THE FALL OF SYNANON 6 (Hunt for Black October)


78 Black Datsun
For video click on 78 black datsun above.

By Paul Morantz

© October 10, 2010

(Written on the anniversary of the snake attack)

The Nissan Motor Company following World War II was the first Japanese company to introduce sports car models in the United States. In the 1960s and 1970s, its Datsun 1600 competed with British sports cars in the American market. At the time, Datsun was the top-selling Japanese brand in the United States. The arrival of the 240Z in 1970 cemented its hold on the sports car market.

The Datsun 240Z the engine was a derivation of the Datsun 1600. With two more cylinders giving it 151 horsepower and with 146 pound-feet of torque the vehicle could propel from zero-to-sixty in eight seconds. It had independent suspension, rack-and-pinion steering added and the front disc brakes brought the car to a stop from high speeds in just seconds. With a price tag of just over $3,500, it became Nissan Motor Corp. flagship. Mr. Yutaka Katayama is considered the ‘Father of the Z Car’ and in 1998 he was inducted into the Automobile Hall of Fame.

The 240Z dominated the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) C-class production category for 10 years ranging from 1970 through 1979 when a second z series was introduced. In 1971 John Morton, driving for Brock Racing Enterprises, was the first to claim victory in SCCA C-Class production racing using a 240Z. Bob Sharp claimed his first win in that category in 1972 and again in 1973 and 1975. Walt Maas continued the streak in 1974. The Z-car competed in the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) where it captured many victories, including the IMSA GTU title. In 1974, the engine displacement was increased to 2.6 liters and the vehicle was dubbed the 260Z. This brought an end to the 240Z series which had sold 116,712 examples during its life-span.

In 1975 the displacement was increased to 2.8 liters and the vehicle dubbed the 280Z. A Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system was included which helped increase the horsepower to 149.

In 1977, the horsepower rating was 170. A five-speed overdrive transmission was now offered, giving the vehicle better performance and fuel economy. The sales of the Z car once again hit a record high, with 67,331 units sold. The “Zap” edition was offered in 1977 as a “Special Decor Package” with bright yellow paint and black stripes down the center and sides, with yellow, red, and orange chevrons at the front ends of the stripes. An estimated 1,000 “Zap Z” cars were offered in 1977. The “Zap Z” model was also used as the pace car in the 1977 Long Beach Gran Prix.

In 1979, the second generation of the Z-car was introduced as the 280ZX. It was more refined and luxurious than the previous Z’s. The formula was correct and it was named Motor Trends ‘Import Car of the Year’. A new all-time sales record was achieved with 86,007 units being sold. . To add to the appeal and performance of the 280ZX, a turbocharged engine became available in 1981. Sales continued to remain strong through 1983. In 1982, Devendorf and his Electromotive racing team win Datsun’s first ever IMSA GTO championship.

In 1984 the third generation of the Z-car was introduced and was dubbed the 300ZX. It featured distinct styling and a new 3.0 liter V6 engine. The normal-aspirated engine produced 160 horsepower, while the turbocharged version offers 200 horsepower

In 1985, Paul Newman set 10 track records in a 280ZX Turbo. In 1994, a race-modified Z car won the 24 Hors of Daytona and the 12 Hours at Sebring.
In 1980, over 500,000 cumulative American Z-cars had been sold. It had reached the half-million sales mark faster than any other sport car. A new T-bar roof option was now being offered.

In 1989 the new 300ZX featured improvements both mechanically and aesthetically. Under the hood sat an all-new DOHC 3.0-liter engine with a horsepower rating of 222. A twin-turbocharged version of the engine was available and brought the total horsepower output to 300. The body of the vehicle had been improved giving it a more aggressive stance. Motor Trend awarded the Z00ZXTT ‘Import Car of the Year’ and Automobile Magazine honored the car with ‘Design of the Year.’

During the 1990 model year the one-million sales mark was achieved making it the all-time best selling sports car. The car continued to receive great reviews and awards by Magazines and publications. As 1995 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Z-car. a limited edition was produced .

Then in 1996, the production of the Z-car ceased in North America. Gone was one of the most successful sports car in auto history.

* * *

But important to this story was the 1978 Black Pearl special edition that came with Black Pearlescent paint and a “Special Appearance Package”consisting of dual racing mirrors, rear window louvers, and some with a unique red and silver stripe. It is estimated that only between 750-1,500 of these cars were produced. And the unknown driver of one them was to become the object of a county-wide manhunt in the month commencing of October of that year. Wherever he was he had no idea he was the key witness to a conspiracy to commit murder.

