Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wonderland Murders

12.5 Inches

Map of California with LA
Map of California with LA

To understand how the blue film actor wound up at the center of a quadruple murder investigation, you must first trace Holmes' meteoric rise to stardom, and his equally impressive fall from it.

More than just a murder story, this is the tale of a country bumpkin who became 'Johnny Wadd' — the preeminent phallic symbol of his day — before tacking less-enticing qualifiers onto his name, including Johnny dope fiend, crook, murder suspect, and finally, AIDS victim. 

As his biographers have found, separating fact from fiction in Holmes' life is an onerous task. Holmes was a self-aggrandizing liar who manipulated the truth without flinching, according to Rolling Stone and other publications.

He told some interviewers that he was raised by a rich aunt in New York City, and deflowered by a Swiss maid at age six. That he graduated from UCLA with degrees in physical therapy, medicine and political science, and penned a series of children's books. That he screwed three governors and two of their wives.

He told others the truth. That he was born August 8, 1944, in a backwater Ohio town, where he was raised by his devoutly Christian mother and a violent, boozy stepfather. That at age 16, he dropped out of school to join the Army and was stationed in West Germany for several years before moving to Los Angeles, where he found his true calling: making dirty movies with his monstrous penis. Even that has been disputed, with citations ranging between 12 and 13 inches; for this story, we'll stick to the midpoint.

There are also conflicting versions about how his talent was discovered. One says a skin photographer noticed it while Holmes was taking a leak at a Gardena poker club. Another says a female neighbor who was making hardcore 8 mm movie loops told him he could get rich with his gargantuan endowment and introduced him to some key players.

However it happened, he hid his true calling from his wife, Sharon Gebenini, who met Holmes in December 1964, when he was an ambulance driver and she was a nurse at County USC Hospital. The young married couple lived a cozy suburban life in Glendale for several years, until the afternoon Sharon came home early from work to find John in the bathroom, an erection in one hand, a measuring tape in the other.

By this point, Holmes had already done magazine spreads and film loops, but he still hadn't broken the news to his conventional wife.

John Holmes
John Holmes

"He told me that this was going to be his life's work, that this was going to make him famous," she later told LA Weekly. "I looked at him like, 'What planet do you come from?'"

From the moment she caught her husband measuring his manhood, there was a fundamental shift in their relationship. Although they retained the outward trappings of a normal marriage, sharing meals and household chores, Sharon never welcomed John into the conjugal bed again.

Waist-up, Holmes wasn't much to look at. He was a six-foot, one-inch beanpole, but he had a member that was twice as large as the national average and as thick around as a man's wrist — the kind of dimensions that women fantasize about, but few enjoy.

When Holmes met porn director Bob Chinn, Chinn took one look at the scrawny specimen before him and thought "yeah, right" before Holmes pulled down his pants to show him his talent. Chinn was so impressed by what he saw, according to LA Weekly, that he outlined a script for Holmes that very evening, creating the soon-to-be-renowned character of 'Johnny Wadd,' a detective who nailed more than bad guys.

Years later, when Holmes was incarcerated on murder charges, his jailers would bring in their Wadd videos for him to autograph.

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