The Pagans, the Unicorns, and the Serial Killer

I have complained before about the relative lack of good American Pagan biography and autobiography. John Sulak’s biography of Oberon Zell (b. 1942) and his partner Morning Glory (1948–2014), The Wizard and the Witch was one of the exceptions.((Yes, Morning Glory either invented or co-invented the term “polyamory,” and she was aware of creating a Greek-Latin hybrid.)) While it was first published in 2014, Sulak and Oberon subsequently revised and enlarged it, splitting it into two volumes.  The link goes to volume 1.

It’s also a history of the American Pagan movement in the 1970s-1990s particularly, with a West Coast emphasis. In the early 1980s, the Zells lived at Greenfield Ranch, a ranch in the Coast Range near Ukiah, Calif., that had been divided into acreages for back-to-the-landers and, yes, cannabis-growers, which meant the level of paranoia was fairly high. The ranch was raided by drug agents at least once, as I recall.

My friend the Pagan songwriter Gwydion Pendderwen lived there, and M. and I visited several times between 1978 and his passing in 1982. I have not been back since. Obviously much has changed.

In the late 1970s the Zells got an opportunity to live at Greenfield Ranch as caretakers for an absenteee Pagan parcel-owner, and there they practiced a documented but neglected ancient technique for turning new-born Angora billy goats into true unicorns. These went on the Rennaissance Faire circuit—later under the big top.

As Oberon would say, they were hoping to influence “kids who saw the Unicorn and would recognize it for what it was—not a fantasy creature made of moonbeams, just a small white animal with its own kind of beauty and heart and horn . . . . Those kids would make the connections and see that Magkick was possible and then go on to create their own contribution to that unique world-view [and] make their live whatever they want it to be.” ((John G. Sulak, The Wizard and the Witch: An Oral History of Oberon Zell and Morning Glory (Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2014) 180–81.))

But something darker was afoot. Another Greenfield Ranch resident helped out with showing the unicorns at Renn Faires, etc., so much so that he was sometimes called “Unicorn Man.”

Morning Glory and Angora goat “unicorns.”

His name was Leonard Lake, and he was a serial killer, although he had not really started on his murderous path at that time but apparently was planning it. There is plenty about him online, but my introduction to his story came through Episode 1 of the Trace of the Devastation podcast, a true-crime series about serial killers of the 1980s-90s in the California Gold Rush country.

In that episode, “The Unicorn Man,” you will hear Oberon Zell give his own honest self-appraisal of how he and others were fooled by Lake, whom they took to be just another back-to-the-lander, albeit with a more ex-military outlook.

Anyone can be fooled some of the time. Consider this a footnote to Sulak and Zell’s books.

3 thoughts on “The Pagans, the Unicorns, and the Serial Killer

  1. Pitch313

    Oberon, Morning Glory, and the Greenfield Ranch site were certainly well known in the Northern California Pagan and Witchy community when I joined it. And, all in all, respected because some of the residents were significant contributors and leaders to the Pagan currents. The region actually hosted a bunch of them.

    As for serial killers, I think that it may be quite challenging to identify them in advance. Sometimes, all manner of “alternative” interests may be where they decide to hang out. Not revealing themselves for all that they are.

    I do not fault anybody for not knowing any serial killer at first sighting or in everyday living.

    (I grew up in Vallejo, California in the 60s. A family friend was one of the Zodiac Killer’s early victims. I’ve spent more time pondering serial killers than is likely good for me And this is why I don’t read “true crime” books any more.)

  2. Thank you Chas. I knew some others who were involved there, and no one thought Lake would end up being the monster he became (or was and hid). You added some depth to this strange episode.

  3. Although I knew only a few people at Greenwood Ranch—Gwydion and his immediate neighbor, the Zells, and a couple of others, it’s weird to think that I visited at least once when Leonard Lake was living there — and people were innocently helping him to excavate version 1 of his underground sex prison. (All that is in the podcast.)

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