When Lorey Smith was 12 years old, her father loaded her and her brother into his black 1965 Mustang and drove them down the Pacific Coast Highway to this cool little shop called Mystic Arts World. The store sold arts and crafts, organic food and clothing, books about Eastern philosophy, and other things, too. Lorey’s father knew some of the guys who ran Mystic Arts and he thought the outing would be a nice diversion for the kids. It was a short drive from Huntington Beach but an exotic destination, at least for the girl in the back seat.
The year was 1969, and Laguna Beach, once the sleepy refuge of surfers, artists, and bohemians of little consequence, was a center of counterculture foment after a band of outlaws and outcasts went up a mountain with LSD and came down as messengers of love, peace and the transformational qualities of acid and hash. They called themselves the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and Mystic Arts World was their public face, a hippie hangout where vegetarianism, Buddhism, meditation and all sorts of Aquarian ideals spread like gospel.
Lorey says she felt like Alice in Wonderland when she crossed the threshold and entered Mystic Arts. “It was like walking into a different world,” she tells me 40 years later. “Everything from what was on the walls to the way people were dressed gave off this feeling of love, and, like, freedom.”
Her father bought the kids some beads to keep them busy and Lorey fashioned a necklace. She walked up to a big, handsome guy with long hair and handed it to him.
“He opened up his hands, took the beads and had this big, beaming smile,” she recalls, “and I just felt like, love, and I thought, Someday I want to marry someone like that.”
Into the Gran Azul
Security guards armed with machine guns patrol the grounds of the Gran Azul resort in Lima, Peru. It’s the kind of place you have to know someone to even get close. But on an early winter day in 1975, Eddie Padilla, one of the founders of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, has no trouble booking a room. He is a familiar face on a familiar errand.
Checking in with Padilla are Richard Brewer, a Brother from way back, and their friend James Thomason. “I chose Richard because he’s a good guy,” Padilla remembers. “He’ll get your back. He’s not going to run away. That played out in a way that I never, ever expected.” Thomason is along for the ride—to party and taste some first-class Peruvian flake.
As the manager walks the men to their bungalow, he delivers a strange message. “Your friend is here,” he says.
“Friend?” Padilla asks. “What friend?”
As soon as the manager says the name Fastie, Padilla curses. He’s known the guy since high school where Fastie earned his nickname because he always knew the shortest distance to a quick buck. As far as Padilla is concerned, Fastie is a flashy, loud-mouthed whoremonger—the worst kind of smuggler. Padilla told him not to come to Lima while he was there. To make matters worse, Fastie’s girlfriend is with him, and she has a crush on Padilla. When they run into her, she complains that Fastie has been taking off and leaving her at the hotel.
“She knows he’s been going to see whores and coking out,” Padilla says. “We’re like, Oh, god.” Prostitutes and police are thick as thieves in places like Lima, Peru.
Still, there’s no reason to be paranoid. “All I have to do is spend the night, pick up the coke, give it to a few people, and peel out in 24 hours,” Padilla remembers thinking. Everything was set up ahead of time; the deal should be an in-and-out affair.
Though they had agreed to keep a low profile, Padilla, Brewer, and Thomason decide to go to the compound’s bar that night. It’s an upscale place and they get all dressed up. Fastie is there. Things are tense and Padilla knows better than to dance with Fastie’s girlfriend. But when she asks, something won’t let him say no. Maybe he just wants to rub Fastie’s face in it. Maybe he’s the guy who has to let everyone know he can have the girl. Whatever it is, when they get off the floor, Fastie isn’t amused.
“All of a sudden, in a jealous rage, he gets up, scrapes everyone’s drinks off the bar, and throws a drink on [his girlfriend],” Padilla says. “The bouncer, some Jamaican dude, kicks him out.”
Fastie returns to his room and tosses his girlfriend’s belongings out the window. She ends up spending the night in Padilla’s bungalow.
The next morning, the girlfriend leaves to retrieve her belongings. She never comes back. Fastie isn’t anywhere to be seen either.
If they’d been reading the signs, they might have waited until things settled down to pick up the coke. Instead, Padilla and Brewer stay on schedule and head to a nearby safe house for their load—25 kilos of cocaine worth nearly $200,000—and return to the bungalow without a hitch. Things seem to be back on track.
“It’s so fresh, it’s still damp,” Padilla says. “So I’ve got it on these big, silver serving trays, sitting on a table. James is making a paper of coke [think to-go cup]. Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks is playing. Richard’s doing something … I don’t know what. And I’m writing down numbers. All of the sudden, the door opens. I look and all I see is a chrome-plated .32. Oh, shit. I just thought, wow, my life just ended.”
The Making of Eddie Padilla
Thirty-four years later, Eddie Padilla emerges from Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport into a balmy Los Angeles autumn night. He has a well-groomed goatee, a shiny, bald dome, and a nose that clearly hasn’t dodged every punch. Wearing a black jacket and tidy slacks, Padilla is muscular and sturdy at 64. He walks like a slightly wounded panther and offers a knuckle-crushing handshake. “Hey, man, thanks for coming to get me,” he says with a lingering SoCal-hippie-surfer accent.
We grab a coffee. Padilla speaks softly, with an economy that could be taken for either circumspection or shyness. The circumspection would be mutual. I had been approached about Padilla through his literary agents; they’d been unsuccessfully shopping his memoir. Right away, I was skeptical. Padilla’s story was epic, harrowing, and hard to believe. Aggravating my suspicions was the memoir’s aggrandizing tone. Plus, I’m not a fan of hippies and their justifications for what often seems like plain irresponsibility or selfishness. Still, I have to admit, if even half of his story is true, Eddie Padilla would be the real-life Zelig of America’s late 20th-century drug history. And, as is apparent from his first handshake, he has Clint Eastwood charisma to go with his tale.
I drop Padilla off at one of those high-gloss condo complexes in Woodland Hills that seem designed especially for mid-level rappers, porn stars, and athletes. His son, Eric, manages the place. Though Padilla lives a short flight away in Northern California, he has never been here before. Tonight marks the first time in nine years that he will see his son. For 20 years now, Padilla has been literally and figuratively working on reclaiming his narrative. Reuniting with his son is part of that effort. I may be too, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
As we approach, Padilla falls silent, unsure of what to expect. Eric is waiting outside the lobby when we pull up. He looks like a younger, slightly smaller version of Padilla. They greet each other with wide smiles and nervous hugs. I leave them to it.
I pick Padilla up the next morning to go surfing. He’s in good spirits. The reunion with his son went well. Plus, he hasn’t been in the water for a while and surfing is one of the few passions left from his earlier days.
Out at County Line, it’s a crystalline day with offshore winds and a decent swell kicking in. For Padilla, I’ve brought my spare board, a big, fancy log that would be cumbersome for most on a head-high day at County Line. Padilla inspects the long board like it’s a foreign object.
“I don’t know about this,” he says. “How about if I take your board and you use this one?” Worried about the danger I’d pose to others and myself, I refuse. “Okay, then,” he smiles, and we paddle out.
