This is such an interesting case, and relatively unknown.
On the evening of October 19th of 1970, police were notified of a fire in an exceedingly ritzy Santa Cruz, California neighborhood. Two vehicles had been blocking the drive, which made it very difficult for emergency vehicles to access the fancy hilltop mansion. As firefighters battled the blaze, they noticed blood on the back deck; police were promptly notified. There had been a pool behind the home, and that’s where the 5 executed bodies were found, each just floating in the bloody water.
4 of the victims had resided in the home: an opthamologist named Dr. Victor Ohta, his wife, Virginia, and the couple’s two sons, 11 year old Taggart and 13 year old Derrick. The fifth victim had been the good doctor’s secretary, Dorothy Cadwallade had practically been a member of the family.
Most of the victims had been shot execution style, a single bullet to the back of the head with a 22. All except Dr. Ohta, who was shot once in the chest and twice in the back with a .33. Each victim had been bound with a silk scarf which had belonged to Dr Ohta; some were blindfolded, and at least one person had been gagged. Thankfully two of the Ohta family members, teen daughters Tara and Lark, had been away at boarding school at the time of the murders.
Inside the home it was discovered that the phone lines had been cut with a knife. Though the fire had been started at many places throughout the home, thankfully the place did not go up in flames as the killer had planned. Nothing was taken from the beautiful residence, the women’s pocketbooks, jewellery, and the family’s costly valuables remained. Robbery was definitely not a motive; the only thing which appeared to be missing was Mrs. Ohta’s green Station Wagon.
On the windshield of Dr Ohta’s vehicle was a note from the killer; it read:
today world war 3 will begin as brought to you by the people of free universe. From this day forward, anyone or company of persons who misuses the natural environment or destroys same will suffer the penalty of death by the people of the free universe. I and my comrades from this day forth will fight until death or freedom against any single anyone who does not support natural life on this planet, materialism must die or mankind will.
(this type written note was signed)
Knight of Wands,
Knight of Cups,
Night of Pentacles,
and Knight of Swords.
Now, in order to get a good understanding of this situation you gotta take into account the time period. The Manson family had just done their thang the year before this massacre; those murders were only a couple hundred miles away from Santa Cruz, and the crimes contained similarities such as wealthy people murdered in their homes. Because of subject matter in the aforementioned letter, investigators wholeheartedly believed it obvious that this was a hippie cult who planned on killing as many families as they could. Santa Cruz had a massive hippie community, and people were not only terrified, but angry as all get out. Not only had a highly revered doctor lost his life, but killing innocent children never goes over well.
An All Points Bulletin was placed in order to find Mrs Ohta’s vehicle; when it was discovered, it had been set ablaze and dumped in a wooded area.
The killer was only caught after police released the typewritten letter. People who knew John Frazier recognized the wording, and someone who knew the man notified investigators. John had been into weapons, the Bible, tarot cards, mescaline, and LSD. The suspect was arrested on October 23rd and charged with 5 counts of first degree murder.
John had once been your average blue collar hard working family man, this was true until the late 60’s when he was involved in a terrible collision. After that, he became a religious zealot; John left his job, his family, forfeited all that he had previously cared for and moved into a shack in the woods. This meager dwelling had been close enough to the Ohta home that John spent a good deal of his time spying on the family, stalking their every move and the Ohtas were none the wiser. John came to believe himself an agent of God, and that the Almighty was commanding him to kill. His first murder would be the Ohtas, who deserved to die for their sin of excessive wealth.
On the evening of the murder, the family had not arrived home together at the same time; this made everything so much easier for the killer as he wasn’t dealing with all 5 at once. Dr Ohta came home first, and John tied him up. Next was the secretary, Dorothy, who had brought home one of the Ohta boys; finally came Mrs. Ohta with the other child. Dr Ohta pleaded with his killer to let his family go; he attempted to buy their freedom, which only served to enrage John further. When asked if he had any scruples when it came to murdering children, John admitted that he did but that it had been God’s will – and Dr. Ohta’s fault. John had asked the good doctor to help him light the mansion on fire, and the Dr. Ohta refused. So, he did the logical thing: John took Dr. Ohta to the swimming pool, forced him into the water, then shot him 3 times. One by one the others had been marched out to the pool to be shot; John asked each of his victims whether they believed in God before he shot them, and they all stated that they did. John told them that was good, and that it meant they’d had nothing to fear.
After the family was good and dead, John composed his letter on his victim’s typewriter; he set fire to the mansion, parked Dr Ohta and Dorothy’s vehicles to block the drive, and fled the scene in Mrs. Ohta’s Station Wagon.
John did his very best to prove his insanity, he even shaved off half of his entire head for court – not just the hair on his head, we’re talking eyebrows, beard, everything! But a jury didn’t buy it, and this killer was sentenced to death. A year later the state of California overturned the death penalty and John’s sentence was commuted to life. In 2009 the killer was found hanging in his cell.
Sadly, Dr Ohta’s mother couldn’t handle what had been done to her son’s family, and she committed suicide; in 1977, one of the two surviving Ohta girls, Tara, followed Grandma’s lead. There’s not a whole lot available about the other surviving child, Lark, but I did find a recent social media account with her photograph; that’s not going to be posted here, she has been through enough and deserves her privacy. She does appear to be happy, and likely married. Let’s hope she’s found peace, bless her heart.
*Fun Fact! The small area of Santa Cruz became known as the murder capital for a hot minute! Soon after the good doctor and his family were massacred, the county was terrorized by the likes of serials such as Big Ed Kemper, and Herbert Mullins. The 70’s would’ve been a very scary time for California natives!