John C. Holmes, the world's premier pornographic film star, sobbed as he sat in a steaming bathtub early one morning in July, 1981.
Haltingly, Holmes confessed to his wife that he had played a central role in four brutal murders earlier that month in a drug dealers' hillside home in Laurel Canyon.
"There's somebody out there who wants to kill me," Holmes told Sharon, his wife of 16 years.
Frightened, she asked, "Why?"
For a time, John Holmes was silent. Finally, he replied: "The murders . . . I was involved. . . . I know who did it."
In a recent interview with The Times, Sharon Holmes, who divorced the late actor in 1984, described for the first time the story her husband told her less than three weeks after the July 1 killings.
John Holmes recounted how he led three thugs to the tightly secured drug house on Wonderland Avenue, escorted them in, and stood by as they bludgeoned the five people inside, spattering Holmes with blood. One woman survived the attack.
"He said, 'I had to stand there and watch what they did,' " Sharon Holmes recalled.
"I said, 'John, how could you? You knew these people.'
"And he said, 'They were dirt.' "
The actor's wife paused. "I'll never forget that as long as I live," she said.
John Holmes, who was tried for and acquitted of the crimes, never told his wife the names of the assailants, she said.
Another woman who had a lengthy intimate relationship with Holmes told The Times recently of a separate, parallel admission made by the actor shortly after the killings, an account she gave to police in 1981.
Together, the women's descriptions of what Holmes told them largely corroborate the Los Angeles Police Department's theory of what happened on Wonderland Avenue. Police, however, believe that Holmes actually took part in the fatal beatings.
But the new accounts cast doubt on the story Holmes told a biographer before his death March 13. The 43-year-old actor died as a result of complications arising from his infection with the AIDS virus.
In the still unpublished "official" version of his life, Holmes is quoted as saying that he was held at gunpoint at another house while the killers, whose names he did not know, went to the home on Wonderland Avenue.
That version of the story, Sharon Holmes said, is fiction.
John Holmes himself never offered a public account of what happened on that July night. He did not testify at his trial, and his later secret testimony before the Los Angeles County Grand Jury remains sealed.
"We have never heard the whole truth (about the killings) and we never will hear the whole truth," said attorney Earl L. Hanson, who, along with partner Mitchell W. Egers, successfully defended Holmes against the murder charges. Hanson said Holmes never told his attorneys what happened the night of the killings.
But Detective Tom Lange of the Los Angeles Police Department, the lead investigator on the case, said, "There is no mystery, because we know who is involved and we know why. . . .
"There are other suspects that we feel are involved. . . . (But) we have a certain set of rules to follow that the people who go out and perpetrate crimes don't."
During Holmes' murder trial in 1982, then Deputy Dist. Atty. Ronald S. Coen, now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, argued that the fatal beatings were intended to avenge the humiliating armed robbery of Los Angeles nightclub owner Adel Nasrallah, also known as Eddie Nash.
In the weeks before the killings, Coen told the jurors, Holmes ferried property stolen by the Wonderland Avenue gang to Nash's heavily secured home in Studio City, where he exchanged it for drugs.
Then Holmes hit on a more direct way to make money. On the morning of June 29, 1981, four men who lived at the Wonderland Avenue address entered Nash's house through a sliding glass door that had been left ajar by Holmes, according to trial testimony. The armed intruders robbed Nash and his 300-pound body guard, Gregory Diles, of $10,000, two plastic sacks of cocaine and other property.
Two days later, Coen alleged that Holmes, acting on Nash's orders, led the killers to the Wonderland Avenue address and then helped murder the occupants.
Pieces of Evidence
The case against Holmes was built largely on two pieces of evidence: An admission that Holmes allegedly made to Los Angeles Police Detective Frank Tomlinson after his arrest in Miami in December, 1981, and a bloody palm print left by Holmes on the rail of a bed on which one of the victims, drug dealer Ronald Launius, died.
At Holmes' murder trial, Tomlinson testified that Holmes told him that "after the robbery had occurred at Ed Nash's house, that Nash had made (Holmes) tell him who the people were that robbed him.
"He said that (Nash) told him if he ever talked to the police that (Nash) would kill someone in his family." The detective added that Holmes "said he was there when the murders happened, but that he himself did not hurt anyone."