What would have been Hunter S. Thompson's birthday is coming up in about a week. I guess that’s part of the reason why his quote about Hollywood and the TV business’ potential for ugliness came to mind when writing this story about a couple of recent deaths related to Hollywood, the TV industry and most specifically the Magic Castle.
“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”
Dr. Thompson likely wasn’t speaking directly about S&M here, but then again, his basement was affectionately termed “the dungeon,” so who knows. Regardless of how metaphorically Hunter was speaking, a couple of recent deaths in Hollywood illustrate the potentiality of Hollywood types dying like dogs and for no good reason. Near the end of June, The Hollywood Reporter featured an article about the death of Doran George in the home dungeon of Skip Chasey, better known in certain circles as “Master Skip.”
Master Skip, keynote Master/slave conference:
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In this case, the death for no good reason was of a UCLA professor, dancer and performance artist, but the man responsible, before his tenure at William Morris Endeavour, was an employee of Imagine Television (owned by Ron Howard). Skip Chasey helped negotiate the deals that landed 24, Arrested Development and Parenthood on television there. In addition to his work at William Morris Endeavour (one of the top talent agencies in Hollywood and the US for that matter), Master Skip led a sort of open double-life.
Chasey/Master Skip made no attempt to hide his second life. He was a keynote speaker at various conferences related to the BDSM lifestyle and co-founder of People of Leather Among You (PLAY). He was known for his motto: Blood may be thicker than water, but leather is thicker than blood.” Chasey had been involved with the gay scene for over a quarter century leaving New York for San Francisco and finally SF for Los Angeles in 1992, where he fully immersed himself in the gay bondage scene. Chasey was known for his motto that “Blood may be thicker than water, but leather is thicker than blood.”
LA has long been a hotbed of deep kink. Dominion first opened its doors in 1980 making it the oldest BDSM club in the nation.
Master Skip’s personally outfitted dungeon at his residence in Los Feliz. Los Feliz, of course, was the site of the Black Dahlia murder which some suspect was related to Dr. George Hodel, a powerful personage in Hollywood and a friend of several key members of the Surrealist art movement.
The case went unreported until a few weeks earlier in June when journalist Mark Ebner, long time Scientology critic who was the first to blow the whistle on Bill Cosby mentioned it on his podcast. Oddly enough, multiple sources refer to Ebner as a “celebrity crime muckraker” when noting this. Ebner literally pulled this file from the morgue. Personally, I’m glad he salvaged it from the good old LA County coroner records, where news gets buried sometimes and stories are left to die.
Duncan Gilbert AKA Doran George’s death was officially listed as “sudden death during recreational bondage." It is also interesting to note how multiple sources, rather than calling it a sex <i>act</i> refer to it as a sex <i>ritual</i>. George was a professor, dancer, choreographer and performance artist originally born in Britain. No foul play at all is suspected despite the fact that club drug and occasional date rape drug Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) was in the decedent's system. While we’re on the topic of recurring themes in coverage, it’s mentioned time and again that this type of “recreational mummification” as well as the use of GHB is both fairly common in the BDSM scene.
GHB is a potent respiratory depressant and even if the death was unintentional, if Chasey either knew George was under the influence of GHB or, still worse, dosed him before the “sex ritual” could easily be found guilty of manslaughter or negligent homicide. That said, officially at least, foul play is not suspected and no criminal charges were ever brought.
<a href=“https://www.lifedeathprizes.com/real-life-crime/sex-games-turn-deadly-35048”>People embroiled in similar sorts of “misadventure”</a> were not quite so lucky as Master Skip, mind you. Alun Williams asked his friend Richard Bowler to help him fulfill his mummification fantasy. In August of 2014 Bowler wrapped Alun from head to toe in plastic wrap. During the experience, however, Williams had a heart attack. Now bear in mind, he didn’t die because the mummification “ritual” wasn’t done safely. There’s no mention of illegal substances exacerbating the situation, but Bowler (who did not call emergency services). Bowler was sentenced to five years for neglecting to properly monitor and check on Alun after he had been wrapped. No suffocation here, mind you, it was a heart attack, but the crime was listed as manslaughter by gross negligence.
Then there’s the case of James and Rebecca Bargy. Rebecca and James had a bondage “game” in which James would be ball gagged and duct taped with only small holes near his nostrils and then go meet another man for a tryst. When she came back 20 hours later James had suffocated. Once again, no illegal drugs were ingested but just the fact that she had duct taped his face leaving only small holes at the nostrils (like Master Skip did to George) was considered enough for her to be arrested and she was initially charged with second-degree murder. She beat the 20-year wrap when she was found not guilty of second-degree murder, she did, however, receive 18 months for negligent homicide.
Because when you accidentally kill someone by doing something dangerous, it’s considered a crime.