Padilla’s reservations disappear as soon as the first set rolls in. He digs for the first wave, a fat, beautifully shaped A-frame. He deftly drops in, stays high on the shoulder, slips into the pocket and makes his way down the line, chewing up every ounce of the wave. It’s one of the best rides I see all day. But he’s not done. Padilla catches wave after wave, surfing with a fluidity and grace that puts most of us out here to shame.
Exhausted after a couple hours, I get out of the water. When Padilla finally comes in, he is grinning ear to ear. “Who’d have thought I’d have to go from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles to find some good waves?” he jokes.
Buoyed by the return to his natural habitat, Padilla lets his guard down and begins to tell me about his life, over lunch at an upscale chain restaurant in Santa Monica. Though Padilla is forty years her senior, the attractive waitress is definitely flirting with him. Whatever it is that makes women melt, Padilla has it. He’s magnetic and likeable. As for his story, it could stand as a metaphor for the past few turbulent decades—the naïve idealism of flower power, the hedonism of the 1970s and ’80s, the psychosis and cynicism of the war on drugs, and the recovery culture of more recent times. It’s a story that’s hard to imagine beginning anywhere but in Southern California
Edward James Padilla was born in 1944 in the same Compton house where his father, Joe Padilla, was raised. Joe, a dashing Navy guy of Hispanic, Native American, and African-American ancestry, married Helen Ruth McClesky, a Scots-Irish beauty from a rough clan of Texas ranch hands who moved to Southern California, near Turlock, during the Dust Bowl.
Both family trees have their troubled histories. Joe’s mother killed herself when Joe was 12. The family broke apart after that and Joe had to fend for himself through the Depression. “He had no idea what it was even like to have a mother,” Padilla says.
Helen’s father turned to moonshining and bootlegging in California. Padilla recalls how his grandfather liked to show off the hole in his leg. As the story goes, Federal agents shot him during a car chase. Padilla raises his leg and imitates his grandfather’s crotchety voice: “That goddamn bullet went through this leg and into that one.”
When his grandfather finally ended up in prison, the family moved down to South Los Angeles where work could be found in the nearby shipyards. Padilla says his mother and father met in high school, “fell desperately in love,” and got married. This didn’t please the old man, who didn’t want his daughter mixing with “Mexicans and niggers.” Helen found both in one.
As the son of a mixed-race couple before such things were in vogue, Padilla got it from all sides. He wasn’t Mexican enough for the Mexicans, white enough for the whites, or black enough for the blacks. He was also a frail kid who spent nine months with polio in a children’s ward.
Padilla would get beaten up at school, and for consolation his father would make him put on boxing gloves and head out to the garage for lessons with dad, a Golden Glove boxer and light heavyweight in the Navy.
“If I turned my back, he’d kick me,” Padilla says about his father, who died in 2001. “He was trying to teach me how to fight the world. My dad was a different kind of guy.”
The family moved to Anaheim when Padilla was 12. There, he says, he became aware of the sort of prejudice that you can’t solve with fists, the sort that keeps a kid from getting a job at Disneyland like the rest of his friends.
“That’s when I started really getting ahold of the idea that, hey, I’m not being treated like everybody else. I’m sure I had a chip on my shoulder.”
Padilla got into a lot of fights, got kicked out of schools and wound up in juvenile hall where he received an education in selling speed, downers, and pot. By the time he was 17, Padilla was making enough as a dealer to afford his own apartment and car. But it wasn’t exactly the good life. He was doing a lot of speed, and one day he got arrested for what must have been an adolescent speed freak’s idea of seduction.
“I started taking handfuls of speed and I got so crazy. I mean, I got arrested for exposing myself to older women because just do that and we’ll have sex. That’s how psychotic I was.”
To make matters worse, he got in a fight with the arresting officer. The incident landed him 13 months at Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obispo. He came out feeling like he needed some stability in his life, or at least an 18-year-old’s version of it.
“I need to get married and settle down and be a pot dealer. I remember clearly thinking that. So, I married my friend, Eileen.”
Padilla and Eileen were 18 when they married on August 22, 1962. Marriage, though, didn’t solve certain problems—like how to get a job, which was now even tougher with a stint in a psych ward added to his résumé.
“It would have been really cool if I could walk in somewhere and get a job that actually paid enough to pay rent and live, but from where I was coming from, I’d be lucky to get a job sweeping floors,” he says. “I tried everything. So, it was easy to start selling pot.”
He turned out to be good at it.
Eddie Padilla turned 21 in 1965. Cultural historians wouldn’t declare the arrival of the Summer of Love for a couple of years, but for Padilla and a group of trailblazing friends, it was already in full swing.
He figures he was already the biggest pot dealer in Anaheim by this time. For a kid who grew up watching The Untouchables and dreaming of being a mobster, this might be considered an achievement. But something else was going on, too. The drugs he was selling were getting harder and his lifestyle coarser.
He started sleeping with several women from the apartment complex where he and his wife lived. He spent a lot of time in a notorious tough-guy bar called The Stables. “That’s where I started being comfortable,” Padilla says. “This is where I belonged. Social outcasts for sure.”
Eileen eventually had enough and took off for her mother’s. But it wasn’t just the philandering. Padilla also had an aura of escalating violence about him.
“I had a gun. I felt like I was going down the road to shooting someone, just like hitting someone is a big step for some people. So, that’s kind of insane. I was going to shoot someone just to get it over with. It doesn’t matter who, either.”
Then, early on the morning of his 21st birthday, one of his friends picked him up and drove him to the top of Mount Palomar. Joining them was John Griggs, a Laguna Beach pot dealer and the leader of a biker gang whose introduction to LSD had come when his gang raided a Hollywood producer’s party and took the acid. On the mountain with them were several others who would soon embark on one of the 1960s’ most influential and least understood counterculture experiments, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. They climbed to the mountaintop and dropped the acid. Padilla says he was changed immediately.
“I was completely convinced that I’d died on that mountain,” he remembers. “It was crystal-clear air, perfect for taking acid. I came down a different person. It was what’s called an ego death. I saw the light. I can’t ever explain it.”
A birthday party was already set with a lot of his old friends for later that night. Back home, in the middle of the celebration Padilla says he looked around at the guests, some of the hardest-partying, toughest folks around, and realized he didn’t ever want to see those people again. He took the velvet painting of the devil off his wall and threw it in the dumpster. He dumped the bowls of reds and bennies laid out like chips and salsa down the toilet. He kept his pot.
“I went up the mountain with no morals or scruples, a very dangerous and violent person,” he says, “and came down with morals and scruples.”
From that day on, a core group of hustlers, dealers, bikers, and surfers, who at best could be said to have lived on the margins of polite society, started convening to take acid together.
“Every time we’d go and take LSD out in nature or out in the desert or up on the mountain, it would be just this incredible wonderful day,” Padilla says. They were transformed, he claims, from tough cases, many of them doing hard drugs, to people with love in their hearts.
Things moved fast back then. The Vietnam War was raging; revolution was in the air, and the group that first started tripping on mountaintops wanted to be a part of it. Under the guidance of John Griggs, by most accounts the spiritual leader of the Brotherhood, they decided they needed to spread their acid-fueled revelations. In the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, they took over a Modjeska Canyon house that used to be a church and started having meetings. Soon, they were talking about co-ops and organic living; they were worshipping nature and preaching the gospel of finding peace and love through LSD.