*…………………………….. * ………………………..*

At the hospital , John Rogers, Enquist and Mike Carroll, advised me they knew who had put the rattlesnake in the mailbox, but queried if they had enough proof for conviction. They decided given the importance they would go forward. At the time the summary of the case looked like this (For more complete detail of the events surrounding the rattlesnake See True Story of the Rattlesnake in the Mailbox):

1. At 2: 45 p.m. on October 9 a man exited a corner market on Marquez Ave., a residential block shaped like a horseshoe that intersects Sunset Blvd. at two separate points as it winds through Pacific Palisades. The Santa Ana winds were blowing a blistering mid 90’s. The man had gone to the market for a heat-relieving soft drink.

He got in his new black pearl Datsun 280 Z sports car but was quickly halted by a red signal at the east end of the horseshoe. His attention was caught by the l972 green Plymouth that had only 5 letters on the license plate instead of the customary 6. Personalized, he thought. The new fad in California. But “27 IVC” didn’t seem personal so he looked closer and saw there were 6 numbers, altered with blue tape. He could make out the real plate beneath, “427 HVG.”

The fates aligned against Synanon as a black and white patrol car appeared in the man’s rear view mirror. As the light turned green and the Plymouth crossed Sunset the man turned his Datsun left,slowed and flagged down the police car.

Officer David 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 take down was the name of the Datsun driver. Ybarro didn’t think it was important enough. So the man drove off, never thinking he would himself become the subject of a six-month manhunt. When the story hit the news big time he failed to see the connection.

Ybarro ran the altered number with no result 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 in the next afternoon. It was to be found the next night in a Captain Smith’s adjutant’s office wastepaper basket.

Hearsay evidence—what someone tells another—is generally not allowed into evidence. What was known from above was that the man in the black 280-Z could confirm the Plymouth, same one discussed below, was by my house on Oct. 9th with altered plate numbers. And Growe puts Joe Musico and Lance Kenton as the occupants the same day (see next paragraph). Maybe the license plate number comes in is a recorded memory, business record, spontaneous utterance or other exception to hearsay rule and maybe it is just not allowed into evidence unless the black datsun driver is found and takes the stand to testify as to what he saw. Proving the case might in the being the difference of finding the Black Datsun driver or not.

2. California Highway Patrolman Donald Growe driving from Malibu up the California Incline to a Santa Monica car wash spotted the green Plymouth in front of him at 3:15 p.m. He saw the blue tape and paint on the plates, the occupants with short military haircuts. Growe activated his red lights and pulled the vehicle over.

Growe would discover real plate was. “427 HVG.”—registered to Synanon, Marshall, Calif. He could see on closer examination that the tape had been painted the color blue of the license plate.

The driver, Lance Kenton and Occupant Joe Musico explained Synanon “must have done this so we would be stopped.” Growe let them go and 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.” Surprisingly Kenton and Musico went forward with their plan even though they now had been seen.

All this evidence is good. But still it is the driver of black Datsun that puts the same vehicle by my house the day before with tapes similarly altered.

3. A green Plymouth pulled into my driveway on Oct. 10 and one of two occupants went to my mailbox area and then returned. He was seen by my neighbor who also got the patial plate number (matching the one the Black Datsun driver and Growe saw). While the man fitted the description of Lance Kenton she could not identify him. A child would also testify the car circled my block four times. Later when the police seized the vehicle in Badger,the vehicle card record maintained by Synanon showed it was taken out by Joe Musico. Musico made the mistake of denying to the authorities he took car out after signing up for it saying he had become sick. However, the card showed 400 miles had been added on, about the round trip mileage to Pacific Palisades.

4. The car had been completely washed down and brand new Synanon decals had been placed on it (the idea being Synanon would not use a car identifying itself). Lance Kenton’s fingerprint was found inside the vehicle (only when the prints were checked a second time). After they were arrested Musico made a jail house confession to another cell-mate who then went looking for a deal for himself. Juries do not always accept as true these confessions.

5. Ex-Synanon member witnesses testified both Musico and Kenton were gung ho Imperial Marines and Lance Kenton was infamous for his catching and caging rattlesnakes. There would be substantial evidence Kenton and Musico took part in other violent encounters and ultimately written confirmation of Synanon policy to use Marines to attack enemies in order to get out the word not to mess with them (See Fall of Synanon II) A tape recording of Dederich was found by search warrant (See Fall of Synanon III and True Story of Rattlesnake in the mailbox) where Dederich spoke to the community of killing enemies, people they had beaten and that the Imperial Marines were trained for this purpose. Wire logs and Think Table written summaries were seized showing similar statements were often broadcasted through the community on the Wire—a closed broadcasting system with speakers in every portion of Synanon property.

A strong circumstantial case. But a jury must found guilt beyond reasonable doubt. To make sure the jury knows the Plymouth was by my house on Oct. 9th with the altered plates, that Black Datsun, and its driver, had to be found.

* * *
And so started the October hunt for a Black 280Z Datsun that had been in Pacific Palisades. In the afternoons after he returned from school, Richard Blue would hop in my car and we would drive throughout Palisades looking for a Black Datsun. If we found one we took down the license number and turned it to LAPD Detective Marvin Enquest.

