Leonard Lake and Charles Ng looked harmless enough when they were caught shoplifting at a lumber store in San Francisco. Ng fled the scene, but when police questioned Lake at the precinct, he identified Charles Ng as his accomplice – and then swallowed two cyanide capsules he had taped to his lapel. The police were stunned by Lake’s abrupt suicide. But the .22 caliber pistol and silencer they found in his car indicated far more than a simple shoplifting, and when the registered owner of the car turned up on a list of missing persons, the investigation exploded.
A power bill found in the car led detectives to Lake’s cabin in Calaveras County, a remote wooded area 120 miles from San Francisco. A search of the house turned up the personal belongings of a number of missing persons. Two human bones were found in the yard, triggering a massive excavation of the entire property. After weeks of excavation, investigators had uncovered a veritable killing field in Calaveras County. Forty pounds of human bones, as well as five intact bodies, were eventually pulled out of the rocky ground. Videotapes of two female victims and Leonard Lake’s handwritten diary attested to the bizarre fetish he shared with Charles Ng: kidnapping, sexual enslavement, and murder. Next to the house, a windowless cinder block bunker contained a cell where Lake and Ng had imprisoned their victims.
The FBI launched a massive manhunt for fugitive Charles Ng. Ng was captured in Canada, ironically, on a shoplifting charge. He managed to delay his trial for fourteen years by claiming his attorneys were too incompetent to defend him. Despite his best legal maneuverings, Ng finally faced the jury in September, 1998. His defense was simply that Leonard Lake did all the killing; Ng merely assisted in the kidnappings. Prosecutor Peter Smith alleged Ng was a willing participant who helped Lake kill seven men, three women, and two babies during their joint murder spree. The jury agreed with Smith, convicting Charles Ng in June, 1999 of murdering eleven people. He now sits on California’s Death Row.