August 23, 1970
The young patrolman stepped over the yellow tape and walked toward the front door of the Saxon castle off Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills. He couldn’t count the times he had driven past the place with the hope of somehow catching a glimpse of the owners. Of her. He was beginning to feel sick.
The Code 2 had come in as he was finishing his shift. He was off-duty now, still in uniform, but no one knew he didn’t belong there. To anyone on the scene he was just another cop trying to make some sense of it all.
He squeezed past two detectives he recognized from the Homicide Division. They were arguing about something, but he didn’t stop to listen.
He spoke briefly with a coroner’s assistant, then followed him through the four-story foyer and down the main hallway. They stopped just before the entry to the great room. He looked in and saw two bloodied bodies, both female, sprawled on the floor. Neither one was her.
The coroner’s assistant opened the door to what the young patrolman thought would be a guest closet or pantry. He was surprised to see an enclosed staircase spiraling downward. They went down the stairs.
The walls were finished in dark, rough-cut stone, and every five or six feet was an iron sconce fashioned with a flickering, flame-shaped bulb. Their shoes made gritty clicks on the stone steps that seemed to have no end. When they finally reached the bottom the air was cool and smelled strangely sweet.
Before them was a large vaulted chamber, reminiscent of the great hall in The Adventures of King Arthur, the first movie Anne Stratford and William Drew had made together. The one where the real-life romance had begun. Large tapestries embroidered with colorful coats of arms hung from the chamber’s sixteen-foot walls. Between the tapestries, at different heights, were various types of medieval armament--maces, morning stars, daggers, swords, shields, flails, battle-axes, and crossbows. To the left stood a U-shaped bar constructed from dark oak.
The young patrolman followed the coroner’s assistant across the room and down a small corridor that hadn’t been visible from the base of the spiral steps. Like the walls of the staircase, the corridor was finished in stone and bore the same iron sconces. At the other end was a small room beneath what the young patrolman guessed was the kitchen. This room was paneled in oak and had a much lower ceiling than the great hall. Several detectives were standing around a billiard table under the muted light of a long Tiffany lamp. The young patrolman saw them look up and move aside as he approached.
An adult male, clad only in blue satin pajama bottoms, was stretched out on top of the eight-foot billiard table. The ankles and forearms were lashed to the corner pockets with nylon cord. The body had been positioned so that the shoulders were against the top of the end rail. All that remained of the man’s neck was a bloody stump. The head was nowhere in sight.
One of the detectives pointed toward a long-handled weapon on the floor near a suit of armor. The crescent-shaped blade was besmeared with blood. The young patrolman walked over and knelt down for a closer look.
“It’s called a halberd, in case you’re interested,” he heard one detective say. “Nasty weapon, isn’t it?”
“Sure as hell was effective,” said another.
The young patrolman rose and turned to the suit of armor. The breastplate and cuisses were streaked with blood, and at the toe of each sabaton was a small red pool. He looked over his shoulder at the detectives.
One of them nodded. “It’s already been checked for prints.”
With the heel of his hand the young patrolman lifted the heavy slotted visor. He closed his eyes and turned away.
* * *
Anne Stratford had been called the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. The young patrolman had seen every one of her movies many times, but Ivanhoe was his favorite. Each time he imagined that it was himself, not William Drew, riding his armored steed up to the gallery from which the spectators looked on, and in his mind he would repeat, I am a good knight and noble, come hither to sustain with lance and sword the just and lawful quarrel of this damsel, Rebecca...to uphold the doom pronounced against her to be false and truthless... Then he would turn to Rebecca--Anne Stratford--and say, Dost thou accept of me for thy champion? I do. I do, she would reply. I do accept thee as the champion whom Heaven hath sent me. Anne Stratford would then tie her scarf to the end of his lance to wish him victory.
As the young patrolman stared down at the nude body on the floor in the master bedroom he found it hard to believe that he was looking at a human being, let alone her. Something, perhaps the black-handled cook’s knife embedded in her side, had been used to peel the flesh from her back and both legs, exposing bloody muscles and tendons. The skin had been spread out on a full-length mink coat that was draped across the bed. On the wall, above the body, was an X drawn in the victim’s blood.
The young patrolman sat down and wept.
* * *
The nanny, still trembling and clutching the baby, was downstairs recounting her story for yet another detective. She had been awakened by the horrible screams, and then heard the sounds of a frantic struggle. Her first thought was of the baby and she had rushed to the nursery. Before she had time to get to him she heard them coming. She hid in the nursery room closet and watched through the louvered door. A woman came in and walked over to the crib, standing there with the long knife upraised. The nanny had thought about leaving the safety of the closet and attacking her, but before she could act, the woman put down the knife and lifted the baby from the crib. She kissed him and held him for a moment before gently laying him down again. She then picked up her knife and left the room.
The nanny told the detective she could identify the woman. Positively.
* * *
news item: September 28, 1970
A nationwide search is underway for Sylvia Webster, a radical environmentalist known as “Mother Earth,” and her ragtag band of hippie followers who have fled “The Haven,” a commune they shared in the Simi Hills northwest of Canoga Park. Mother Earth and several members of her “Family” are suspects in the brutal murders last month of movie stars Anne Stratford and William Drew, and their three houseguests. Stratford and Drew were slain less than two weeks after announcing their plans to build “Hollyworld,” a movie theme park to be located northeast of Glendale.
* * *
news item: January 20, 1972
After the longest, most expensive, and likely most spectacular trial in California history, Sylvia Webster, known as “Mother Earth,” and six members of her “Family” were sentenced to death for five gruesome slayings, including those of film stars Anne Stratford and William Drew.