California court approves death penalty in 1980s sex slave murders

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and death sentence of one of two men involved in at least 11 notorious horrific torture murders in the mid-1980s, in which the duo hid their victims in a bunker secret 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 the murders of six men, three women and two baby boys in 1984 and 1985. He was initially charged with 13 murders – 12 in the county of Calaveras and one in San Francisco.

He and his partner in crime, Leonard Lake, committed a series of kidnappings in which they engaged in bondage and sadism ending in murder. They were initially suspected of killing up to 25 people.

“It’s one of those stories that has been passed down over time in this community,” said Calaveras County Lt. Greg Stark, whose father worked for the department at the time of the killings. “There have been wild estimates and conservative estimates, and honestly, I don’t think anyone will ever know, because of the way they dispose of the bodies.”

Ng and Lake held their victims in a secluded 2 1/2 acre fenced compound in the Sierra Nevadas about 150 miles (241 kilometers) east of San Francisco. It included a bunker with three rooms, two of which were behind a hidden door. A hidden, locked room was furnished like a cell with a bed covered with a foam mattress, a plastic bucket, and a roll of toilet paper.

Lake killed himself with a cyanide capsule after police arrested him for shoplifting in San Francisco in 1985 and questioned him before bodies were found.

The judges said in a detailed 181-page analysis of the case that Ng received a fair trial, including a change of venue from Calaveras County to Orange County due to pretrial publicity.

It was one of California’s longest and most expensive lawsuits at the time, costing millions of dollars, in part because the court said Ng had repeatedly tried to delay and disrupt his own court case. This included lengthy debates over whether he could represent himself and who his lawyers would be.

The judges also unanimously found that Ng was properly extradited after he fled to Canada, where he was arrested in Calgary, Alberta, in 1985 for shoplifting and injuring a store keeper. He fought extradition for six years before the Supreme Court of Canada ordered his return.

The men incriminated themselves with videotapes of them tormenting bound and terrified women they used as sex slaves before their murders.

Jurors saw a tape of a woman unsuccessfully pleading with men to spare her husband and baby as Ng cut her shirt and bra with a knife on camera.

Investigators also discovered piles of charred bones, blood-stained tools, shallow graves, and a 250-page diary kept by Lake.

Four law enforcement agencies spent five weeks searching the property, according to the court’s detailed description.

They found thousands of teeth and bone fragments buried throughout the property, with at least four of the dental specimens belonging to a child under the age of 3. “Several hundred” bone fragments had been burned.

Two forensic anthropologists eventually concluded that the remains belonged to at least four adults, a child and an infant. Two men were found in a shallow grave not far from the property. They had been bound, gagged and fatally shot.

Last year, Calaveras County officials exhumed additional bones and other human remains from a crypt in a cemetery where they had been kept since Ng’s conviction, in the hope that modern DNA tracing could reveal their identity.

A sheriff’s chaplain read a brief invocation, and soon California Department of Justice criminalists and two forensic anthropologists began sorting and analyzing the remains.

They’re initially hoping there’s enough viable DNA left for a comparison, Stark said, but the Justice Department hasn’t been able to do the comparisons yet in part because of more pressing active cases.

Investigators plan to match the DNA to that of close relatives of known victims and run it through DNA databases in hopes of a match.

“It doesn’t matter if there are 11 (killings) or more than 11, we hope to categorize the remains and if possible return them to the families to give them due respect and internment,” Stark said. “If we find any additional identifications, we will certainly review them and their connection to the case.”

Ng joined the Marine Corps after arriving in the United States from Hong Kong. Previously, he had been imprisoned in Leavenworth, Kansas, for stealing weapons while serving in the Marine Corps.

He and his defense attorneys argued that he was under the influence of Lake, an older man and survivalist who they believe engineered the serial murders. Ng denied having participated in numerous crimes.

His lawyers argued at the time that Ng had been trained 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 further federal appeals.

ABC News

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