The True Story of the Rattlesnake in the Mailbox

by Paul Morantz
(c) 2009

A warm summer night. Santa Monica. 1963

It was the eve of the Beatles invasion. When Happy Days was life, not a TV show. My high school senior class gathered on a Santa Monica beach–celebrating graduation and friendships we had no doubt would extend long beyond our current 17 years of existence.

As campfires flickered, alcoholic beverages–snuck from homes or procured by tipping some adult in a liquor store parking lot–were circulated. Slightly inebriated I pinned Manny in an impromptu wrestling match hoping somewhere close by Irva, the girl with those green eyes, would be impressed. Eventually too many senior class farewell toasts led to my early departure from a night we all pledged to hold so dear.

Yet despite my untimely exit, I can still recollect that moment. Before passing out and being rolled in a blanket as a log for my classmates to sit on, I became aware of sounds of loud, angry shouts emanating from lighted windows in a tall red-brick three story building mushrooming from the edge of the beach. Attracted, drawn, I staggered closer. One of my classmates, I don’t know who, spoke as if he knew the question on my mind:

“Addicts live there…prostitutes and bank robbers. It’s a rehab place. That’s Synanon.”

Good, I thought and then oddly I became immobilized in the sand by a fear that I did not come close to understanding, somehow afraid to take a step closer towards the building. It seemed like an eternity I stood there but I am sure only moments went by before I retreated and continued contributing to my disorientation.

From there my life as a presumed adult began. First six months in the Army Reserves to avoid the draft and Vietnam–I was neither John Wayne nor John McCain–then college and law school.

It would be fourteen years before Synanon would be in my thoughts again. Then I would learn the name of its Founder.

A summer evening. Visalia. September 5, 1977

The Old Man took his seat main table center at the Home place Lodge one of two ranch-style sites owned in Badger high in the Sierra foothills near King’s Canyon Park located approximately 20 miles from Visalia in Tulare County, California. Big Shots were to his left, Big Shots to his right, Dope fiends and Squares alike filling their trays at the cafeteria line and taking seats below. A microphone dropped from the ceiling hung over the Old Man’s plate, as it did at every meal. It was 6 a.m., and by Synanon time it was Morning Court, also called Think Table and formerly the Round Table, where as The Monarch he enjoyed gracious dining while he spoke on all notions he wanted to sell to the community. This was his role as Chairman of the Board – to design a better life for all. He, The Founder, believed he knew what they wanted before they did and so he had led them to ideas far ahead of their time concerning drug/alcohol avoidance, dieting, non-smoking and exercise; then concepts more revolutionary– mandatory vasectomies, abortions and switching love partners. Every person at every facility listened as the wire broadcasted his voice, deep and resonating – the voice of authority – to all rooms, all hallways, all bathrooms, at all facilities at all locations: Visalia, Marin County, San Francisco, Santa Monica. Every sentence was captured on tape in the wire room to be preserved and replayed. Scribes wrote down summaries to be sent to all department heads. The population took notes on 3×5 cards.

This day he continued pontificating on what had now become a common theme, one his followers had long become accustomed to. One that for some time had been put into action and would continue for another 13 months. People had to be prepared to go to jail as he once had for them. His voice was deep like a bullfrog’s, yet calm and deliberate, as if talking of minor building repairs or needed gardening, broken only occasionally by his own self-appreciating laughter and affirmative responses by members of the Circle that dined at his table.

He spoke of the ungodly, Synanon enemies and how Synanon would react to all aggression. He spoke of lawyers–the greatest threat–because they have thinking tools. Synanon would not play by their silly rules. Attorneys would play instead by Synanon’s. He said it would be like a fighter “stepping into the ring expecting to follow the Marquis de Queensberry rules and then winds up with a bottle in his face or a chair leg shoved down his throat.”

He said this direction would once again “decimate our population.” People not willing to trust and go along would be squeezed out by the notion. But this was good. Only the best and truly loyal people would remain. He said there were people in Synanon who would be excited by the “sound of cracking bones” and who would want to bring him an “ear in a glass of alcohol.” Synanon would grow stronger. There were those inside and those who would come wanting a new militant religious posture.

