Love amongst the Santa Monica Wars (Betty Coleman)

Love amongst the Santa Monica Wars (Betty Coleman)

by Paul Morantz
(C) paul morantz 2011

The war raged on and Synanon was winning. Santa Monica City Attorney Robert Cockins had only a four-man staff and by 1962 it was growing weary. Synanon had become a full time job for one staff member and taking up a lot of time of the other three. On the other hand, Synanon’s donor lawyer Fred Nicholas had the support of the “Sponsors of Synanon, Inc,” of which he was president. He could draw on a reservoir of volunteer lawyers impressed by claims that 200 former addicts were living clean. And so an armistice was reached. All suits were suspended as Synanon “promised” to move to an area that would allow accommodation for 100 persons and their children. Nicholas, who was now taking over as the legal strategist, asked for four years to find a new place. Cockins gave him two.

It was a great delaying tactic thought up by Nicholas; one that enabled Cockins to get off the hook. As to the building and code violations Synanon was facing Nicholas filed an action claiming it was all harassment as the code was not being applied universally in the area.

And of course, Synanon did not move.


Synanon continued to seek to spread its influence and prove its good works. In 1961 Synanon began teaching its methods at the Federal Correctional Institution on Terminal Island, led by Jimmy the Greek.

By 1962 Synanon had given 4000 hours of free counseling at the federal prison and, but it ended in failure, Dederich blaming it on too many restrictions of its methods. The same year, headed by Charlie Hamer, Synanon moved in to a Reno state prison, the Nevada legislature providing $1,000 a month for two years to cover costs. Yablonsky declared Synanon was “building a bridge between prisoners and society.” When a New Jersey woman flying to Los Angeles to join Synanon was arrested for shooting up on the plane, donor lawyer Cavanaugh visited her in jail offering assistance.

However, in November of 1962, the community living in Synanon’s new “proposed” site for its move from Santa Monica wasn’t so impressed. Dederich wanted 21 acres owned by Mrs. Anna C. Boos near an army Nike missile base 1 and 1/ 2 miles from the beach atop Las Flores Canyon in Malibu–an area zoned for agriculture and more wealthy than Santa Monica. The selling price was $63,000 and Dederich planned to build a $500,000 complex, including apartments, dormitories and a chapel. Square architect Charlie Beckman drew up the plans. With the wealthy donors’ aid the land was in escrow pending approval of an application for a special use permit. Money and goods were increasingly coming in from all directions.

But Malibu resisted. Nicholas was not surprised but he felt at least the proposal was showing Santa Monica Synanon’s good faith re moving and was “buying time.” In February of 1963 the Malibu Chamber of Commerce and the Malibu Township Council pushed for denial of the zone variance. In March Malibu residents, restating the Santa Monica fears, gathered at the Sea Lion restaurant standing along the beach on Pacific Coast Highway. Speaking for the locals was attorney John H. Larson, hired with raised community funds. Larson, who would one day become County Council for Los Angeles County, explained Synanon could be kept out on zoning laws. William Reid, president of the Malibu Board of Realtors, stated that children in Santa Monica do not use the beach now near Synanon and the same will happen there (yet this same year my high school senior class held its farewell party on the sand behind the old Armory). At that point two uninvited guests left the meeting. “This is travesty,” retorted one, Professor Yablonsky. The other crasher, Charles Dederich, told reporters, “I just came for kicks…that meeting was really good for laughs.”

During the Malibu debates more educators and entertainers came out in support of Synanon. One, now a Dederich friend, was Richard Nixon. But the opposition was not deterred. Malibu Commerce President Anon H. Phillips argued Malibu had a first-class residential area like Bel-Air and that Synanon could effect the community’s health, safety and morale. Henry Kamminski, the Malibu Chamber of Commerce’s Vice President, quoted Synanon trial testimony about sex and said they did not want people who engage in such practices in the community. Yablonsky called the critics “no-nothings” and challenged Phillips to visit. Phillips responded that you don’t have to visit Russia to know about it and that the chamber had reviewed the Santa Monica trial transcript. Malibu Township Council President Henry Guttman quoted Judge Baida’s fears, adding:

“They have their own way of living and their own way of thinking. They feel they can do anything they want. We do not believe such an organization would be an asset to the community. ”

Yablonsky claimed 200 Malibu residents were members of Sponsors of Synanon. Phillips retaliated by producing 1,527 opposing signatures, 40% of the Malibu community. The County Medical Assn. 31 member Council sent a letter in opposition saying the nature of Synanon’s operation was completely “incompatible with residential developments,” had failed to prove its effectiveness and would attract addicts who would loiter and circulate “without restraint in the community.” Oppositions were also voiced by the Church of Antioch, the Women’s Guild of Our Lady of Malibu Church, the Malibu-Topanga Civic Assn., the Las Flores Canyon Property Assn. and the Malibu Cove Colony.

