Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

CHARLES NG: CHEATING DEATH

Tracking a Killer

While Sheriff Ballard and his team were working twelve hours a day to unearth the grisly secrets of the Wilseyville compound, the FBI were gathering additional information on one of the people believed to be responsible for the carnage, Charles Chitat Ng.

Charles Ng (AP)
Charles Ng (AP)

They learned that Ng had been born in Hong Kong on December 24, 1961. The son of a wealthy businessman, he was given every opportunity life could offer but Charlie developed a rebellious streak at a young age and was expelled from several schools. Anxious for his son to change his ways, his father sent him to a boarding school in Yorkshire, England where he would be under the protection of his uncle, who was a teacher at the school. After a short time at the new school, Charles was caught stealing from other students and a local department store and was, once again, expelled.

He then returned to Hong Kong until, at the age of eighteen, he obtained a student visa to study in the U.S. and attended Notre Dame College in Belmont, California. Obviously the life of a student didn't appeal to him as he dropped out after just one semester. In October 1979, Ng was charged in relation to a hit and run accident. He was later convicted and ordered to pay damages. Shortly after, he enlisted in the Marines, even though he wasn't an American citizen, listing Bloomfield, Indiana as his place of birth.

Charles Ng in 1982 (AP)
Charles Ng in 1982 (AP)

By 1981, Ng had been promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. His military career ended shortly after, however, when he and three accomplices stole military weapons from an armoury at Kaneohe Marine Base in Hawaii. A month later, he was arrested by the Military Police and locked up. Within days of his incarceration, he escaped and made his way to California where he met up with Leonard Lake. One story suggests that the two met as a result of an ad that Lake had placed in a survivalist magazine but this information cannot be verified. Not long after, he moved in with Lake and Balasz until the FBI arrested them for weapons offences.

Following his release from Leavenworth in June 1984, Ng returned to California and moved into the Wilseyville cabin with Lake. Ng should have been deported following his release from Leavenworth but the Marine Corps was still unaware that he was not an American citizen.

Don Giuletti, Victim
Don Giuletti, Victim

The FBI estimates their kidnapping and killing spree started within a month of their reunion. In July 1984, Donald Giuletti, a San Francisco disc jockey, and his roommate, Richard Carrazza, were shot by an Asian man who broke into their apartment and robbed them. Giuletti died in the attack but Carrazza survived and would later identify Charles Ng as his attacker. The pistol used in the attack was found at the Wilseyville site.

Gradually, the FBI were successful in tracing Ng's movements after leaving San Francisco. On the day that Claralyn Balasz had driven him to the airport, he was seen boarding an American Airlines flight to Chicago. On his arrival, he booked into the Chateau Hotel under the name of Mike Kimoto before checking out four days later. He then met up with an unidentified friend and travelled to Detroit before crossing the border into Canada alone. A search of his apartment revealed a cache of weapons and property allegedly belonging to the victims as well as a pay slip from the Dennis Moving Company.

Leonard Lake at the time of his arrest (POLICE)
Leonard Lake at the
time of his arrest
(POLICE)

The FBI also compiled a dossier on Leonard Lake, who obviously hadn't had the benefit of the privileged upbringing that Ng had enjoyed. He was born in San Francisco on October 29, 1945 to parents who were constantly fighting. His birth obviously did nothing to ease their domestic conflict as he was sent to live with various relatives until, at the age of six, he found a permanent home with his grandparents. According to statements taken from his friends and relatives, Lake was never able to come to terms with his feelings of rejection and abandonment.

At the age of nineteen, Lake left home and enlisted in the Marines where he was trained as a radar operator. Following his specialist training, he was sent to Da Nang in Vietnam. According to his medical records, Lake was hospitalized during his first tour for "exhibiting incipient psychotic reactions." Obviously his superiors did not consider his condition serious as he was treated and returned to his unit to finish his tour. A second tour lasted a few short months before it was cut short when Lake was deemed to be suffering from "unspecified medical problems" and returned to El Toro Marine Base in Orange County. In all, he served seven years, earning the Vietnam Service Medal, a Vietnam Campaign Medal and two other medals for good conduct. He was later discharged on medical grounds and went to live in San Jose, California.

Shortly after his release, he entered the Oakland Veterans' Administration Hospital where he was treated for "psychological problems." Following his release, he briefly attended college at San Jose State University. Five years after his discharge, he met Claralyn Balasz at a renaissance fair in Marin County where he ran a stall, charging visitors for photographs posed with a goat that he had doctored to look like a unicorn. In 1981, Lake and Balasz were married and moved to a commune, located in Philo, Mendocino County, Northern California. While in Philo, the Lake's lived in a sprawling ranch that Leonard called "Alibi Run" where he allegedly grew marijuana. According to friends, it was about this time that Lake became delusional and converted his ranch into a "survivalist enclosure" and stocked it with weapons and supplies to ward off the "siege" that he believed was coming.

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