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Santa Cruz mass murderer kills self in prison

IONE, AMADOR COUNTY — A man whose Manson-esque slaughter of an eye surgeon, his family and his secretary in 1970 outside Santa Cruz focused international attention on the Central Coast town has hanged himself in his prison cell, authorities said Wednesday.

John Linley Frazier, 62, committed suicide last Thursday at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione (Amador County), where he was serving a life sentence, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Frazier was alone in his cell when he died.

Frazier was convicted and sentenced to death for the Oct. 19, 1970, killings, which firefighters discovered when they responded to a blaze at the home overlooking Monterey Bay. On the deck were smears of blood. Floating in the backyard swimming pool were the bodies of Dr. Victor Ohta, a 45-year-old eye surgeon; his wife, Virginia, 43; their sons, Derrick, 12, and Taggart, 11; and Victor Ohta’s secretary, Dorothy Cadwallader, 38.

The victims had been bound with brightly colored silk scarves and shot to death.

It was only a year after the Charles Manson-led “Helter Skelter” murders in Southern California, and the Santa Cruz killer appeared to have acted on similarly warped motives.

A typewritten note was tucked under the windshield wiper of Ohta’s Rolls-Royce that threatened to declare World War III against “materialism” and “persons who misuse the natural environment.” It was signed with Tarot card symbols.

Frazier, an auto mechanic, lived in squalor near the Ohtas, and was said to have resented their home as a blight on the landscape.

He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and at one point during his trial in San Mateo County Superior Court – where the case was moved because of publicity in Santa Cruz – he appeared with the left side of his head, beard and eyebrows shaved.

Frazier was convicted and in December 1971 was sentenced to death. The sentence was changed to life in prison after the state Supreme Court struck down capital punishment in California. The Legislature reinstated the death penalty in 1977.

Two of the Ohtas’ children were away at school when the murders happened. One committed suicide seven years later. Victor Ohta’s mother also killed herself.

The lone surviving child, Lark Ohta, said in a 1990 Chronicle interview, “I heard that the killer felt that my parents were capitalistic pigs who raped the environment and needed to die. Yeah, my dad had expensive cars, but he cared about other people; he cared for their eyes for free if they couldn’t pay.”

In an interview Wednesday, Lark Ohta said of her reaction to Frazier’s suicide, “Obviously, shock. It’s just sort of overwhelming news, very confusing news. I’m not sure how I feel. I’m just trying to integrate it all now.”

Ohta no longer lives in Santa Cruz, a town shaken in the early 1970s not just by Frazier’s crime but by two other mass killers – Edmund Kemper, who killed his mother and a friend of hers, then murdered six female college students and chopped up their bodies, and former mental patient Herbert Mullin, who was convicted of murdering 10 people.

The rash of slayings prompted Santa Cruz County’s district attorney at the time, Peter Chang, to label the bucolic town “the murder capital of the world.”

District Attorney Bob Lee said Wednesday, “It’s just a never-ending horrific story, even though John Linley Frazier’s chapter is closed.”

- By Henry K. Lee | SF Chronicle