Slain Brea Man’s Ties to Mustang Club Are Probed

More on the Horace McKenna saga. This is a juicy and long article that explains a lot about Horace’s past… his career as a highway cop, beating up an off-duty cop at a bar in San Pedro and more. If you could say anything about Horace it would be that he was not boring to hang out with, for certain. In L.A., it seems that if you live by the sword you die by the sword (well, except for Eddie Nash).

The initial dismissal of McKenna–remembered by associates who asked not to be named as a “tall, lanky guy in those days; sort of a goofball, a clown”–occurred at about the same time that he was arrested by Los Angeles police in connection with some sort of theft. The nature of the theft, the disposition of the case and whether it was connected to McKenna’s dismissal were not known Friday.

The L.A. Times needed help with the wording of their crime headlines back in 1989. What a mouthful!

Slain Brea Man’s Ties to Mustang Club Are Probed

March 11, 1989 | MARK LANDSBAUM and TRACY WOOD | L.A. Times Staff Writers

The flamboyant former Highway Patrol officer killed in ambush at the gate of his Brea hilltop home tried to buy the notorious Mustang Club topless bar in Santa Ana before its operator was also killed in a gangland-style shooting 2 years ago, a confidential informant told authorities.

Buena Park police said Friday that they will investigate the alleged connection between Horace Joseph McKenna, 46, who was killed early Thursday, and Jimmy Lee Casino, operator of the Mustang Club, who was murdered on New Year’s Day, 1987.

“It’s certainly a possibility that will have to be explored,” Buena Park Police Lt. Dick Hafdahl said. “There’s a possibility of all of the things that have occurred in and around the Mustang bar were all interrelated to McKenna.”

The confidential informant told Los Angeles district attorney’s investigators last year that McKenna, linked by authorities to prostitution, counterfeiting, narcotics, gambling and topless bars, had approached Casino about buying the bar, according to court documents made public this week. But the informant “could offer no additional information,” according to the documents.

Casino, an ex-convict who, like McKenna, had served a sentence at Terminal Island prison, was murdered when two intruders broke into his luxury condominium in Buena Park. After tying up his 22-year-old girlfriend, police said, the assailants shot Casino, 48, in the back of the head at close range with a small-caliber weapon.

On Christmas Day, 1987, the Mustang Club was nearly destroyed in an arson fire. Another fire a few months later finished it off. One man has been convicted and another awaits trial for the Mustang arsons.

While authorities have not linked McKenna to the Mustang arsons, he had threatened a different Los Angeles topless bar owner in 1978 and mentioned prior arson incidents at that club.

“McKenna made reference to the problem (arsons) that happened a few years ago at the Wild Goose (bar) in making the . . . threats,” the informant told investigators.

McKenna threatened that “If anything happened, it would be worse (than the arsons),” the informant said.

Under Investigation

At the time of his murder, McKenna was under investigation by several law enforcement agencies for conspiracy to launder money, hide assets, tax evasion, provide false returns and fraudulent loan applications in connection with his alleged hidden ownership of several Los Angeles-area nude and topless bars.

Casino was believed by authorities to have a hidden ownership in the Mustang Club. Casino’s murder remains unsolved.

However, two men are facing trial in Orange County for the attempted murder of William Carroll, an investor in the Mustang Club. Authorities contend that Carroll was shot three times in the head May 1, 1987, when he resisted a mob takeover of the topless bar.

The confidential informant told Los Angeles investigators last year that McKenna and attorney Joshua Kaplan had approached Casino about buying the Mustang Club. But on Friday, Kaplan denied it.

“It never happened,” Kaplan said. “It’s an absolute, utter falsehood. I have never represented Mr. McKenna personally in any matter ever, civil, criminal . . . personal, whatsoever.”

“I know who McKenna (was) and I probably had two conversations with him in my life,” Kaplan added.

Represented Club

Kaplan said he once represented the Mustang Club when it won a court case in 1983. The case was brought by the city of Santa Ana to challenge the bar’s right to feature topless dancing.

“I represented the Mustang Theater and I know Jimmy (Casino) had some participation in that somehow,” Kaplan said. “He was either a manager or a consultant. I know there were some allegations he” owned the bar. “I know the government has said he did.”

Kaplan has been active in several disputes throughout Southern California involving topless bars.

Last November, he represented prospective club owner John Morrison in an unsuccessful attempt to win Fullerton City Council approval for the establishment of a restaurant-cabaret that was to have featured topless dancers.

Kaplan also represents the Casbah A Go-Go in La Habra, which has been battling the city over restrictions on club dancers.

Kaplan’s name is referred to repeatedly in the McKenna investigative files unsealed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court.

“My name seems to come up whenever people in the adult entertainment industry are contacted” by police, Kaplan said. “I’ve represented the (adult entertainment) industry for 20 years. It would be very surprising if my name didn’t come up.”

Meanwhile, Brea police conceded Friday that they were “back to square one” in determining who killed McKenna.

Capt. James Oman, the Brea Police Department’s chief of detectives, said his men knew nothing about McKenna’s purported ties to criminal activities and reputed ownership of a string of topless and nude bars until he read about them in the morning newspapers.

“You’re way ahead of us at this point,” Oman told a reporter.

McKenna’s alleged ties were detailed in warrants and affidavits released Wednesday by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which–along with Los Angeles and Long Beach police, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and the FBI–has been monitoring McKenna’s activities for months.

But Oman said that until McKenna’s murder Thursday morning, Brea police “were only minorly aware of him being in town. . . . There was no clue that he was going to be murdered.”