On April 3 more than 300 persons attended a formal hearing at the County Regional Planning Commission at the downtown Los Angeles Civic Center over the proposed Malibu site. The Malibu Chamber of Commerce paid for buses transporting local residents. Larson put on the opposition witnesses who stated fears that Synanon dropouts might hang around and commit crimes, children were in danger and property developments would be abandoned. Larson said Synanon was an experiment but lacks “candor” about its success. And while addicts needed help, he said, not at the expense of a residential community. Henry Kamminski, the Malibu Chamber of Commerce’s Vice President, said Synanon should locate in an urban area “where the police are close and where screams can be heard.” The Malibu American Legion Post 605 expressed concern that young soldiers from the missile base would be tempted to hang around Synanon so they could watch the drug addicts “dancing and making music.”

Nicholas, Rev. Mason, Casselman, Yablonsky and Richard T, Morris, acting Dean of the UCLA School of Social Welfare and a Malibu resident, spoke for Synanon. “It would be immoral in a very deep sense,” Morris said, “to turn our backs on these people.” Dederich added, “Fear of Synanon is based on lack of knowledge. We pose no threat of any kind. We are very well-behaved people. We have to be.” Then in contradiction, during the hearing, Dederich employed maneuvers he had learned in Santa Monica by having opposition leader James N. Lamb served by donor lawyer Don E. Burris with a slander lawsuit, claiming he falsely said parole officers had removed parolees under the influence at Synanon and was causing Malibu to reject them.

Outside the hearing, Charles Himan through Reid Kimball offered to sublease to Synanon several hundred acres at a site in the Lake Enchanto area of the Santa Monica Mountains on the San Fernando Valley side if Malibu was denied.

Both the Malibu Chambers of Commerce and the County of Los Angeles voted to keep Synanon out of Malibu. On April 23, 1963 the County Regional Planning Commission unanimously turned down Synanon’s permit request. Louise Kansater, commission member representing the Malibu district, said there should be a place for Synanon but that Malibu was not the “right place.” Synanon appealed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors but lost by a 4-1 vote, Kenneth Hahn dissenting.

One month later Hinman withdrew his offer to lease to Synanon the Lake Enchanto land claiming he wanted to review literature on the Synanon operation first before he committed. Simultaneously, Nicholas filed an action in Superior Court challenging the Supervisor’s denial of a permit for Malibu. Santa Monica, realizing Synanon was not moving, called off the truce by filing a suit in July of 1963 for injunction against Synanon operating as it was out of zone and had never obtained the approval from the Board of Medical Examiners still required by the Petris Bill. Nicholas than made the smart move requesting the Los Angeles County Presiding Judge consolidate the Santa Monica suit with Synanon’s earlier action he filed in Los Angeles Superior Court to declare Synanon’s rights, a move that got the case out of Santa Monica and before a Los Angeles Judge. Nicholas also announced in September that as Synanon resources had to be all directed to the Santa Monica fight for survival Synanon was dropping its litigation over Malibu and abandoning all plans to move there. The prior slander lawsuit against Thomas M. McCarthy, also tolled by the agreed moratorium, was dropped as McCarthy was no longer Santa Monica’s Mayor and thus the action could no longer be of any advantage to Synanon.


While the Santa Monica zoning case labored on Synanon was becoming well-rooted in the Westside city by the ocean. And its statistics were continuing to impress professionals.

By August of 1962 100 addicts were members, 19 living and working in the community. Seven were working in the community and living in Synanon. Forty-seven were clean for 18 months and 30 requested to work in Synanon administration. A startling result when considered the average prior use of narcotics was seven years and average prior incarceration was 3 and a half years. The average age entry for men was 35, women 22. There were 74 men and 26 women, 71 white, 16 black, 10 Mexican, 2 Puerto Rican and 1 Hawaiian. The average educational level was 11th grade. There were 29 married, 27 single, 25 divorced, 15 separated and 4 widowed.

