By Steve Bjerklie
The best in man can flourish only when he loses himself in the community.
DAVE HENSON is so enthusiastic about what he does and how he lives that he practically zings. He’s one of those people who seem to spend most of their waking hours outside of themselves. At various points in our conversation at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, Henson drums a table, dives his hands into dark, sun-warmed loam just to feel its goodness, and waves broadly at the sky and at trees as if grand-marshaling a parade.
“The primary dynamic of the universe,” he tells me, “is the relationship between individuality and community.” When he says this, we are looking across one of the center’s two-acre flower-and-vegetable gardens that, like Persian cities, are forested with spires of colorful foxglove.
Now we are seated outside in brilliant light at a weather-worn picnic table, drinking chilled water freshened with mint leaves. Henson’s wearing a faded orange T-shirt (“cotton but not organic, unfortunately”) and dusty khakis with leather work gloves waving from a back pocket. “The natural world is our model,” he says, tossing back his coppery, Tom Pettylike hair. Henson’s face and arms are teak-tan from being outdoors most of the time. “No one part dominates the system. Every time something new is introduced, the system adapts to it, or around it.
“The model, of course, has its limits,” he adds. “We assume the need to operate collectively.”
The thought reminds me of something I’d heard earlier the same morning from Michael Black, a Sebastopol architect: “Our society has a need for real community. We need to stress the importance of openness and telling the truth,” he tells me in the living room of the pleasant, quiet home he shares with his wife, Alexandra. “We’re trying to form in our community a real extended family, a collection of diverse people with diverse needs and backgrounds who can share and teach each other.
“The Balinese have a phrase for it, suka duka. ‘Laugh together, cry together.'”
The Arts and Ecology Center and Black’s designs for a Sebastopol co-housing development on Robinson Road are the latest efforts in Sonoma County to create an ideal human society. Utopia, in a word. Local history is abundant with utopias dating back to the 1870s. The legacy includes free love, communism, faith healing, financial scams, accusations of medical malpractice, media frenzies–and that’s just the 19th century.
Why Sonoma? Fertile and affordable (until recently, anyway) land, a steady influx of immigrants from all over the world, and easy access to one of the world’s most tolerant and intellectual cities, San Francisco. The same reasons, in fact, that upstate New York has also been home to a host of utopian experiments, from the Oneida community to the Shakers. The two regions have accommodated more utopias than anywhere else in the United States.
Utopianism in Sonoma County in the 20th century has brought a samurai warrior, organic gardening, sweat lodges, drugs, invasions by bulldozers, and–in a special 1990s touch–murder.
But violence of any kind, except for chewing on mint leaves, seems far away from the Art and Ecology Center, which occupies the old Farallones Institute’s 80-acre site on Coleman Valley Road. Founded in the summer of 1994, the center sponsors a broad range of art classes, workshops, and seminars, including “Permaculture Design,” “Theory and Practice of Ecopsychology,” “Three-Day Seed Saving,” and “Rethinking Corporations/Rethinking Democracy” courses.
The center’s land and buildings are “owned” in equal shares by eight partners, of which Henson is one. Six of the partners, along with four other people, live on the property in a residential “intentional community”–the ’90s way to say “commune”–and the community is also a legal California general partnership. Decisions in management at the center are made by “process,” which Henson describes as “a way to structure accountability, a way to establish consensus about what needs to be done tomorrow, and a way to be very pragmatic but also empowering.”
Henson graduated in 1983 from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a degree in sociology, and later went to law school at New College in San Francisco. In between, he spent time with rebels in El Salvador and worked at the Earth Island Institute, as well at Tennessee’s Highlander Research and Education Center (formerly the Highlander Folk School), the venerable wellspring of 20th-century American social movements.
More idealist browsing:
Local folks founding communes, past and present.
Bibliography of communal living.
MICHAEL BLACK, too, came to contemplate utopia, as embodied by co-housing, through his involvement in social movements. A successful architect in Palm Springs in the ’60s–his first home was featured in Time magazine–Black got involved with the local Cahuilla tribe of Native Americans through a federal Housing and Urban Development program, as the destitute Cahuillas struggled to rebuild themselves in the wake of the holocaust of Manifest Destiny.
“I was pretty successful with them because I became an advocate, not an adversary,” says the elegant, snow-haired Black. “I even received the blessing of the tribe. They put me on the board of directors for the reservation’s Malki Museum.”
