SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and death sentence of one of two men implicated in at least 11 notorious torture killings in the mid-1980s in which the duo kept their victims hidden in a Secret bunker in the woods of Northern California.
Thirty-seven years later, authorities are still trying to identify the remains of some of his victims.
Charles Ng, now 61, was convicted in 1999 of killing six men, three women and two baby boys in 1984 and 1985. He was initially charged with 13 murders: 12 in Calaveras County and one in San Francisco.
Ng was captured in Calgary ol July 6, 1985, during Stampede week, when Sean Doyle, a teacher who worked as a security guard at the Hudson’s Bay store in downtown Calgary, saw Ng stealing a can of salmon. Doyle followed Ng into a crowded street, where he and another security guard tried to arrest the mass murderer. During a fight, Ng shot Doyle in the hand, permanently damaging his middle finger. Despite the injury, the thief was subdued until the police arrived.
Ng and his criminal partner, Leonard Lake, committed a series of kidnappings involving slavery and sadism that ended in murder. They were initially suspected of killing up to 25 people.
“This is one of those stories that has been passed down over time in this community,” said Calaveras County Lt. Greg Stark, whose father worked for the department at the time of the killings. “There have been wild estimates and conservative estimates and I honestly don’t think anyone will ever know, because of how the bodies were disposed of.”
Ng and Lake held their victims in a remote 2 1/2-acre gated compound in the Sierra Nevada, about 150 miles east of San Francisco. It included a bunker with three rooms, two of them behind a hidden door. A hidden, locked room was furnished like a cell, with a bed covered with a foam pad, a plastic bucket, and a roll of toilet paper.
Lake committed suicide with a cyanide capsule after police arrested him for shoplifting in San Francisco in 1985 and questioned him before the bodies were found.
The justices said in a detailed 181-page analysis of the case that Ng received a fair trial, including a change of seat from Calaveras County to Orange County due to pre-trial publicity.
It was one of the longest and most expensive trials in California at the time, costing millions of dollars, in part because the court said Ng repeatedly tried to delay and disrupt his own trial. That included lengthy debates about whether he could represent himself and who would be his attorneys.
The judges also unanimously concluded that Ng was properly extradited after he fled to Canada. He fought extradition for six years before the Supreme Court of Canada ordered his return.
The men incriminated themselves with videos of them tormenting terrified, terrified women they used as sex slaves prior to their murders.
The jury was shown a tape of a woman pleading in vain for men to spare her husband and baby while Ng cut her shirt and bra off with a knife on camera.
Investigators also discovered piles of charred bones, blood-stained tools, shallow graves and a 250-page diary Lake kept.
Four law enforcement agencies spent five weeks searching the property, according to the court’s detailed description.
They found thousands of buried teeth and bone fragments throughout the property, with at least four of the dental samples belonging to a child under the age of three. “Many hundreds” of bone fragments had been burned.
Two forensic anthropologists ultimately concluded that the remains belonged to at least four adults, a child and an infant. Two men were found in a shallow grave not far from the property. They had been bound, gagged and shot to death.
Calaveras County officials last year exhumed additional bones and other human remains from a cemetery crypt where they had been kept since Ng’s conviction, hoping that modern DNA tracing might reveal their identities.
Initially, they are hoping there will be enough viable DNA left for a match, Stark said, but the Justice Department has not yet been able to make the matches, in part because of more urgent active cases.
Investigators plan to compare the DNA with that of the closest relatives of known cooperating victims, and run it against DNA databases in hopes of a match.
“Regardless of whether there are 11 (murders) or more than 11, we hope to categorize the remains and, if possible, return them to families for proper respect and burial,” Stark said. “If we find additional IDs, we will definitely look into them and their connection to the case.”
Ng joined the Marine Corps after coming to the United States from Hong Kong. He was previously jailed in Leavenworth, Kansas, for weapons theft while serving in the Marine Corps.
He and his defense attorneys argued that he was under the influence of Lake, an older man and survivor who they said engineered the serial killings. Ng denied involvement in many of the crimes.
His lawyers argued at the time that Ng was raised as a child, when his father beat him.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has placed a moratorium on the death penalty while he is governor, and Ng still has the possibility of further federal appeals.