750 to 1,500 Black Datsuns were made, but most it figured were in Los Angeles. The car fit the lifestyle. I would see one in Hollywood and jot down the plate number. Since the driver we were looking for had been out mid afternoon on a Monday I made a list of people most likely to do so. I put in salesmen, insurance salesmen, real estate and restaurateurs. I contacted each such company in Pacific Palisades to inquire if anyone employed drove a Black Datsun.

Detective Jerry Rodgers and Enquist obtained a list of purchasers from Datsun records and were proceeding to call and track the owners of each car. But they told me they figured the man was too afraid and was in hiding. I didn’t think so. I said a person who did what he did that day doesn’t hide. He just has never put it together and doesn’t know the importance of what he saw.

Sometimes at 7 in the morning I sat at the corner of Chautauqua and Sunset Blvd. watching the traffic go in an out of Palisades. If a Black Datsun went by I gave chase. Once when trying to pull over two young girls (may be the car belonged to a boyfriend or brother) they started screaming for help outside the window thinking I was some pervert trying to force them over. So I pulled back and got the license plate.

Eventually, I ran an ad in the Los Angeles Times asking for the driver to come forward. The ad contained a police artist sketch of the driver stating “Have you seen this man?” The ad stated that on October 9, 1978 the witness, a male Caucasian, driving a black Datsun of the “Z” variety, had observed a green vehicle with a tape altering the license plate. He gave the information to a police officer in the vicinity. “If you are the driver of the black Datsun, PLEASE immediately contact the person described below.” I also asked that anyone who might have information to his identity to contact my attorney as well. Finally I asked that if they know any one who drives a black Datsun Z asked him if he’s the man. The Times also that his story on my running the ad. But no result.

The first preliminary hearing commenced and still we had not found him. I was on the stand for weeks and then it was discovered that the judge had a private conversation with the Rattlesnake expert, inviting him to speak at his wife’s women’s club. A judge is not allowed to have a private conversation with a witness so when Mike Carroll found out he told Synanon lawyers who then demanded that the preliminary hearing be canceled and started again. While initially I was enraged that I would have to go back on the stand all over again this turned out to be fortunate as it bought time.

It was on the next to last day of the second month plus long preliminary hearing that it happened. The driver, it turned out, was in the real estate industry. He did appraisals for home loans for a bank in Palos Verdes. Once in a while he was asked to appraise a home in Pacific Palisades some 30 miles away. And unfortunately for Synanon he was so assigned again and as luck would further shine he needed gas in order to return home. So he pulled into a Pacific Palisades 76 Union gas station. I had alerted every gas station attendant in Palisades to write down the license plate of any Black Datsun that came into their station. A station man wrote down the license number and phoned LAPD as directed.

And so on the last day of the 2nd preliminary hearing the driver took the stand. After he testified to his observations of October 9, 1978, the Synanon lawyer, William Cox, asked:

“When did you first hear from the Los Angeles Police Department?

“Yesterday, I found a message from my phone from Detective Marvin Enquest asking that I call him. So I did.

“What did he ask you?”

“He asked if I saw anything unusual several months ago and Pacific Palisades that I reported to the police.

“What did you respond ?

“Oh, you mean that Plymouth with the altered license plates.”

“What did Enquist say?”

“Nothing. There was just silence….”
* * *

Because he was a witness I could never speak to him until finally it was all over in 1982. We spoke on the telephone once, we never met. He moved as I recall to Houston. As best as I could I thanked him and told him he was my hero. I always knew he wasn’t afraid, that he was not in hiding, that he had never known the connection and that if we found him he would bravely testify. I said we were of the same cloth. I know nothing of his life since.

Richard Blue from the experience decided to be a cop. LAPD thought he might be to exuberant and past. So he went through a private police school and became a security guard. He ended up rescuing two drug dealers tied up and left to die and a burning building. He then became an LAPD officer which he remains today.

Donald Growe for identifying Musico and Kenton won a citation. He e-mailed me recently after finding this site.

About 8 years after the incident I ran a stop sign on Motor Dr. in Cheviot Hills and was pulled over for a ticket. But the officer returned, handed me my driver’s license and said, “I am letting you go, Paul. I owe you one.”

I looked up and saw his badge. ” Ybarro.”

We hugged in the street.

I love classic cars. In 1982 to celebrate Synanon victory I bought a 57 Porsche Speedster. I still have it. I have owned a Volvo 1800es, a BMW 2002 tii Baur, a l969 VW, a 57 Chevey Bel-Air and a 69 GTO. Over many years since I watch the roads as cars go by. It seems forever since I have seen a Datsun Z. I might not even recognize one if I saw it.

Does anyone have a black pearl 78 Z for sale?