On the evening of October 19, 1970, two pigs noticed thick smoke in the Soquel hills of santa cruz california around 8:10 P.M. so they called the Live Oak Fire Department. Those who responded went to 999 Rodeo Gulch Road, where a fire raced through the upscale home of eye surgeon Victor M. Ohta. The first arriving firefighters spotted a red Rolls Royce and a gold and black Lincoln Continental parked across the front and rear driveways, locked and blocking their way. They could see that the mansion's roof was already ablaze, so they smashed the Lincoln 's window to move the car.
It soon became clear from the number of separate points of origin, that this fire had been an act of arson.There was no sign of the inhabitants, so they assumed that when the fire started no one had been home..
Hoping to use the lagoon-shaped, in-ground pool as additional water source, Chief Ted Pound went looking for a fire hydrant that he knew had been specially installed in the yard for that purpose. It appeared to be hidden within the oriental shrubbery, so he got out a flashlight to search around for it. His beam cut through the night air over the dark water and illuminated the face of a young boy floating in the pool.
Clearly he was dead. Perhaps he'd been burned and had run outside to douse himself, but had died in the process. The chief stepped closer and thought he saw more dark shapes in the water. His gut told him this crime scene was no mere arson
According to the reports the next day in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Pound sealed off the area, called for assistance, and they soon located five bodies. One had been floating, a news photographer reported, while the others lay at the bottom near one end of the pool. There was blood on the deck at the edge of the pool and a five-inch stream of blood across the water. All of the victims were incongruously bound and blindfolded with colorful silk scarves.
When the police and firefighters pulled the victims out of the water, they were quickly identified by those acquainted with them. Among the dead were homeowner Victor Ohta, 46; his wife, Virginia, 43; his two sons, Derrick, 12, and Taggert, 11; and his secretary, Dorothy Cadwallader, 38. Each person, it turned out, had been shot from behind with a small caliber gun. Yet no shell casings were found around the area. The bodies were quickly removed
Sheriff-coroner Doug James had determined that the victims' hands had been bound with scarves found in the home, and Mrs. Ohta had been gagged with one as well. The autopsy reports indicated that Dr. Ohta had been shot twice in the back and once under the arm with a .38-caliber pistol, while each of the others had suffered a single wound to the back of the neck. Another gun, a .22, had been used on them. There was evidence from water present in the lungs that some of the victims might still have been alive when pushed into the pool and had then drowned. In a news conference, the sheriff indicated that there was likely more than one perpetrator. He believed the killers had set the fire to attract attention to the murders.
Hoping they did not have a Tate-LaBianca type of assault here, the police searched for scrawled messages and told reporters they had found nothing of the kind. They also found no evidence of burglary, but until they consulted with relatives of the slain, they could not be certain of that. When pressed as to whether they had found any messages, Sheriff Doug James simply said, "No comment." He did issue an appeal to anyone who had seen anything on Rodeo Gulch Road that day or who knew anything about the victims' movements on that afternoon to contact his office.
It soon came to light that Virginia Ohta's dark green 1968 Oldsmobile station wagon was missing. An all-points alert had been sent out to patrol officers to be on the lookout for it, but it was clear that the thief-murderer had quite a head start.
Investigators looked around for likely suspects. Santa Cruz was not far from the hippie capital, Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, from where Manson had drawn his motley crew. In addition to that, it was an oceanfront beach town that attracted a range of people, including unsavory types. By the next day, county officials were debating over offering a reward of $25,000 for information about the perpetrator of this crime. But then things happened fast.
late on Tuesday afternoon, Virginia Ohta's car turned up. A slow-moving switch engine had smashed into it around 4:45 inside the Rincon tunnel of the Southern Pacific Railroad, near Henry Cowell State Park Whoever had stolen it had driven it about 150 feet into the tunnel, set fire to the seats, and then fled. The damaged car was empty but the motor was still warm, an indication that the car thieves were not far away.
A note that had been found on Dr. Ohta's car. said:
Halloween . . . 1970
today world war 3 will begin as brought to you by the people of the free universe. From this day forward any one and ?/or company of persons who misuses the natural environment or destroys same will suffer the penalty of death by the people of the free universe.
I and my comrades from this day forth will fight until death or freedom, against anything or anyone who does not support natural life on this planet, materialisum must die or man-kind will.
KNIGHT OF WANDS
KNIGHT OF CUPS
KNIGHT OF PENTICLES
KNIGHT OF SWORDS
Eventually some local "hippies" gave a name to the pigs.
