Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Places

Wilseyville Ranch, Calaveras County, Calif.: Lake and Ng's House of Horrors

Leonard Lake (left) Charles Ng
Leonard Lake (left) Charles Ng

Two of California's most notorious serial killers might have continued their gruesome work undiscovered had one of them not been caught shoplifting at a Bay Area lumberyard in 1985. When the vise Leonard Lake and Charles Ng had been using in their victims' torture broke, they needed a new one. A clerk spotted Ng hiding the vise under his coat and called the police. Ng fled the scene, but Lake was arrested when police saw that he had a gun in his car, was using false license plates and had identification that seemed to belong to someone else. Lake gave up his partner's name and his own, announced that he was running from the FBI—then swallowed two cyanide capsules and passed out, dying a short time later. Eventually, Ng would be caught in Canada—when he tried to shoplift a can of soda—extradited, tried, and, in 1999, sentenced to death. Meanwhile, Lake's suspicious reaction to the incident, and the bloodstains police noticed in his trunk, led investigators to comb the rural ranch the men shared and piece together their macabre story.

The Bunker
The Bunker

Once police got started, it proved to be a straightforward, if horrifying, case to unravel. Documents in the car belonged to a number of other people—most of them missing persons, but one of them Lake's ex-wife, who led them to the cabin they had shared in Calaveras County's Sierra Nevada foothills. There could be no doubt that this house had been the site of something diabolical: the home was riddled with bullet holes and surfaces of the bedroom and living room were stained with blood. Outside there was a large incinerator, an ominous trench, a bare area that showed traces of lye, and a locked bunker that proved to be a torture chamber. Police would find more items connected to missing persons, as well as 12 bodies, along with 45 pounds of human bones; at least 25 victims met a horrific fate at this pair's hands.

Inside the torture room
Inside the torture room

Former Renaissance Faire worker Lake and Hong Kong-born Ng, both ex-Marines, met in 1981 and soon embarked on an exercise in evil centered inside the cabin. In 1982, the men were charged with stealing weapons from a military base, but this was the least of their crimes. Lake's diary, a collection of videotapes and other evidence revealed the details. A survivalist, he wanted to set up a series of bunkers where he and Ng and a group of sex slaves could repopulate the world in the event of nuclear war. His greatest fantasy, he said on videotape, was to kidnap and enslave a woman. And that they did: other tapes show soon-to-be victims performing strip teases, showering, and caressing the two men. Ng and Lake tortured, raped and killed these women. They also murdered several men either connected to the woman or whom the duo robbed, Lake's brother and an earlier partner-in-crime, and at least two children.

As one might expect, residents and horror tourists report supernatural scares at the site of this sadistic carnage.

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