The Miracle on the Beach (Synanon I grows)

The Miracle on the Beach
copyright Paul Morantz
© May 2011

The publicity from the trial brought new dope fiends, many from back east who read about the battle from their hospital beds or jail wards. Women who came with children lived in a nearby Synanon annex, the kids playing at the Synanon house after school, some male members acting as father replacements.

Not all got their wish to stay. In August of 1960, seven parolees were removed by the California State Department of Parole because Synanon had been declared an illegal operation and did not have a trained staff. The next month Lois Evans, the wife of the European prince who had been supplying dope at the house, was returned to prison for failing her naline test indicating she was still using drugs while at Synanon.

Providencia Martinez was sent back to jail for moving into Synanon instead of the location her parole officer selected. Martinez resisted and ran, and according to the police, 25 to 30 Synanites pushed, shoved and struck the officers. Reid Kimball counter claimed publicly it was “police brutality.”

All seven pulled out by the State returned to drugs. A woman, Frances, left to be with one of the seven, Ted Scofield, who came to Synanon after two years in San Quentin. Both started using again. She got pregnant and after some fixing they did the abortion themselves with a catheter. Frances got infected and was taken to the County hospital in Torrance. She was anemic when she came home over the new year’s holiday. One day she took a hot bath while Ted went out to score. He fixed in the kitchen with some friends and then bought hers into the bathroom only to find her lying under the water. When his parole was up Ted returned to Synanon, married Carol Scofield and had two children.

Also gone were Dederich’s other two board members and co-defendants. Ainlay, despite the excellent library she provided, was still seen by Dederich as too tender. Their relationship ended. A few members saddened by her departure also left. Dederich tried damage control, proclaiming she split for “reasons of health.” He said she could have been the mother figure but she could not grow with “the most promising community to ever exist in the world.” Ainlay, who had never been an addict, identified, Chuck said, with “the guest, not us.” Pratt’s departure shocked the club. Dederich explained it with great sadness. He had to send Pratt away because Synanon could not handle his epilepsy. Eventually Pratt would be a founder of a Synanon clone, Tum-est, in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t until writer Guy Endore found him six years later that Pratt stated his true reasons for leaving.

A woman who came, was pulled out by her probation officer and later returned was to eventually replace Ainlay’s role. She was Betty Coleman, a 37-year old black woman born Betty Jean Beckham in Kansas City, Missouri on August 24, 1922 and raised as a Baptist along with some African teachings by her very religious and prosperous grandparents. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was eleven and planned for her to be a school teacher. But instead at 17 she married a wealthy actors’ agent, who was also homosexual, and lived a Hollywood lifestyle complete with mansion, chauffeured limousines and parties. She became a widow by 20. At the age of 25 her second husband died. Her life was up and down like a yo-yo. She had been a domestic and she also had known wealth as a young actress. But after a third marriage ended she got hooked on drugs and used a needle for ten years, spending sporadic time in jails, Lexington and other hospitals, both voluntary and involuntary. At one time she owned a beauty salon where she styled hair by day and sold dope by night. She served as a prostitute and Madame. In Synanon, which she joined in 1959, she eventually became the First Lady and High Priestess.

Many others were pulled out of Synanon by the Los Angeles County Probation Department, but most, including Bill Crawford, after court hearings, were allowed to return.

Another significant recruit was neither addict nor a criminal, but the Reverend C. Mason Harvey, Minister of Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church and like President John F. Kennedy had been a naval commander of a surface craft during the war. Nicknamed by his parents “Dede,” which is the Chinese word for “second,” he was their second child born in China.

Dede had Synanon members speak at his church. Next he had his congregation serenade the Synanon House at Christmas. He and some of the older church members started having a weekly synanon. The board of elders responded by trying to oust him from the Ministry, what Dederich described as a “lion being devoured by Christians. Then, in demonstration against the Santa Monica verdict, Harvey, in 1961, moved himself, his wife and three children temporarily into the Synanon 2 annex on Ashland, the first square–a non-addict–to do so. In 1966 he would take a leave of absence from the Church to run the San Diego Square club. He never returned, making Synanon his permanent home.