But what caught Black’s attention was the strong sense of community that held together the Cahuillas in the face of enormous difficulties. He was reminded of the safety he felt in the extended Jewish family he grew up with in Los Angeles.
“Co-housing is a humanistic and pragmatic way of approaching living,” Black says. “The heart of it is in the building of community.”
In a co-housing development, certain shared indoor and outdoor spaces promote group activities and exchanges. Residences are private, but meals, for instance, might be shared, and so might day care. An important factor is diversity in the incomes and interests of residents; that way, according to Black, everyone teaches everyone.
“The depth to which a community bonds varies greatly,” says Black, who designed a co-housing development in Chico before undertaking the Sebastopol project. A second co-housing project in Sonoma County, not designed by Black, is planned to be included as part of the 550-home Courtside Village development in Santa Rosa. However, snags in the cost of sewer installations have slowed down the potential Courtside co-housers for the time being.
Black expects to move into the Sebastopol co-housing development (which is nameless, though “Jewel Hill” was used earlier) in 1998, when he’s 60. Back in ’74, he hoped to raise his children in a co-housing environment. Now it looks as if it’ll be the grandchildren. The articulate Black, who also designed Sebastopol’s downtown plan, is careful when he uses the U-word. “Utopianism, idealism–it’s all a matter of perspective,” he tells me. “What some people call utopian others might find horrible.” He’s referring to the partial sacrifice of individuality that successful co-housing requires, but his words jog something in the back of my mind. Ironically, later in our conversation, Black himself brings up the old community of Preston. I mention Altruria, Icaria, and Fountain Grove, and finally Morning Star and Wheeler Ranch.
“Oh, Morning Star!” Black’s graceful eyebrows suddenly jut up into accent marks. “You must talk to Alexandra! She was one of the first settlers there! She and Lou Gottlieb and Ramon Sender. What a time!”
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
SIR THOMAS MORE, prior to becoming Henry VIII’s lord chancellor, wrote Utopia as his world exploded. When Utopia appeared in 1516, Michelangelo had just completed his frescoes on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Machiavelli had written The Prince three years earlier. In 1517, the same year coffee was first introduced in Europe, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the dark wooden door of the castle church in Saxony to begin the Reformation. Velasquez had just discovered Cuba. In 1519, Cortez was to arrive in Mexico.
Though More’s book, written in Latin, wasn’t the first description of an ideal human society–the earliest recorded journey in search of an earthly paradise was made by Gilgamesh in 2000 B.C.–the title coined the word’s definition as we know it: in the original Greek, utopia means both “good place” and “no place.” From More to the present day, literally thousands of attempts have been made all over the globe to create Utopia on Earth.
The success rate seems to be fairly low.
Robert Hine, a professor emeritus of history at both the University of California campuses at Riverside and Irvine and a specialist in utopian attempts in California, says that utopia is a simple concept but a hard-won paradise. “Utopia, as I’ve seen it tried, is a kind of equal parceling in balance: shared work, shared goals, and shared religion or spirituality,” he says. “The difficulty is when someone doesn’t quite pull his or her own weight, or when the community becomes overwhelmed by outside forces and factors, or when one person simply gains too much power.”
UTOPIANISM first came to Sonoma County in 1875 in the person of mystic spiritualist Thomas Lake Harris and his Brotherhood of the New Life. Harris, a mesmerizing speaker with piercing eyes and the de rigueur William Morrisstyle beard, was a human smorgasbord of spirituality: prior to arriving in Santa Rosa he had sampled Calvinism, Universalism, Swedenborgism, and plain old spiritualism. He dabbled in poetry. He claimed to know Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Allan Poe. William James called him “America’s best-known mystic.”
In 1857, Harris had a series of revelations in which the message and teachings of Respirationism were revealed to him. The basic idea was that “supernatural breathing” enabled Man to commune directly with God–whom Harris conceived of being both male and female. After building a band of followers in the British Isles and the eastern United States, Harris established communities in Wassaic and Brocton, N.Y., before buying (for $21,000!) 700 acres on the sunny west-facing hillside just north of Santa Rosa. Shortly afterward he doubled the size of his property, which he called Fountain Grove, and then bought still more land.
