Warning: This story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers
The California Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and death penalty for one of two men involved in at least 11 notorious horrific tortures in the mid-1980s in which the duo hid their victims in a secret bunker in the woods. of Northern California.
Thirty-seven years later, authorities are still trying to identify the remains of some of their victims.
Charles Ng, now 61, was convicted in 1999 of killing six men, three women and two baby boys in 1984 and 1985. He was initially charged with 13 murders – 12 in Calaveras County and one in San Francisco.
He and his criminal partner, Leonard Lake, committed a series of kidnappings involving slavery and sadism that ended in murder. They were initially suspected of killing up to 25 people.
“This is one of those stories that has been passed down in this community over time,” said Calaveras County Lieutenant Greg Stark, whose father was working in the department at the time of the murders. “There have been wild estimates and there have been conservative estimates, and frankly I don’t think anyone will ever know, because of the way they disposed of the bodies.”
Ng and Lake held their victims in a remote fenced area in the Sierra Nevada, about 150 miles east of San Francisco. It included a bunker with three rooms, two of which were behind a hidden doorway. A hidden, locked room was arranged as a cell with a bed covered with a foam pillow, a plastic bucket and a roll of toilet paper.
Lake committed suicide with a cyanide capsule after police arrested him for shoplifting in San Francisco in 1985 and questioned him before any bodies were found.
In a detailed 181-page analysis of the case, the judges said Ng was given a fair trial, including a change of location from Calaveras County to Orange County due to publicity ahead of the trial.
Fled to Canada, trapped in Calgary
It was one of the longest and costliest lawsuits in California at the time, costing millions of dollars, in part because the court said Ng repeatedly tried to delay and disrupt his own trial. That included extensive debates about whether he could represent himself and who his lawyers would be.
The judges also unanimously concluded that Ng had been properly extradited after he fled to Canada, where he was arrested in Calgary in 1985 for shoplifting and injuring a store security guard. He fought his extradition for six years before the Supreme Court of Canada ordered his return.
The men accused themselves of torturing tethered, terrified women on videotapes whom they used as sex slaves for their murders.
Jurors were shown a tape of a woman begging in vain for the men to spare her husband and baby while Ng cut off her shirt and bra with a knife in front of the camera.
Researchers also discovered piles of charred bones, blood-stained tools, shallow graves and a 250-page journal kept by Lake.
According to the court’s detailed description, four law enforcement agencies searched the property for five weeks.
They found thousands of buried teeth and bone fragments throughout the property, with at least four of the dental specimens belonging to a child under the age of 3. “Many hundreds” of bone fragments were burned.
Two forensic anthropologists eventually concluded that the remains belonged to at least four adults, one child and one baby. Two men were found in a shallow grave not far from the property. They had been tied up, gagged and fatally shot.
Officials in Calaveras County last year unearthed additional bones and other human remains from a crypt in a cemetery where they had been kept since Ng’s conviction, in hopes that modern DNA tracing could reveal their identities.
A sheriff’s chaplain read a brief invocation, and soon California Department of Justice criminals and two forensic anthropologists began sorting and analyzing the remains.
Researchers still at work
They initially hope there’s enough viable DNA left for a comparison, Stark said, but the Justice Department has yet to conduct the comparisons, in part because of more urgent active cases.
Researchers plan to compare the DNA with that of cooperating relatives of known victims, and run it through DNA databases in the hope of a comparison.
“Regardless of whether there are 11 (slaughters) or more than 11, we hope to categorize the remains and if possible return them to the families to give them their respect and internment,” Stark said. “If we find additional identifications, we will certainly investigate them and their connection to the case.”
Ng joined the Marine Corps after coming to the United States from Hong Kong. He was previously imprisoned in Leavenworth, Kansas, for weapons theft while serving with the Marine Corps.
He and his lawyers claimed he was under the influence of Lake, an elderly man and survivalist who they believe had engineered the serial murders. Ng denied participating in many of the crimes.
His lawyers at the time argued that Ng was formed as a child, when he was beaten by his father.
Governor Gavin Newsom has imposed a moratorium on the death penalty while he is governor, and Ng still has the option of other federal appeals.