Master Skip, however, is the kind of guy who does lunch with Ron Howard, Aaron Sorkin, Ari Emmanuel and others. The connection to Ari predates his current work at WME. Emmanuel, through his brother Rahm, is closely tied to Chicago’s political machine.
So here we have a case of a major Hollywood player, recreational mummification, coroner cover-up and initial media blackout. I had already thought to grab my notes for the Daryl Easton case as something about the events seemed to remind me of that story. Sometimes I will start on a story and then shelve it because it just seems to be missing a piece. I’ll file it away and let it ferment for a bit. Sometimes something comes of it, I find a bit of connective tissue that ties things together. Other times, like here, by mere happenstance or synchronicity something will remind me of it and there will be the connection right before my eyes.
The mention of the death by mummification is morbidly interesting in itself. Exactly who it was that was responsible piqued my interest, the complication had me cocking my eyebrow but the fact that the medical examiner and local authorities didn’t have any issue lwith burying the story of a UCLA professor who was saran wrapped and drugged just seemed a little overly fishy to me.
Hollywood is known to hide its dark secrets fairly well, for the most part. Silent film comedian Fatty Arbuckle and media magnate William Randolph Hearst were both widely assumed to have literally gotten away with murder. The saying “in like Flynn” refers to swashbuckler Errol Flynn skating by unscathed past a statutory rape charge. And that’s just before we get to the 1940’s. Hollywood hasn’t cleaned up its act much since then if anything (vide: Weinstein) it’s just gotten more sophisticated about hiding the dirt.
When I started cross-referencing this recent case with that of magician Daryl Easton I was floored to find the Magic Castle connection. Both cases seem to have been suppressed to some extent. Call it misdirection? After looking deeper though, I came across even more (likely unrelated) wild coincidences like the fact that the Academy of Magical Arts (AMA), the club whose clubhouse is the Magic Castle, came into existence the same year as John F. Kennedy’s assassination. That in itself would be of no interest if not for the long-standing connection between certain professional magicians, the CIA, Jack Ruby and yes, even MK-Ultra researcher Sidney Gottlieb, but I may be getting ahead of myself a little bit so let’s rewind and I’ll come back to that topic at a later date.
Let’s rewind all the way back to February of 2017 in fact, to the death of Daryl Easton. Easton, known as Daryl the Magician and “The Magician’s Magician” was found hanging in a closet of the Magic Castle around the time he was supposed to be performing. Ruled an accident, after being investigated a suicide and confusingly enough much of the media coverage is marked by conflicting reports. In some cases, the headline and the body of the same article seemed to be at odds. The coroner had “confirmed the death by suicide” before it eventually being ruled an accident.
So what’s the deal? Magician accidentally hangs himself while performing a trick, sounds plausible. Well sure, maybe, if Easton did “illusions” of that nature. He didn’t though. He was solely a close-up magic and card tricks guy. Depending on who you read and when Easton was found in his underwear with a plastic bag on his head or fully clothed with a bag on his head. Wait, how do you accidentally end up hanging in a closet with a bag on your head fully clothed or not? Just reading the initial reports of this first case was enough to make me believe someone had something up their sleeve, so to speak.
The case was fairly rapidly dismissed though. The coroner who performed the autopsy on a Saturday ruled it death by accidental hanging, this was reported by Lieutenant David Smith who was the medical examiner’s watch commander that day. Now, pay close attention because it starts to get murky again. Lt. Smith “said that the hanging was self-inflicted, though it was not ruled a suicide.”
Reuters reported the following at the time:
“Our doctor closed it as an accident,” Smith told Reuters. Adding to the mystery of the case, he said he was not at liberty to furnish further details about the circumstances of Easton’s death or to explain the basis of the coroner’s ruling.
Not at liberty to furnish the details is another one of those phrases that always makes my ears perk up. I have long studied the means by which media can distort the truth without flat out lying or bend the truth in such a way that it can later be quietly retracted or corrected once the damage has already been done. Remember that story about how former press secretary […] was found “hiding in the bushes?” Well, turns out he wasn’t at all. The story got retracted, but not by Tuesday night which is when skits are being written for Saturday Night Live so in between dozens of “reputable” news sources reporting the supposed events and the skit that weekend, it was as true in most people’s minds as if it had happened and no last page retractions were going to do much to clear up that matter, either.
Vicki Greenleaf, a spokeswoman for AMA, owners of the Magic Castle “disputed as untrue media reports” the widely reported story of Easton being found in his underwear. Regardless though, at this point, in between “accidental hanging” and “found in his underwear” a good portion of the public who had gotten a whiff of the story are likely assuming it’s some sort of auto-erotic asphyxiation story.
Once again, pay very close attention to the wording here:
<blockquote>Greenleaf said Easton was known as a “really, really good close-up magician,” adding, “He didn’t perform illusions. He was known as a card guy.”
