As morning broke on Saturday, November 6, 1982, residents of Woodstock Road, Los Angeles, California emerged from their homes eager to provide details regarding the mysterious group that occupied the fortress-like compound in their midst. Despite denials from investigators, an almost unanimous assertion among neighbors of the Church of Naturalism Inc. was that the group was involved with drugs. “We thought it was a drug factory,” said a 26-year-old neighbor named Kerry. “It was too secretive to be a normal house. We thought they were doing angel dust up there.”
Another neighbor named Robin, who worked as a secretary for a television producer, also suspected the group was involved with drug trafficking. “There was constant traffic at all hours, early morning and late at night, and they’d only stay a little while. The strange thing was the flow of old beat up cars driven mainly by black men. I always knew something weird was going on.” Robin also revealed that she’d attended a costume party at one of the homes on the compound and had been introduced to the host who claimed to work in the mental health field.
Despite the claims of neighbors, investigators continued to assert that no evidence pointed to a narcotics motive. “We don’t have anything to show it’s drug related,” Detective Hank Petroski told reporters. “We looked and found no drugs or drug paraphernalia.” At least partially undercutting Petroski’s statement was a large sign that read “DRUGS” in mirrored letters visible inside the garage.
A nearby resident named Scott, who worked as a film editor, also spoke of frequent visitors to the property and the paranoid security personnel who guarded the compound. He told reporters, whenever someone got too close to the front gate, security guards “popped out of the bushes” demanding, “What do you want?…They had a real defensive attitude.” Neighbors reported they often heard gunshots on the property, which they assumed was target practice, and that muscular men could be seen lifting barbells. “Everyone’s suspicious when there are locked gates and real defensive guards,” Scott added. According to Scott, one of the estate’s servants revealed to him that the group “wanted to make a movie about cocaine.” Indeed, the San Francisco Examiner reported that police sources claimed George Peters “was producing a film about cocaine at the time of his death,” and that Peters “was seen over the summer interviewing and filming participants of a Santa Monica conference on ‘Cocaine Today’….”
As the weekend progressed, a dozen or so current and former members of the Church of Naturalism and employees started showing up at the group’s estate. Most were reluctant to talk, but a few spoke fondly of their former friend, George Peters. “George Peters had the gift of gab coupled with independence of thinking,” said Jay Friedheim, one of the church’s organizers from its early days. “George always tried to take care of people on the fringe of society….We thought we were going to change the world.” Peters former common law wife, Katherine Peters, who started the church with George after she met him in Chicago in the early sixties, said, “He was a father in a way.” A woman named Susan Shore, who shared the rear house with Peters, revealed the church made income from a relationship counseling service called Loveline, a documentary film company called Mentor Media, computer programming and auto repair. Friedheim indicated the compound’s heavy security was necessary because of the group’s work counseling drug addicts. As one former church employee said, “They felt safe up here, away from the beaten path.”
However, it would take less than 24 hours for the idealism to fade and for serious questions to arise about the happy band of altruists who just wanted to change the world from the fortified confines of their $5600 per month Laurel Canyon hideaway. Despite detectives’ insistence to the contrary, Woodstock Road residents’ conviction that something fishy was going on at the Church of Naturalism’s secretive compound would prove accurate as revelations of previous drug arrests, allegations of strange beliefs and unorthodox practices and even charges of mind control began to spill out into the public.
The Los Angeles Times
The San Francisco Examiner
The Chicago Tribune