“I propose,” he said, his eye twitching from long ago partial facial paralysis, “that we be in the vanguard of that, because we’ve already tested it out in various small, tiny, minuscule ways by beating up the Dinuba punks, by beating up the San Francisco punks, by chasing the dingbats around with our Hey Rubes and so on.

“We’re beginning now most ineptly to throw people downstairs in Santa Monica. We won’t be as inept at this in another–another six months.

“We started quite a while ago with the Imperial Marine deal and–and so on. We’re doing that; we’re taking our best people, putting them into this kind of situation; and it is our intention to do just exactly that…

“And– and I— I– I think that we–we could, without too much effort, get a reputation that will be all over the United States within one year’s time– Don’t fuck with Synanon. In any way…

“Don’t go near the nuts on the beach because they’ll beat the shit out of you…

“I think that is our– is– is—- is the new religious posture… We’ll see. Maybe I’m right. I think–I think we–I think we will bring that about.

“We are not going to mess with the — – with the old time –turn the other cheek religious posture.– –We’re going to — – our — – our religious posture is – ‘Don’t mess with us. You can get killed dead. Physically dead.’

“We either–we either have a good thing here or we don’t. If we have a good thing here, then we are not going to permit people, like–greedy lawyers, to destroy it.

“I’m quite willing to break some lawyer’s legs and then tell him the next time I break your wife’s legs; then I’m going to cut your kid’s arm off; and try me, because this is only a sample…you son of a bitch. Like that. And that’s the end of your lawyer. That’s the end. And all of his friends. You see…

“It’s a — it’s a very satisfactory, humane way of transmitting information. It’s worked.”

The archivist categorized it with similar speeches and typed excerpts of all were delivered throughout the Foundation for guidance and attractively displayed prominently on bulletin boards. It was to be taught in the school and rehashed in the games. And it was to be used in the training of the Imperial Marines.

It was the time of the Holy War.

Early morning. Visalia, Calif. October 9, 1978

Per routine Namoi McFarlin, a middle aged 8-year resident, began her work week Monday morning at 6 a.m. in the transportation room in the upstairs mezzanine of the Shed by answering the phones, handling the paperwork and supervising the car pool. The Shed was a small office complex at the Strip–Synanon’s airfield–six miles from the Home Place headquarters in the Badger mountains of Tulare County. McFarlin gazed out the window surveying the parking lot that was home to about 20 Synanon vehicles–sedans, pick-ups and jitneys–when she became startled by the realization that car No. 859, a green Plymouth Executive, license No. 427 HVG, was missing. The keys to it were gone from the board as was the corresponding check-out card from the cardholder hung at the end of a cabinet. Synanon was meticulous in record keeping and the cards were used by drivers to log use and mileage. Part of McFarlin’s duties were to send the records at the end of each month to the Transportation Office in Tamales Bay.

Asking around, she was told Joe Musico, on Sunday, the day McFarlin didn’t work, had taken the Plymouth to the Home Place. Everyone knew Joe, the 28 year old ex-Vietnam vet, hooked on heroin during the war, who was always telling Nam horror stories in games and was now a respected Imperial Marine. She filled out a fresh card for the car listing Musico as the driver and wrote a “?” for destination and placed it in the cardholder.

A little later she heard Joe Musico’s distinct New York accent outside at the foot of the stairs. She went out and found him talking to Debbie Delgado, wife of the Strip foreman Lou Delgado who was currently at the Synanon Lake Havesu property. McFarlin started to scold Musico for circumventing rules but was stopped short by Ms. Delgado who stated, “He has authority.” Musico grinned and McFarlin asked when Musico would return the Plymouth. “Tomorrow,” he said. She didn’t ask where he was going or why he needed it. Musico usually rode a motorcycle.

Musico also didn’t’t tell her that he would be picking up a fellow Imperial Marine, 20 year-old Lance Kenton, and a third, silent but deadly passenger for a three-hour destination.

A warm afternoon. Pacific Palisades. October 9, 1978

At 2: 45 p.m. the man exited the small Asian-run corner market in the middle of Marquez Ave., a residential block shaped like a horseshoe that intersects Sunset Blvd. at two separate points as it winds through Pacific Palisades. As they did most Octobers, the Santa Ana winds were blowing across Los Angeles and even here, close to the ocean, the temperatures were blistering into the 90’s. Knowing the area from previous trips, the man had gone to the market for a heat-relieving soft drink.

