The Wonderland Murders & The Secret History of Hollywood is the best true crime podcast in years, and the Audible series lives and breathes with Bob Souza and Tom Lange. That’s because Tom and Bob were the two Los Angeles Police Department detectives who investigated the infamous killings and got themselves caught up in something that went down in crime history.
The duo joined me recently to discuss why they were willing to revisit a case that could have totally destroyed their lives, what it was like for them to be part of Michael Connelly’s podcast, and what they’re hoping that the audience leaves with once they’ve heard every episode. Get to know more in this in-depth interview, and listen to The Wonderland Murders & The Secret History of Hollywood now on Audible. You can also read more in Tom and Bob’s book Malice in Wonderland.
Brittany Frederick: What motivated you to participate in The Wonderland Murders & The Secret History of Hollywood in the first place?
Bob Souza: Because it was Michael Connelly; he asked us personally. Michael is a very good friend of the Los Angeles Police Department. And Tom and I, we’ve always been interested in telling the real story and not what’s been done quite often on TV and even in a feature film [2003’s Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer]. Michael we knew would do it right. He has the chops and he has his background as a news reporter. We felt that he would do it justice. And we liked the approach that he was using, which shows a whole different side of this case, much of it never seen before. So we were pretty excited about this project.
Tom Lange: This [was] a brutal murder of four people, attempted murder on another one that led to a couple other homicides down the line. But to us, it was much more than just another murder case. This was personal. They came after us, falsely accused us of being in bed with organized crime and covering up these murders. This caused our own department to have a special investigation against us, unbeknownst to us. And this went on for a couple of months until I found out that it was just a dirty federal agent who set this whole thing up through an organized crime figure who we were investigating for the murders, Eddie Nash.
It really got to us in a personal way. Our careers were on the line, our reputations were on the line, and it was all a big lie, but people were doing this to derail the investigation. And to a large extent, they were successful.
BF: True crime has become a massive genre in entertainment. Just on a personal level, what’s that like for you, when the story being told and publicized is one that you were involved in?
TL: It’s our way of telling the real story. When you see it portrayed on television, is it really true crime? Because there’s a lot of people who really don’t know what happened. They were filling in the blanks on their own. Here, we get to fill in the blanks and tell them the real story, what really happened and how it affected us and that these things are real. And this is completely different after 40 years. It’s completely different than what you see on the motion picture screen and all these documentaries…And this was not an anomaly. These things do occur and they still occur today.
BS: We called those days when the murders occurred the cocaine salad days. Everybody in Hollywood was using and the Wonderland house was kind of the center of activity. Between that and Nash’s house, it seemed like Laurel Canyon was the center of the universe for drug addicts. This [case] involves so many different facets of that world and Michael’s really captured that. Our book Malice in Wonderland hit on our whole side of the story and what we knew about what the bad guys were doing, but Michael documented what the bad guys were doing. So that’s really interesting to us as well.
TL: We’re not Hollywood types. We like to think we’re not entertaining, we’re educating, and that’s the perspective we’ve always taken on this case.
BF: True crime is typically such a visual genre, so have you had a chance to listen to The Wonderland Murders yet? How do you think this plays as a podcast?
BS: We’ve heard the first four episodes and it’s just dynamic to us. Of course, we can form that mental picture because we know what was there. But even for someone who’s not indoctrinated, I think it’s going to be fascinating to hear both sides of the story.
TL: Michael telling the story, he’s a pro and he just attracts people through the way he speaks and the way he lays things out. It’s very factual and it’s very credible the way he does these types of things. That’s why he’s as successful as he is.
BS: He’s made the transition from fiction to true crime amazingly well.
TL: Podcast is a great way to do these things. When you’re doing a docuseries or something like that, you have to fill in a lot more spaces and a lot of it is with nonsense, quite frankly. But if you’ve got a podcast you have total control over what you’re saying, and it’s just a great way to get a message out and tell a story. And I’m not sucking up to Michael, but he does one hell of a job putting this thing together.
BF: Did working on this project with him make you look at this case any differently? Give you some additional insight or a different perspective you didn’t have at the time?
BS: I have an old saying for that—when you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp. We were so buried in murders back in those days that we didn’t have that long-term forecasting. We just jumped into the deep end of the pool and dealt with it. That’s all we could do.
TL: There’s really no time to sit down and hang your head in this type of thing. You cannot have thin skin if you want to be a homicide cop. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty. This was just one of many cases that we were handling at the time. We were just about inundated with serial killing cases and other high-profile murders. We would just go from one to another; frankly, we didn’t know better.
In 1992, I believe, was the highest rate of homicides in the city of Los Angeles and there were like 1,092. To compare that to 2019, there were like 256. This represents a 75 percent decrease in the homicide rate over that time. So way back 38, 40 years ago, we were busy—and there was no DNA. Communication wasn’t anything like it is today. There were no cell phones, no computers. This was just shoe leather. So we didn’t really know the difference.
BS: My [previous] partner and I were giving seminars out in the Phoenix area. We’d give these six-hour lectures and we would have a mock-up homicide scene. It was like a training exercise, but we tried to make it entertaining as we could. But during one of the breaks, a Phoenix homicide cop came up to me; he had 27 years on the job. And he said, “Do you guys realize you handle more murders in a weekend than I do in my whole career?” That was what was happening in Los Angeles at the time.
BF: Is there anything in particular that you want The Wonderland Murders to communicate to people? A specific aspect or message you want to leave them with?
TL: A lot of people don’t realize what cops do…For whatever reason, I guess what cops really do is boring to a lot of people. And nobody wants to feel sorry for cops. I understand all of that because you don’t feel sorry for someone who is an authority figure, who has certain powers over you, who may tell you what to do. You’re late for work and they pull you over and they write a ticket to you, or you’re a victim of a crime and they’re not empathetic enough and all that. Because of those reasons, you don’t always see cops in a true light. I think when you tell a real story, some of that comes out.
BS: I have grandchildren that range from 14 to 38 years old. I really would encourage them to listen to this just to realize how evil the whole drug world is and the people that are involved in it. So far, I’ve been very fortunate; all my grandkids have avoided drugs and what have you. But Michael paints this picture—it isn’t pretty but it’s fascinating and it’s educational. People will get the true story out of this. They hear it from both sides for the first time. Michael calls it the insiders and outsiders. It’s the first time Tom and I have ever been called outsiders, but we were, if you compare us to what was going on in Nash’s camp. I hope people walk away from this and say “Oh, now I get it,” and, “Gee, I didn’t know that.” That’s what we’re hoping for.
TL: If people would open themselves up a little bit, there’s more [than] just being entertained. True crime is very popular and it should be. But maybe folks should open up a little bit and say, “Hey, I’m not here just to be entertained. Maybe I can really learn something here.” I think they’ll learn things about society and how people react. It can be an education and that’s basically why we wrote our book.
BS: After we wrote our book, we had comments from actual instructors that teach investigation and they thought it would make a good textbook for learning investigation. We’re proud of that fact, and we did try to get into as deep as we could into the mechanics of the investigation. Now Michael’s even added to that with his story.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.