Of those who split 36 returned, all telling street horror stories. If they remained three to four months before splitting they usually sought readmission within one or two weeks and did not split again. Many complained the heroin high was no longer any good. Seven who left early spent considerable time in jail before coming back. The seven left a combined total of seventeen times. The other 29 Splitees had a combined 40 departures and their average time gone was slightly less than 1 1/2 months. Sixteen children resided in Synanon.

By the end of 1962 the population totaled 136. Synanon had greatly expanded in just one year. It now had 13 houses and twelve automobiles. Monthly cash expenses doubled to $10,000 with $3000 for rent, $700 for telephone, $700 for utilities and $1,000 for cigarettes. Smoking was a habit not yet challenged. Each member was given a pack a day. Another $1,000 a month was spent on WAM. An estimated 12,000 worth of goods and services were collected each month from the outside community, including day old bread, fruit, vegetables too ripe to sell and defective clothing. Synanon had filled 300 speaking engagements. About 40 squares regularly attended on Saturday nights and visitors totaled 16,000. For it all, Sixty-five members had lived free of drugs for over one year and 45 free for over two years. A few now had been clean for a seemingly incredible four years. One out of two admited stayed three months and of those 90 percent were currently free of drugs. Fewer were splitting.

The record got attention. In December of 1962 the Assembly Committee on Criminal Procedure released its recommendations that the State take a friendly but “non-directive” interest in Synanon and research should be made on the results. It made five positive findings: 1. Keeps addicts off the street; 2. Saves taxpayers money; 3. Education through speakers;. 4. Research opportunities; 5. Rehabilitation.

Bill Crawford gave the first Family Report in 1962 stating Synanon had two trucks, 8 cars and 135 people. Synanon commenced plans for its own self-promotion. It held its first own annual public gallery of art in Santa Monica consisting of works done by its residents. The featured judge was actor Raymond Burr of Perry Mason fame.


Synanon’s statistics did indeed seem to support a “Miracle on the Beach.”

By contrast in 1963 it was reported that 97% of the drug addicts at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky had relapsed over a five year period. Similar rates were reported at other major treatment centers.

It was hypothesized at the time that addiction reduces the addicts tolerance of stress and conditions him to the need of pleasurable stress free states while dissolving the ability to recognize the interpersonal stressors. Thus stress becomes synonymous with heroin craving. The addict becomes detached from the environment, mistrusting and a loner seeking to avoid hassles. The long emotional detachment and isolation makes him immune to institutional controls. Rather than change his behavior he copes by “tuning out.” As tension forewarns of a drug high fading, tension for years after detoxification may trigger the chills, nausea and cramps of withdrawal sickness that a fix will temporarily resolve.

But in Synanon by August of 1963 83 % of the 100 present in August of 1962 were still there. The combined population of all facilities was now 203.


For the year 1963, Synanon spent around $200,000.00 and used up $800,000.00 in goods and services. It could do this as donations and income continued to increase. Merchants were donating now $5,000 a month in goods and services. Five outside firms employed Synanon members and their salaries were donated to Synanon. Fifteen per cent of the members lived and worked outside. Visitors for 1963 totaled 2,500, including regulars James Mason, Jane Fonda, Steve Allen, Rita Moreno, Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Wood, Milton Berle, James Whitmore, Leonard Nimoy, Ben Gazzara, Janice Rule and Charlton Heston. Allen, Serling and Bradbury gave lectures. The celebrities drank coffee and blew smoke with Fatso and the trained seals, many making contributions for the privilege.

Synanon commenced operating its first gas station in 1964, a tiny Seaside operation staffed by non-salaried ex-dope fiends that eventually gave way to a larger Texaco station, more stations and several auto repair shops. Izzy Cohen’s bakery was now supplying hundreds of dollars of bread and cakes each month and a member’s father who was in the trucking business directed large amounts of dairy products to Synanon. The Foundation began buying “fixer-uppers” properties repaired with “hustled” goods and a free labor force to be used for some 25 members who had children or resold. A Malibu Square and advertising executive, Jack Roberts, introduced to Synanon by his neighbor Dr. Donald Cressey, made a large monetary contribution and helped Synanon set up a public relations department which increased donations and earnings. Roberts coined the phrases “Help Synanon Help” and “S.O.S (Sponsors of Synanon).” Roberts’ best contribution, perhaps, was to bring attorney Nicholas to Synanon. Nicholas’ shrewdness was to save the club.

