GOOD TO READ that Linda Williams of the Willits News has re-visited the unsolved murder of Les Crane, a Laytonville marijuana crusader shot to death in his home by a group of four invaders, maybe more. The constant reminders of Mendocino County atrocities help keep the victims alive, in that their families and other persons close to the victims know that the crime has not been forgotten.
DO THE COPS FORGET? No. It's our experience that they don't forget and they don't simply relegate major crimes to the Hopeless File, although that indeed seems to be what has happened to the Bari Bombing. In that one, the local authorities never even opened a file on the apparent assumption its resolution was a matter for the Oakland Police Department and the FBI, and let me know when you hear of the overwhelmed Oakland cops solving a two-step case. And the FBI made the ludicrous announcement early on that they would not continue to investigate the Bari case “because no one will talk to us.” Bari herself had applied for limited immunity from prosecution and lots of people, including Bari's first attorney Susan B. Jordan, were saying that the feds ought to take a look at Bari's ex, Mike Sweeney. Jordan was replaced by the malleable Dennis Cunningham for daring to state the obvious. And we know that the bomb was constructed in Mendocino County because the person who built it wrote to the Press Democrat saying so, and even described the device in a way only the person who manufactured it could know. Twenty-three years down the road the Bari case is solvable via the DNA extracted from the confession letter but, so far, no one in authority seems interested and, of course, there's the usual idiot chorus of Pacifica listeners still stuck in Blue Meanie mode who prefer to believe the corporate-federal nexus did it.
THE MURDER OF LES CRANE is unusual in the number of persons involved. Usually, when a group of mopes commits murder one or more of the killers would soon be arrested for something else and, eager for a reduced sentence, trade inside information on, say, Crane's messy dispatch. I think the cops know who was involved in the Crane killing but aren't quite able to nail it down in a way that will stick. Ditto for the obvious murders of Ukiah's Susan Keegan and Fort Bragg's Katlyn Long. We're confident the Keegan prosecution will occur this year, and we maintain hope that Miss Long's killer, a tweeker man constantly in trouble that occurs with increasing frequency, will at last be compelled to be held to account for his murder. (One begins to understand the lure of the waterboard, doesn't one?)
WE'D FORGOTTEN that Ukiah 'Sativa' Morrison worked for Crane. Morrison has been in and out of the news ever since, and if I were a cop I'd debrief him long and hard about the Crane matter.
IN THE NOVEMBER 19, 2005 edition of the Ukiah Daily Journal, reporter Laura Clark described the Crane murder:
“Les Crane, 39, owner of Mendo Spiritual Remedies in Laytonville and Hemp Plus Ministry in Ukiah, was shot to death at his Laytonville home early Friday morning.
Mendocino County Sheriff's Detective Commander D.J. Miller said Crane was killed about 2:30 a.m. in the home invasion. 'The investigation has disclosed it appears to be robbery motivated. An undisclosed amount of currency and processed marijuana was stolen,' Miller said.
Yellow tape surrounded the Road 307 residence Friday, where investigators from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, evidence technicians and members of the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team could be seen taking photographs and measurements, and periodically carrying armfuls of marijuana from a building.
Law enforcement at the scene would not disclose any more information, but a sign in the driveway spoke volumes: 'Mendo Spiritual Remedies. In God we trust, Rev. Les Crane . God Gave it to us and no one can take it away. Welcome to our church.'
In the midst of all the activity, a man drove up and said to one of the sheriff's officers: 'I just came by to see Les, but maybe this is a bad time.'
A visit later in the day to the Hemp Plus Ministry revealed the darkest details of what happened to Crane.
'Reverend Crane was killed last night; I was there,' said a visibly shaken Jennifer Drewry, as she sat inside the cannabis distribution center Friday afternoon, cradling her left arm, which was broken and in a sling from the beating she took during the ordeal.
'I was there while they were killing him,' Drewry, Crane's fiancé said, before recounting the ordeal, which could be described as nothing less than horrific.
'Les was in bed sleeping. I was sleeping in another bedroom,' she said, noting she woke up to the sound of footsteps. 'Four to six guys ... they were wearing all black with black masks. ... They busted down the door and all you could hear them saying was 'This is a raid, this is a raid, this is a raid,' she said, noting the voices sounded young.
First, one of the men walked in and beat another of the home's residents, 20-year-old Sean Dirlam — also known as "The Count" — while he slept, she said.
Then she said she opened her door and one of the men — this one not wearing a mask — hit her over the head. 'The men in the masks stayed with Les, killing him and taking his medical marijuana and his money. I was on my hands and knees praying to God, too loud I guess, so the one guy told him to shoot me, but he missed, and then I heard five or six other gunshots. I was too scared to look up after that, so I waited until it was quiet and then I ran into Les's room. He was lying there; he could still talk. There was a lot of blood. The Count was hiding, talking to 911. .... It had to be 15 minutes before anyone showed up. It was a long time ... I was out of my mind. They wouldn't let me sit with him,' she said referring to emergency personnel. 'I told them they are torturing me; he's dying ... I knew I only had a couple minutes; he was dying,' she said, noting Crane was shot in the back of the head, in an arm and in his abdomen. 'There was so much blood I couldn't see all the holes,' she said.
'He just asked me to marry him two weeks ago. I was planning a wedding; now I have to plan a funeral,' Drewry said. 'They ruined my life and took my dreams away from me — all for money and greed,' she said, by this time sobbing.
