Gerald Cruz-led California cult committed quadruple murder and had 'punishment wheel' to torture followers
A small farming community of Salida in California turned violent and frightening back in 1990. From being a community comprising of poor or down on their luck people, they turned into an aggressive group led by master manipulator Gerald Cruz. Oxygen's documentary 'Deadly Cults' delves into the true horrors of Cruz's cult.
According to a cult expert, Rachel Bernstein, Cruz had been raised by his mother to believe that he had special powers. He also ran 'the Camp' as a quasi-military compound. He would preach strange ideas that he picked up from voodoo and white supremacist ideology, court documents reveal. He was the final authority and any failure to comply with his rules would lead to punishments. The punishments gradually grew worse over time. The neighbors in Salida were aware that the people at 'the Camp' would keep to themselves and were not sure what would go down at the place. People in the town had been intimated by them and 'the Camp' remained unheard of until May 21 in 1990.
The Quadruple Murder
Sheriff's officers came across four bodies at the corner of Mason Avenue and Elm Street. All four victims had suffered from blunt force trauma and multiple stab wounds. According to Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department Lead Investigator Gary Deckard, "There was blood everywhere. It was truly a nightmare on Elm Street." The bodies were found inside a home belonging to an ex-member of 'the Camp' Franklin Raper. Raper had reportedly been beaten up so badly that some of his teeth had become loose and his head had been "deformed", court documents reveal.
One of the other victims, Darlene Paris, had been stabbed so much that she was almost decapitated. The other two victims are Richard Ritchey and Dennis Colwell. A survivor named Donna Alvarez recalled how the attack was committed by several people who had been dressed in camouflage and masks who had entered Raper's home. She was only able to describe one person who authorities identified as a member of 'the Camp', Jason LaMarsh. When investigators visited 'the Camp', they found it to be empty but did find pieces of the camouflaging clothing.
Upon questioning Cruz, he denied having any knowledge of the crime but handed some names from members of his cult. He had been responsible for the four deaths after tensions arose due to Raper starting to sell drugs from his trailer. Raper had also got into a fight with LaMarsh over a stolen gun. Raper then left the cult and moved into a home in Salida where the murders took place. Cruz had met up with Richard Vieira, LaMarsh, David Beck, Ron Willey, and Michelle Evans. He ordered the group to enter Raper's house and "do them all and leave no witnesses." He had also threatened those who did not follow his orders that they would join the victims, cncpunshiment.com reports.
Gerald Cruz's 'wheel of punishment'
Using a search warrant, investigators went through Cruz's trailer and found a lot of eyebrow-raising evidence which included bomb-making materials, masks, a receipt for a knife, as well as some Satanic literature. They also discovered what was known as 'wheel of punishment' which would be thrown up into the air and would determine the person's specific punishment. The punishments would vary from eating off the floor. According to one of the cult members, Richard Vieira, who was involved in the killing of the four victims, recalled how his initial punishments were beatings but they had escalated to sodomy which was done in front of the whole group.
Cruz, Beck, and Vieira were all convicted and are currently on death row, while LaMarsh has been sentenced to 64 years to life, Oxygen reveals. Vieira is currently appealing his conviction and alleging he was brainwashed into participating.
“Deadly Cults” airs on Sundays at 7 pm ET/PT on Oxygen.