The biggest donation in 1963 turned out to be in the form of a “hot-stamping” machine that allowed a company to stencil its name on pens and pencils. It was given by Milt Cooper, a square at the new Synanon House in San Diego who was in the advertising/ promotion business. With it Synanon would launch ADGAP ((Advertising Gift and Promotion) and send salesmen around the United States selling to big business pens and advertising gifts with each customer’s logo pressed upon each item. Chuck was a salesman again using a slogan that wiped out all competition: “Buy from Synanon and save a Life.”

It would become a key in building an empire.


Synanon acquired a large industrial property equipped with machine tools and begin engaging in sub-contracting (Synanon Industries). As a non-profit corporation Synanon had no taxes to pay. By 1963’s end 26,000 visitors, making donations as they went, had gone through Synanon’s door over the last 18 months and its “Speakers Bureau” had filled 1000 paid engagements. The next year Synanon put on week-long program at UCLA Student Union. Within 5 years Synanon would become Santa Monica’s largest landowner.

David was becoming Goliath.


Dederich continued to link Synanon and the civil rights movement.

Synanon did not cancel its Saturday Night Party in 1963 the day after the President Kennedy assassination but instead turned it into a special memorial. It started off in the usual fashion, with Chuck introducing a Synanon clean birthday boy, John Peterson, referring to him as a former “human pin cushion.” Then Dederich became somber and reminisced of the day Franklin Roosevelt died. Then, he told his audience, he had used the occasion as an excuse not to work and get in some extra drinking. But now he had “come out of the fog.” He praised John Kennedy and compared his efforts to “what I’ve been trying to do the past few years.”

Kennedy, he said, had entered the civil rights arena full blast and it became his “political crucification.” His immortality, Dederich predicted, would accomplish his goals and the civil rights bill would pass.

In fact, President Johnson signed it into law in l964.


A black man, Henry Cotton, had split from Synanon, stealing as he left. But when he came down with Buerger’s disease and became a cripple Chuck took him back and had ramps built for his wheelchair. He became a legal secretary, eventually dying in Synanon.

But Dederich’s biggest step forward in the cause of civil rights involved a partner.

Before being pulled out by her probation officer, Betty Coleman had split several times, returned to drugs and then on her own came back. Her temporary return to shoplifting even cast doubt on the cure. But on her last request to return Chuck got the probation department to OK it. She became a true believer and a good listener whenever Chuck spoke of his future dreams like a Synanon radio show or TV show.

In 1961 Betty was made a director. Their relationship began slowly after Ainlay left and Betty knew he was lonely. Chuck had never been with a black woman. He knew she was smart, not a “cabin Negro” but from an upper middle class family. Betty had been with white men wanting to experience a black woman but she knew that was not Chuck and she had seen how he treated Jessie Pratt like a brother. One night when Chuck went out on the balcony she followed and put her hand in his.

After that Chuck began lending her books and hanging around her in the kitchen. On an evening in 1963 Chuck asked her for a stroll on the beach and there wrapped in warm coats they kissed. When they later made love Chuck felt he had never known such a woman, such a lover. She instinctively knew what he wanted. Some of the blacks in the club became angry, shunning Betty for sleeping with a white man. Hurt, Betty began considering a transfer to San Diego. Kimball confronted Chuck over the shacking-up and finally Dederich sent his dogrobber Kimball to Betty to propose for him. They had a double marriage along with another couple in order to save money.


He was pushing 50 and she 40. Between them were five failed marriages. Chuck was not romantic, nor openly affectionate but Betty could catch him looking at her with a gleam in his eyes. When she was seriously ill with pneumonia he stayed up all night on a hospital bench. Betty was the perfect match for Dederich and a statement to his followers. Dederich said Betty had “magic” and “intuition.”

Not only was she a former dope fiend, but she was black. The marriage symbolized the integration of the community. Dederich told her he would make her the most important woman in the United States.

Chuck was again changing Archie’s world, the third marriage Archie would not have approved. Betty had no children of her own and Dederich felt sometimes she was maternal in their relationship. Frequently, he called her “Mother.”