He started up his brand new black Datsun 240 Z sports car but was quickly halted by a red signal at the east end of the horseshoe. Just a 60-second delay but long enough for him to stare at a green Plymouth stopped in front of him. What caught his attention was that it had only 5 letters on the license plate instead of the customary 6 on California plates. Personalized, he thought. The new fad in California. The man liked the fad, reading the plates helped pass time as he drove, and in his job he drove a lot. But “27 IVC” didn’t seem to be very personal. So he looked closer. There were 6 numbers, altered with blue tape. A rather poor job. He could make out the real plate beneath, “427 HVG.” Burglars?

As luck would have it, a black and white patrol car appeared in the man’s rear view mirror as the light turned green and the Plymouth crossed Sunset and continued down Baylor avenue, a residential street. The man turned his Datsun left on Sunset, slowed and flagged down the police car, all the time repeating out loud both sequences–real and altered–least he forget. “Did you see that car with the altered license plates?” he asked Officer David Ybarro.

Ybarro had seen the car, suspecting the occupants were undercover narcs due to hair exceeding their collars and lack of vehicle trim, but had not noticed the plates. “Write down these numbers before I forget them,” the man pleaded. Ybarro complied and also made a sketch of the occupants. What Ybarro didn’t’t take down was the name of the Datsun driver. Ybarro didn’t’t think it was important enough. So the man drove off, never thinking he would himself become the subject of a six-month manhunt.

Ybarro ran the altered number. Nothing. But when the real number came back registered to “Synanon, Marhsall, California,” a bell went off. At recent roll calls, including that morning, he had been told that a resident in Palisades, myself, feared Synanon might try to kill him. Bollinger, the street where I lived, was one of a few streets that branched off of Marquez and my house was third from the corner. Ybarro was not on patrol, he was a foot-beat officer who walked the virtually crime-free Palisades Village where small shops were run by bored housewives. Basically his job was community public relations. He was only in his black and white to serve a quick subpoena. So he put out a call.

Officers Eugene Dear and Robert Denton, in the area on a special assignment, arrived first. They chatted, saw no threat and left. Officers John Backus and Melvin Plew arrived next and decided to check my house. They heard my dogs bark and concluded nothing was awry. They also departed.

Ybarro found Richard Blue on my street, a fifteen year old who lived with his divorced Mom. Since I moved in 2 years earlier, Richard had become a little brother to me who hung out at my house. Blue promised Ybarro he would call if he saw the Plymouth. Ybarro didn’t’t think to call me but he did notify his team leader Officer Cerniglia who made an entry in his progress log and handed it the next afternoon. It was to be found the next night in a Captain Smith’s adjutant’s office wastepaper basket.

A warm afternoon. Pacific Palisades. October 9, 1978

When California Highway Patrolman Donald Growe left his Malibu station and drove down Pacific Coast Highway past Pacific Palisades to a Santa Monica car wash, being from a different agency–Malibu, in contrast to Los Angeles, was unincorporated–he had no knowledge of my request stated at LAPD’s roll calls or Ybarro’s current call out on the Plymouth. So when Growe first spotted the green Plymouth in front of him at 3:15 p.m. it meant nothing. Then he saw the tape on the plates, the occupants short military haircuts and thought, “Undercover officers?” Maybe, but why alter the plates? When the Plymouth turned onto the California Incline, a road that climbed up from the beach into Santa Monica, Growe followed and called in the altered number. Nothing. Growe activated his red lights and pulled the vehicle over.

Hand on pistol, he ordered the driver, a slender blond young man out. The passenger, shorter, more muscular, with same short-clipped haircut, started to exit but Growe, not wanting to have to watch both, commanded him to stay put. Growe radioed in the real plate no. “427 HVC.” He could see on closer examination that the tape had been painted the color blue of the license plate.

The driver, Lance Kenton, identified himself with his license, and explained Synanon members were jokesters. “Some people,” he explained, “must have done this so we would be stopped.” Growe remained suspicious, especially when dispatch said the license belonged to a Chevrolet. But then he saw his own mistake, it was a “G” under the tape not a “C.” Kenton meanwhile turned to his passenger. “Someone messed with the plates,” he said. “It must have been some of our friends at Synanon.” The passenger nodded.

