It was read quickly over the last couple of days and, whatever its merits are as a literary effort, the information Peake shares about her complicated life with McKenna, which ended when she left him not long before his 1989 murder, is often fascinating.
The story includes her difficult childhood, with a mentally ill mother who committed suicide (as did others in her family); her decision to get into the world of stripping and nude modeling, including the summit of her career appearing as a Penthouse Pet of the Month in 1987; her leaving dancing to marry, raise her two children, and work in movie theater management; and her long and challenging health issues due to breast implants.
Obviously, the heart of the book is her relationship with the mercurial McKenna, who could be terrifyingly abusive and also loving, though, Peake talks about the Carbon Canyon ranch, both with some fondness and some tough memories of feeling trapped physically and mentally. There are a number of photos of the place in the book, including the property's entrance off Carbon Canyon Road where the ambush that killed McKenna took place.
Towards the end of the book, Peake mentions "a little local blog in Brea called the Carbon Canyon Chronicle" and its post about the murder. She notes that the post "has since become the personal bulletin board for the old gang" who knew McKenna.
Specifically, Peake refers to the fact that "the editor of the blog commented that the depth and complexity of our feelings about Mac and his murder led him to become more objective and less judgmental" about the situation and quotes from below: " . . . there were human beings involved in this terrible incident . . . not cartoon characters, TV personalities, or film stereotypes, tempting as it might be to think of them that way." This is followed by a link to this post.
Several pages are devoted to some of those who have posted comments, including John Sheridan, who turned himself in and served time in prison before being paroled several years ago. The chapter in which this section is contained ends with Peake referencing her own commenting on the post four years ago and her statement about having "mixed feelings" about the aftermath and her not having "any anger left for anyone." She concludes by saying "I can't imagine living that life again."
The book can be bought on Amazon for $5 in a Kindle edition and from $11 up for print and there are a few copies on eBay, but at much higher prices. This is not a review, so there is no advice given here about whether it should be bought or not. If the McKenna murder has any interest for you, though, 6200 Carbon Canyon Road is worth considering for the perspective Peake presents.
10 March 2014: Yesterday, 9 March, marked the 25th anniversary of the slaying of Horace McKenna, Jr. As was noted in a comment recently, the house in which McKenna lived was torn down several months ago as the new owner is building another residence on the grounds.
Within the last few weeks there was a cable program on Investigation Discovery that covered the McKenna murder (albeit, sensationally with all that entails). A link to the program is here.
Finally, another blog has extensive coverage of the McKenna slaying and it can be accessed here.
Once again, this story has been, by far, the most visited on this blog and the comments have been many and fascinating. This was not expected at all, but it has been very interesting to see the traffic and read the reactions about an event a quarter century old, but still notable in Carbon Canyon history.
This incident had it all: sex, money, power, police officers turned strip club entrepreneurs and, naturally, violence. To think it has just about been twenty years since the murder of Horace "Big Mac" McKenna at his Carbon Canyon home is remarkable. Even more is how the case was solved a dozen years later when it seemed it just couldn't be cracked.
Horace McKenna and Michael Woods were former California Highway Patrol officers and, in the course of their work, developed enough knowledge of the world of strip clubs to become major players in the industry in the years after their very early retirement in 1977 from law enforcement. The two quickly rose in the strip club universe and, within only three years, were owners of the "Valley Ball" in Van Nuys, and "Bare Elegance" and the "Jet Strip" in Los Angeles and were wealthy, powerful men.
The partners, however, had significantly different personalities. Woods, a slight, medium-built man, was the quiet type, preferring to stay relatively low key at his large Westlake Village home. McKenna, on the other hand, lived large and loudly. He was 6'6", tipped the scales at near 300 pounds, and was an avid bodybuilder. At his home he had a fake Western town facade complete with a boot hill (which would prove ironic); owned Arabian horses and a stable of exotic animals, such as a Bengal tiger and tuxedo-wearing monkeys; and was driven around in expensive cars. There was one other common connection aside from their talent for running strip clubs: their competition for trying to fleece each other.
Matters worsened when Woods hired a young British man named David Amos as a club bouncer. Amos, who was almost as well-muscled and nearly as ambitious as McKenna, quickly rubbed the latter the wrong way, but had Woods' patronage. Soon, Woods and Amos were tighter than Woods and McKenna had been and something had to give.
In the meantime, a steady patron of the Woods/McKenna empire of strip clubs entered the picture. John Patrick Sheridan was a Irish-Chinese high school dropout from Agoura Hills in the western San Fernando Valley who dealt drugs and was an addict from his early teens. Out on bail on drug charges, Sheridan was a "stoolie" for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department and their drug busting arm. When he became a drinking partner of Amos, Sheridan found himself on the other end of an interesting proposal in 1988. Claiming that McKenna had it in for him, which could well have been true, Amos implored his new friend to take on a job that would pay him nicely (in support of his drug and drink habit) and save the life of a pal. It was, however, more than likely that Woods was in fear for his life from McKenna and employed Amos to find someone to carry out the contract killing.It took a few months and even then cold feet set in, but Sheridan accepted his task. He was to lay in wait in the late of night at the Carbon Canyon Road entrance to McKenna's manse and execute a good old fashioned contract killing. In return, Sheridan was paid $25,000 and given a strip club job that, by his accounting, paid him about $3,000 a month.
Just after midnight on 9 March 1989, McKenna's driver, "Bible Bob" Berg, a placid born-again Christian, pulled off the road and got out of the car to open the gate. Berg then got back in when Sheridan jumped out from his hiding place and opened fire with an Uzi he had bought on the street for a little over a grand. The twenty-something bullets erupted out of the 9mm clip and ripped into McKenna's upper body. Berg, terrified, sped off to the house while Sheridan ran for his car. Later, from a convenience store payphone (remember, it was 1989!) Sheridan called Amos to report that his job was done.
