From an early age, the Hong Kong-born Charles Ng was a loner. An abusive childhood, combined with school expulsions and a move to the U.S., left him without friends but with a serious case of kleptomania. His time in the Marine Corps—a stint that helped him evade a hit and run charge—brought no companionship either. After escaping imprisonment for stealing military explosives and weapons in 1980, he began the solitary and unstable life of a drifter—the law always hot on his trail.
But in the following year, Ng found a friend in Leonard Lake, whom he met via a war magazine. Once Ng had served his time and was dishonorably discharged from the military, he reached out to Lake for a place to stay. Lake had just the place for him: his small, rented cabin in the remote hills of Sierra Nevada.
While Ng certainly wasn’t what you’d call a “good person,” Leonard Lake was doubly depraved. As a young boy, he killed mice with chemicals, coerced his sisters into making homemade pornography, and was frequently caught for theft. Similar to Ng, he was an ex-Marine—though his discharge was due to his spiral into mental illness. Diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder, Lake was emotionally apathetic and unable to empathize or form social attachments.
However, it seemed like Charles Ng might be the exception. Ng soon joined Lake at the cabin, where a tiny, neighboring structure had already been outfitted as a “dungeon” for "slaves." It was here that the two friends tortured, raped, and murdered 12-25 people—from neighbors to coworkers to young children, both male and female. They kept a record of everything they did, video-taping their torture sessions and describing them in journals that investigators later recovered from a buried bucket.
Their downfall came on June 2, 1985 when Ng was caught shoplifting from a hardware store. It was Lake who returned to the store, prepared to give back the nicked item, but he quickly found himself the target of police suspicion. They noticed he'd shown them the license of a missing person, and then examined his car. He was arrested for carrying a gun with a silencer, and his vehicle—stolen from one of his dead victims—ultimately led police to the scene of his worst crimes. A nightmare awaited: Fragmented human remains were scattered across the property.
Meanwhile, Ng was hiding out in Canada, where yet another shoplifting misfire blew his cover. After being extradited back to the United States to be tried for murder, Ng was sentenced to death for 11 of the 12 dungeon slayings—an unsurprising verdict considering the amount of evidence stacked against him (and the fact that he chose to represent himself). Aside from the graphic video footage and diaries, Ng seemed falsely apologetic and had recently drawn a cartoon of himself surrounded by his victims. By this time, Lake had already taken his own life by swallowing contraband cyanide pills—so Ng was once again left on his own. He still sits on death row.
True crime author Don Lasseter covers the case in his book Die for Me, rehashing all the chilling details of what became one of California's most heinous crimes. The following excerpt introduces readers to one of the victims, 18-year-old "Kathi" Allen, who murdered just two months before the authorities were clued into Ng and Lake's spree. On April 12, 1985, her boyfriend, Mike, disappeared without a trace, leaving Kathi worried about the state of their relationship and, eventually, his life. When an anonymous caller informed her that Mike had been shot, she immediately rushed to rescue him per the caller's suggestion—only to find herself trapped in Charles Ng and Leonard Lake's dungeon of horrors...
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