“Death in California” is a strong two-part mini-series about a strange psychological phenomenon, the bond that sometimes develops in cases of violent crime between victim and victimizer, in this case a socialite and a sociopath. It is, unfortunately, a true story with Chicago ties.
The plot has to do with a hypnotically convincing convict who breaks out of an Illinois prison hospital, robs a gas station on North LaSalle Street and heads for California. He spots attractive Hope Masters (played by Cheryl Ladd) in a Los Angeles bar where she is having a drink with her boyfriend, adman Richard Morgan, before they drive to her mother`s ranch for a quiet weekend.
Posing as a Los Angeles Times photographer, the killer calls up Morgan, says he is shooting a spread on “10 most-eligible bachelors”, meets the pair at the secluded ranch, guns down Morgan and rapes Masters. He then claims her estranged husband is behind the whole mess, warns that her three small children are also in danger and offers to help. Masters, terrified and confused, plays along to save the kids.
Except for name changes, most of the facts fit The Tribune`s 1973 clippings about a “deluxe con man” who worked at a Chicago advertising agency, wrote articles for Esquire magazine, married the warden`s secretary after he was jailed in Ohio and installed her and their child in a home at Lake Geneva, Wis., while he beat up and robbed people in Chicago hotel rooms. That was G. Daniel Walker, eventually arrested in a North Hollywood motel while wearing a coat owned by the slain boyfriend of Mrs. Hope Niven Masters. She later testified that Walker had stayed in her Beverly Hills home for three days after the killing while Masters made no effort to escape or call for help. One question that puzzled police was “Why?”
That is the point of this teleplay…