What Dederich called the leather elbows ( all professionals, he said, with titles ending with “ologists” wore coats with elbow patches) began to flock around and sing praises. Ricky Volkman teaching and studying criminology at UCLA was first. She in turn informed her UCLA teacher, criminologist Donald Cressey, of Synanon. Dr. Cressey, who would become the first square bestowed the Synanon title Honorary Dope fiend, gave a speech on Synanon at the United Nations Congress on Crime and Delinquency in London in 1960, calling it “the most significant attempt to keep addicts off drugs that has ever been made. “ The speech inspired a visit to Synanon by sociologist Lew Yablonsky. Then came psychiatrist Daniel Casriel, who until his visit had thought heroin addiction non-treatable. Within a few months it became estimated Synanon was receiving about 500 visitors a month including doctors, lawyers and government officials. Saturday night parties were held for visitors, Bill Crawford and Arnold Ross forming up a band so jitterbuggers could dance.

The “U.S. Hang Tough” now had company on the living room wall: plaques from various Rotary and Lions clubs, celebrity photos, articles and photos of Dederich.

Nor was the case over. More donor lawyers came on board and filed an appeal. Dederich sought additional public support, announcing at a press conference he had 70 cured dope fiends. In February of 1961 celebrity entertainers planned a fund raising musical and comedy event at the Santa Monica Civic, entertainers donating their services, best seats going for $50.00, but the Department of Social Services denied a permit because Synanon was an “illegal organization.” With the aid of the ACLU, Synanon filed suit to force a city permit.

Dederich was optimistic. On March 21, 1961 he sent Chuck, Jr. a Synanon scrap book with a note, “Son, it’s just a little thing now — — but you’ll get a kick out of it in years to come.”


The appeals of the criminal convictions were all lost, the United States Supreme Court dismissing the last attempt on February 20, 1961 for want of a federal question. But the appeals bought time and in Sacramento, where Dederich appeared himself lobbying for the “Save Synanon Bill,” an idea conceived by Peggy Maddocks and Mitzi Rubin and introduced on April 13, 1961 by Nicholas Petris, a young Oakland Assemblyman. Petris’ career had economic support from a Greek millionaire who wanted to make sure politicians of Greek heritage, as one had been caught in a scandal, would by his financial aid not be susceptible to graft. Petris would go on to co-author the Lanterman-Petris-Short act establishing California’s laws for involuntary treatment of mental illness, one of the most detailed and protective legislative acts in California history. This bill, AR 2626, excused from the definition of hospital a place that housed alcoholics and addicts desiring to aid each other without treatment by drugs. Such an organization, the proposed law stated, would need a certificate from the State Board of Medical Examiners. Residents had to have medical examinations and were to register with the police when joining or leaving. At the station they were fingerprinted and mug shots were taken.

On April 14 of 1961, after a year of legal delays, Judge Baida granted Dederich an additional 90 days stay to see if the Petris bill passed. As a condition of probation Synanon had been instructed to vacate the armory or Dederich faced jail for violation. At the hearing Dederich was represented by his third volunteer lawyer in the case, former Judge, former State Senator and ex-State Attorney General, Robert Kenny.

Kenny asked the Judge to fashion lawful restrictions rather than eviction, pointing to the countless letters sent in support of Synanon. Baida acknowledged Synanon might be doing some good but added “I am not in the position to license Synanon to continue.”

Baida criticized a packed courtroom of newsmen for “over publicizing” the case and presenting only Synanon’s side and attacking unnecessarily the City of Santa Monica for enforcing its regulations. He recited that when Dederich testified at trial he never denied the details given by the witnesses regarding sexual relations in the TV room. The Judge also told the press what was bothering him:

“Synanon’s purpose might be high,but it is the reckless disregard for regulations and Dederich’s attitude towards law enforcement officials that bothers me. Apparently Dederich does not like law enforcement officials. There has been arrogance exhibited here which the court does not appreciate.”

Dederich showed no emotions as Judge Baida spoke but outside he continued to hold his own court with the press claiming 40% of the 176 who had spent at least a week in Synanon were not using and 20 were currently living outside of Synanon. He also acknowledged there had not been enough time to judge Synanon’s ultimate success. As to claims of danger, Dederich said about 80 lawmen had been through the building and were satisfied.