Growe examined the car registration and it matched dispatch’s return: “Synanon, Marshall, California.” Kenton started stripping the rear tape, scattering it in the wind and passing cars. The passenger got out and did the same up front. Growe had no crime to connect them with, they were not acting suspiciously, so he let them go. He never checked the passenger’s identification or asked where they were going or what they were doing. He didn’t check warrants or wants or if the car was stolen. The registration had expired but he didn’t cite Kenton. Altering license plates is a crime but he let that go, too. He wrote nothing in his notebook, something the Plymouth occupants may have noticed. But after the Plymouth drove off, he wrote down the time and “427 HVG.”

Growe decided the event wasn’t worth mentioning at his debriefing session later that day. He filed no report and quickly forgot the incident. Later he would attribute his actions to “human failure.”

Midday, Marshall, Calif. October 10, 1978

By lunch time, Joe Musico hadn’t returned the Plymouth. Naomi McFarlin, increasingly concerned, called the switchboard operator at the Home Place to leave him a message to call in. This was a standard communication procedure as not all Synanon locations had phones. “He’s in bed ill,” the operator said.

Musico’s love match, Carmen Rosado, returned the call. “What do you want with Joe,” she asked. McFarlin explained she wanted to know when the Plymouth would be returned. “I don’t know,” Rosado said. “He’s in bed ill.” For a moment, McFarlin wondered. Joe had looked just fine the day before at the bottom of the stairs. She shrugged. She had the next day off and planned a motorcycle ride. Why worry about one car?

Mid Afternoon. Pacific Palisades. October 10, 1978

Eleven year old Ben Mohagen, fresh home from school around 2 p.m., had a quick snack before going outside to ride his bicycle. While riding, he wondered why the green Plymouth was driving down his street, Bollinger, slower than his bicycle and even slower as it passed my house before speeding up. As he played, he saw the car come around again and then again, five or six times, each time lingering by my house. He knew my house and my dogs as I paid his brother sometimes to walk them. Ben saw the driver had a moustache. Alarmed, he ran inside to his mother. “Oh,” his Mom said, “That’s probably just the police checking Paul’s house. He’s been worried since winning some big court case.” Reassured, Ben returned to play and did not see the car again.

Edie Ditmars was in her bedroom when her dogs barked. She moved to the kitchen and saw the green Plymouth parked in her neighbor’s driveway. A young slender blond man, well-dressed in sports coat and tie, approached my porch with a swift, purposeful and confident stride. Edie remembered my concerns, my asking her to report anything unusual. She ran to her living room window for a better look, but still lost sight of the man when he reached my porch. She heard a plunking sound, like a mailbox lid closing. My mailbox was a chute in the wall with a metal lid on the outside by the front door and a metal grid opening in the inside. Edie saw the man return to the car. Meredith Bass who lived on the other side of Edie, and who had celebrated her ninth birthday six days earlier, from her view on the sidewalk had seen the man put something in my mailbox.

Edie remembered my requests to get license numbers. At first she had thought I was paranoid, but then the Los Angeles Times ran a story by Narda Zacchino about harassments and threats from Synanon. She sneaked out her kitchen door, stealthily creeping alongside her house to a huge bush where she hid, feeling like she was in some B-spy movie. She saw two occupants as the car pulled away. She saw three numbers on the rear plate followed by an “IV” but the car was out of sight before she got the last letter. Later she would recall the first number was a “4.”

Nothing had happened. The young man appeared clean cut and people frequently left things for me when I was out. It didn’t seem urgent. So Edie returned to her chores, intending to tell me when I got home. She didn’t believe in disturbing people at work.