The Brotherhood of Eternal Love incorporated as a church in October 1966, ten days after California banned LSD. The Brothers petitioned the state for the legal use of pot, acid, psilocybin and mescaline as their sacraments. They started a vegan restaurant and gave away free meals. They opened Mystic Arts World, which quickly became the unofficial headquarters for the counterculture movement crystallizing among the surfers and artists of Laguna Beach.
The Brotherhood proved both industrious and ambitious. Soon, they were developing laboratories to cook up a new, better brand of LSD, and opening up unprecedented networks to smuggle tons of hash out of Afghanistan. They were also canny; they carved out the bellies of surfboards and loaded them with pot and hash. They made passport fraud an art form, and became adept at clearing border weigh stations loaded down with surf gear and other disposable weight, which they’d dump on the other side so they could return with the same weight in pot stuffed into hollowed-out VW panel trucks. In their own way, they were the underground rock stars of the psychedelic revolution.
Soon, their skills and chutzpah attracted the attention of another psychedelic revolutionary. By 1967, Timothy Leary was living up in the canyons around Laguna Beach carrying on a symbiotic, some would say parasitic, relationship with Griggs. Leary called Griggs “the holiest man in America,” And more than anyone else, the Brothers implemented Leary’s message to turn on, tune in, drop out.
“The Brotherhood were the folks who actually put that command into action and tried to carry it out,” says Nick Schou, author of Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World. “Their home-grown acid, Orange Sunshine, was about three times more powerful than anything the hippies were using. They were responsible for distributing more acid than anyone in America. In the beginning, at least, they had the best of intentions.”
The group, Schou says, was heavily influenced by the utopian ideals of Aldous Huxley’s Island.
“There was a definite plan to move to an island,” Padilla says. “We were going to grow pot on the island and we were going to import it. We need a yacht and we need to learn how to grow food and farm, and we need to learn how to deliver babies . . . We were just little kids from Anaheim. God, these were big thoughts, big thoughts.”
The End of Eternal Love
Around the time Leary was setting up camp in Laguna Beach, the island ideal took on a new urgency for Padilla. No longer just a local dealer, he’d made serious connections in Mexico and was moving large quantities around the region. In one deal, Padilla drove to San Francisco in dense fog with 500 pounds of Mexican weed. But something didn’t feel right. Padilla thought someone might have tipped off the cops. He was right: He was arrested the next day. It was the largest pot bust in San Francisco history to that point. In 1967, Padilla was sentenced to five to fifteen in San Quentin. With his son Eric on the way, Padilla was granted a 30-day stay of execution to get his affairs in order.
“On the thirtieth day, I just left and went to Mexico, went to work for some syndicate guys,” he says. “I bailed.”
Padilla’s flight was also precipitated by a schism within the Brotherhood that some trace to its ultimate demise. Acting on Leary’s advice, Griggs took the profits from a marijuana deal, funds that some Brothers thought should go toward the eventual island purchase, and bought a 400-acre ranch in Idyllwild near Palm Springs.
Padilla never cared much for Leary, nor for his influence over Griggs and the Brotherhood. “He was a glitter freak,” Padilla says. “A guy named Richard Alpert, who became Ram Das, told us, ‘You guys got a good thing going, don’t get mixed up with Leary.’ ”
Padilla saw the Idyllwild incident as a turning point for the Brotherhood. “This is betrayal. This is incredibly stupid. You’re going to move the Brotherhood to a ranch in Idyllwild? To me, it was like becoming a target.”
The Brotherhood split over it. Many of those facing federal indictments or arrest warrants took off for Hawaii. Others moved up to the ranch with Griggs and Leary. As the Brotherhood’s smuggling operations grew increasingly complex and international, revolution started looking increasingly like mercenary capitalism. Any chance the Brotherhood had to retain its cohesion and its gospel probably died in 1969 with John Griggs, who overdosed on psilocybin up at the Ranch.
“That was John,” Padilla says, smiling, “take more than anybody else.”
Not long after, Mystic Arts burned down under mysterious circumstances. It seemed to signal an end, though the Brotherhood would continue to leave its mark on the era. The group masterminded Timothy Leary’s escape from minimum-security Lompoc state prison following his arrest for possession of two kilos of hash and marijuana. Funded by the Brotherhood, the Weather Underground sprung Leary and spirited him and his wife off to Algeria with fake passports.
To facilitate his escape to Mexico, Padilla raised funds from various Brothers and other associates to gain entree with a Mexican pot syndicate run by a kingpin called Papa. His Mexican escapades—busting partners from jail and other adventures—could make their own movie.
One time he drove his truck to the hospital to visit his newborn son, Eric, who was sick with dysentery. On the way, he noticed a woman with a toddler by the side of the road. The kid was foaming at the mouth, the victim of a scorpion bite. Padilla says he threw the boy in the back of his truck and rushed him to the hospital. The doctors told him the kid would have died in another five minutes. They gave him an ambulance sticker for his efforts.
“I put it on my window,” he tells me. “I was driving thousands of pounds of marijuana around in that panel truck. When I’d come to an intersection there would be a cop directing traffic. He’d stop everybody—I’d have a thousand pounds of weed in the back and he’d wave me through because of that ambulance sticker.”
In Mexico, Padilla ran a hacienda for Papa, overseeing the processing and distribution of the pot brought in by local farmers. For more than a year, he skimmed off the best bud and seeds. Meanwhile, he kept alive his dream of sailing to an island.
The dream came true when he and a few associates from the Brotherhood bought a 70-foot yacht in St. Thomas called the Jafje. The Jafje met Padilla in the summer of 1970 in the busy port of Manzanillo. From there, it set sail for Maui.
“It was five guys who had never sailed in their lives,” says Padilla. On board was a ton of the Mexican weed.
The trip should have taken less than two weeks. A month into it, one of the guys onboard, a smuggler with Brotherhood roots named Joe Angeline, noticed the stars weren’t right.
“He said, ‘Eddie, Orion’s belt should be right over our heads.’ But Orion’s belt was way, way south of us. We could barely make it out.”
When confronted, the captain confessed he didn’t know where the hell they were, but had been afraid to tell them. “There’s a hoist that hoists you all the way up to the top of the main mast and we hauled him up there and made him sit there for a day,” says Padilla. “That was funny.”
Eventually, they flagged down a freighter and learned they were more than a 1000 miles off course, dangerously close to the Japanese current. The freighter gave them 300 gallons of fuel and put them back on track to Maui. He’d made it to his island with a load of the finest Mexican marijuana.
“The seeds of that,” Padilla says, “became Maui Wowie.”
Maui Wowie? The holy grail of my pot-smoking youth, one of the most famous strains of marijuana in history? When Padilla tells me he played a major role in its advent, my already-strained credulity nears the breaking point. I spend months looking into Padilla’s stories, tracking down survivors, digging up what corroborative evidence I can. And, well, he basically checks out. But there are his stories and there is his narrative—how an acid trip on Mount Palomar transformed a 21-year-old borderline sociopath into a man with a purpose, a messenger of peace and love.That one’s harder to swallow. While sitting over coffee at the dining room table in his son’s apartment, Padilla finally tells a couple stories that beg me to challenge him.
