Life After Wonderland

The Dawn Schiller Story

By: Casi Desirea Owens

 

Denise Brown and Dawn Schiller at the Playboy Mansion for the Nicole Brown Simpson Foundation event.   Photo Courtesy of Dawn Schiller

 

     The name Dawn Schiller may not be one you recognize, but in the early 1980s, she was making headlines with John Holmes, a former porn star, and the Wonderland murders.

     The Wonderland Avenue murders took place in July 1981 at Holmes' house in Los Angeles. Schiller came home to find  Holmes' alone with four bodies that had been bludgeoned to death.

 Schiller had met Holmes when she was 15 years old. She said she suffered six long years of abuse before she was able to find a way out of the relationship.

     After the murders at 8763 Wonderland Ave., Schiller went on the run with Holmes to the desert and eventually to Florida.

     Schiller says, "We were running from the FBI and were staying at a transition hotel, under an assumed name, when she was beat up by Holmes in front of neighbors."

     She says, the next day the neighbors came over to help her get out. She turned Holmes into the police and began looking for her father who was in Florida at the time.

     Schiller found her father and in February of 1982, she would leave the country with him for South East Asia. This would be the beginning of her long healing process.

     Her father was a veteran and had connections in Vietnam. She says in December they went to Thailand. She said she had to go into hiding because Holmes and others, as far as she knew, had contracts out for her.

     Schiller says her choices at that time were "really poor." She said she connected with the Veterans there because she felt she too had been through a war. It was in East Asia where she took up drinking to help ease her memories of Holmes and Wonderland. Schiller says, "You separate yourself from it. I was a damaged soul."

     She says she became angry. Schiller goes on to say that she began taking huge risks and being fearless. She says, "It was like a survived a holocaust with them. The military and I had a survivorís bond and we drank a lot and did the best we could."

     However, some good came from living in Asia. She traveled a lot, obtained a degree in gemology, learned a new language and eventually found a peace in religion with the monks.

     She eventually went home in 1987 where she moved to Oregon and got a job in gemology. In the winter of 1987, Schiller joined the Catholic Church. She said it was a huge healing process for her, but left after a year because she did not like the hierarchy.

     In 1988, she moved to L.A. because she wanted to see Holmes. Schiller says, "I was still very ashamed. I wanted to show him I was better than he said I would be. I wanted him to be sorry." Sadly, Holmes died of AIDS a week later after Schillerís arrival. She would not get to confront him. Holmes death, though at time for Schiller was hard because she did not get to say what she needed to say, would be the catalyst for her to seek out help.

     She says, "I had let out a lot of rage in Asia and I was ready to go back to the States. I wanted to be a person again." She says she made contact with Sharron Holmes, a registered nurse and Holmes, wife who helped raise Schiller. She says, "We reunited and exchanged stories." It was around this time that Schillerís drinking started up again and drugs came back into her life. She says, "I was emotionally unable to handle tragedies and had to start over again."

     She would eventually meet her husband, have a daughter and get divorced. Schiller says her daughter is her blessing. She would seek professional help and start what she calls "scary therapy."

     It would be the movie about Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer and Kate Bosworth that would help her to go back into the dark and overcome the horrors that were there. Schiller says, "Because I floundered, I didnít heal the right way."

     Schiller says that the spiritual path had taken it toll and the abuse was like a drug. She was in emotional turmoil, but now she hopes to "raise the bottom for victims."

     She says she knew that if she was going to help with the movie she, "needed to be well." Schiller says in a way she "I was forced to be well and it was like god said it."

     Schiller has said several times that the movie does not accurately portray Holmes or the abuse that took place. In fact, she says it almost shows Holmes in a good light rather than the physically abusive and drugged addict he was. Nevertheless, Schiller has used the movie to raise awareness about abuse.

 

     Schiller says Sharron was nice to her. She often told her that she could go to school when Holmes degraded Schiller. Sharron would give medical attention to her when the abuse had taken its toll. However, according to Schiller, Sharron never did anything to stop the abuse or ask Schiller if she was being abused. By California law if you are a registered nurse, you have to ask and report any suspected abuse.

     Schiller says that after years of drugs, a failed marriage and a movie that she claims did not accurately portray her part in the story; she is finally healing after many years. She is releasing a book about her time spent at Wonderland and everything after it. She says, "At this point I am prepared for the negativity with the book". She says Wonderland has been "a huge challenge, but I canít change what happened."

     Schiller has taken positive yet difficult steps to heal. She says, "Shelter from the storm is where I have been a hotline volunteer for the last four years. I speak at fundraisers and Ďtake back the nightí events. Recently, I spoke out in honor of victims with the mayor of our town."

     Schiller says, "My hope is that people benefit from my story. That they get out of a bad place." She goes on to say that "good comes out of good." Her optimistic outlook is not only read in her words, but in her actions. Sharron developed Alzheimerís disease and Schiller took her in to care for her. Schillerís daughter even gave up her room so Sharron could have a place of her own. Even after the abuse, lies and doubt Sharron placed on Schiller, she still took her in and cared for her up until March of 2007 when Sharron stopped taking her medicine and became verbally violent. Sadly, Schiller had to put her in an assisted-living center. Schiller says, "Everyone rallied around me to help me help her. Weíve been through a lot and she has no one."

     Schillerís resilient spirit is inspiring and hopeful. She says, "Writing the book has been difficult." She says she has had pain in writing certain parts of the book, but says, "Silence perpetuates violence."

     Schillerís piece of advice for any one who has been abused is, "You have to find people you trust. You have to deal with it. I recommend counseling always and recovery from substance abuse and drinking for those that have been involved with either one heavily. Mediation and giving back to the world are other huge forms of healing in my life."