If she had called me, her report would have been received in our Beverly Hills office library where I was then meeting with two Los Angeles Police Department Intelligence Division Officers, Lynne Cottle and Dale Hollis, and Charlie Wynne of the State’s Attorney General Organized Crime and Criminal Investigation Branch (OCCIB). There I was listing prior attacks by Synanon members and providing information I had received that I was likely to be next. I wanted help, protection, and I felt Wynne was believing me. His office had recently received information on Synanon violence from a group of 50 Splittees who on this same date up north were handing in a 13-page report detailing 15 incidents from California to New York, eight of which they connected directly to management. Before this law enforcement had been skeptical. Dave Mitchell, editor of a small weekly newspaper, The Point Reyes Light in Tomales Bay, after an attack with clubs on Splittee Phil Ritter in Berkeley on September 19, had gone to the Marin County District Attorney predicting an attack on me. He wasn’t believed. An arrested Splittee in Tulare tried to make a deal by revealing a “chain of command” on Synanon hits, but the officers responded in disbelief saying Synanon does only good things. The LAPDID officers at my office already believed as they had intelligence on cults and brainwashing. They had sought me out previously for help when Werner Erhard offered LAPD free est training. I often wondered if Edie had called what our reaction in that room would have been. Maybe a SWAT team speeding to my house.

Early evening. Pacific Palisades. October 10, 1978

Edie Ditmars was reading when from her living room window she saw me drive up. She briefly thought of intercepting me before I reached the door but then felt it could wait. There was no need to rush.

Richard Blue also saw me drive up. He watched my now usual cautious entry by listening for my dogs to bark before opening the door and waiting a beat before entering. He saw the door open and my dogs burst outside. He wanted to tell me about his conversation with Officer Ybarro but he, too, felt there was no rush.

The only one in a rush was me. The first game of the Dodger–Yankee World Series was starting and I was eager to forget and relax in front of the television in my room where my shotgun rested by my bed for safety. I had bought it a few weeks earlier in my first-ever-trip to a gun shop. A suit amid red-necks in the Valley store, I told the proprietor I did not know what I wanted. “Something,” I said, “that could stop about three to five guys if they crashed through my door.”

I entered my small house around 5:30 p.m., patting my border collies Tommy and Devon as they jumped up on me before going past me and out front to play as was habit. I turned left to put my Synanon evidence books on my kitchen counter. My entry was small, about six feet wide. There was only 18 inches of wall space to the kitchen entrance. About three steps. As I moved left out of the corner of my eye I saw something dark and elongated through the grill of my mailbox that seemed to be taking up all the space. The box was dark and through the grill white envelopes were hard to see without stooping up close. Compounding was my eyesight. Contact lenses in those days were not comfortable so I didn’t’t usually wear them until it was dark. Friends insisted I forget my vanity but my ordered glasses had not yet arrived. Perhaps, I thought, a long scarf someone found and stuffed inside. An odd-shaped package? I am always amazed I never considered it might be a bomb.

As I turned back to head for my room I lifted the mailbox grill with my right hand and nonchalantly grabbed hold of its contents with my left. Never dreaming I was pulling out its body, I saw its head dart out, mouth open, its fangs sink into my left wrist. Startled, I screamed, let go and watched the fallen snake, all four feet plus of it, recoil on the floor. I saw the v-shaped head which I knew meant a rattler. I looked at my wrist and saw the marks. I had definitely been bitten. Those bastards, I thought. They had really done it. I felt like the gin rummy player who discards, realizes his mistake and wants to take the card back. I wanted to rewind and start again. I wanted another chance to be more careful. After all I had been checking my car underneath before I would start it. I turned on lights before entering a room. And there were scratch marks on the mailbox grill from my dogs. Why wasn’t I wearing my contacts? I couldn’t be this stupid.

Usually Tommy and Devon returned of their own in a half hour and I would then close the front door. But I became aware that my scream had brought them running back straight at the snake coiled between me and the open front door. Could I risk being bitten twice? I had no choice. It would surely strike the dogs. I feigned once, its head pulled back, but time was running out. They were almost there. I reached over with my right hand and slammed the door on Tommy and Devon.

I knew I had to be calm, to keep my blood from pumping. As a boy I studied reptiles and I had read I should get ice. Someone would have to get in and kill the snake. But children had to be kept out. I went to my living room sliding door and removed the stick locking it from the outside patio. I went through the kitchen out the side door and then I lost it. I wailed at Edie’s house, “Call the police, an ambulance. I have been bitten by a rattlesnake. Synanon got me. I need ice.”