By 1884, the Brotherhood’s colony numbered about 30, and, according to Hine’s excellent history, California’s Utopian Colonies, Fountain Grove had 1,700 acres planted in cabernet, pinot noir, and zinfandel grapes. In 1886, the colony produced 70,000 gallons of wine.
The Brotherhood members probably needed all of it. In addition to giving supernatural breathing lessons, Harris taught a complex sexual theology in which every human soul is paired with a spiritual counterpart. The ultimate human experience is to consummate sexually with your counterpart. The problem is, you don’t know in whose body your counter-spirit lodges until you . . . well, consummate. In all likelihood, taught Harris, your marriage partner was not your spiritual counterpart.
He also believed little fairies live in the breasts of women.
Fountain Grove actually harbored a lot less free-loving than neighbors thought. Most people on the outside were influenced by what they read about the community, not what they saw for themselves. In 1891, Harris invited Miss Alzire Chevaillier, a Christian Scientist, and her mother to Fountain Grove to have a look-see, and Harris allowed as how he thought the beautiful and feisty Alzire might, indeed, be the spiritual counterpart he had been searching his whole life for. He wanted to find out for sure, anyway. She turned down the famed mystic, and then she went to the newspapers.
Her series of stories about Fountain Grove in the San Francisco Chronicle began a widespread media-feeding frenzy, which proved to be the beginning of the end for the colony. By 1892, the charismatic Thomas Lake Harris left Fountain Grove (with a new wife), never to return. He died in 1906 at the age of 83.
Once Harris was gone, the Brotherhood took over Fountain Grove, and eventually the entire property came to be held by the last surviving member, a Japanese samurai named Kanawe Nagasawa. The highly educated Nagasawa–diplomat, architect, builder (it was he who constructed the round barn still standing on the old Fountain Grove property), and skilled winemaker–continued to manage the Fountain Grove Winery until his death in 1934.
Back when the brothers and sisters of the Brotherhood of the New Life pressed those 70,000 gallons of wine, another utopian experiment was getting under way on a fertile, 885-acre tract just south of Cloverdale. This was Icaria-Speranza, founded by French-speaking Icarians, so named because they modeled their communistic community after Etienne Cabet’s influential 1840 book, Voyage en Icarie. “The book was basically a description for enlightened socialism,” says Dale Ross, a descendant of Icarians and a member of the active National Icarian Heritage Society. “High value was placed on families, the arts, and so on.”
He adds: “Icarians were communists in the sense that they shared all the wealth and didn’t believe in private property.”
In America, the immigrant Icarians struggled until they discovered a bonanza: the ghost town left behind by the Mormons at Nauvoo, Ill. Brigham Young had set out for the Utah Territory in 1846; two years later the Icarians moved into a perfectly empty but still intact village (ironically, one of the first tasks undertaken by the French Icarians was the planting of vineyards on land the teetotaling Mormons had previously planted in corn). Yet disenchantment among the Icarians eventually led to the exile from Nauvoo of Cabet himself, who had joined his followers in America. More splits occurred until finally, in 1881, Armand Dehay and Jules Leroux scouted the Sonoma County property and bought it for $15,000. The commune’s original name, Speranza, came from L’Esperance, an Icarian newsletter; by 1884 it was known as Icaria-Speranza. Vineyards, fruit orchards, a prune orchard, and vegetable gardens were planted.
But mundane financial difficulties of the capitalist variety found their way into the communist society. Hopes that the sale of land in the Midwest would allow Icaria-Speranza to pay off the debt on the Sonoma County land were dashed when the Midwest property could be sold for only cents on the dollar. An experiment in breeding Norman and Percheron horses proved disastrous. By 1887, Icaria-Speranza was no longer a functional community, its property divided among the colonists. The community lives on, however, in the name Icaria Creek and in several Dehay, Leroux, and other Icaria-Speranza descendants who still live in Sonoma County. The heritage society meets in Cloverdale quadrennially.
WHETHER the Altrurians, yet another band of utopia-seekers in Sonoma County, had heard of the Icarians and the failure of Icaria-Speranza is not known. They established the community of Altruria about eight miles up Mark West Creek, just east of present-day Highway 101, and were also inspired by a book, A Traveler from Altruria by William Dean Howells. The novel tells the story of a man, a Mr. Homos, who visits a chichi New England summer resort hotel and thrills the guests with stories of his utopian homeland. Not only does Mr. Homos spellbind his listeners with tales of paradise; he also does radical things like help the baggageman, the bootblack, and waitresses.