John Linley Frazier, 24, a.k.a. John Linley Pascal,he lived in a shack downhill and not far from the Ohta property. His mother, Pat Pascal, a rabbit breeder, owned the property and rented out some of the dilapidated buildings there to college students and hippies. Frazier was a vegetarian who collected guns and did drugs, and whose personality seemed to have changed in recent weeks. The informants described him as having long blondish hair, a full beard, a short stature, and a medium build.
The last known sighting of Frazier had been on October 14, walking away from the Ohta property. At that time he'd been wearing a beige straw hat with red, white, and blue hatband, dark trousers and a green coat. He also had on moccasins, though he often went barefoot.
On Thursday morning, the police went looking for Frazier at his shack off Cornwell Road. They found that he had rigged a cable-and-plank drawbridge over a steep ravine, to make it difficult for anyone to visit. He was not at home. While the outside of the six-by-six-foot shack looked decrepit, inside was carpeted, clean and more presentable. It was a bare half mile from the Ohta residence.
Posting men to wait (two pigs waited there for 20 hours), they had the suspect in custody by dawn on Friday, October 25. Apparently he had slipped past them during the night and gone inside to sleep. As the sun came up, they went in and found him in bed. He did not resist arrest (although a San Jose reporter wrote erroneously that a gun battle had ensued, with more than a dozen shots fired), and his only words upon being taken into custody were to ask for a glass of water.
John Linley Frazier was arraigned before Municipal Court Judge Donald O. May on October 25 on five counts of murder. He stood with his hands tightly jammed into his denim coveralls, clearly agitated. On Frazier's behalf, Deputy Public Defender James Jackson, of Britton and Jackson Law Firm, entered a plea of not guilty, and looked into getting a psychiatric assessment.
The police had lifted fingerprints from the Rolls Royce and from a beer can still intact in the incinerated house, and they were able to match those to Frazier. They also said they had his fingerprints on a typewriter inside the home. He was the only person against whom they did have proof, and the local paper printed a statement to the effect that the reports of three young, long-haired people being in the green car had proven to be false. Yet that reporter also pointed out that the police had not explained the mystery of the three sets of footprints leading from the train tunnel to the river.
A check on the boys' schools revealed that Mrs. Ohta had not picked them up as usual on October 19 and the schools had called Dr. Ohta. He and Mrs. Cadwallader had left his office at different times to retrieve the boys from their respective schools. That meant they had arrived at the family home at different times. The lone gunman theory was beginning to make more sense, especially if Mrs. Ohta had been alone at home when the killer arrived. With a gun, he could have subdued one person, and then two at a time.
A close friend of Frazier's, who remained anonymous, told reporters that he "seemed like the last person who would do something like that. He must have played at two different lives." He talked about Frazier as a reliable auto mechanic and a family man with a wife and 5-year-old child, but said that he'd lately adopted a hippie lifestyle and sometimes talked in ways that made no sense. "All of a sudden he seemed like just another wired-up hippie." He wore a strange symbol around his neck on a chain and often went without shoes and even without a last name. He wanted to be left alone.
Reporters fanned out to ask former school chums about the alleged killer and heard conflicting reports, from "never a problem" to "rebellious" to "tough guy."
Frazier's estranged wife, Dolores, who lived in the area, offered some information to police about his movements during the days before the crime. She had helped him clean out his shack on Saturday night and he had spent that night with her, leaving on Sunday afternoon with a loaded pistol, a pair of binoculars, and an orange backpack loaded with supplies. He'd left behind his driver's license and a book on his favorite subject, the Tarot, saying he would not need them any longer. Dolores also told authorities that the stolen green car had been left in an area where Frazier often went to swim and hike. DA Chang quickly enlisted her assistance for his case.
The Catalyst continued to receive bomb threats, with notes to the effect that "the only good hippies are dead hippies," so the three men who had given the police the critical information about Frazier issued a statement in the Sentinel in which they expressed the sentiments of the "hip" community. "We are all citizens of Santa Cruz County, and we are all concerned about what happened here this week, and what might happen if hatred and hostility continue to grow between straights and longhairs - it is foolishness to mistrust each other now."
High-intensity lights were installed around the sheriff's office to protect the prisoner from vigilantes, and the police maintained strict surveillance. The community tensions were palpable.
Although the authorities were sure they finally had their man, they were puzzled as to why Frazier would have acted as he had. From reports offered by his acquaintances, he clearly had planned the murders and had targeted October 19 as the date when "big things would be happening." What was that about? Why that date? Why such blatant slaughter? They tossed around theories, but no one was certain.
In the meantime, as court dates approached, mental health experts were already at work to unlock the secrets of this apparently deranged killer.