Oman said he had sent two of his detectives to Los Angeles County on Friday to be briefed on the district attorney’s ongoing investigation into McKenna’s past. But he said that while investigators in Los Angeles “are the ones with all the information” in the case–and he was appreciative of their help–Brea would retain control of the investigation.

“The homicide occurred in Brea,” he said. “They’ve (Los Angeles) got enough homicides to keep them busy.”

“It’s going to be a tough one,” said Capt. Edmund Alecks, head of investigations for the district attorney’s organized crime section. “It looks like an execution, and these things are never easy to solve.”

Shell Casings Found

Oman said Friday that the only physical evidence found so far in McKenna’s death are “more than 20” 9-millimeter shell casings at the gate of McKenna’s 35-acre Carbon Canyon equestrian ranch.

McKenna, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound body builder, apparently died instantly from multiple gunshot wounds suffered in the gangland-style ambush at his “Tara Ranch” home. The shots were fired through the rear side window of his limousine at about 12:30 a.m. as McKenna’s chauffeur, Robert Berg, 42, was returning to the car after unlocking the gated entrance to the estate.

Berg reportedly told investigators that McKenna was asleep in the back seat at the time of the attack.

Berg and McKenna’s 20-year-old son, Michael, said to be at the house at the time of the attack–were both questioned by police and then released pending further investigation, according to Oman.

Court documents identify Berg as one of the alleged conspirators in the tax-fraud investigation being prepared by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. The documents allege that at least eight people conspired with McKenna and Michael Woods–himself a former highway patrolman–to skim money and hide profits from several topless and nude bars in the Los Angeles area.

Warrants say that McKenna and Woods are believed to be the hidden owners of these bars and that police had been monitoring their alleged activities in gambling, prostitution and narcotics for some time.

The district attorney’s office said the tax-fraud case was “extremely sensitive” because both McKenna and Woods “have maintained associations with terminated, retired and currently employed law enforcement officers.” The office said this warning was included to advise law enforcement officials that they might inadvertently reveal something to someone who knew McKenna.

A woman at Woods’ Thousand Oaks home said Friday that he was “not available for comment,” and Oman said Friday afternoon that no attempt had yet been made to find or contact him in connection with the murder.

“We’ll get to him when we get to him,” Oman said. Records show that Woods–along with McKenna and Daniel Fenton Sully, a man identified in the affidavits as a functionary in one of the topless bars–all served together in the California Highway Patrol in the late ’60s and early ’70s. All three were assigned as motorcycle patrolmen in the West Los Angeles area.

Woods, 47, took a disability retirement in October, 1974, after spending his entire tour in the West Los Angeles office. Sully, 55, served in several posts before he took a disability retirement in July, 1975.

Reached by phone at his home Thursday night, Sully denied any knowledge of illegal activity and said he “hardly knows” McKenna. He characterized the tax-fraud investigation as “a lot of misinformation,” then refused to comment further.

Entered CHP Academy

McKenna entered the Highway Patrol academy in June, 1967, and served in the West Los Angeles office until June, 1972. He was dismissed by superiors, but one year later, on an appeal to the state Personnel Board, had his departure reclassified as a “resignation.” CHP spokesmen said that state law prohibited them from discussing details of McKenna’s “rather extensive” personnel file.

The initial dismissal of McKenna–remembered by associates who asked not to be named as a “tall, lanky guy in those days; sort of a goofball, a clown”–occurred at about the same time that he was arrested by Los Angeles police in connection with some sort of theft. The nature of the theft, the disposition of the case and whether it was connected to McKenna’s dismissal were not known Friday.

In April, 1976, McKenna was arrested on suspicion of running a large prostitution ring in the Inglewood and Lennox areas. Later that same year, he was sentenced in federal court to concurrent terms of 5 and 6 years for conspiracy and passing counterfeit money.

McKenna served 4 years at a prison camp in Arizona on the counterfeiting charges, earning a parole in 1980. Two years later, he was arrested in a San Pedro bar–owned by a former associate–on suspicion of assaulting an off-duty police officer. The charge was reduced, but McKenna was convicted of violating his parole and was sent back to the federal prison at Terminal Island for another 2 years. Released on parole in 1984, his probation ended in 1985.

‘First Target’

Capt. Alecks of the district attorney’s office said the tax-fraud investigation began 2 years later, in 1987, when McKenna was selected as the “first target” in a new program to build cases against “full-time criminals.”

Beverly Hills attorney Kaplan, who represents several figures named in the tax-fraud inquiry, said the search warrants were unsealed because of demands from himself and other lawyers “representing a number of individuals who had property seized. . . . It’s natural to be curious why the government is seizing your papers.”

Kaplan said the conspiracy claim was fiction.

“The prosecutor’s theory that this industry is controlled by one godfather figure, if you will–McKenna–is contrary to my experience. . . . This has never been a violence-ridden business,” he said. “The whole thing is really surprising.

“My experience with this industry is that it’s the most disorganized industry there is, lacking any cohesion at all,” Kaplan said.

The lawyer said his own attempts to organize nightclub owners for legal battles were failures because “the animosities exhibited between each business prohibited them to get together and do anything. If I got six owners in a room at one time, I’d get eight opinions.”

McKenna’s mother, interviewed Friday afternoon on the porch of her modest home in the Crenshaw district, described her son as a “wonderful person. . . .

“He was . . . a great man to his mother, his father and his family,” she said. “It’s a beautiful man they killed.”

Times staff writers contributing to this article were Scott Harris, Eric Malnic, Penelope McMillan, Boris Yaro, Hector Tobar and Tracey Kaplan in Los Angeles, and Dianne Klein and Jim Carlton in Orange County.