Richard Blue first heard me scream and then saw the door slam on the dogs. Now he saw me running from the side of the house towards Edie’s. He ran up but says I pushed him away. I wanted ice. Edie didn’t come to the door. She was already on the phone dialing 911. I don’t remember it, but my right shoulder hit her front door hard enough to knock it off a hinge. Neighbors came running out and pulled me to the ground. “Ice,” I screamed. The pain was starting. This was not like on TV where John Wayne sucks out the poison, jumps back on his horse and goes after the bad guys. No way. Part of the venom destroys tissue to soften a prey for swallowing. It felt like my hand was in a vice, some sadist cranking it tighter, relaxing, then happily squeezing it again.

Irv Moskowitz, an electronic supervisor at Cal Tech’s chemistry department was only home become he was late for Yom Kippur services. He was tying his shoes when his mother said someone was outside yelling for his life. He ran outside and saw the puncture wounds on my wrist. Moskowitz had just completed the snake bite portion of his CPR course and believed if the venom reached my brain I could suffer brain damage and/or death. With one hand he pulled me against my will towards Edie’s driveway while ripping off his shirt for a tourniquet with the other. As buckets of ice from neighbors arrived, Moskowitz piled it on my hand. Another neighbor cut my wrist with a knife. A jacket was placed over me. “Call Narda Zacchino at the LA Times,” I said. “Warn her. She could be next.”

I could hear the ambulance sirens. Palisades was a small community but being next to the Santa Monica mountains we had two fire stations. Station 69 was less than two miles away. As I was placed in the ambulance I asked the attendants, Dale Shulz and Gary Smith, if I was going to die. They assured me I would make it. If I died I hoped in heaven I would see my father, and my childhood dogs. I tried first concentrating on the pain hoping it would then disappear. Then I tried focusing on a mental image of Olivia Newton-John. I asked the attendants to keep talking to me, to distract my fears and pain. They did and this worked best. “Where was the snake?” Shulz finally asked. He was shocked when I told him. “It was attempted murder,” I said. “Synanon did it.”

Fireman Jay Arne was a veteran of snake kills. He entered through my back sliding glass door where I had removed the locking stick. Fireman Glenn Parker followed and circled through the kitchen. The snake was still coiled in the entrance way. A foot longer than any Arne had ever seen. Later it would be learned it was a species found in Tulare County, not in Los Angeles. Arne acted as a decoy while Parker pinned the snake with a shovel, pressing hard as it tried to squirm away. Arne set his shovel in place so Parker, with the sharper shovel, could chop its head off. The skin was tough; it took several hard blows leaving deep cuts in my hardwood floor. Arne thought this was maybe a vicious child’s prank. Since snake heads can contain poison and he was not thinking “crime” or “evidence”, he flushed it down my toilet.

Policemen Martin Kovacs and Terry Schauer had never received a 217 (attempted murder) “by rattlesnake” call before. But Meredith, age 11, who lived on Edie’s other side told them she saw the green car and a young man stuff something in my mailbox. Kovacs and Schauer observed the rattles removal to be deliberate and searched for the rattles but found none. The snake was huge, Kovacs thought. The “Jaws” of snakes. AI guess he had been right”, said Schauer, remembering the roll call briefings. “He should have had protection.”

I was taken to Santa Monica Emergency in just 10 minutes. By then my right hand was tingling along with my feet and head. My mouth was dry and the pain at its height. I wanted a drug to knock me out but the doctors said they needed me awake to report symptoms. I begged for anti-venom but had to be tested for allergies first. As that took 20 minutes I requested to take my chances but was turned down. A nurse asked me if I was sure it was a rattlesnake. I retrieved my memory. I saw the head strike. Its recoil. But then a doubt. Rattles. Why hadn’t I heard it rattle? It was now 6:30 p.m. and my hand had swollen and blistered, my left side ballooned to the shoulder, arm muscles trembling.

The stereotype nurse hovered over me with forms seeking my history and insurance information. We were a bad match. I could hardly speak and she was hard of hearing. Schauer arrived but cut off questioning as he saw the pain I was in. Nurses came by motivated by curiosity. One slipped a green magnet-bracelet on my wrist. “Your friend,” the nurse said, “says it will suck out the poison.” I looked up and saw my friend Nickie who had just returned from a New Age Bible Center where she, her spiritual leader and friends circled and tried to heal my aura by concentration. To this day they believe they saved my life. I was more relieved, however, when I got 11 vials of anti-venom.