In their coverage the media alternately described Dederich as Synanon’s “driving force, “ the “energy and single-mindedness” keeping Synanon alive and Synanon’s own “worst enemy.” Dederich said he didn’t care what they wrote as long as they wrote.

“I’m a dedicated personality, let’s say,” he told reporters. “That’s the kind of cat I am. I find enjoyment in doing this.”

Pro-Synanon petitions circulated. And Synanon, it seemed, fit the times. The cold war fears aided people’s condemnation of traditional society that dominated the 60’s. In 1961 East Germany built a wall through Berlin to stop the growing exodus of citizens fleeing communism. People lived with fears any day the world could end in one big nuclear bang. Young adults looked for meaning. The 60’s spawned hippies, alternative lifestyles and new ways of accomplishing things were “in.” Synanon with its synanons was a vanguard of the popular encounter group movement that sought alternates to conventional therapy. It was Pre-Esalon. Humanism and ‘self-help’ movements were starting. The supporters of Synanon called it one of the most important programs ever; one that would lose its spirit and die if typical professionals were put in there to run it.

There were anti-Synanon petitions, too; many concerned of possible police problems as Synanon was importing addicts and criminals from all over the country. Others more perceptively complained that without being licensed an “unknown quantity” could be introduced into its cure.

A Santa Monica “blue ribbon” citizens committee report declared that Synanon was “not an asset to the community.” Sixty-five residents, the report stated, had known criminal records and although none had been arrested while in Synanon the report stated twenty-three ex-members had been. Narcotic arrests in the area were up 98%. Assistant police chief Charles Horn stated Synanon had created a “police problem.”

The report, however, did not stop the battle over the Petris Bill from continuing. In front of the Assembly Public Health Committee, Reid Kimball declared: “The last time I came to Sacramento it was to sell 6 ounces of pure heroin.”


On June 16, 1961, in an eleventh hour action, Santa Monica voted to oppose the bill and other opponents clamored Synanon was a communist activity. It was all to no avail. Kimball responded these people were modern day “witch hunters.” The bill passed and on June 21, 1961, just short of my 16th birthday; at a press conference in Los Angeles it was signed into law by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr., who, shaking hands with Petris and Dederich before the cameras, stated:

“Synanon may be doing more good than all the penitentiaries and the rehabilitation centers in the world.”

Dederich extended the Governor an invitation to visit Synanon which he never took up. Years later his son, Governor Jerry Brown, Jr. with his girl friend, Linda Ronstadt, walked in off the beach, entered and were entertained by the band Sounds of Synanon.


On September 22, 1961, the defendants and the media returned to court where Judge Baida dismissed the charge of operating a hospital without a license in light of the new law. But there was still the local Santa Monica zoning violation which was not affected by the legislation.

Dederich had refused to move, and since this was a criminal case, not a civil eviction matter, Judge Baida could not force anyone to move. Baida looked at the prosecutors and said they had goofed by not bringing an eviction action. He only had power to sentence Dederich, not evict. So again he told Dederich he could avoid jail if Synanon would voluntarily move.

Chuck stood up, as his idol Thoreau once had a Century ago, and said “No.” Baida then sentenced him to 30-days in the county-jail, 60 additional days being suspended if he severed his connection with Synanon Foundation.

The donor lawyers did not give up the fight. Fearing Santa Monica would follow Baida’s comments and file a civil action for eviction, they beat the city to the punch in October by filing a suit for an injunction against Santa Monica evicting Synanon claiming the zoning ordinance unconstitutional as applied since Synanon was no longer classified as a hospital or sanitarium per the Petris bill. In addition, for leverage, they had Synanon sue the Mayor of Santa Monica, Thomas M. McCarthy, for $200,000.00 for defamation as a result of his reading some trial testimony on Tom Dugan’s television show.

Adding insult to injury the California Assembly Interim Committee on Criminal Procedure chose Synanon as the place for its October meeting. Infuriated, the Santa Monica City Council voted to boycott the meeting. Dederich laughed about it to the press, claiming Santa Monica’s bureaucrats were all racists, angry at Synanon’s integration in a segregated neighborhood and members of the John Birch Society.