In October 1894, a young Unitarian-Christian Socialist minister, Rev. Edward Biron Payne, led a group of 18 adults and eight children up Mark West Creek to the 185 idyllic acres the group had already purchased. Payne was a social activist who grew up in Connecticut and Illinois. In 1875, the 30-year-old Payne, newly graduated from Oberlin, arrived in Berkeley to take over a chaplain’s position at the still-new University of California. He had worked with the poor in Chicago’s slums and with textile laborers in New England. His brand of Christian Socialism focused on saving society rather than the individual, and was popular in the Bay Area of the 1890s.
The down payment on the Mark West land came from the $50 each Altrurian contributed as a membership/entrance fee. Shortly after arriving in Sonoma County, the colonists had orchards and gardens in the ground. Some of the produce was sold at an Altrurian store in San Francisco.
Perhaps it was this taste of small financial success that led the colony to begin construction of a hotel in Altruria, which proved to be the fledgling community’s undoing. Plans for the structure grew like a house of cards–a third story would be added, along with a library, office, and dining hall. The project sucked up huge amounts of money, most of which had to be borrowed. Throughout early 1895, the hotel’s uncompleted shell reminded every Altrurian of their unattained dream. By June of that year, a short nine months from their optimistic beginning, the Altrurians and Altruria were history.
And finally, Preston. Professor Hine doesn’t count it as an actual utopia, for the community northeast of Cloverdale was mostly a colony of invalids gathered around the charismatic presence of Madame Emily Preston, a faith healer and dispenser of patent medicines who could give Elizabeth Clare Prophet a run for her money. While some of her beliefs were fairly straightforward–“All can go to heaven if their hearts are right,” reads part of Madame’s creed that was written on the walls of Preston’s own church–others were a bit odd. “We believe in inspiration and that it lets us read out of the book of life that is printed in the air everywhere,” states another part of the same creed.
Her place of worship was called the Church of Heaven on Probation. Varene Anderson, who studied Madame’s teachings as part of her Sonoma State master’s thesis, says Madame’s sermons, of which Varene has copies, “are pretty boring.” On the other hand, some of Madame’s followers believed she had an X-ray eye that could see through the human body.
No one really knew where she came from. Col. Hartwell Preston, who seems to have earned his rank in the Confederate Army, was her third husband. She had children by other men; she barely spoke of the men or the children. The key and most functional ingredient in her patent medicines, which contained a veritable goulash of herbs and spices, was alcohol.
Local medical doctors were infuriated by Madame’s “healings.” But an attempt to have her prosecuted for selling medicine without a license failed, though the advice of Sonoma County physicians to their patients not to use Madame’s concoctions surely must’ve had a financial impact. What finally did her in, more or less, was passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, which stopped her–and thousands of other purveyors of patent medicines–from commercially selling homemade drugs.
Madame died, still quite wealthy, in 1909.
The community’s property has suffered its share of calamities since, including a disastrous wildfire in 1988 that burned the once-elegant Preston mansion to the ground. The Church of Heaven on Probation still stands, however, as does a graceful, adjacent clock tower that still works–and still tolls.
Nothing’s for certain
It could always go wrong
Come in when it’s raining
Go on out when it’s gone
We could have us a high time
living the good life
Well, I know
–Robert Hunter, “High Time”
ON ASSIGNMENT for Harper’s Magazine, Sara Davidson walked into a bar in Occidental one night in 1970 and asked for directions to Wheeler Ranch. “Heads turned,” she wrote later. “People froze, drinks in hand. A woman with an expressionless, milky face said, ‘Honey, there isn’t any sign. You just go up the road six miles and there’s a gate on the left. Then you have to drive a ways to git to it. From where I live you can see their shacks and what have you. But you can’t see anything from the road.'”
Today, Bill Wheeler strolls into the saloon at the Union Hotel in Occidental to meet me for a beer, and he’s welcomed by those in the room like an old friend. The beers are quickly poured from the tap. When Bill’s lawyer and the lawyer’s family unexpectedly show up, there are hugs, laughs, jokes, and invitations from Bill to come out for the annual May Day party at the ranch. “You mean like we used to, dancing naked around the Maypole?” asks the lawyer, who fills out a lawyerly dark-blue suit with a chest grown by success. “Nah, Bill, I can’t. . . . I mean, can you see me doing that now?”
Hearty laughs refill the saloon.
The first thing Wheeler says is “I’m not a teacher, I’m not a leader, I wasn’t anyone’s guru.” He drapes himself across a chair like a bearskin rug. He’s dressed in thick, hard-working clothes torn in the legs, and looks like an old-growth cedar. “It was all an accident of history.”
From 1967 until 1973, Wheeler Ranch west of Occidental (five miles, not six, on Coleman Valley Road) was Sonoma County’s second great experiment in open-land communalism. Bill Wheeler simply opened his 320-acre property up to anyone who wanted live there. The population eventually reached 400, including cows and horses. Besides dozens of flower children from San Francisco and elsewhere, the community hosted a few runaways and soldiers AWOL from Vietnam. Residents lived in tents, shacks, and lean-tos angled out like parasails from redwood stumps. There were absolutely no rules. Whatever happened at Wheeler happened because an individual or a couple or a group on the ranch was in the mood for it to happen.
“It was a social experiment that couldn’t last,” explains Wheeler, who insists he’s but a humble landscape artist. “I knew from the beginning it couldn’t last. But it was the closest thing that came to the forming of a tribe, to people relating on a new tribal level.”
He sips his beer. With a Moses-like forehead, a nose like a battleship prow, and dense, multigreen eyes, Bill is what used to be called ruggedly handsome. “The problem was, we assaulted the traditional sense of private property,” he observes.
A best-selling book, Living on the Earth, as much an icon of the ’60s as the first Whole Earth Catalog, was written by Alicia Bay Laurel when she lived at Wheeler’s. Indeed, Wheeler Ranch, after Sara Davidson’s article “Open Land: Getting Back to the Communal Garden” appeared in the June 1970 issue of Harper’s, became in the popular imagination the very definition of a hippie commune.
“We are separate from the land now; we have to get back to it in the manner of the Native Americans,” Wheeler, still a believer, tells me at the saloon.
The accidental part of the history is that Wheeler opened his ranch after county sheriff’s deputies driving bulldozers invaded his friend Lou Gottlieb’s Morning Star Ranch. Morning Star refugees were the first communal Wheeler Ranch residents.
Gottlieb, a member and musical director of the early ’60s folk-pop group the Limeliters, had bought the 32-acre property on Graton Road in 1962 (the year Bill Wheeler graduated from Yale with an art degree) originally as a getaway and retreat. In 1966, along with such friends as Ramon Sender and Alexandra (then called Rain) Jacopetti, he opened the land to all comers.
In part two of an amazing six-part series titled “The Happiness People,” published in early summer of 1967 in the Press Democrat, Gottlieb explained his philosophy for Morning Star: “The people here are the first wave of an ocean of technologically unemployables. The cybernation is in its early snowball stages.” (Really, he used the word cybernation in 1967.)
Less than three weeks after the “Happiness People” series ran, the PD reported: “Morning Star’s Gottlieb Arrested on Health Charge.” The ranch’s story unfolds in headlines:
July 9: “Planners Ponder Way to Restrict Hippies”
Aug. 14: “Gunfire Erupts at Hippie Ranch”
Sept. 8: “Is Gottlieb’s Hippie ‘Heaven’ Fading?”
Sept. 11: “Hippie Colony Protest Meeting Saturday”
Sept. 12: “Gottlieb Doesn’t Fight County ‘Outhouse’ Charge” (“Maintaining his cool throughout the 20-minute Municipal Court proceedings, the 43-year-old former Limeliter said he decided to change his plea ‘because I think it’s below the dignity of the court to try a case’ involving an outhouse, [though] Mr. Gottlieb’s description of a bathroom facility was much more colorful.”)
Sept. 14: “New Injunction Aimed at Gottlieb’s Ranch”
Sept. 15: “Dejected Gottlieb Gets Order to Close”
Sept. 24: “‘Filth’ of Morning Star Described by Neighbors”
And then, on Oct. 8: “Gottlieb Arrests Hippies for Trespass.” The article states, “The era of Morning Star1967 came to a strange end here yesterday when Lou Gottlieb wearily arrested 15 of his ‘brothers and sisters’ for trespassing. Faced with a $500-a-day price tag for allowing his friends to stay on the ranch . . . Gottlieb called his action a ‘rude practicality.'”
