The East Los Angeles area has been a hotbed for traditional Hispanic gangs and their violence since the beginning of the 20th Century. In 1981 I was assigned there as the sergeant supervisor of the East Los Angeles Operation Safe Streets (OSS) three-man gang unit.
During this time a heroic high school math teach, named Jaime Escalante, battled against a 50-percent student dropout rate, drugs, gangs, and a culture that devalued academic skills. He challenged Garfield High School students to “Stand and Deliver.” However, at this same high school at this same time another teacher used his English classes to introduce his pupils to the mysterious world of metaphysics, witchcraft, and the occult.
Two other courageous men risked their lives ministering to both the local street gang members and the cops who worked those gangs. Catholic Claretian Brother Modesto Leon worked with the gang members who were expelled from local high schools, and fellow Claretian Brother Phil Mandrel rode with the ELA Gang Units as their chaplain. Brother Phil had already survived being shot in the face by gang members while on a “ride along” with an ELA Sheriff Lieutenant. Both men were respected by both the community and the cops.
Besides the large Catholic and other traditional mainstream churches in ELA, many store front churches flourished. Unfortunately theses self-styled churches sometimes were more like religious cults than traditional churches. Influences from witchcraft, Brujeria, Voodoo, and Santeria were represented in these self-styled houses of worship. Many of these occult churches also had special outreaches to the youth in the community. Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll pushed crazy cult theologies further to the fringe.
Past popular music styles like doo-wop, oldies but goodies, and Motown had died. They were replaced by punk, ska and heavy metal. The new heavy metal music from bands like Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue, and Scorpion featured satanic and occult themes, symbols, and artwork. Rejecting the traditional Hispanic “Cholo” look, some East LA kids began dressing in heavy metal concert t-shirts, Levis, black leather jackets, long hair, metal studs, and spikes.
Soon the heavy metal kids outnumbered Cholo kids at Garfield High School. To protect themselves from the predatory traditional gangs they formed defensive groups which evolved into Stoner gangs. They adopted the term “Stoner” to signify their love of getting stoned on dope and to honor the band the Rolling Stones, who legend said “sold their souls for rock ‘n’ roll.”
Gangs calling themselves the Hole Stoners, ELA Stoners, The Lot Stoners, Mid City Stoners, and Mara Salvatrucha Stoners (MS13) sprang up all over Los Angeles.
One particular Stoner group was led by a very charismatic 17-year-old who was rumored to practice rituals involving the killing of dogs and the drinking of their blood. His ritual site was rumored to be hidden among some bushes and trees in an empty lot.
He openly sold drugs in the front yard of his rundown house, believing he was protected from the police by his ritual magic. He had two large pit bulls that he would sic on any policeman who dared to approach. When attempts were made to stop him, he always resisted arrest and fought all the way to the station.
After one particular arrest I had the opportunity to meet his mother. She was dressed in an old-fashioned dress completely in black and she also wore a black veil. She was an older Gypsy woman who spoke with a thick Bella Lugosi accent.
His ritual magic must have worked at least against the juvenile system because he was released from detention again after this arrest. He laughed at us, boasted we could do nothing to him, and threatened to curse my whole East LA Gang Team. He gave us the horned hand salute as he left with “Bella Lugosi in drag.”
The next day two of my team members and I searched the vacant lots near the suspect’s home. After several hours we found an old kitchen tabletop hidden deep inside a thick bunch of brush. The hollowed out space served as the ritual room and the table top sat on several rocks and cinder blocks to make a low table top altar. The table was covered in occult symbols and dried blood.
The word “occult” means secret knowledge and the implements and manner of occult practices are meant to remain secret, except to those initiated into the inner circle. When we found the suspect’s secret hiding place and ritual altar we gained power over him according to his twisted occult beliefs.
We transported the ritual table top to ELA Station and placed it in an empty interview room. We then drove to the suspect’s house. Again he openly stood in front of the residence as stoner after stoner approached him and exchanged money for baggies of marijuana. Even as we got out of our vehicle and walked toward him he continued with his transactions.
As we cuffed him he began screaming first for his pit bull dogs and then for his mother. Fortunately for us, his dogs had been taken by Animal Control the day before when they tried to bite the deputies who arrested him. His mother came out and began cursing and threatening us but we drove away with our two stoners, the buyer and the seller, in custody.
We sat our “Stoner High Priest” in an interview room, but before we interviewed him we showed him that we possessed his altar in the next room. It looked like he was an inflated manikin slowly deflating. He hung his head and looked like he wanted to cry. He waived all his rights and gave us the statements and confessions we needed to convict him on all prior charges.
Eventually most of the Stoner Gangs became part of local Street Gangs. The Lot Stoners evolved into a traditional Hispanic Gang, as did MS-13. One of the Stoners from San Pedro, Donald “Stony” Galaz, became a member of the Mexican Mafia Prison Gang. Another Richard Ramirez became infamous as the “Night Stalker,” a serial killer who terrorized California in 1984 and 1985.