Back in the mid-‘60s, he and John Griggs make a deal to purchase a few kilos of pot from a source in Pacoima. They drive out in a station wagon with 18 grand to make the buy. But the sellers burn them and take off with their money in a black Cadillac. The next day, Padilla and spiritual leader Griggs go back armed with a .38 and a .32. Padilla goes into the apartment where the deal was supposed to go down and finds one of the men sleeping on the couch. The guy wakes up and makes for a Winchester rifle sitting near the sink. Padilla runs up behind him and sticks the barrel of his gun in the guy’s ear and says, “Dude, please don’t make me fucking shoot you.” Griggs and Padilla get their money back.
“So, that stuff went on. I’ve been shot at. People have tried to kill me. I’ve had bullets whizzing by my ear,” he says. “But I’ve never had to shoot anybody.”
Padilla tells me of similar episodes in Maui where the locals, understandably, see the influx of the hippie mafia as encroachment on their turf. They set about intimidating the haoles from Laguna, often violently. One newcomer is shot in the head while he sleeps next to his son.
At his house on the Haleakala Crater one night, Padilla opens the door to let in his barking puppy only to find “there’s a guy standing there with a pillow case over his head and holes cut out and the guy behind him was taller and had a pager bag with the holes cut out.”
One of the men has a handgun. Padilla manages to slam the gunman’s hand in the door and chase off the invaders. “I’m going to kill both of you,” he yells after them. “I’m going to find out who you are and kill you.”
Padilla discovers the men work for a hood he knew back in Huntington Beach called Fast Eddie. Like a scene out of a gangster movie, Padilla and Fast Eddie have a showdown when Fast Eddie, in a car full of local muscle, tries to run Padilla and his passenger off the road. They all end up in Lahaina, where Fast Eddie’s henchmen beat up Padilla pretty good before the cops break up the brawl.
“Hey, bra, you no run. Good man,” Padilla recalls the Hawaiians saying to him. When Fast Eddie emerges from the chaos, Padilla points at him and tells the Hawaiians, “I want him. Let me have him.
“I worked him real good and that was that. People robbing and intimidating was over.”
I tell him it doesn’t seem like his life had changed very much since that day on Mount Palomar.
“You know, don’t get the wrong idea,” he laughs. “I’m still who I am. We’re still kind of dangerous people. Just because we were hippies with long hair and preaching love and peace doesn’t mean we became wusses.”
“It doesn’t sound like you had a spiritual awakening to me,” I say.
“I was very spiritual,” he replies. “I thought I was making a life for myself.”
“A warrior. A spiritual warrior.”
“What was your spiritual warring doing? What were you fighting for?”
He falls silent. “I never thought about it before. . . . Remember, I grew up in South Central. I already had an attitude from a young age. So, by the time I got to Maui, it was like, here’s your job, dealing with these people.
“The warrior part was, like, we want to live in Hawaii. We’re not going to accept you guys running our lives. This is what we were trying to get away from. So, my job as a self-motivated warrior was pretty clear, but it’s really difficult to explain.”
“So, your job was protection?” I offer.
“I was never paid.”
It occurs to me that Padilla really wanted to live beyond rules, institutions, and hierarchy, like some romaticized ideal of a pirate. “So why,” I ask, “feel the need to color it with this patina of spirituality? Why not just call it what it was—living young and fast, making money, getting the girls, fucking off authority?”
“Uh, wow . . . I mean, you’re right; it was about all that. It was living fast and really enjoying the lifestyle to the max.”
“Why the need to justify it?”
“Well, it just seemed to me that was what was moving me.”
“It seems that way to you now?”
“Now, yeah now. But then, I felt more, and this sounds really self-righteous, that we were the people who should be in charge, not the ones who were beating people up and taking their stuff and shooting them. So, spiritual warrior, maybe it doesn’t look like that to anyone else, but it sure as hell looks like that to me now.” His voice is soft and intense. “I didn’t have a sign on my head that said spiritual warrior but I definitely felt that’s what was going on . . . . Nobody else was standing up to them. Nobody else would pick up a gun, but I sure as hell would.”
“You have a massive ego,” I suggest.
“And that’s been your greatness and downfall all along?”
“Sure, yeah, I see that.”
I ask again, amid all the chaos, how his life had improved since his supposed awakening on Mount Palomar.
“My life was incredibly better. I was surfing, sailing, living life. All this other stuff was just, you know . . . I’m not in San Quentin,” he says. “That was the healthiest and clearest time of my life.”
Then, he met Diane Pinnix.
Pinnix was a tall, beautiful girl from Beach Haven, New Jersey, who came of age when Gidget sparked a national surf-culture craze. It’s not surprising that a headstrong girl from New Jersey would catch the bug, and she became one of the original East Coast surfer girls. Legend has it that when Pinnix decided she wanted to get away from New Jersey, she entered a beauty contest on a whim. First prize was a luggage set and a trip to Hawaii. Pinnix, then 18, won.
Pinnix’s mother, Lois, still lives in Beach Haven. When I call her, she has a simple explanation for her daughter’s flight to Hawaii, and her subsequent plight. “It was the times, it was the times. She wanted to spread her wings. Drugs were a part of the thing, but I was very naïve. I was a young mother and in the dark.”
Padilla first ran into Pinnix when he went with a friend looking to score some coke from a local kingpin. Pinnix was the kingpin’s girlfriend. “I looked at Diane and she looked at me and the attraction was so strong,” Padilla recalls. “That was it.”
He started making a point of showing up wherever Pinnix was.
“We’re traveling in the same pack and we started talking and flirting,” says Padilla. “It came to the point of ridiculousness . . . and my own friends were saying, ‘Why don’t you just fuck her and get it over with?’ But that wasn’t it, you know. I wanted her. It was an obsession. A massive ego trip, for sure, but at the same time there was an attraction unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.”
By all accounts, Diane Pinnix, a stunning surfer girl/gun moll, with a nice cutback and blond hair to her ass, was the sort of woman who could make a man do things he hadn’t bargained for.
“One day, we’re getting ready to paddle out, waxing our boards, and I say, ‘So, you want to be my old lady?’ And she says, ‘You have a wife and kids.’ And I say, ‘Okay.’ I was willing to let it go right there and I start to paddle out and she says, ‘But wait a minute.’ And that was it. It was all over. And that’s pretty much when I lost my mind.”
Pinnix was a committed party girl, and Padilla started doing coke and drinking excessively to keep up. After getting iced out of a big deal by a new crew on Maui who claimed Brotherhood status, Padilla decided to go out on his own. He made connections in Colombia and was on his way to becoming a coke smuggler.
“There was no more spiritual warrior,” he says. “This was a guy on his way to hell. I had gone against everything that was precious to me. I left my wife and kids. I wasn’t living the spiritual life I was back when we had the church and it was the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.”
“Why did you do it?” I ask.
“Money. For Diane and me. I probably knew deep inside that if I didn’t have enough money and coke, that she wouldn’t stay with me . . . whether that’s true or not, I’ll never know. The bottom line is I became a coke addict, plain and simple.”