On October 26, one week after the murders, Frazier's court-appointed attorney, James Jackson, announced that Frazier was not sane, and that his act may have come as the result of head injuries he had received in an auto accident six months earlier. Jackson had been in contact with a psychologist, Dr. David Marlowe, for the purpose of assessment, and Marlowe had seen Frazier on four separate occasions. He reported that Frazier did not think or act normally.
Without commenting on whether this might be due to taking drugs, Jackson said he would hold a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in reserve. However, he would begin his defense with an innocent plea, based strictly on the facts. He believed that Peter Chang had a shaky case and he claimed that Frazier denied being involved in the murders. At the moment, an insanity defense was not in Frazier's best interests.
Jackson told reporters that he had learned that on Sunday, private investigators hired by his firm had turned up evidence that raised several questions. In a shed near where Frazier had lived they found an orange backpack loaded with supplies and a .45-caliber pistol. This was not the weapon that had been used to shoot the victims. In addition, the original statement made by the DA's office that they had found Frazier's fingerprints on a typewriter in the Ohta home was unfounded and no evidence had turned up in Mrs. Ohta's stolen car that incriminated his client. As far as he could see, the prosecutors did not have much to go on.
Nevertheless, Chang intended to go to the grand jury Tuesday to get an indictment. He said he had as many as 25 witnesses, but he ran into a glitch when Dolores Frazier balked at testifying against her estranged husband.
Frazier was brought in for his preliminary hearing, which was continued for two days to give the grand jury time to consider the case. Chang went ahead without Mrs. Frazier.
Dolores was escorted to court by the defense's private investigator, to sit in the spectators section. Frazier turned to smile at her. She returned his smile. He seemed to reporters to be relaxed, contrary to his previous demeanor in court. At one point he called out to his wife and said, "It's all right, baby."
Jackson asked for bail; the judge denied it and ordered Frazier to remain in the county jail. On October 28, the grand jury returned a true bill, indicting Frazier on five counts of murder. The next day he entered his plea of innocent. The judge imposed a gag order to prevent information from leaking to the media. A trial date was set for January 25, 1971. That proved to be highly optimistic.
On January 9 in jail, Frazier slashed his arm with a razor and was taken to hospital for stitches. Ten days later, Jackson announced that he would modify Frazier's plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge appointed two psychiatrists to provide a sanity assessment for the court, and the trial date was postponed.
Jackson petitioned for a change in venue, even as the county worried about the costs of the trial in light of what was going on in L.A. with the Manson gang. The judge ordered the proceedings to take place closer to San Francisco, in Redwood City.
Judge Charles Franich presided over the trial, which began in October 1971, with a four-man and eight-woman jury. Due to the gag order, and the lack of newspaper documentation during this time, the records are sporadic. What follows are the highlights, as described in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
The prosecutors made their case with witnesses who knew Frazier, with documentation about the Ohtas. For example, Frazier had told someone that he'd been inside the Ohta home and had taken some binoculars. One of the Ohta daughters testified that a pair of binoculars was missing from the home. There was also physical evidence that tied Frazier to the crime scene. Besides the fingerprints in the stolen car and on a beer can, they had an expert testify that a metallic substance found on Frazier's knife was consistent with the wire cords that had been cut inside the Ohta home.
Four weeks into the trial, jurors were taken by bus to visit the partially reconstructed Ohta residence (where bloodstains were still present), the place where the train had hit the abandoned car, and the drawbridge and shack where Frazier had been apprehended. He followed the jury under heavy armed guard, and at one point near his former home, he stopped to play with a puppy. Then he suddenly kicked at a rusty car.
During the last days of November, the jury convicted Frazier of the five murders. Then came a second phase, in which Frazier's sanity became an issue. Dr. David Marlowe offered testimony for the defense. He had spoken with Frazier 35 to 40 times over the past year, and had heard three different versions of what Frazier claimed he had been doing on October 19. In late November 1970, Frazier apparently told Marlowe how the murders had been done. It was all right to state this in court, since they were attempting to show that Frazier had been psychotic at the time of the offense.
Apparently, "voices from God" had commanded him to "seek vengeance on those who rape the environment." That afternoon, he went to the Ohta residence and found only Virginia Ohta at home. He had a .38 revolver, which he held on her as he used scarves that he found in the home to tie her hands together at the wrists. He told her she was evil. Looking around, he found a .22 pistol. As Mrs. Ohta remained bound, Frazier waited for the rest of the family to return. He was quite upset to see animal skins inside the home—a terrible violation of nature. He planned to kill each person who arrived.
