Leonard Lake was born in San Francisco in 1945. He was a bright child, but had an obsession with pornography that stemmed from taking nude photos of his sisters, apparently with the encouragement of his mother. It was also alleged that Lake extorted sexual favors from his sisters in return for protecting them from their younger delinquent brother, Donald.

When he was 20, Lake joined the U.S. Marines and served in the Vietnam War as a radar operator. Diagnosed as mentally ill, Lake was eventually given a medical discharge and underwent psychiatric treatment. Back in civilian life he got married, but his wife divorced him when she found that he was making (and starring in) amateur pornographic movies involving bondage.

In 1980, Lake was given a year’s probation for theft. He married again, his new wife soon leaving him after she got tired of her husband’s increasingly erratic behavior and his insistence that she star in pornographic movies. Lake was arrested in 1982 for a firearms violation, but he skipped bail and settled into a remote ranch in Wilseyville, Calaveras County. He was eventually joined by Charles Ng (pronounced “Ing”), a young Hong Kong-born man whom Lake had met a few years previously.

On June 2, 1985, an Asian American man later identified as Charles Ng was seen shoplifting in San Francisco. He fled by the time police arrived, but Leonard Lake, who was with him, was arrested when his car was searched and found to contain a pistol that was illegally equipped with a silencer.

He gave his name as Robin Stapley and had a driver’s license in that name. However, the police were suspicious because, according to the driver’s license, Robin Stapley was 26, while the man they had in custody was clearly in his late thirties. While being interviewed at the police station, Lake asked for a glass of water and used it to wash down a cyanide pill that he had secretly stashed in the lapel of his shirt. He collapsed and was rushed to a hospital, where he died four days later without regaining consciousness.

By then, police had finally confirmed the true identity of their suspect as Leonard Lake. Furthermore, the man whose identity Lake had taken, Robin Stapley, had been missing for several weeks. Lake’s car was found to belong to Paul Cosner, 39, who had gone missing eight months previously in November 1984.

The police searched Lake’s ranch in Wilseyville. It was clear Lake was a survivalist, his ranch fitted with a bunker and a stash of weapons. In a diary, Lake had written how he was convinced there was going to be a global nuclear war, and he planned on surviving in his bunker and rebuilding the human race with a collection of female slaves (he named this plan “Operation Miranda” after a character in the book The Collector by John Fowles). The police also found a stash of grisly videos showing Lake and Ng torturing and raping women.

The grounds of the ranch were dug up and 12 corpses were uncovered in shallow graves. Amongst these victims were two entire families; Harvey Dubs and his wife Deborah and baby son Sean, and Lonnie Bond and Brenda O’Conner and their baby son, Lonnie Bond Jr. The women had been abused and killed after their husbands and infants were disposed of. Five of the bodies were of men lured to the ranch to be robbed and killed — including Robin Stapley and Paul Cosner — and the twelfth was identified as 18-year-old Kathleen Allen, who knew Ng because her boyfriend had once been his cellmate in prison. Police also found many charred fragments of human bones, but they were unable to determine the identity of the victims they had come from or how many there had been.

Lake’s younger brother Donald had vanished in 1983 and was presumed dead, as had Charles Gunnar, a friend of Lake’s from his military days, whose remains were discovered under the ranch in September 1992.

The authorities concluded that Lake and Ng had murdered as many as 25 people.

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