A few days before he’s supposed to arrive at Peru’s Gran Azul with Richard Brewer and James Thomason, Eddie Padilla is thousands of miles away on a beach in Tahiti. He sits and looks out at the ocean, contemplating how far things have degenerated, both for him and for the Brotherhood. He thinks about the messages of love, the utopian ideals, and the notion that they could change the world. All that is gone. What is left are the 1970s in all their nihilistic glory. The drugs, money, women, and warring, spiritual or otherwise, are taking their toll, and damn if he isn’t feeling beat already at just 30.
In Tahiti, Padilla at last finds the island paradise that eluded him in Maui. And with Pinnix set up in style on the mainland, it’s a rare moment of peace in his increasingly out-of-control life. He wants more of that.
“It was incredible,” he says. “The best surfing and living, the best food on the planet. While I was in Tahiti, I really got sober and all of the sudden, I was looking at what I’d been doing and I didn’t want to go back.”
Smuggling coke isn’t about peace and love; it’s about money, greed, and power. He suddenly sees his life as a betrayal of his ideals, and he wants out. Feeling something like a premonition, Padilla decides that this next trip to Peru will be his last. Decades later, he remembers the conversation he had with a friend on that Tahitian beach.
“She says to me, ‘What are you doing, how did you get into coke?’ And I just look at her and say, ‘I don’t even know, but I know right now that I don’t want to go back there.” He’s trapped, though. Too much money has already been invested in the deal. “I’m totally responsible and there’s a whole bunch of people involved. But I’ll be back,’ I told her. That was the plan. ‘I’ll be back.’” He books a return flight to Tahiti. He never makes it.
Back at the Gran Azul, just hours before Padilla and his crew are scheduled to leave the country, quasi-military police agents storm the bungalow. One slams Padilla to the floor, another kicks Brewer in the stomach, and quickly Padilla, Brewer, and Thomason are all in cuffs.
“At least 10 or 12 of them come in through the door and they all have guns drawn. I didn’t have a chance,” says Padilla.
A man they will come to know as Sergeant Delgado takes a hollow-point bullet from his gun, starts tapping it against Thomason’s chest, and says, “Tell me everything.”
In some ways, Padilla is a victim of his own success. While he’s been hopping between Hawaii, Tahiti, Colombia, and Peru building his résumé as a coke-smuggling pirate, Richard Nixon has been marshaling his forces for the soon-to-be declared War on Drugs. It’s the beginning of the national hysteria that will see Nixon pronounce the fugitive Timothy Leary “the most dangerous man in America,” and today has more than 2.3 million Americans in prison, a vast majority of them for drug offenses.
Nixon’s strategy in the drug war is announced with his Reorganization Plan No. 2. It calls for the consolidation of the government’s various drug-fighting bureaucracies into the Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA is formed, at least in part, to do something with Nixon’s boner for the Brotherhood’s members and associates, dubbed “the hippie mafia” in a 1972 Rolling Stone article. Congress holds months of hearings on the need for this new agency in the spring and summer of 1973. One is titled “Hashish Smuggling and Passport Fraud, The Brotherhood of Eternal Love.”
After the DEA starts putting too much heat on his Colombian connections, Padilla sets up shop in Peru. But the DEA’s budget shoots up from $75 to $141 million between 1973 and 1975, and Peru, the world’s largest cocaine-producing country at the time, quickly becomes a client state in the drug war. Some of that DEA money goes to fund and train the notorious Peruvian Investigative Police, or PIP (now called the Peruvian National Police). The PIP operates with near immunity and is expected to get results in the war on drugs.
Sergeant Delgado heads the force. A mean-spirited thug with dead, black eyes, he is one of the most powerful men in Peru. An Interpol agent known as Rubio is with Delgado.
Before the DEA put Peru in its crosshairs, Padilla would have been able to buy out of the arrest. Naturally, his first reaction is to offer up the $58,000 in cash he has with him.
“Don’t worry,” he remembers Rubio telling him. “Don’t say anything about this and when we get to the police station, we’ll work something out.”
The three Americans are taken to the notorious PIP headquarters, known as the Pink Panther, a pink mansion that the police confiscated (they are rumored to have executed the owners). With no tradition of case building, Peruvian detective work at the time pretty much consists of coerced confessions and snitching.
The PIP is famously brutal. During the two weeks the guys are held at Pink Panther, Padilla says they’re surrounded by the sounds of women being raped and men being tortured.
The country’s shaky institutions are rife with corruption, and there is little to no history in Peruvian jurisprudence of due process or jury trials. Prisoners wait for years to have their cases heard before a three-judge tribunal, only to see their fates determined in a matter of minutes. Their arrest immediately throws Padilla, Brewer and Thomason into this Kafkaesque quagmire.
In a 1982 Life magazine story that details the horrors of the Peruvian prison system, and two men who tried to escape it, a survivor tells of his time in the Pink Panther.
My god, I was in tears after they went at me,” Robert B. Holland, a Special Forces Vietnam vet recounts. “I did a couple things in ’Nam I might go to hell for. But Peru was a whole new day.”
When their escape attempt fails, the two primary subjects of the Life story commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. In a final letter to his wife, one of the men, David Treacly, writes, “I have no confidence in either their concept of justice, their methods of interrogation and inconceivable brutality, or in the bumbling incompetence and indifference of our embassy . . . . So, I’m going out tonight . . . . John not only accepts and understands, but has decided he wants to go with me . . . . Given the circumstances, I cannot think of anyone I’d rather go with.”
In this atmosphere of brutality and corruption, Padilla and his friends strike a deal with Delgado. The deal is Delgado will keep the money and the cocaine, probably to resell, and Padilla, Brewer and Thomason will say nothing to the DEA about the drugs or cash—it’s their only leverage. When they go to trial, Delgado is supposed to testify that he never saw the coke on display until he opened a black travel bag. The story will be that a jealous Fastie planted the bag as revenge for Padilla flirting with his girlfriend. With Delgado’s testimony, they are assured, they will be home in six months. In the meantime, though they will have to go to San Juan de Lurigancho prison.
“‘Don’t worry,’” Padilla remembers being told. “‘You’ll be out in four to six months. And the prison is nice. There’s basketball, soccer, a great pool.’”
La Casa Del Diablo
There are, of course, no pools or athletic facilities at Lurigancho. There aren’t even working toilets. Built in the 1960s to house 1,500 inmates, Lurigancho has more than 6,000 by the time Padilla is processed. (Today some estimates put the number of prisoners there at more than 10,000.) Going in, though, Padilla still has an outlaw’s cocky sense of exemption. Besides, he’s paid off his captors.
“It’s just like an adventure,” he remembers thinking. “I’d been in prison. I’d been in jails.”
That feeling doesn’t last long. Padilla says the conditions are “like a dog kennel.” Food is a bowl of rice a day—with beans on the lucky days. “People starved to death.”
The running water, when it runs, comes from a community pump, which the prison often shuts down to clean rats out of the pipes. The water is full of worms and bacteria. Everybody has dysentery.
“If you got the runs, you better find a plug, because everybody’s going to be real pissed if you shit in a cell,” he says. “I had dysentery every day.”
The toilet, a hole in the ground that prisoners line up to use, seems designed to make the most of this affliction. It constantly overflows with shit and piss so the prisoners resort to relieving themselves onto an ever-growing mound of feces.