Then Dorothy Cadwallader drove up, bringing home Taggert. They walked right into a trap, and Frazier soon had them tied up as well. It wasn't long before Victor Ohta brought home his other son, Derrick, from school. They, too, fell victim. (Had they all arrived at once, Frazier probably could not have carried out his plan.)
Frazier took them outside to the edge of the pool (or he took Ohta outside and then later brought the others), where he said he lectured Ohta about materialism and how it had a negative effect on the environment. He accused Ohta of ruining the Santa Cruz Mountains. He reported that Ohta began to argue with him and to bribe him with material goods. Annoyed, Frazier suggested they burn down the house together with everything inside. Ohta grew angry and began to argue, so to shut him up, Frazier shoved him, still bound, into the pool. As the man tried to get out of the water, Frazier shot him three times.
The others were horrified. He asked each one of they believed in God and they said yes, so he told them they had nothing to be afraid of. He walked behind each of his helpless victims and shot them at the base of the neck, killing the two women first, and then the two boys. (In another version, he brought the women out separately and killed them outside. Then he went inside to kill the boys and carried them out to the pool. He also said that he'd arrived that day with three other people, and also that he'd met up with two other people later. It's difficult to know the full truth about the events that evening.)
No matter how he ended up shooting them, Frazier pushed or dropped each victim into the pool. Then he went into the house to type the note that he left on Ohta's car. Afterward, he went about setting fires around the mansion and fled in the green Oldsmobile.
Marlowe ended his account by saying that Frazier's stories were mostly disjointed and that he was insane and dangerous. He had gross disturbances in his thoughts and feelings. He also had visual and auditory hallucinations, with excessive religiosity, as seen by his underlining in a Bible he carried. Frazier considered himself John from the Bible, to whom the Book of Revelations was addressed, and he had developed a complex system of beliefs based in occult number systems, astrology, reincarnation, and themes of immortality.
On cross-examination, Chang suggested that Frazier had hoodwinked Marlowe with his delusions, indicating that it was all a lie. Marlowe said that evasion was more his style than outright lying. He did not budge from his diagnosis.
Donald T. Lunde was one of three forensic psychiatrists who testified (referred to in the newspaper as alienists). He had visited Frazier on November 17, 1970, and then had interviewed Frazier's wife, relatives and friends. He contended that Frazier was a paranoid schizophrenic who at the time of the murders was incapable of knowing that what he was doing was wrong. Frazier had told him, Lunde testified, that he was a special agent sent from God to save the earth. His wife had heard these delusions as well during the summers of 1969 and 1970. Apparently he had grown increasingly more paranoid until he finally broke away from her and their child to go live in the woods. He trusted no one. Under his delusional system, Lunde said, the killing of certain people was necessary and thus not wrong.
"He's crazy," Lunde had stated in court. He then amended that to, "He is unable to appreciate society's standards."
On December 3, Frazier arrived with half of his head and face shaved, including one eyebrow. Marlowe explained that Frazier did this so the jury would think he was faking insanity and would find him sane and send him to the gas chamber. He did not want to end up at a mental institution—a "fascist head factory." Marlowe said this was another indication of how distorted his thinking was.
Chang had his own expert testify as well, who had interviewed Frazier for two hours. During the second week of December, psychiatrist John Peschau from Agnews State Hospital said that Frazier suffered from a personality disorder, not psychosis. He was a sociopath, not schizophrenic, and he did appreciate what he had done and that it was wrong. Thus, he was not legally insane. Not only that, he would not learn from what he had done and was therefore a danger to society.
"I considered him intolerant, crafty, and arrogant," Dr. Peschau said. "He sets his own rules - he disregards the feelings of others."
On December 16, as the final phase of the trial was underway, Frazier showed up completely bald—no eyebrows, hair, mustache or beard. Then as the judge instructed the jury, he sat reading George Orwell's novel, 1984. Earlier he had been reading a book on mental disorders.
Ultimately, the jury found Frazier guilty and sentenced him to death. However, when the Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional in 1976, Frazier's sentence was commuted to life in prison at San Quentin.
Despite the jury's verdict, Lunde insists that the case of John Linley Frazier presents a clear example of a murder committed within a state of psychosis
According to Frazier's version of what happened, if Dr. Ohta had agreed to join Frazier in burning down the Ohta house, Frazier would not have killed him and his family.Frazier pushed Ohta into the pool after the doctor refused to help his captor burn down the house. When Ohta climbed out, Frazier shot him. Then one by one he brought the others out to the pool and, "after asking whether or not they believed in God," according to a prison document, "he murdered them."