Dederich told the Assembly Committee ten years were needed to judge whether Synanon was successful or not. UCLA psychiatrist Bernard Brandchaft, UCLA history professor Dr. Page Smith, Dr. Casselman and Nicholas spoke on behalf of Synanon. Ephraim Ralph, who had rented the Armory to Synanon, stated the organization faithfully met its obligations and he had no problem with his 13-year old daughter having contact with the members.

The same month famed criminal lawyer Joseph Ball became Dederich’s fourth volunteer lawyer in the case and won Dederich a stay on his sentence. But the following writ filed by the fifth donor lawyer Lillian Finan to the Superior Court appellate department arguing the zoning ordinance was unconstitutional was denied by Superior Court Judge Harold P. Hulls. Dederich, now 48, reported to jail at 11:45 a.m. on the morning of November 29, 1961.


On December 1, 1961, Governor Brown received a personal appeal from Senator Petris to pardon Dederich calling the jail order outrageous and a violation of his bill. Two New Yorkers, Dr. Jacob Moreno, founder of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy, and Richard R. Korn, director of the Berkshire Farm for Boys, telegrammed Brown that the Synanon House was “the only place on earth with effective treatment of the scourge of drug addiction.” Governor Brown refused to intervene, saying, ala a famous Roman, “It’s out of my hands.”

And so Chuck Dederich went to jail where his work detail was washing cars. On December 9 the court of appeals rejected a writ application requesting he be freed. He got five days off for good behavior, serving a total of 25 days. Some weekends he was released returning on Monday. He was visited constantly by his followers, Yablonsky and his daughter Jady, then eleven. As Jady had the right to visit every day she was constantly brought by a member as an admission ticket.

Chuck’s health seemed to falter during the incarceration. He caught the worst cold of his life and coughed so hard that he ripped groin muscles and got a hernia which led to later surgery. Alone in his cell he experienced paranoia similar to his episode in Santa Barbara. His claustrophobia returned and he feared being killed in a manner resembling an accident, becoming obsessed with the idea of a bomb suddenly going off.

Reid Kimball, too, had nightmares during this time, fearing some “animal we took out of the gutter” would do something so scandalous that Synanon would not recover. He worried that enemies who hate the idea of blacks and whites of both sexes living together would smash them. He would awake shaking at the “thought of Synanon disappearing.”


When Dederich was released he returned to his Synanon family. Christmas and New Years had past but banners and parties still awaited. The martyr had come home, the non-addict who went to jail for his addicts.

A New York Post profile following his release headlined “Addict’s Friend.” It reported Dederich had “the battered face of a professional wrestler, the soul of a philosopher and the command presence of a combat general…and probably has done as much as any man to make dope addicts into ‘something else.”

The unsuccessful father now had a family of seventy-two adults and nine children that occupied three houses. They shared three Synanon vehicles and combined expenses of $5,000 a month.


While Dederich was serving time, Synanon rented a nine-room home at 4019 Speedway in Venice. As many as 40 persons were attending and participating in synanons. Local residents expressed fear a Synanon branch for addicts was being established. Despite Reid Kimball, now public relations director, announcing the Venice home was not for addicts to kick but for Wednesday weekly meeting place for doctors, lawyers, businessmen and others interested in Synanon, the meetings ended in January of 1962 and were moved back to the Synanon House when Los Angeles officials served a notice such meetings in a Venice single dwelling home were illegal.

There were other legal battles besides zoning. Hope Hogan in March of 1961 rented a one-bath house at 703 Ashland in Santa Monica to Terri Hurst and Helen Harris for $150.00 a month but when she found out it was for a Synanon annex, dubbed Synanon 2, she served eviction papers, claiming misrepresentation. Harris replied to her:

“Synanon has free doctors and free lawyers and is able to fight eviction.”

Jack Drummond, who had property across the street and liked Synanon, solved the matter by renting his property to Synanon instead. Hogan was more than relieved. By then she had received two threatening phone calls.

A Small house adjacent was obtained for females. When a female was clean for six-months she could have her children live at the club. Another residence housed several married couples and their children. Eleven kids lived at the residence.