“The whole place smells like shit,” says Padilla.
The American prisoners and some other expats live together in the same cellblock, a more modern facility built off the big hall, which is a real-world incarnation of Dante’s Inferno, where murderers, rapists and the destitute teem together in a bazaar of daily strife. There, Padilla says, you see people starving, drowning in tuberculosis, being beaten and stabbed to death.
Padilla’s description of the prison is in keeping with interviews that a former human rights activist, who is familiar with Lurigancho, has conducted for this story with past and present volunteers in Lima. All have requested anonymity.
One volunteer says the guards have surrendered the place to the prisoners. Everything from cots to a spot in a cell must be purchased. Those with no resources are left to wander the outskirts of the cellblocks, relying on handouts and picking through garbage like zombies.
Another volunteer, who worked at Lurigancho when Padilla was imprisoned there, says, “There were always ugly things . . . . We felt very powerless against the mistreatment.” She says there are constant fights between prison pavilions, wars between inmates and murders tacitly sanctioned by the guards, who are often paid off to look the other way.
As it becomes increasingly clear that his chances of getting out quickly are about as good as going for a swim in the pool, Padilla’s days are given over to survival, often in a haze of pasta, a particularly toxic paste form of cocaine smuggled into the prison and sold by well-connected inmates. Nights are filled with the sounds of screaming and snoring, and the insane beating of drums from the big hall.
Padilla doesn’t hesitate when asked to describe the worst thing he witnessed.
“Watching a whole cell block get killed,” he says. “Watching a .50 caliber machine gun, at least a dozen rifles and a half dozen pistols . . . until no one is moving. And then, they open up the door and storm it. They shoot everybody.”
The massacre comes, Padilla says, after a handful of prisoners take some guards hostage and demanded better conditions. The inmates release the guards when the prison warden agrees to their demands. The next day, the military comes in and shoots the place up. Padilla believes hundreds of inmates are killed in the attack.
On another occasion, Padilla says confused guards open fire on prisoners returning on a bus from court, killing dozens. “One of the [wounded] guys was in our cell block. He came up to the cell block just covered in blood.”
The prison’s atrocities mostly escape international attention until December 1983, when police shoot and kill a Chicago nun being held hostage by prisoners attempting to flee. Eight prisoners are also killed. Lurigancho gains further notoriety when, in July 1986, police kill anywhere from 124 to 280 (accounts vary) rioting members of the Sendero Luminosa, or Shining Path, Marxist guerillas incarcerated at Lurigancho.
Lurigancho’s tableau of evils, both epic and banal, earn the prison the name La Casa del Diablo, the house of the devil. It remains a hellish place; the Associated Press reports that two people a day still die in Lurigancho from violence or illness.
Despite being imprisoned in the midst of this, Padilla doesn’t slip into despair. Not immediately. It takes something more potent. It takes Diane Pinnix.
Quickly after the arrests, Diane Pinnix flies down to Lima, ostensibly to aid and abet Padilla’s release. Before long, though, Peru’s attractions prove irresistible and she starts partying. Padilla worries she’ll get in trouble, the last thing he needs. He decides he has to get out of Lurigancho fast. His chance comes with a Colombian coke dealer named Jimmy, another inmate who’s been supplying pasta for Padilla, Brewer, Thomason and other cellies to smoke.
During a delivery one day, Jimmy tells the guys how he plans to escape Lurigancho. Jimmy’s lawyer will bribe clerks to get him called to court, but his name will be left off the judge’s docket. At the end of the day, in the chaos of transferring prisoners, Jimmy’s lawyers will hand the soldiers in charge counterfeit documents saying the judge has ordered his immediate release. If the plan works, it’s decided that Pinnix will give Jimmy what’s left of Padilla’s money to set up the same deal.
But Jimmy takes Padilla’s money and never returns to Lurigancho. Nor does Pinnix. Word filters back through the prison grapevine that Diane has been seen on the streets of Lima holding hands and kissing someone who fits the description of Jimmy.
Padilla spirals into a rage. He thinks only of revenge. To exact it, he seeks out a violent man known as Pelone, the boss of a neighboring prison cell. Through Pelone, Padilla orders a hit on Jimmy, an expensive proposition for which he has no money. Padilla promises to pay up when Pelone’s pistolero cousin brings back Jimmy’s finger, the traditional token of a successful hit. Padilla knows that with no money, it might be his life he pays with, but he wants Jimmy dead. In the meantime, he needs pasta to numb his pain. Pelone is more than happy to supply on credit.
Months go by with no success in the hit and Padilla falls deeper into despair. In the back of his mind is an inescapable fact: the pain he is feeling is the same pain he caused his wife, Eileen, and his kids, when he walked out on them for Pinnix. His spirit breaks.
“I gave up because of Diane. Not just because of Diane, but because I was betrayed and that brought on all the betrayal I gave Eileen, my kids. My dedication to God, you know it was just gone. I turned my back and betrayed all of it. Betrayed my soul.”
Padilla rarely leaves his bunk. He interrupts his sleep and sobbing only to smoke pasta. When the pasta runs out, he turns to pills. In his bunk, he dreams of surfing, and of Tahiti and Maui. He gives up his battle with dysentery.
“That’s how I got. I became absolutely disgusting. I stunk. I reeked,” Padilla says.
“Richard and James are pretty sure I’m going to die.”
His death seems assured one night when Padilla turns over in his bunk and sees Pelone wearing a leather jacket zipped to the top. Padilla’s cellmates aren’t around and Pelone has seized the opportunity to come calling for his debts. Pelone pulls a long shank from under his jacket and comes at Padilla. Using his boxing skills, Padilla manages to dodge the first couple of stabs, but Pelone is skilled with a blade, and Padilla soon finds himself staring defenselessly at a shank aimed for his midsection. Just as Pelone is about to thrust, one of Padilla’s cellies miraculously appears, and grabs Pelone’s shoulder before he can stab. The opening gives Padilla enough time to throw a left cross into Pelone’s nose, breaking it, he says. They tumble to the floor and by then a group of Padilla’s cellmates storm in and disarm Pelone. The guy who has saved Padilla pays off the $400 debt to Pelone—a prison fortune—on the condition that Padilla gets his shit together.
In order to survive, Padilla realizes he needs to get back to some idea of God, to find a way to live beyond his fear. He quits doing drugs and starts meditating. He trains in boxing again. But his biggest challenge is still beyond him: the big hall. If he can master that, he thinks, he can master his fear. But he’s not ready. He needs something more than God to hold onto. For Padilla, that could only be a woman.
One day during visitation, a young, indigenous woman named Zoila catches Padilla’s eye. Padilla sees something in her that he hasn’t seen in what seems like forever.
“She was the purest, most wonderful thing that could happen to me,” he says. “She was like a gift from God.”
The note Padilla throws down to Zoila from his cellblock feels like a life preserver. When someone hands her the note and points to Padilla, she smiles and waves. After that, she becomes Padilla’s regular visitor and something like a love affair unfolds.
“She helped me heal so much in the prison. That was grace. I crack when I think about that experience.” And he actually does crack when he tells this story, reinforcing my suspicion that beneath the surface of every tough guy is a heartbroken mama’s boy.