The LAPDID detectives Cottle and Hollis arrived angered. Lynn Cottle almost could not talk. This happened on their watch. Sensing their feelings I tried to break the ice. “Wynne’s got good timing,” I said. “Does he always arrive on the day?” Hollis put his hand on mine. “We’ll get them,” he vowed. “I promise you we will get them. If its the last thing we do.”

A police officer called my ex-girl friend–Trudy– at my request and informed her I was bitten by a rattlesnake. I had wanted to marry her but she had broken up with me a few weeks before. She had said she loved me but that I was too obsessed with Synanon.  At first she imagined it must have happened while I was out hiking somewhere with Tommy and Devon. Fifteen minutes later, as she was washing the dishes, the realization hit her. “Oh, my God,” she said aloud. She remembered my call over a week ago saying her kids should not discuss me and/or Synanon at school. Synanon had long ears. I told her I believed there would be an attack. At the time she thought I was trying sympathy to win her back. I could feel then her skepticism and it hurt. Now she called her ex-husband and insisted he come over and watch the kids. She lived up the northern coast. The hospital was an hour’s drive; she had to get there as soon as possible.

At 9:30 p.m. I was transferred to USC-County General, some 25 miles away, east of Downtown Los Angeles. It had the world’s best experts on snake venom. I was assigned to Dr. Josephine Bufalino, an attractive intern. She laughed and asked how this could happen. She stopped laughing when I told her and she saw a police guard form around my room. Three more vials of anti-venom were administered. My arm lay on a pillow, unable to flex. Nickky and her sister Leslie arrived. I was supposed to have had dinner later that night at Nickie’s house with a girl I had just met and gone out with a few times. By telephone I told Nickky the girl could come not to the hospital. I knew Trudy would come.

A nurse explained to Leslie that anti-venom is made by injecting a horse with venom. The anti-bodies are then used for the serum. “That explains it,” I drowsily said. “My sudden craving for hay.” The nurse thought I was crazy but my friends laughed. “He’s alright,” said Leslie. “Definitely himself.”

Narda Zacchino got by security. She looked at my hand, knelt down and whispered, “Synanon can’t see this.” Then she kissed me on the cheek, squeezed my right hand and returned to her downtown office to write the morning headlines. Narda had been one of the few to dare report on Synanon. The Foundation called us “co-conspirators.”

The media for years was threatened by Synanon lawyers to watch what they print. But this was a story Synanon could do nothing about and the media seemingly reacted with triumph. “Rattler Death Trap” was one headline in block letters. In a couple of days I would be wheeled in front of a mass press conference to explain cult violence. Two members of the press present would find out more directly three weeks later, dying in the Jonestown massacre.

Trudy was the last to arrive. “I didn’t believe you,” she apologized. She lifted a sheet and looked at my hand. There was a giant blood bubble perched on it. Dr. Bufalino said that was enough. Everyone out. “He’s so alone,” she said and planted herself in the chair by my bed. She would not leave. I closed my eyes.

My world was changed when I awoke. The fear I had been living with was gone. It had happened but I survived. Most of all, Trudy was still in the chair. The case was assigned to Detectives Jerry Rodgers and Marv Enquist of Major Crimes. Seasoned veterans, Enquist was heading up the Hillside Strangler investigation in Hollywood, they already they knew who they were after. Splitees phoned in names of Imperial Marines, including Musico and Kenton, saying the latter was an expert with rattlesnakes, often catching them on Badger property. Officer Growe reported when he heard the news on the radio and picked out Kenton and Musico from driver license photos. For this he got a special citation. Officer Ybarro brought in his notebook.

The media announced to the world the green Plymouth was traced to Synanon. Splittees who had before been afraid to talk were now coming forward. The great drug rehab. Something had gone wrong. Terribly wrong.

This would be Synanon’s Pearl Harbor. Up until now the Synanon legal staff had overpowered Santa Monica, Marin, San Francisco and Visalia, even the Hearst Corporation, but the snake awoke a sleeping giant, one agency the Old Man had always feared–the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. The State Attorney General set up a state wide multi-agency Synanon task force. Then would come the United States Department of Justice. Still the battle would exceed another decade.