Back in the 1970s when we covered courts for the late, great, Santa Monica Evening Outlook two major cult cases passed through the San Monica courthouse.
In one case, members of a family for kidnaping after they abducted her from the Hare Krishnas and held her captive while professional “deprogrammers” tried and failed to force her to renounce the group. The jurors were quick to acquit.
The second case involved Synanon, a drug rehab self-help group for drug addicts founded by Chuck Dederich. Synanon evolved from a modest single group into a cult with extensive real estate holdings in Southern and Northern California, including one major building just two blocks from the courthouse.
Casa del Mar, former Synanon facility in Santa Monica, via Wikipedia.
Synanon was an influential organization, with two former Los Angeles Times journalists among Dedrich’s closest followers.
But Synanon had evolved on a parallel course with another Southern California created cult, Scientology. Both groups organized enforcer squads to both keep followers in line and to dissuade outsiders from looking to closely.
Scientology’s enforcers are the Guardian’s office, while Dederich’s were called the Imperial Marines. . .really.
Paul Morantz was a local attorney who was also a skilled writer, who’d been a sports editor at the University of Southern California’s Daily Trojan and he’d sold a network television movie of the week script. He was sharp, handsome, articulate, and a passionate advocate for his clients.
And three weeks after two of his clients won a $300,000 judgment, there was a surprise waiting in his mailbox when Morantz arrived home from work on 10 October 1978. When he reached into for his mailbox, a four-foot rattlesnake nailed his hand. He’d had no warning because someone had cut off the reptile’s rattles.
One of the more memorable events we covered was Morantz’s hospital bed press conference at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center.
The snake had been placed by Imperial Marines, acting on Dederich’s orders, and when the case hit the legal system, the action was in the same Santa Monica courtroom and the same jurist who’d so grievously mishandled the Roman Polanski statutory rape case.
The attack set in motion a chain of event that would destroy Synanon.
So we were delighted to discover an interview with Morantz by California Lawyer Editor Martin Lasden for University of California Television:
The Lawyer Synanon Tried to Kill – Legally Speaking