With his dignity on the mend, Padilla knows there’s something he must still do to be worthy of Zoila. After jumping rope one day, he decides it’s time. He asks a prison guard to open the door protecting his cellblock from the big hall. The guard smiles contemptuously and opens the door.
Padilla walks through the maze. He sees men lifting a dead body out of the way. Blood from tuberculosis stains the floors like abstract art. His journey through the hall is quick, but he survives. Before long, he goes back again, this time under the guidance of a man named Chivo, a leader in this strange netherworld of Lurigancho. After a while, Padilla is allowed to pass the big hall with immunity. Something has changed.
More than three years after they were taken to Lurigancho, Padilla, Brewer, and Thomason finally have their day before the tribunal. As a matter of course, the Peruvian Supreme Court reviews cases after the tribunal renders its verdict—but guilty verdicts are rarely overturned. The tribunal will be the trio’s biggest test. They have a couple of things working for them. First is Zoila, who packs the courtroom with family and friends. They also manage to secure the services of a sympathetic translator, without which they wouldn’t stand a chance.
On the stand, all three stick to the story: Fastie planted the coke in their room and nobody saw it until Delgado opened the black travel bag. Thomason is just a friend who happened to be there. The key witness will be Delgado. Nobody knows whether he’ll keep his bargain to back up the tale.
When Delgado walks into the courtroom, eyes as black and dead as ever, a visceral terror shoots through Padilla’s body. But Delgado takes the stand and, to Padilla’s surprise, gives a brief statement corroborating their account of the arrest. The tribunal has little choice but to render absuelto in all three cases—absolved. It’s the first good news in years.
That evening, Padilla and Brewer are taken to a hotel while Thomason is held back at a holding pen in the Lima neighborhood of Pueblo Libre. He has draft-dodging issues. Jimmy Carter had pardoned all draft dodgers while the men were in prison, but that means little to the Peruvian authorities. There’s no telling how long or how much money it will take to sort this out. The longer it takes, the more likely it is that Padilla’s decade-old San Francisco conviction will turn up like an albatross around his neck.
There are other complications. Padilla and Brewer have recently been implicated in the arrest of a former associate who Jimmy and Pinnix tricked into doing a coke deal with them by saying the proceeds would go to help spring the guys. If that case makes it to court before they’re free, they are done for sure. Padilla and Brewer have to decide whether to make a break for it or wait for Thomason. They stay.
When Padilla and Brewer return to Pueblo Libre the next day, bad news awaits. The Supreme Court will be reviewing the case. Their lawyer mentions Padilla’s “FBI problems.” Freedom is near, they’re told, but it’ll take money. Padilla, Brewer and Thomason are put in a cell at the Pueblo Libre jail to await the Supreme Court’s review.
Facing more than 20 years each should their verdicts be overturned, Padilla and Brewer know a return to Lurigancho is certain death. They start working on an escape plan. Thomason, facing just three years, wants no part of it.
Months go by in Pueblo Libre while Padilla and Brewer prepare for a moment that might never come. They ask an Episcopalian reverend, an Englishman who has started visiting them in Lurigancho, to bring them towels, maps of the city and the Amazon wilderness beyond it. He also brings them money. They scope out the jail and determine they can get over a wall on the roof if given a chance. They make an effort to befriend their jailers, to show they pose no threat. Brewer swipes a serving spoon and hides it in his shoe.
In June of 1978, soccer-mad Peru makes an unlikely run through the first round of the World Cup being held in neighboring Argentina. During Peru’s match against Scotland to advance to the second round, the atmosphere in Lima is ecstatic, even in the jail. The guards bring in beer and booze and good food, which they share with the Americans. They leave the jail cell open believing the only way out is past them since the steel door leading to the roof is spring-locked.
The partying gets more intense as the game plays. The guards are rapt. Brewer wakes up Padilla, who is sleeping off some whiskey. It’s time to go, he says. Padilla says he’s ready if Brewer can spring the lock to the steel door. They are worried about the loud noise the lock makes when it releases. Then, something incredible happens just as Richards jams the spoon into the lock and springs the steel door open: Peru scores! It’s pandemonium in the jail. Nobody hears the door, or them as they scurry up the stairs and onto the roof.
On the roof, Padilla and Brewer scale the wall and look up at the barbed-wire-topped chain link fence. They throw towels over the barbs and hoist themselves up and over onto the freedom side of the two-story wall. They’ll have to jump down onto another rooftop, scramble to the jail’s outside wall and scale that to get to the street. Their plan is to split up and reconvene at the reverend’s church in Miraflores.
At the outside wall, Brewer urges Padilla to jump. Padilla hesitates and in a flash, Brewer is hurtling down into a patch of light, landing hard on the ground below. Brewer grabs a ladder propped against a shack and hauls it over to the outer wall. Padilla finally jumps into the dark and lands with a thud on a pile of lumber. Pain immediately shoots through his body. He tries to stand but crumples. His ankle swells up immediately. His heel is broken. Padilla crawls and hops to the ladder and pulls himself up, the lower half of his body dead weight. He makes it to the top of the second wall and lets himself fall to the ground.
Out in the street, Brewer tries desperately to hail a cab. Padilla calls to him. Seconds go by like hours. Finally, Brewer sees him and comes racing back, asking what the fuck happened; how did he get so dirty? Padilla tells him he can’t walk. Brewer races back and hoists Padilla over his shoulder, carrying him across the street into the shelter of an alley. He flags down a car and they make their way to the reverend’s church in Miraflores.
Thirty-one years later, the same reverend answers a call at his home in the English countryside. Retired for 20 years, he asks that his name not be disclosed while he recalls for me the night the two men he’d been visiting in prison for months showed up at his door.
“It was unexpected. One of them had broken a bone in his heel and was having a tough time getting around. I think there was a lot of adrenaline going,” the reverend says with typical English understatement. “We gave them some food and clothing and moved them onto a contact they had . . . . The police came around to find out what part I had in their escape and held my passport for awhile.”
Padilla and Brewer next enlist the cousin of an inmate Padilla befriended in Lurigancho. He is a travel guide with the Peruvian tourism industry with access to an underground network of friends and relatives. The guide’s family, like many others, has suffered at the hands of Delgado and the PIP as the war on drugs has conflated with political persecution and the other abuses you’d expect in a police state.
A domestic flight, arranged through a sympathetic airline worker, takes Padilla and Brewer to the Amazon River city of Iquitos. They stay for weeks at the lodge of a man who used be a PIP agent, but quit over the agency’s brutal practices. There, the natural beauty of the Amazon and their first taste of real freedom bring Padilla and Brewer to tears. The hum of jungle birds and the roar of big cats at night almost drown out the sounds of snoring, screaming and drumming at Lurigancho, still echoing in their heads. Padilla thinks of Zoila. He feels she’s out there in her village somewhere in the Amazon wilderness. It breaks his heart that he’ll never be able to thank her enough.
After a close call with PIP agents in Iquitos, Padilla and Brewer acquire forged documents identifying the two as Peruvians going to visit family in Colombia. They fly to the Colombian border town of Leticia and reach a hotel owned by an expat. Padilla calls his ex-wife Eileen and she sends money on the next flight in. They pay off the Colombian equivalent of the PIP to write a temporary visa that gives them 72 hours to get out of the country or be arrested.
