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Redwood Tomb

Married assistant DA falls for a free-spirited Santa Cruz artist who is unknowingly entangled with a charismatic serial killer who just buried two bodies in the redwoods. When his lover suddenly disappears, the DA embarks on a desperate search. Neo noir based on a true crime in 1982. Adapted from my short story published in UK crime magazine, Close to the Bone

Deep night on the steep Empire Grade, in the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. A car containing four people winds down the narrow road. ROYAL WILLIAM COONEY, a charismatic psychopath posing as a real estate agent, and his girlfriend, KATHI KENT, have lured drug dealer, DON McALISTER, and his girlfriend, LAUREN GRAVEN, to a rendezvous with a major cocaine supplier. Don is carrying $250,000 cash.

Royal tells Don he has instructions to search him and Lauren before bringing them to the cabin. As they are being patted down, Royal shoots them both in the head. Now, Royal's teenage accomplices, TINA and BILLIE join them. As instructed, they have dug graves and brought what they believe is quicklime to dissolve the bodies and make identification harder in this pre-DNA era.

Royal buries the bodies and takes the money. They all depart for the Santa Cruz Dream Inn on the beach, where Royal takes a suite and invites friends to party in a cocaine-fueled orgy.

OPEN ON the Santa Cruz County DA's office. The tabloids call Santa Cruz "The Murder Capital of the World." But young Ass't DA Denny Anders has yet to try a homicide, and he is seething with ambition.

His wife, FANCHON, has a growing alcohol problem,. After work, Denny sometimes rides the Big Dipper Roller Coaster on the Boardwalk, where a grown man can scream his lungs out.

When Denny is sent to interview a snitch, surfer NICK SWANSON, in the seedy Beach Flats neighborhood surrounding the Boardwalk, he meets Nick's roommate, beautiful young vagabond artist, AIMEE. He falls hard for her.

When Denny's wife, Fanchon, enters rehab for her drinking, his secret affair with Aimee deepens.

One evening, while Denny is on call, a sheriff reports to him that two mushroom hunters have unearthed a human skull up near Empire Grade Road. Denny drives out with the cops to secure the chain of evidence. The torsos are covered in a white "clayey" substance that turns out to be oyster shell gardening lime. Royal's teenage accomplices, told to buy quicklime, had bought the wrong kind. The bodies, rather than dissolving, are actually preserved.

Unbeknownst to Denny, his girlfriend Aimee sometimes mules cocaine for Royal. Aimee learns from Royal's girlfriend, Kathi Kent, that Royal committed the murders on Empire Grade. Kathi confides that Royal is insane from coke and has her followed everywhere.

Aimee decides to tell Denny that she knows who the murderer is, but she suddenly disappears—kidnapped by an accomplice of Royal who had followed Kathi to Aimee's home.

Meanwhile, acting on a hunch, the DA sends some sheriffs with a search warrant to the cabin on Empire Grade Road. They meet Royal's flirty teen accomplices but cannot turn up any evidence of the murder. Meanwhile, Aimee is lying tied up and gagged in a crawl space under the cabin just a few feet away.

Terrified, Kathi Kent cracks and tells her brother-in-law about the murders. He calls the FBI. Denny and a SWAT team burst into the Santa Cruz Dream Inn, where Royal has been on a nonstop cocaine bender.

Given the case to try, Denny convicts Royal with a brilliant strategy and closing argument. The appeal fails, and Royal is sent to death row.

Denny's relationship with Aimee is never revealed. His wife Fanchon has "graduated" from rehab, eager to resume her duties as wife and mother. As cameras go off, Denny is lauded a superstar prosecutor. And he's not even 30 yet!

Months later, Aimee's body is found in the crawl space. In the last scene, Nick Swanson the snitch commits suicide out of broken-hearted guilt at not protecting Aimee.

As a postscript, a nun from a nearby convent, counseling prisoners on death row, falls in love with Royal, leaves her convent and marries him.

Script Excerpt
Written by:
Starring Roles For:
Young Josh Hartnett
Young Thomas Jane
Young Elisha Cuthbert
In the Vein Of:
Presumed Innocent
Sea of Love
Red Hill
Author Bio:
Author website:

Amazon Page:

I wrote the feature film, Murder in Fashion, about the shooting of designer Gianni Versace by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The film played at theatres and festivals and was reviewed in the NY Times:

"Low budget but accurate and well constructed insight into a modern mystery" review by Richard von Lust L.

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