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The media continued to promote the cause. First Time Magazine wrote a piece. Next, in March of 1962, Life Magazine, its cover story on Colonel John Glenn’s first ever man-piloted orbit into outer space, dedicated 14 pages and 23 separate photographs to Synanon, calling it “The Tunnel back into the Human Race.” The article estimated there were 45,000 drug addicts in the United States, seventy-five of which were currently clean and living in Synanon. While Dederich was quoted short of saying he had found a cure, offering caution until 12 members living outside showed they could survive adult crises, Life stated there was no question as to Synanon’s value and wrote federal narcotic officers were now exploring Synanon. The magazine told the story of 28-year old Jeanne Camano who, after a three-year career as a prostitute and squandering $109,000 on drugs with her robber boyfriend, was now clean. She had arrived at Synanon with a guitar strapped to her back in September of 1959 and her wrists bandaged from cutting them following overdoses of heroin and sleeping pills. Life covered her reuniting with her ten year old son quoting his first words upon seeing her for the first time in two years, “Mother, I love you.”


Government agencies were asked to examine Synanon’s success.

In September of 1962, Professor Yablonsky, now Synanon’s research director, and Betty Coleman, described by the media as a “stunning, shapely ex-prostitute,” gave Synanon presentations at the White House Conference on Narcotics Addiction. Yablonsky spoke about the advantage of a former addict as the therapist – he will not be “conned” by his patient. When Coleman recounted the moral support at Synanon and how it ended her nine year $25.00 a day addiction the room became quiet enough to hear a pin drop. “In jails we talked about bail and making a connection,” she said. “In Synanon we don’t talk about drugs to a newcomer.” Yablonsky, referring to the 100 at Synanon who kicked, said, “There is not another collection of people like this on the planet.” Psychiatrist David Abramsen and Daniel Casriel joined in praise. When Dederich spoke he lashed out at all the professionals who criticized Synanon.

And in Washington D. C., in the United States Congress on September 6, 1962 Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut, a member of the Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency, informed Congress:

“Drug addiction is one of the most baffling social and emotional diseases known to our society and so far, in spite of all the effort put forth, we have failed to find a cure for this terrible illness. We have failed in psychiatric treatment methods; we have failed in medical treatment methods, and we have failed to eliminate narcotics addiction through punishment to correctional efforts.

“I found a new social experiment operating on a small scale which, if followed through, studied and improved by correctional experts, psychiatrist and other social scientists, may lead the way in the future to effective treatment for not only drug addicts, but also criminals and juvenile delinquents guilty of other offenses.

“The program of which I speak, called Synanon, is operated in an abandoned armory where some 100 heroic ex- addicts, young men and women, live and work and counsel one another.

“They were considered hopeless cases of a few years ago. Today they can look forward to a life free from the ravages of drug addiction.”

Synanon, Senator Dodd said, could be operated at a low cost of $60.00 per patient a month. On the streets they stole $100.00 a day. He rose and shouted from the floor:

“Mr. President, there is indeed a miracle on the beach of Santa Monica, a man-made miracle that I feel can benefit thousands of drug addicts.”

“Synanon members, having the run of Dodd’s office, tried to see President Kennedy. But in the end Senator Dodd’s request for Federal funding for Synanon, however, was turned down.


It was around this time that I had my first experience with what Sigmund Freud called the Herd Instinct. A lot of my friends from high school days were taking LSD and urging me to give it a try. I wasn’t about to do that without knowing more about the drug. I read up on it and it seemed a little scary. The idea of hallucinating didn’t really thrill me, especially the thought of a reoccurring trip while driving on a L.A. freeway.

I heard there was a psychologist who was an expert on the drug speaking at the Santa Monica Civic. As he had great credentials, including Harvard, I bought a ticket. But when he spoke he never explained anything about the drug. Instead he chose emotional phrases to whip the crowd up. “The police do not want you to use LSD because if everyone used it there would be no need for the police.” The crowd went crazy in response. I felt like I was the only one who was thinking he is not giving answers, he is promoting and they are all buying it without reason. I may have been the only person to exit concluding I would never try the drug and probably the only one thinking that the speaker, Dr. Timothy Leary, may be one of the most dangerous men on this earth. As I watched the others happily file out with dreams of “dropping” I wondered how many lives would be irreversibly harmed by this attendance. And I wondered how many would be my friends and classmates.