Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Snake vs. Wolf

Chip Jacobs has published several books, mostly about crime in the Los Angeles area.  This excerpt from a story in the recently published book, LA in the 1970s, describes one of the most bizarre cases you'll ever read.  "Snake vs. Wolf" chronicles the true story of crusading lawyer, Paul Morantz, whose efforts to bring down the drug recovery cult Synanon nearly led to his murder at the venom-tipped fangs of a mailbox-dwelling rattlesnake.  I highly recommend this book and have included a link at the end of the this excerpt.

by Chip Jacobs

Everybody, it seems, was watching the little white house on Bollinger Drive: pretty divorc√©es and kids on bikes, electronics whizzes and the Westside LAPD. Everybody was keeping a lookout for suspicious activity at the request of the owner, a feather-haired lawyer sleeping with a shotgun by his bed after the creepy sect he helped expose threatened to pay him a visit. Sure, it sounded melodramatic—killers skulking about a coastal town of rustic stores and quiet streets. And still there was that lurking, green Plymouth carrying two men up front and three friends in the trunk.

A real estate appraiser, who’d just stopped at a nearby corner market for a frosty drink, was the first to be flummoxed by it. Here he was, idling behind the sedan at a Pacific Palisades red light, unable to decipher its newfangled vanity license plate: 27 IVC. What narcissistic gloat could that represent? At twenty-seven I varoomed to California? Something about Ventura County? His puzzle-solving brain worked the variations. Then, by looking closer, Les Rahymer knew.

This wasn’t cutesy, aluminum-engraved conceit. This was deception. Lamely applied blue tape—tape the same ubiquitous hue as the plates’ background—concealed a “4” before the “27” and blurred the “G” into a “C”. Rahymer, a dark-haired thirty-something, sat in his black Datsun 280Z, prickled with goose bumps. What was he supposed to do when the Plymouth motored nonchalantly down Baylor Avenue: tail it like a real-life Jim Rockford (whose series filmed blocks away)? No, he was supposed to glimpse into his rearview mirror, where, by sheer happenstance, a Los Angeles Police Department patrol car was whipping left onto Sunset Boulevard like him.

“Did you see that car with the altered license plates?” Rahymer blurted, after waving the officer over. “Write down these numbers before I forget them.” David Ybarro jotted as told and even sketched passengers’ likenesses from the good samaritan’s account. It was a wickedly hot October afternoon, a day before the World Series opened at Dodger Stadium amid bunting and beer commercials.

Wait! Did he say a drab, early-seventies-model Plymouth Executive? If so, Ybarro himself had noticed the car earlier while serving an unrelated subpoena, figuring it for an undercover narcotics vehicle pursuing stoners and snow-white tans. Dispatch reported the car was registered to the group Synanon at its Marin County outpost.

Shazbot, as the kids said: not good. Especially after the dude in the Japanese import took off before Ybarro learned the driver’s name.

Ybarro, who walked a beat in this sun-glistened suburb a few minutes from Will Rogers State Beach, whistled for backup. Two LAPD colleagues, who arrived to hear him out, left, apparently unconcerned. Another pair drove past the lawyer’s range-style home on Bollinger with bougainvillea out back, observing nothing afoul. But Ybarro couldn’t shake the eerie butterflies. A few minutes later he was on Bollinger, telling a bike-riding boy to holler if he spotted the Plymouth. At shift’s end, he logged his experience.

Only the next day would the report surface—in a department trash can, ignored.


No comments: