The Devil in Orange County



Groovy, baby.

Beginning with the Summer of Love in 1967 the Baby Boomers felt that they were on to something profound — all you had to do was wear a garland of flowers around your head, smoke a few joints, flash the Peace Sign, and major changes in society would follow. If only it had been that simple.

bombing for peace If you were in your teens or twenties during that time, life was a contact high; everywhere you went it seemed like there was great music and free dope, but no high lasts forever. Eventually a decent buzz becomes harder to sustain.  At first you chase the high in the bright sunlight with energy and enthusiasm because it feels so damned good; but there comes a time when the high proves elusive — you catch glimpses of it as it disappears down deeper and darker alleyways.

Less than a year after the Summer of Love, on April 4,1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. People barely had a chance to process the pain and horror of his death when, on June 6,1968, Robert Kennedy was gunned down in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The Age of Aquarius was on life support.

Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

The ultimate perversion of the hippie ethos occurred on August 9, 1969, with the cruel and senseless torture and slaughter of Sharon Tate and her unborn son, Abigail Folger, Wojciejk Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent. The next night, Leno and Rosemary LaBiana were brutally murdered. The cryptic blood-scrawled words “Rise”, “Pig” and “Healter (sic) Skelter” at the crime scenes had terrified everyone. Had Satan had taken up residence in Los Angeles?  Maybe Hollywood was Sodom after all.

A raid on the Spahn Ranch in mid-August 1969 by L.A. County Sheriffs uncovered stolen car parts, teen-age runaways, drugs and weapons. While the raid was being conducted Woodstock (“Three days of Peace & Music”) was in full swing on Yasgur’s farm in New York.

By December 2, 1969 the Manson Family was being exposed for what they really were, remorseless killers. The month of December had started out bad and it wasn’t going to get any better.

Hell's Angels attacking a concert goer at Altamont.

Hell’s Angels attacking a concert goer at Altamont.

The final fuck you to the hippie dreams of Flower Power came at a free concert at Altamont in Northern California on December 6, 1969. The concert was meant to be Woodstock West, but instead it became an ugly confrontation between the Hell’s Angels, who had been hired as security for the event, and the musicians and concert goers. The night ended with three accidental deaths and the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter.

Despite its early promise of peace & love, the ’60s had died a terrible death — bathed in blood, choking on shattered dreams and littered with acid casualties.

Maybe the ’70s would be better.


Orange County, California, a collection of quiet suburbs, has long had a reputation for political and social conservatism. The inhabitants of Orange County are described as living behind “The Orange Curtain” a play on the infamous Iron Curtain which once separated communist and capitalist Europe.

orange_groveI grew up behind the Orange Curtain in Garden Grove, a middle-class suburb close enough to Disneyland for my family to be able to watch the summer fireworks from our living room window. There were orange groves and strawberry fields near our home and the smell of orange blossoms, not easy to find anymore, brings back memories. The city’s claim to fame was as the home of the Garden Grove Community Church (the “drive-in” church) designed by the visionary architect Richard Neutra.

Garden Grove Community Church.

Garden Grove Community Church.

The first summer of the 70s was just beginning, and my brother’s best friend and I were driving around in my 1964 VW Beetle. We were headed home when we noticed Craig Hulse, whom we hadn’t seen in ages, hitch-hiking at the side of the road. I pulled over and Craig got into the car.

Craig was sixteen years old, a big kid, at least six feet tall and well over 200 lbs. We’d known him for years, he and my brother had gone to junior high school together. My brother is cursed with the Renner mouth — it’s an affliction I share — we seem to lack a necessary filter between the brain and mouth so we often say exactly what we’re thinking — and that isn’t always wise. A sense of humor and the ability to take a wicked joke at your expense was de rigueur in my family, but my brother’s quick wit and missing filter caused him a few problems in school.  However Craig, who had earned the nickname “Moose”, occasionally came to his rescue.

It was no surprise to find Craig hitch-hiking, everyone did in those days. We heard that he’d dropped out of school, run away from home and was heavy into Seconal and booze. Once he was in the car we asked him how he was doing and if he was okay. He said that things weren’t going well and that he was thinking about enlisting in the military to try to get his life in order. Enlisting would have had him on a plane to Vietnam before the year was over, but we figured maybe his life was bad enough to warrant drastic action. We dropped him off a few miles down the road and wished him well.

Days later, as the Manson jury was being selected, we heard that Craig had been arrested in connection with two brutal murders. One of slayings was rumored to have been part of a Satanic ritual.

The 70s were off to a scary start.

NEXT: Two murders and the dark side of an old friend.

8 thoughts on “The Devil in Orange County

  1. This blog is fantastic and so well written. The subject matter is obviously macabre, but you present such fascinating material and expose the realities of, as you put it, the world “behind the orange curtain,” that it is the psychology and not the morbidity that surfaces. I’m going to keep sharing this on my page, so keep them coming.

    • Meredith, I’m glad that you’re enjoying the blog. What’s your page? I would like to check it out. Again, thank you
      for your readership, I appreciate it. Best — Joan

  2. Very interesting as always Joan. I was a 12 year old kid on my first trip to LA when the Manson murders happened. I remember the town was in a frenzy with the news. Sounds to me that Craig was a little fucking goofy. Thanks

    • Bill, the late 60s seemed to spiral ever downward and then the Manson murders really put a nail in the coffin of peace & love. Craig wasn’t the brightest kid on the planet, but I’d never seen any evil in him. The drugs he was taking and whatever else he had going on that fed his rage made him a killer. Very sad road to go down, but orders of magnitude worse for the victims and their families. Craig hasn’t done anything in prison to prepare himself for life on the outside, so I imagine that after four decades he has found a home.

  3. I don\’t know why my mind went to googling \”Craig Hulse\” today. I found your blog post from nearly ten years ago through that search.
    From your description of where you grew up, I believe we could be from the same neighborhood!
    In 1968-69, I was a sophomore at GGHS; my boyfriend was a junior and knew Craig as his friend. My dad enjoyed having my boyfriend and his pals over to gather in the garage with him. When the newspaper posted a story about a \”Craig Hurd\” being associated with a horrific murder, my dad brought it to me with shock that \”this guy has been hanging out at our house\”. I argued that it was not the Craig I knew because the guy I knew was a big teddy bear and besides that his last name was \’Hulse\’ not \’Hurd\’. I guess the newspaper got his name wrong and to my disbelief, still, I learned it was indeed the Craig I knew.
    Otherwise, I have fond memories of Orange County the way it was over fifty years ago.

    • It’s strange how sometimes the past comes calling. I’ve Googled random people and places many times.
      My younger brother, Rick Renner, went to GGHS for a while then finished at Loara. You and he are
      probably about the same age. We lived on Elizabeth Street, a cul-de-sac near Euclid & Orangewood.

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