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The Secrets of the Yellow Brick Road – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  May 12, 2018  /  15 Comments


Inspired By True Events

Thomas Calabrese — …John Roland served his five years in the Marine Corps with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and was on his 3rd deployment in Afghanistan when the helicopter that he was riding in was shot down by rocket fire. He broke his right leg and left forearm, sustained a concussion and a deep gash to his forehead in the crash. Four Marines were killed and the rest, including the flight crew were seriously injured. Sergeant Roland dragged his body out of the twisted wreckage and took up a defensive position as a Taliban patrol moved in to kill the survivors. While alternating between wiping blood out of his eyes and firing, John held off the enemy fighters long enough for a rescue team to arrive and received a Silver Star for his actions.

The Marine Corps wanted to medically discharge Sergeant Roland, but he requested a waiver to stay in. During the rehabilitation process the orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist informed him that he would have to curtail his high impact activities, leaving John no other choice, but to leave his physically demanding Recon unit. He requested a transfer to Security Battalion on Camp Pendleton and was assigned to the Provost Marshal’s Criminal Investigative Division. It was while Sergeant Roland was there that he met several NCIS agents and decided that would be a good career for him when he left the Corps. He only had a high school education and a bachelors’ degree was required to qualify, so he began taking classes at Mira Costa Junior College and Palomar College.  Three and one half years later Sergeant John Roland had a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice.

There was a job fair at the Staff Non Commissioned Officers’ Club and Sergeant Roland discussed opportunities with the NCIS job recruiter. Six months later when his enlistment expired, John officially applied for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and after going through the customary background check and physical exam, he was on his way to Glynco, Georgia for Criminal Investigators Training. John was third in his graduating class and chose Navy Region Southwest for his duty assignment and it was approved.

Colonel Charles Roland served 30 years in the Marine Corps before retiring and lived with his wife, Maureen in a Mediterranean style home in the Fire Mountain area of Oceanside. He was later hired by Craig&Rizzi, a construction company that specialized in private public ventures as their executive vice-president in charge of military construction. He had three sons, none of which joined the military and four grandsons who did. At family gatherings, when the subject came up, John’s father and two uncles explained it this way, “When you grow up on military bases, it’s not that easy to sign up to go back on them.”

On the other hand, Charles Roland was such a positive role model in his grandchildren’s lives that the four boys and one girl were eager to follow in his footsteps and serve their country. John grew up in Sacramento and his family always came down to Oceanside for the holidays and when he became older, he would spend part of his summer at his grandparents’ house.

The main reason that John wanted the San Diego area as his duty assignment was that he was very close to his grandparents and often had dinner at their house and talked to them on a regular basis. Charles Roland was an astute man who was always willing to share his vast knowledge and numerous experiences with his grandson. John respected his grandfather’s opinion immensely because over the years he learned from firsthand experience that his grandfather was right most of the time.

Special Agent John Roland was assigned to investigate the suicide of a naval officer, but something was not right. Everything seemed staged to him, the note on the computer, a bottle of poison, the position of the body. There was nothing definitive, but his instincts told him that the man was murdered and the area should be designated an active crime scene. John was quickly overruled by someone so far up the chain of command that he didn’t need to make his name known. Several days later, an official sexual misconduct complaint was filed against Special Agent John Roland.  The accusation itself was enough to destroy  his career and a disciplinary hearing was quickly set for two weeks from that date.

John knocked on the front door and his grandmother opened it, “Hi Johnny.”

“Hi, Grandma, I need to talk to grandfather,”

“He is out by the pool.”

John walked outside and saw his grandfather sitting under a patio umbrella, “Have a seat Johnny,” He sat down and waited for his grandfather to speak,

“I made some very discreet inquiries and it is my assessment that you made some very powerful people nervous,” Charles Roland stated, “To put it bluntly, you’ve become a liability.”

“To who?”

“That I don’t know,” Charles Roland replied, “ But I do know that we need to buy some time.”

“They’re moving quickly on this, I have a disciplinary hearing in two weeks,” John reminded his grandfather.

“That isn’t going to happen,” Charles Roland said, “My personal physician is also a close personal friend. I told him about your situation and he’s going to give you a letter stating that you need three months of medical leave due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

John smiled, “And they can’t fire me while on I’m on medical leave…very clever.”

“With your military record, they’re going to have a hell of a time trying to contradict a physician’s diagnosis,” Charles Roland added.

“You’re the man!” John said with deep appreciation.

“Don’t consider this a retreat; it is merely a strategic redeployment.”

The plan worked just like Charles Roland thought it would and John was sitting in his grandparents’ living room six weeks later, watching television when their middle aged housekeeper came in, “Hi Johnny.”

“Hi  Delores.”

“Your grandmother told me that you’re a writer,” Delores said.

John laughed, “Far from it, I wrote a fiction short story and sent it to a military magazine and received a twenty dollar gift certificate for it.”

“My father passed away last year and I found some files from my grandfather in his estate, “Delores said, “He worked in security for the movie studios back in the 1930’s 40’s and 50’s. His job was to protect movie stars from scandals and get them out of trouble and was also assigned to provide security on movie locations.”

“Interesting,” John replied.

“I was reading through his reports and I think that you might find them interesting, might be a good story in there for you,” Delores offered.

“I like movies and its not as if I’ve got that much going on right now, yeah, I would like to look at them, thanks,” John said

“I’ll bring them in day after tomorrow.”

John didn’t really expect to find much, but once he started reading the files of the notorious MGM fixer, Eddie Mannison, he was captivated by their contents. There were reports of Errol Flynn’s exploits with underage women, tracking down Joan Crawford’s adult film Velvet Lips and blaming Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane for the murder of mobster Johnny Stompanato. What really caught John’s attention were the detailed reports about the iconic movie, The Wizard of Oz. Abuses and victimization routinely took place on the set and at nearby locations. Judy Garland was sexually abused, molested and drugged during the filming and the munchkins were  as bizarre as they were diminutive. One crew member referred to them as pimps, hookers and gamblers. According to Mannison, the leader of this group was a dwarf called Mary DeAngelo, who was diabolical and ruthless. It was during the filming of the movie that two million in cash and gold was stolen from a secure facility in Los Angeles on December 25, 1938 where it was being held over Christmas Day, while in transport from the San Francisco Mint to San Diego.

Investigators determined that it would have taken very small individuals to have crawled through the ventilation system, killed the guards and unlocked the doors. Mannison suspected it was Mary DeAngelo and her gang of dwarfs, but there wasn’t any hard evidence.  At first the police wanted to shut down the movie and interrogate every munchkin and crew member, but this would have cost the studio hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mannison used all his political and police connections to get the authorities to back off until the filming of the movie was completed on March 16, 1939. He also promised to help bring the criminals to justice and the authorities reluctantly took the deal.

Every time Mannison thought he was getting close to getting answers, someone died. In all six dwarfs who played Munchkins and four crew members died under mysterious circumstances over the next year. He wrote in his report that Mary DeAngelo eliminated anyone connected to the robbery before they could testify against her. She later became a major player in the 1940’s Los Angeles crime scene who worked extensively with gangsters; Mickey Cohen, Johnny Stompanato, Jack Dragna and Benny Siegel. In his reports Mannison wrote that Mary DeAngelo had an affair and a child was born. After she died, he began keeping tabs on her son James.

John was deeply engrossed in reading when his grandmother came in with a sandwich and a glass of tea and set it on the table, “Just in case you get hungry.”

“Thanks Grandma,” John replied without looking up.

“That must really be interesting,”

“As soon as I finish, you can read it, it is really amazing.”

Mannison began to have suspicions about James DeAngelo and kept track of his whereabouts over the years.  Murders and rapes began happening in the same locations where James DeAngelo was working as a police officer, Mannison connected the dots and began to suspect that he was the ‘Golden Gate Killer’. The last entry in his file was dated October 28, 1980.

John did a background check on Eddie Mannison and found out that he passed away one week later on November 6, 1980. After spending the next couple of days reading and re- reading the reports so that nothing escaped him, John told his grandparents, “Since I’ve got some time off, I think I’ll drive up to Sacramento and see my mom and dad.”

“How long are you going to stay?” Maureen Roland asked.

“A few days…a week or so, I’ll play it by ear,” John answered.

“Drive careful, call us when you arrive.” Charles Roland said.

“Roger that, sir.”

After arriving at his parents’ home and visiting for a couple days, John told them that he was going to visit a friend in Tahoe and would be back in a few days. Instead of going there, he drove to the Citrus Heights area of Sacramento. When John saw an elderly gentleman that he determined to be James DeAngelo put his trash curbside, he waited until he went back inside, then walked over, went through the discarded items. He found several pieces and put them in a plastic bag and returned to his vehicle and made a call on his cellphone.

“Hey John,” Abby said when he saw the name on her screen, “I heard you were on medical leave, are you alright?”

“I’m fine, I need to ask you a favor,” John said.

“Of course, what can I do for you?”

“I’m working on a case, off the record and on my own,” John answered, “I was wondering if you could run some samples through the DNA database for me and keep it between us?”

“I can do that, just don’t send it to the lab, send it to my house and I’ll do it on my free time,” Abby said.

“Thanks, text me your address and I’ll overnight it.”

“I’ll call you with the results, are you in a big hurry?” Abby asked.

“Kind of, but don’t put yourself in a bind,” John replied.

“I’ll rush it.”

John went home to his parents after mailing the samples from a local Postal Annex, but couldn’t sleep. He went over a dozen different scenarios in his mind and all of them involved breaking the law or bending it severely. The main fact was that he was on medical leave and had no authority or jurisdiction to do anything official. By the time the sun came up, John had somewhat of a plan so he gave his parents an excuse that he got a call from work and needed to go to San Francisco. He gave himself a time limit of seventy two hours and then he was heading back to Oceanside, regardless of what he found out.

John took a pillow and a blanket from his parents’ house to make himself a little more comfortable in his car, stopped off at a local supermarket, purchased a bag of healthy snacks and two gallons of bottled water and drove to James DeAngelo’s street. He had been on surveillance stakeouts before so he knew how to remain inconspicuous and would move his car every two hours to avoid arousing suspicions from local residents. Luckily there was a large apartment complex nearby with a lot of thru traffic and a parking lot that offered a view of the DeAngelo home.

The first night was uneventful, long and boring and John struggled to stay awake and only left the area to use the restroom at the gas station around the corner. On the second night around midnight, John saw two men park in the driveway and enter through the side gate. He waited thirty seconds then followed and when he peered over the fence he saw the two men enter a trapdoor at the back of the densely foliated property. John returned to his car and sat for a few minutes and the wise and prudent thing to do would have been to drive away, but John had passed the point of return, not just in his mind, but in his heart and soul.

He reached into his glove box and pulled out his service weapon, a Glock 19 handgun and when he stepped out of the car he slipped the weapon into his waistband and put on a sweatshirt and pulled the hood over his head, then slipped on a pair of tactical gloves. When he got to the backyard, John quickly found a place to hide behind a storage shed. Fifteen minutes passed before he saw a man carrying an unconscious young woman from the main house to the bunker. His suspicions were now confirmed and someone was in trouble and his code of honor would not let him walk away now.

John had his weapon at the ready when he slowly opened the trapdoor, not knowing what he would find on the other side. He had breached houses and bunkers when he was in the Marines, but he always had his buddies to cover his ‘six’. As one seasoned Marine told him, ‘stay focused, do your job and don’t worry about the things you can’t control.’ John needed to remember those words now.

Three men were playing cards at a table and reached for their weapons, but John shot them dead. There was a door with a padlock on it, John tried to bust it off with a nearby metal rod, failing to do so, he had no choice but to shoot it off. When he opened the door, John saw four young girls cowering in the corner, “I’m not going to hurt you, help is on the way.”

John left the underground bunker and was on his way to the main house when two men came out of the back door and saw him. John dived off to the left as bullets narrowly missed him. He returned fire and shot both men. He burst through the back door and caught James DeAngelo trying to escape, “Hold it!”

James DeAngelo stopped dead in his track as John grabbed him by the collar and slammed him down into a chair. John went into the kitchen, checked several drawers until he found a knife then unplugged a lamp, cut the cord and used it to tie his captive securely to the chair, “Where’s your phone?”

James DeAngelo nodded to the counter and John picked up the cordless phone and dialed 911.

“Emergency Operator, how can I help you?”

John muffled his response, “There are gunshots and a fire at 4312 Crescent Lane. I hear girls screaming in the back of the property. Hurry!” and left the line open.

Before leaving John took a newspaper off the kitchen table, turned on the stove to light it then dropped the flaming paper on the couch.  He waited in his car until the fire department and Sacramento Police arrived several minutes later, and then drove back to his parents’ home.

When a gun shop opened the next day, John bought a replacement barrel for his Glock 19 and discarded the old one in the dumpster of an International House of Pancakes. He wasn’t taking any chances that the markings on his bullets would lead the authorities back to him.

By the time John returned to Oceanside, the DNA results were waiting in his home mailbox and they confirmed that James DeAngelo was the ‘Golden Gate Killer’.  He anonymously sent the results to the Chief of Detectives at the Sacramento Police Department.

“How was your visit with your parents?”  Maureen Roland asked.

“Good, it was nice to be back home for a while, but it’s good to be back here too,” John smiled.

“Are you going to write a story about the information that Delores gave you?”

“Now that you mention it, I think I will,” John answered.

“I’m a pretty good editor, I can help if you want,” Maureen Roland offered.

“Thanks Grandma, I’d liked that.”

John extended his medical leave for three more months and in that short period of time; he completed his first book and began on his second one. He was called to testify in the hearing of defense contractor Leonard ‘Slim’ Boros and his knowledge of the death of Navy Lieutenant Ben Carlson. John swore under oath that he thought it was murder and not suicide, but his findings were overruled. During the hearing, evidence indicated that the lieutenant had found information about massive fraud and corruption in the Navy and was killed to silence him. Soon after, high ranking military officers and politicians began to fall one by one as indictments were handed down.

John assumed that his grandfather used his considerable influence to get the truth out although neither ever discussed it, just like John never mentioned what happened in Sacramento. It was both strange and fortuitous how the three webs of deceit intertwined.  John reluctantly decided to retire from NCIS for he had made too many enemies with his testimony and didn’t want to spend the rest of his career looking over his shoulder waiting for some type of retribution.

When one door closes, another one opens or so Charles Roland told his grandson and as usual he was right.  Over the next 18 months, John Roland went from criminal investigator to famous author with three fiction novels on the bestsellers’ list that were actually much closer to truth than fiction.

Just to be safe though, John was insistent that Inspired by True Events was printed inside the covers of; The Lieutenant’s Murder, The Capture of The Golden Gate Killer and Secrets Of The Yellow Brick Road.

The End







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  • Published: 12 months ago on May 12, 2018
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  • Last Modified: May 10, 2018 @ 8:48 am
  • Filed Under: The Back Page

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  1. Craig says:

    Another highly entertaining story Tom.and a great change of pace.You are now demonstrating your versatility. And Tom,here’s a piece of advice– Don’t turn your back on those ‘dipsomaniacal ‘Munchkins !!


  2. John Michels says:

    Enjoyed this story with some of the interesting twists.

  3. Clyde says:

    This is one of those stories that I wish could have been much longer. It was very interesting

  4. Guy says:

    Sometimes , things have a way of working out..especially if you do the right thing, just ask John Roland.

  5. Kyle says:

    I never did trust those Munchkins…especially the female ones!

  6. Mike says:

    Three different mysteries that intertwined very nicely

  7. Dan says:

    Keep expanding your writing, I like them all

  8. Robert says:

    Nice way of connecting different stories. Enjoyed the story.

  9. Steve says:

    John and Charles Roland…a better team than Mary and James DeAngelo anytime

  10. Cary says:

    Very interesting and informative…Inspired by true events, makes sense

  11. Josh says:

    Enjoyed the story, thanks Tom

  12. Mona says:

    Very informative story Tom! I enjoyed the sequence of events that transitioned to a great ending.

  13. Jeremy says:

    So much I didn’t know …how much was true and how much was fiction

  14. Wolf says:

    A lot of twist and turns. I had to back several times to keep track of who was who. Otherwise I liked it

  15. Janet says:

    Fun story to read…enjoyed it a lot

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