It got stranger still. In 1969, returning from India, Gottlieb deeded Morning Star Ranch to God. But a judge held that the Divine, not being “a natural or artificial person,” couldn’t hold title. Headlined the PD on July 10, 1969: “Gottlieb Offers His Piano to Settle Fines.” After collecting evidence that Gottlieb still ran Morning Star as an open-land community, the county moved in with bulldozers.
AFTER THE BULLDOZER blitz, the concept of Morning Star Ranch in effect moved to Wheeler Ranch, which was 10 times larger in acreage. Gottlieb’s vision of a non-authoritarian, non-governed utopia took root in Wheeler’s gently undulating hills and forested canyons. But the bulldozers eventually came to Wheeler’s, too, in 1973.
When I ask Bill Wheeler at the Union Hotel what he most feels about those days, he quickly responds. “Nostalgia. Extreme nostalgia.” He takes another sip of beer. “I remember music all the time, flutes in the forest, and guitars. You’d walk along the road and all you’d hear was beautiful music. It was a blast.”
On May Day this year, in an open meadow on Wheeler’s property, I hear the old call. The meadow’s thrumming with bees, birds, bells, drums, and a saxophone. A huge Maypole’s hung with pink and blue streamers and tied with rags torn from what look like a lot of favorite bedspreads. Except for the abundant tie-dye T-shirts, the super-prolific hair on most of the men and women and children, and the sweat lodge built and supervised by Kingfisher, a Cheyenne Indian, this could be a reunion in Minnesota on my mother’s side. I listen to parents talk about colleges for their kids, and to kids complaining about their parents. A beautiful girl in scarves and beads jangles by. Dogs bounce through the grass. Birds jump from fruit tree to fruit tree. It’s a spectacular day, blue as sapphire and green as a pippin. “There are no rules!” someone shouts.
A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing.
THE SOCIAL movements of the ’90s have learned a lot from the ’60s and ’70s,” says Dave Henson. “This is an interesting time for intentional communities, an interesting moment right now. People are expressing a direct interest in what’s going on.”
“I believe community is in our genetic code,” comments Michael Black. “I think it’s extraordinarily important in our own lives to make changes we want to see in the country, to materialize our ideals. Co-housing is just a small part of the big picture, but hopefully we’ll have an effect.”
Hope. Hopeful. Hopefully. One wonders how many times over the past 125 years those words have been spoken and thought in Sonoma County. Still, the record of utopian survival is pretty spotty. Of all the utopias described in this article, only the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center is actually up and running.
The old professor Dr. Robert Hine, who has made the study of utopias his life’s work, becomes defensive when I ask him why utopias always seem to fail. “I never like to measure the colonies in terms of success or failure,” he responds. “Many people who have moved away from utopian colonies say the years they spent there were the best years of their lives, the happiest and most fulfilling. Can you call that failure? People who build utopian communities are experimenting with an idea that may still come.”
When? Probably not until the schism Michael Black describes–“What some people call utopian, others might find horrible”–disappears. For now, the only thing disappearing are traces of Sonoma County’s old utopias. Nothing whatsoever remains of Altruria. Icaria-Speranza exists only in a brass California historical marker and in the name of a creek; noisy Highway 101 bisects the old commune. Only Lou Gottlieb himself lives on Morning Star Ranch. Bill Wheeler throws his May Day party every year, but that’s it. And Fountain Grove lives on only in the name of a parkway, housing developments, a motel, and executive and medical centers–the asphalt and dark-glass uglies that Santa Rosa’s “planners” would have us believe constitute New Utopia.
But what Michael Black’s words really remind me of is what happened up at the site of Preston last September. Preston’s pretty much gone, too, except for the church, clock tower, and scraps of outbuildings. A handsome 26-year-old kid named Ted Van Dorn, who had grown up around Madame’s old spa, took a late-summer hike in the hills one hot afternoon. He found someone else’s new utopia. Or may have; no one knows for sure. All anyone knows is that whatever secret, or treasure, or utopia Ted Van Dorn stumbled across that day in the hills where people once sought healing (most likely a marijuana field, say authorities), was worth killing him for. The murder remains unsolved.
From the July 3-10, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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