During their brief stay at the hotel, Padilla and Brewer befriend a group of college kids. One of them is a Colombian girl who rooms with Caroline Kennedy at Radcliffe. The friendship pays off in Bogota, the girl’s hometown, when Padilla and Brewer can’t get a hotel room there because they have no passports. They’re terrified they’ve come all this way only to get picked up for being indigent. Then, Padilla remembers he has the girl’s phone number. Their last night in South America is spent at the penthouse home of Caroline Kennedy’s college roommate. The next day they get a flight to Mexico City and then it’s on to LAX.
As they exit the airport through a stream of people, Padilla puts his hand on Brewer’s shoulder and they stop for a minute. Padilla looks uncertainly at Brewer and his look is returned. Until now, they’ve known what they were running to. Now that they’re here, they both realize the hardest part comes next.
Twelve years after she entered Mystic Arts World, Lorey Smith has grown into a woman already disappointed by marriage. She is cautious and jaded. To help get her out of her funk, Smith’s sister suggests she come down to Corona del Mar for a party. A friend of her uncle’s is going to be there and he can show her a good time. She hesitates, but when her sister tells her that the guy used to be in the Brotherhood, she softens.
“I had this thought, okay, he’s not anybody’s who’s going to harm me,” Smith says. “I felt safe. So, I said, ‘I’ll come down.’”
The party is in full howl when Smith arrives. Every time she turns around, she bumps into her uncle’s friend. His name is Eddie.
“He was following me all over the house. I thought, ‘What is up with this guy?’ My sister would say, ‘Oh, he’s fine. He’s fine.’ I didn’t know everybody had been partying for the last three weeks. She left that part out.”
Little by little, Smith settles in. She and Eddie start talking. They dance, despite Eddie’s obvious limp. Two days turn into four. Smith is compelled by this guy, but unsure. He seems haunted, hunted even.
“I didn’t know he was blasted on coke and had drank who knows how much by the time I got there—I just knew something was wrong. But once we actually started talking, and it did take a couple of days, then, I was like, ‘Wow, what’s his story? All this pain.’”
At some point during the partying, Smith loses track of Eddie. “All of a sudden, I heard this noise, like moaning, like pain and moaning. And I opened the front door and he’s out on the lawn, by this bush…just in this really, really bad place.
“I tried to get him to talk a little bit about it, and he did, and he shared enough with me sitting on the grass that one particular night that I was just…fascinated that he was even sitting there having been through what he’d been through.”
Over time Eddie tells Smith more and more about what he’s been through, about Lurigancho, a prison in Peru known as La Casa del Diablo. About how he escaped with his life, but wasn’t sure about his soul.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, you’re kidding, you should write a book.’”
Smith tells this story at a small kitchen table in her small condo in Santa Rosa, California. It’s the middle of December and a relentless, cold rain has been pounding for days. Smith serves up some sandwiches as she talks. The oven is on for heat.
Padilla comes in from the living room when he hears us talking about how he and Lorey met in Corona del Mar. “I wasn’t fit for polite company,” he jokes. Lucky for him, Smith wasn’t too polite and they kept seeing each other. It didn’t take them long to figure out they’d met before, when a wide-eyed 12-year-old handed a handsome man a handmade necklace and that man accepted it with a smile.
Eddie Padilla and Lorey Smith have been together since 1981. It’s one of the few happy endings in this story.
Jimmy the dealer and Diane Pinnix stayed together until Jimmy beat her up badly, putting her in the hospital. Jimmy briefly went to to jail before he bailed out and fled to Columbia. He was eventually gunned down in the street.
Diane Pinnix died a junkie’s death seven years ago in Jamaica. “The unfortunate thing is she died alone,” says her mother. “She was beautiful when she was younger.”
Drugs and alcohol continued to dictate the life of James Thomason, the man Padilla says did his time with more courage and grace than anyone else. I visit Thomason at the Rescue Mission in Tustin. His shoulder bears a tattoo that reads Lurigancho 75-78. His hard life has punched in his face.
When I ask about his time in prison, he says. “I don’t know what hell is, but Lurigancho is as close as I can think of.”
Thomason tells me of the dysentery, the filth, the flies, people getting stabbed, and Padilla’s descent into despair after Pinnix betrayed him with Jimmy.
“That’s when he really lost it,” says James. “He was a lowly person in that Peruvian prison and nobody cared. He wasn’t Eddie Padilla anymore. He was a prisoner.”
When I ask about the massacre, Thomason’s eyes go distant and his galloping speech slows to a near-halt. “They came in with rifles and the machine gun,” he says.
These days Thomason dreams of being able to afford an apartment by the beach, watch TV, drink a few beers, and live out his days. Though he seems a poster boy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he admits to no lasting ill effects from his time in Lurigancho. It occurs to me that surviving Lurigancho is both the worst thing that ever happened to him and his greatest accomplishment.
Richard Brewer died a little more than two years ago. Upon his return from Peru, he quickly went back to his old ways. But he never lost his outlaw’s code of honor. At Brewer’s memorial, friends gathered to paddle his ashes out to sea. Afterward, they had a bonfire on the beach. Everybody had stories to tell, but Padilla had the story.
“I said, ‘You guys know the story . . . but what you guys probably don’t know is, he came back for me. We had agreed to go our different ways. He knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk, and he came back for me.”
We had just finished watching a documentary on Lurigancho and sifting through a kaleidoscope of memories—some better than others—when Padilla relates this. It’s late in a long day and he starts sobbing.
“All those guys called themselves the Brotherhood for so long, but you know what? Richard was a real brother. He came back for me. He carried me . . . I always thought that if anybody came back for anybody, it would be me coming back for them.”
As Padilla says this, embarrassed by his tears, it feels like a fresh revelation. In some ways, I think the simple fact that he wasn’t the rescuer but the one who was rescued may have turned out to be the god Eddie Padilla was looking for his entire life—the ego break that neither acid, the Brotherhood or his misguided idea of freedom could provide. Perhaps this newfound humility allowed him to admit, where others didn’t, that Lurigancho broke him. Maybe it gave him the strength to ask for help and to claw his way back after descending into a deadly alcoholism and drug addiction, fueled by his crippled leg and fractured psyche.
At death’s door, and living on the streets, Padilla finally made it into rehab and set about on the long road back to recovery. He went to AA meetings and therapy for years. He managed to earn a degree in drug and alcohol counseling, and has made a career of working with juveniles and cons. He hopes his memoir will be useful in his work, both as a cautionary tale and a story of redemption. In the end, he just might have earned the narrative he seeks.
“You know when they first started telling me about the Brotherhood, that seems like what it was all about—it was people helping people,” says Padilla’s brother Dennis, who was instrumental in helping Padilla stay sober in those first crucial years of recovery. “It wasn’t about money and things and I think that’s where he’s at today.”
Sergeant Delgado was killed in a shootout when a friend of one of the doomed guys in the Life article tried to bust them out. According to the report, it took 11 rounds to bring him down.
Aug 2, 01:07 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
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