Another lost guru Part 1

Crime Scene

As detectives made their way up the narrow winding lane, an abandoned Cadillac limousine was the first indication that something had gone terribly wrong in this Laurel Canyon neighborhood.  Hemmed in by thick brush on either side of the lane, the wrecked vehicle that now confronted them took up the better part of tiny Woodstock Road.  However, the vehicle’s damaged front end and shattered windshield didn’t appear related to the present location and position in which the vehicle came to rest.  The large caliber handgun that lay in pieces on the road next to the Cadillac also indicated that there was likely more to be discovered in this Mount Olympus neighborhood.  Strange scenes were nothing new to the detectives called to investigate crimes inside Laurel Canyon, an area of Los Angeles which had a peculiar knack for giving up its dead in a most bizarre and cruel fashion.   Only a year earlier, four people had been bludgeoned to death less than a mile away at the home of porn star John Holmes.  In 1969, the Tate murders occurred four miles away, with the slain bodies of other young women turning up along Mulholland Drive at around the same time.  With that in mind, investigators continued their ascent up Woodstock Road, stalked by a spirit of dread.  

About 1000 feet further on, detectives turned into a drive that led into a six acre private estate.  Across the drive lay a large wrought-iron gate, some 80 feet from where it had been ripped from its hinges, presumably by the damaged Cadillac they’d previously encountered.  The gate had once been attached to a six-foot fence that enclosed the property.  Topped with coiled razor wire, the security fence and spotlights gave the property the appearance of a heavily fortified compound, rather than an elegant residential estate.  Video cameras monitored the front gate and visitors had to press a buzzer to be admitted to the property.  There were two ranch-style homes, each with its own swimming pool, and a large statue of Buddha on the property.  Around 2:30 that morning, November 6, 1982, a security guard for the estate was alerted to a commotion, which hastened him to investigate.  After phoning the rear dwelling and receiving no answer, he ran to the home where he discovered a man lying dead in the living room, prompting him to immediately phone authorities.    

Inside the rear home, police discovered two badly beaten men dead from apparent gunshot wounds.  The second body was discovered in the bedroom.  Both were fully clothed and there appeared to have been a struggle.  Investigators were able to identify the victims as George Peters, 43, and James Henneberry, 31.  Investigator’s immediate assessment was that the two men were murdered during the course of a robbery, speculating that intruders accessed the property through an unlocked back gate.  Detectives learned the Cadillac was registered to the Church of Naturalism Inc., and that Peters served as chairman of the board and Henneberry the church treasurer.  

According to interviews with the security guard and a woman who shared the front house with Henneberry, Henneberry played pool until 2 a.m. when he walked over to the rear home where Peters resided to grab a cup of tea.  There Henneberry, presumably, interrupted a robbery in progress, struggled with intruders and was slain along with Peters.  The assailant or assailants then fled the scene by crashing the church’s limousine through the iron gate, abandoning the vehicle further down the road and possibly fleeing on foot. 

While the crime itself and the motive seemed fairly straight forward, the victims, the group they led and the location they occupied were shrouded in mystery.  And as interviews with neighbors and church members unfolded and facts emerged, the truth about the enigmatic George Peters and the Church of Naturalism he founded remained elusive.  Because, apart from the many things that remained unclear about George Peters, one thing that was clear was that his name was not George Peters.  He became George Peters when he left his old life behind and embarked on the life of a professional guru.  As gurus go, Peters had at one time shown some promise, attracting a fair amount of publicity and a modest following.  But unlike other more notable gurus whose ambitions led them to California, Peters’ project never really achieved full flourishing, and the circumstances of his death would call all of Peters’ ideals and ambitions into question.  

As George Peters lay there dead in his fortified, heavily guarded compound, the victim of a robbery gone horribly wrong, one could be forgiven for wondering whether the self-help guru occupation was genuine, or simply a persona he had constructed for himself to conceal other ambitions.  Indeed, to hear George Peters and his cohorts tell it, it is even possible the former LSD guru and Church of Naturalism founder could have been the invention of someone or something else altogether.  


The Los Angeles Times

The San Francisco Examiner

The Chicago Tribune