Leonard Lake is arrested near San Francisco, California, ending one of the rare cases of serial killers working together. Lake and Charles Ng were responsible for a series of particularly brutal crimes against young women in California and the Pacific Northwest during the mid-1980s.
Lake was a former Marine who had served time in Vietnam. Ng, born in Hong Kong, was educated in England, and attended college in California briefly before being caught with automatic weapons that he had stolen from a military base in Hawaii and sent to Leavenworth federal prison. After his release, Ng hooked up with Lake in California and the two began a series of murders.
Ng and Lake shared a love of John Fowles’ The Collector, a book in which the protagonist kidnaps a woman solely to keep her in his possession, like the butterflies he collects as a hobby. Creating “Operation Miranda,” named after a character in the book, Ng and Lake began kidnapping young women and bringing them to a cinderblock bunker in a secluded area south of San Francisco. There, they tried to brainwash the women into becoming their willing sex slaves. They also kidnapped a young couple and their infant son in San Francisco while at their home pretending to be interested in some audiovisual equipment the couple was selling, and later killed them.
Lake, who had been arrested in 1985 for his connection to a burglary committed by Ng, ingested a cyanide capsule while in custody, and killed himself. Ng escaped to Canada, where he successfully avoided extradition for almost six years. When he was finally returned to California for trial, he utilized other delaying tactics. By the time he was finally convicted, he had gone through multiple attorneys and judges. It was one of the longest homicide prosecutions in state history and one of the costliest, at approximately $11 million dollars.
The trial itself was unorthodox. Ng persuaded the judge to let him testify in his own defense, against his attorney’s advice. He told the jury that he was Lake’s subservient partner, and denied killing anyone. The prosecution used his testimony to introduce new evidence, including cartoons drawn by Ng depicting babies being smashed, drowned, fried in a wok, and put in a microwave oven. Ng said the cartoons were meant to be funny. After a four-month trial, the jury convicted Ng and he was sentenced to death in 1999. Ng remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison.