Tai Freligh interviews Michael Connelly, host of the Wonderland Murders Podcast…
Though it happened in 1981, the aftermath of the Wonderland Murders spans decades with characters, details, subplots and investigative twists that prove the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction adage, including: Hollywood underworld’s most violent drug kingpin; three murder trials with zero convictions; a bribed juror and accusations of a corrupt federal agent; the birth of the crack cocaine epidemic; the investigators being investigated themselves, the Black Guerilla Family; the biggest porn actor of his generation, John Holmes, not to mention wild claims about the drug use of many major celebrities; a Boston mafia Don; and finally, the story of a quick-buck televangelist who was supposed to be in witness protection when he ended up on the floor of a Florida motel shot in the face and left for dead. A new podcast follows the nine lives of a man known best as Liberace’s lover and confidant, played by Matt Damon in the movie Behind the Candelabra, revealing himself here to be the “Zelig of Awful” and our tour guide into Hollywood’s dark underbelly. He is either the ultimate con man or the ultimate witness to the secret history of Hollywood. Tai Freligh recently chatted with author Michael Connelly about the podcast, his longtime fascination with the Wonderland Murders and what he wants people to take away from the podcast.
Talk about how you first became aware of the Wonderland murders and why it became such an obsession for you?
I moved to LA in 1987 to be a newspaper reporter on the crime beat. The following year Eddie Nash was arrested and later put on trial for the murders. So it was a running case as I learned the city as a reporter. A few years later I moved to Laurel Canyon and realized I was just around the corner from the house where the murders were committed. That only increased my interest in the case.
What has your relationship with this murder case been over the years?
I would not call it a fixation but I knew some of the detectives that were on the case and I always got a sense from them that there was more to it than what meets the eye. Then last year one of the detectives told me he had been contacted by Scott Thorson. He asked if I wanted to talk to Thorson and I said yes.
Were you approached to do this podcast series or was it your idea that you pitched?
It was a little of both. Retired detective Rick Jackson arrested Scott Thorson in 1988 for a robbery. That led to Thorson becoming a witness in the Wonderland case. Jackson said Thorson might be an interesting person to build a podcast about. I said see if he’ll talk to me and it went from there.
Why do you think there is still so much interest in a case that happened 40 years ago?
I think there are a lot of reasons but a main one is that there so many unanswered questions and people clearly got away with murder. Call it unrequited justice. We all grow up putting our faith in the justice system and when it doesn’t work out we want to know why.
Talk about the cast of characters interviewed for this podcast and the roles they played in the murders and subsequent investigation?
It’s a cast of hundreds and the tendrils of this case run through so many. I would say our tour guide through this sordid time in Hollywood and its drug culture is Scott Thorson, once famous as Liberace’s companion and played by Matt Damon in the movie, now an ex-addict whose history is as fascinating as it is off-putting. Since he is our unreliable narrator we pair him with several detectives who worked the case and/or knew Hollywood in the day so that we can check Thorson’s stories against the facts.
Did you uncover any new evidence or information over the course of making this podcast series?
We are definitely telling parts of the story never told before and putting what is known into context. As far as new evidence goes, I don’t think there is anything new. But the listener can draw their own conclusion about that.
What do you want people to take away from this after listening to the entire series?
I hope it stands as a solid documentary on not just the case but the culture at that time, as well as an inspiring look at the relentlessness of detectives and prosecutors who put everything they had into the case.
What other projects do you have coming up and happening right now?
I’m working on two TV shows and just turned in my next novel. The Dark Hours will be out in November.
How did the pandemic effect, if at all, the creation of this series?
Well, I think the big impact was not being able to travel and meet face to face with people. Almost all of the interviews had to be conducted by zoom. At times that was not an issue but other times I just thought the interviews would have benefited by being in person.
If you were to tackle another enigmatic murder case from the past for a podcast, what would it be?
That’s easy; the Black Dahlia. Still unsolved and still fascinating after 75 years.
Michael is the bestselling author of 36 novels and one work of non-fiction. With over 80 million copies of his books sold worldwide in 40 foreign languages and over 1 million audiobooks sold in 2020 alone, he is one of the most successful writers working today. His very first novel, The Black Echo, won the prestigious Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1992. In 2002, Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the movie adaptation of Connelly’s 1998 novel, Blood Work. In March 2011, the movie adaptation of his #1 bestselling novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, hit theaters worldwide starring Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller. His most recent #1 New York Times bestsellers include The Law of Innocence, Fair Warning, The Night Fire and Dark Sacred Night. Michael’s crime fiction career was honored with the Diamond Dagger from the CWA in 2018.
Netflix series adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer, from David E. Kelley, A+E Studios and Michael Connelly, is currently filming its 10-episode premiere season. Michael is the executive producer of Bosch, an Amazon Studios original drama series based on his bestselling character Harry Bosch, starring Titus Welliver. Bosch streams on Amazon Prime Video, with the upcoming seventh season releasing this summer. Michael is the creator, host, and owner of the podcast Murder Book, two seasons of which have been produced and released to date, and which is currently in development at eOne as a scripted TV series. He is also the executive producer of the documentary films, Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story and Tales of the American. He spends his time in California and Florida.
The Wonderland Murders & The Secret History Of Hollywood podcast is available on Audible on July 1st, 2021 and consists of 8 episodes.
We thank Michael Connelly for taking the time to chat with us. You can listen to a teaser for the new podcast HERE.