UPDATE (19 April 2011): A longtime resident of Carbon Canyon has related the fact that a motorcycle was found abandoned on its side on the north side of Carbon Canyon Road in Sleepy Hollow. The recollections was that the cycle was concealed in some bushes at the driveway entrance to the McKenna residence and that the killer used it to drive over to Sleepy Hollow and make the call for the getaway car to shuttle him away. It would appear that the "convenience store" was what is now Canyon Market, but long known as Party House Liquor #2. It was also remembered that the automatic gate at the driveway entrance was in the process of being installed by McKenna with the suggestion that, had it been fully operational, the results may have been different.
It was a perfect crime: a remote area, no prints, no tracks, no witnesses to identify the killer or the contracting parties paying off their hit man. It should have been an eternal cold case. Not that anyone for a moment thought that Michael Woods and David Amos were free of suspicion. It was just that there was no evidence to link him to the slaying.
Sheridan, meantime, got his money and his job. Even though he spent two years in prison for a drug bust, he continued to work for Woods and Amos, who continued to make enormous sums of money, substantially pocketed before taxes, and live the high life. Amos, who fancied himself an actor, even partnered with Woods in making two low-budget films--well, just take a gander at these titles: "The Takeover" (1995) and "Flipping" (1997). Amos appeared in small acting roles in the two films (and even acted in three other films, including "Guns and Lipstick" (1995), "Fatal Choice" (1995), and "Dancing at the Blue Iguana" (2000)--all of whom appear to have had some palpable links to his world—and an episode of the television show "Conan" in 1998—while Woods served as executive producer. The first title may well have been chosen for a macabre reason, but the second turned out to be highly prophetic. As it turned out, the low-level Hollywood careers of both men proved less than successful and their strip club partnership also hit the skids when Amos suspected Woods of embezzling money from their business, threatened to take the matter to the authorities, and sought to wrest control of the empire from his former mentor.
According to Sheridan, however, his life took an unexpectedly human turn almost a decade after the killing. First, McKenna's bible-toting driver, clueless about Sheridan's role in the execution of his boss, told the hit man that McKenna's last words were: "Tell my mom I love her." Second, Sheridan's viewing of the autopsy photos of the deceased haunted him. Finally, God followed directly on the heels of a growing, gnawing guilt and Sheridan bared his scarred soul to a Roman Catholic priest.
In the late 90s, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer working for the Orange County District Attorney's office began to reexamine the case and aggressively interviewed people associated with McKenna, Woods, and Amos. The latter two, fearing that Sheridan might squeal, offered him $10,000 to stay quiet. Once Sheridan had found religion, however, there was nothing else he could do but go to the authorities and tell all.
A significant amount of work still needed to be done, however, to build an airtight case so, for most of 2000, Sheridan took the risky move of wearing a wire to force Amos to incriminate himself. It as a long process, but in late October, there was enough accumulated on tape to arrest Amos. He, in turn, immediately turned on Woods and put on a wire for a meeting with his partner. Once Woods began to get into ideas of how to further cover up his tracks, investigators had enough to collar him as left the meeting.
In September 2001, Michael Woods was indicted for first-degree murder with special circumstances, but the judge struck the special circumstances component, and Woods was convicted by an Orange County jury of first-degree murder in the hit on his old partner and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He did mount an appeal to the 4th Appellate District Court, claiming that his right to to call Sheridan as a witness was thwarted by the prosecution and that his right to counsel was undermined by the use of an informant (Amos) to incriminate himself. In their opinion, however, filed in July 2004 the appellate judges ruled that even though "we recognize the fact the prosecution's actions in this case forced Woods to detour his defense, and put on a different -- possibly less convincing -- case than he wanted" there was no reason to overturn the decision because "we find no misconduct on the part of the prosecution." As to the second argument, the court stated that "equally important, [we] find no diminution of Wood's Fifth or Sixth Amendment rights which rose to the level of constitutional error."
In the court transcript, it was revealed that the prosecutor informed the court of the intent to question Sheridan as a witness, but decided against it. When the defense team tried to introduce Sheridan as their witness, his attorney claimed that he had not completed his plea bargain terms with the proseuction and would, therefore, invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The prosecutor's stance that there would be no agreement executed until after Woods' trial was over led the judge to order a hearing over the crafty move played by the prosecutor. While recognizing that the prosecution had smartly carried out its plea bargain terms with Sheridan, allowing himself to avoid being called as a defense witness, he determined that there was no reason to, as the defense hoped, dismiss the case, declare a mistrial, or strike David Amos' testimony as contingent on Sheridan. The judge, however, did give the defense the option of using Sheridan's statements through the recollections of other witnesses, which Woods' counsel did make use of. There was another reason, however, for the prosecutor to develop the strategy of keeping the Sheridan plea bargain open until the conclusion of the trial. Simply put, the prosecution wanted to keep Sheridan available in case Amos decided to lie on the stand and protect Woods.
On the question of using Amos with a wire to incriminate Woods, thereby pushing the case from investigation to accusaion and necessarily triggering the "right to counsel" issue when Woods could not execute that right, because the police had already surrounded the restaurant where the wiretapped meeting took place and because they were already serving search warrants at his clubs and home, the court offered that "the undisputed facts establish Woods' Sixth Amendment rights were not violated." Namely, the court determined that the case was definitely still in the investigation stage when the Amos meeting was held and that accusation can only come in the formal presentment of charges in court.
Meanwhile, David Amos, for cooperating in nailing Woods, pled on the lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to twenty years. He may well be released from prison in the next few years.