Crane supplied medical marijuana to more than 1,000 people in Mendocino County. Mendo Spiritual Remedies serves more than 800 people in the Laytonville area and Hemp Plus Ministry, which opened about two months ago in Ukiah, already has 350 clients, according to those who worked there.
Christina Bagby — who referred to herself, Crane and his friend, Ukiah Morrison, as reverends — works at the Ukiah ministry.
'We believe that cannabis is the tree of life. In the Bible it does say the tree of life will be called upon to heal the nation. We believe that tree is cannabis. We promote hemp awareness.'
Morrison also works there, and like Bagby, spoke nothing but kind words about Crane.
'He was very thankful to be alive and to help the community. That was his only objective in life — to help others,' Morrison said of the man he called his best friend. 'He spent $7,000 of his own money to buy 350 turkeys both for Ukiah Food Bank and Laytonville Food Bank,' he added.
Quoting from the Bible, Morrison said: 'Greater work than I have done, shall you do. Les Crane embodied that and he helped uplift the community. ... He was definitely my super hero and mentor. He was like a father to most of us.'
Laytonville residents The Daily Journal spoke with Friday said Crane did indeed do some good in the community: His teen center was clean and sober and the teens did use it. He also gave to charities.
Other residents said Crane hung out with what some perceived as undesirables — for instance other large scale pot growers. Some described him as loud and boisterous and said he had his share of scrapes with the law ... that he was courting trouble.
In October, District Attorney Norm Vroman brought cultivation of marijuana charges against Crane, who adamantly proclaimed his innocence.
'Anyone that is a patient that would like to stand up, please join me and stand up against the tyranny,' Crane said at the time. 'It isn't a controlled substance to me. This is a medicine and those laws do not apply to patients.'
Morrison and Drewry both believe Crane's killer was somebody he knew.
'As he was breathing ... after he had been shot several times, I asked him, Who did this to you? and he said, They came to see The Count today, Drewry said, adding, 'They came to rob the marijuana there and a safe. They took it all.'
'He always told Hemp Ministry workers, Don't hesitate to open the safe; it's not worth a life,' Morrison said, noting Crane was trusting because the money was irrelevant to his cause. Crane's door was probably unlocked, Morrison said. However, Morrison added, 'He was not an idiot; he knew his work was risky.'
Crane came to Mendocino County several years ago with $100 and a dog after selling his tie-dye business in Florida. He had heard Mendocino County had passed Measure G supporting legalization of marijuana in the county for personal use. He turned the $100 into a sizable profit that harvest year and took that nest egg and started the dispensary and then opened a youth center in Laytonville.
'He was a true American. I don't want him to be forgotten. I just heard him say the other day, The more you give out, the more you receive to give out the next day,' Morrison said.
Law enforcement officials are seeing more violence sparked by marijuana.
'This time of the year there is always the potential for violence in marijuana grows due to the quantity of marijuana and the large sums of money that are exchanged,' Miller said.”
DEEP IN THE HILLS east of Boonville a major American writer works in what can only be described as splendid isolation on his latest novel, American Tropic, to be released January 15th. Thomas Sanchez is best known for Rabbit Boss, a major book in both the literary and bestseller sense published in 1973, and the only book I know that describes in detail the archetypal experience of California Indians. It should be taught in schools as literature and history but seeing as how we're into a third, maybe fourth generation of non-book-reading citizens (and teachers), Native American history anymore is a mish-mash of myth and politically correct bushwa even if it is occasionally mentioned during class hours. In Mendocino County, NA history goes something like this: “Once upon a time there were happy brown people who were real good at making baskets. Then they like kinda disappeared or something. Then, the pioneers, in living fact wandering bands of white criminals subsequently hired by the State of California to murder and enslave Indians because the Indians had killed a stallion belonging the founder of Hasting's Law School who maintained a ranch near Covelo were in the way of progress, and to this day killers are celebrated in County museums from Willits to Boonville and especially the fairly large museum in Ukiah. If the Indians had had guns and horses when the first thugs showed up local history might have a different interpretation. Rabbit Boss tells the true story of what happened. Sanchez is also the author of King Bongo; The Zoot Suit Murders; Mile Zero; Day of the Bees and a bunch of screen plays.
DJANGO UNCHAINED. Is it a good movie? Yes. Is it a great movie? I don't know. I'm not an auteur. On my friend Michael Donnelly's rave review I trundled out to see for myself. I'm glad I did. Trudging home afterwards, I came up with, “Folks, think of it as The Wild Bunch Meets Slavery, The Institution.” Throw in Jamie Foxx as High Noon, truly brilliant acting in all the roles large and small, great music, and dialogue that's funny as hell, and it's better than anything any of us have seen lately on the silver screen. Donnelly is correct. It's a great movie. Ironically, to me anyway, the only interlude that wasn't up to the high standards of the rest of the cast was filmmaker Quentin Tarantino's insertion of himself as one of the gun boys. He should have stayed behind the camera. That's the only nit I'd pick. Django is Not for everyone, of course. The two ladies, sixty-ish, seated next to me gasped throughout, so absorbed in the action that they seemed to think it was real. Lots of people applauded when it ended. Walking out I asked one of the gasping ladies what they'd thought of it. “Except for all the blood and gore, I liked it,” she said.