Her description seemed to discount the notion that Easton may have hanged himself in the course of practicing an illusion that went awry, a scenario that the medical examiner’s office declined to address.</blockquote>
He died “in a dressing space separated from the parlor performance area by a curtain,” Greenleaf went on in an official statement. The Magic Castle, by the way, is about what you’d expect from a hangout from the world's most famous stage magicians. The main area itself can’t be accessed without getting past what appears to be a wall. This is the kind of place where hidden rooms and trap doors aplenty are just part of the ambiance.
As evidenced, <a href=“https://www.firehouse.com/home/news/10458109/fire-hits-hollywoods-magic-castle-on-halloween”>a fire occurred at the Magic Castle</a> about 5 years back. "For the last week in October, the Magic Castle will be ON FIRE with the spirit of Halloween!" So read the website’s special events section. However, an actual fire broke out that week which resulted in the Halloween night festivities being canceled. According to Firehouse (a publication specifically for firefighters):
The Franklin Avenue manse-turned boarding house-turned club and restaurant's labyrinth of rooms on its upper floors had the potential to be a firefighter's nightmare, Moore said.
"It's compartmentalized in miniature dining rooms that you could imagine would be found in a haunted mansion," Moore said. "It creates the ambiance that the Magic Castle is so famous for, but a fire can spread in hidden spaces and through multiple walls. It's no ordinary house."
Now is it just me or does it almost seem like Reuters is taunting us a bit at this point, highlighting how out of place so much of this is? In case you’re wondering, no, <a href=“https://www.reuters.com/article/us-california-magician-death/magicians-death-by-hanging-in-hollywood-ruled-accidental-by-coroner-idUSKBN16500H”>none of it was ever clarified</a>. The Castle closed down that night and a cursory investigation into “apparent suicide” took place and then it was simply ruled “an accident.” By the next day, the medical examiner would make a final ruling and the Castle would be open for business again.
So, in the space of about 24 hours, Easton is found dead on the scene (according to the 911 call initially they weren’t sure if it was him or a dummy). It was “ruled a suicide by the LAPD” this announcement that Easton killed himself is echoed in the statement from AMA/Magic Castle before the medical examiner officially rules it an “accidental hanging.”
Easton’s last post at Facebook was February 18 and mentions his upcoming weekend of performances at the Magic Castle:
“Thinking of all our SoCal friends… stay safe in this storm!,” “I’ll be heading down that way myself tomorrow for a week at the Magic Castle.”
The Magic Castle’s statement said Easton was an award-winning magician and that police had told the organization that he took his own life.
He had "40 years of experience in both performing and selling the finest magic in the world. Daryl performed as a headline act at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for seven years fine tuning his already encyclopedic knowledge of magic," the statement said.
"Daryl has performed literally thousands of shows for audiences as diverse as the Witch Doctors on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu to the movers and shakers of the political world at the Presidential Ball in Washington, D.C."
And yes, by the way, the island of Vanuatu does still have <a href=“http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p316611/pdf/The-Problems-and-Victims-of-Sorcery-and-Witchcraft-Practices-and-Beliefs-in-Melanesia-An-Introduction.pdf”>a strong sorcery tradition as well as a “black magic” tradition</a> that has posed problems for locals, NGOs, human rights organization and aid organizations.
I’m still looking into some Easton connections such as Cultivist. Considering the George W. Bush connection, the Pacific Islands black magic and, yes, even Marina Abramovic (of “spirit cooking” fame) it seems worth looking into.
There’s a lot more to this story that needs to be brought up and some interesting tangents related to the cult of intelligence, the occult and stage magicians. With this first installment, though, I wanted more of a “just the facts ma’am” approach. You know, like that famous line from Dragnet. You know, the one that never showed up in a single episode but that people somehow assumed it was? Just like magic…
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Thanks for pointing out the mishap there! It has been edited.
Don't know at all how that slid by. I recall Hunter's death pretty clearly. He died in '05, a friend of mine woke me with a grief-stricken look on his face: "Phil, Hunter Thompson killed himself." I think I had just gotten word that I was credentialed again to cover Bonnaroo again that year. There was some frozen San Pedro ready to pulp and sinicuichi at the ready for remembrance. (Pro-tip, if you boil a foot or so of San Pedro down and drink it in one gulp it may come up the same way and just as quickly).
After that, there was '07 the year Robert Anton Wilson and Kurt Vonnegut died. I always found it very interesting that RAW died jan 11 (111 is 7 in binary) of '07. Then Kurt died 4/11 (Kurt was born on 11/11/22, Armistice day, and K is the 11th letter, V the 22nd). That gave me a lot of food for thought at the time.
People say I think too much sometimes though…