property and the bunker they discovered a false wall, behind which was a room of barely two square metres with only a bucket and toilet paper inside. The room was also lined with a one-way mirror so someone on the outside could watch the captive within.
Leonard Lake was a devotee of hard core deviant pornography and enjoyed videotaping the victims that he and Ng had abducted as they assaulted and tortured them. One of the horrific videos that was tendered in evidence during Charles Ng’s trial, shock and stunned the courtroom when a very matter-of-fact Ng calmly told his distressed victim,
“You can cry like the rest of them, but it won’t do you any good. We’re pretty cold-hearted.”
Making a Killer
Leonard Lake’s upbringing was not ideal.
Born in San Francisco in 1945, Lake was primarily raised by his grandparents. From an early age he found an affinity for pornography when, disturbingly, his grandmother began encouraging him to take nude photographs of his sisters. As he got older he began to use these exploitative pictures to blackmail his sisters to perform sexual acts on him. Already well on his way to becoming a sexual sadist, Lake also enjoyed dissolving small animals in acid.
In his late teens, as many young people in the United States still do, Lake joined the Marines. Lake did two tours of Vietnam with the USMC, but never saw combat. He was ultimately discharged from the Corps after a psychiatric evaluation determined he suffered from a schizoid personality disorder.
It would turn out that being forcibly removed from the military was an achievement that he shared with Charles Ng.
Ng was also a Marine, though his stint in the forces was even shorter than Lake’s and he saw no overseas service. After being caught stealing weapons, Ng was sentenced to three years in Leavenworth Prison. Prior to the sentence, Ng had already met Lake via correspondence through a survivalist magazine, and upon his release he met up with his new friend to begin their murderous endeavours.
As is often the case, the most terrible crimes are revealed by the most minor.
In addition to his love of sadism and murder, Charles Ng was a compulsive thief. One afternoon in 1985, he and Lake went to a nearby hardware store to replace a broken vice that had been used to torture their victims. Ng was spotted shoplifting by one of the hardware’s employees and fled. Lake then attempted to pay for the vice, but authorities had already been called and when they arrived they found a .22 revolver with a silencer (illegal in California) in the pair’s vehicle, which had also been stolen from one of their victims.
Lake was arrested immediately, but Ng managed to slip through the net and fled to Canada, where he avoided trial for years.
When Lake was arrested, he was immediately interrogated by authorities about the gun, the stolen car, and the missing man that it had been stolen from. Recognising his dire situation, Lake asked for a glass of water and took a moment alone to write a short note. He then removed two cyanide capsules hidden in his lapel. Leonard Lake had always kept these capsules on his person, perhaps sensing an inevitable end at the hands of the law.
After writing a self-serving and cryptic suicide letter, he swallowed the cyanide capsules and died a few days later.
When puzzled authorities searched Lake’s Wilseyville property shortly thereafter, the horrific magnitude of his and Ng’s crimes quickly revealed themselves. Charles Ng was extradited to California in 1991 after, somewhat now, predictably, getting caught for shoplifting in Calgary. He avoided trial for a further eight years, making it one of the longest legal proceedings in Californian history, but was ultimately found guilty of six counts of murder and sentenced to death.
Charles Ng remains on death row in San Quentin State Prison to this day.
The crimes of these two men adhere well to Nietzsche’s assertion that man is the cruellest animal. Ng and Lake remain two of the most sadistic known serial killers in history. Details of their exploits, will, if you’d never heard of them, make you long for a time when you were blissfully unaware of the gut-churning cruelty of these two beasts.
By: R. J. Hawksworth
Photograph of serial killer Leonard Lake, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Mug shot of Charles Ng, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.