Dederich wanted Betty to share his experiences, so privately, together, they dropped acid.


The publicity and the donor lawyers were increasing their havoc on Santa Monica City Attorney Robert G. Cockins who desperately wanted to drop the whole thing despite knowing Synanon never got its permit from the Medical Board to operate as required by the Petris bill. He lacked the will and resources to keep up the fight. He couldn’t match the donated hours by Synanon’s volunteer lawyer brigade and its small staff was having difficulty finding time to handle other matters many of which were arguably more important to the city. Synanon was purchasing property in Marin and Nicholas now told Cockins it would soon move there. Nicholas also instructed Synanon to have all its cold turkey kicking done in the new San Diego facility. Cockins then filed a report in 1964 saying he had no evidence Synanon was still operating out of zone. The City Counsel ignored the report, concerned that there were now 10 Synanon residences in the area housing about 25 members each, and told Cockins to continue to investigate, take depositions of Synanon residents and get reports from the police, fire and building departments. Cockins took the depositions of Dederich and the other directors and reported back to the city that the club was now a “training facility” for persons who had been treated at other Synanon facilities and who were only coming to Santa Monica to be “indoctrinated into the principles of Synanon.” Dederich, he reported, said addicts won’t even be living there. Once the newly obtained Tomales Bay facility up north was ready, the Santa Monica club would be just used by officials and visitors.

Santa Monica Councilwoman Clo Hoover responded to Cockins investigation in May of 1965, the year I first enrolled at the University of Southern California, by saying that Synanon “made monkeys out of us and is still making monkeys out of us.” She also noted that the building seemed to have various code violations that others could not get away with.

Trial of the matter was scheduled first for November 15, 1965 and then postponed to April of 1966. Cockins, the prosecutor, publicly announced prior to the trial he had no evidence Synanon was anything other than a boarding house and was operating lawfully. The city and Synanon then settled agreeing to a consent decree that Synanon will not treat or house narcotic addicts, remain non-profit and the premises shall be used as a private club for members and guests, recreation and meals allowed. In turn, Santa Monica would not interfere with Synanon.

Like Charles Feldman of the Department of Public Health in 1960, Cockins accepted Synanon’s representations of what it was doing inside the building. And while Synanon was sending addicts to San Diego to kick it did not send all. Some still kicked in Santa Monica, but instead of in full view in the living room they did it in a closed room on the first floor, designated, in honor of then popular Sean Connery movies, the James Bond Room for its secrecy. Yablonsky’s book published in 1965 in fact described as still going on the same treatment and “therapy” described in the 1960 trial. In 1968, the San Diego House would close and all kicking then reverted back to Santa Monica.

Dederich understood it was done with words and the words were chosen for affect not accuracy. Synanon made its representations to Santa Monica despite the fact earlier Synanon had said it would never give up handling the withdrawals. The Medical Board had met in February of 1962 to establish required regulations pursuant to the Petris Save Synanon Bill that included a prohibition against cold turkey withdrawal. Chairman Joseph de los Reyes, M.D. said this was to prevent serious physical injury. Attorney Nicholas responded that if the requirement that residents must have already kicked is upheld Synanon would close. Hearings were held on the subject in March. Dr. Eugene Ireland, a pediatrician and member of Santa Monica’s Mayor’s Committee on Youth, led the anti-Synanon position stating the foundation and “its unstable residents” were a danger to the community. Only staff and patients, he said, should be allowed on the premises. Yablonsky countered that regulations of any kind would “spell the end of this noble experiment.”

No restrictions were ever formulated, the Board perhaps weary of what happened to Santa Monica when it tried to enforce the law. The Board, existing on a far smaller budget, resolved to put the whole matter off as moot until Synanon resolved its zoning battle with Santa Monica. The issue then drifted off into oblivion, with Cockin’s aid. Forgotten. No restrictions were ever applied to Synanon.

With Santa Monica’s retreat and the Medical Board’s shoving the matter under a mattress, Synanon was free to go its own way. The Armory was safe but Dederich was looking beyond. He gazed up the street at the swankier six-story Del Mar Cub serving Santa Monica’s high society and prophesied one day it would be Synanon’s.

Years later, and with no evidence it was related, Cockins committed suicide.