Amazing Investigation: How a Real Life James Bond Got Whacked by a Bag Lady Assassin
Continued from previous page
* * *
Nothing about Lois Lang’s story ever made much sense. But then, why should anything about a paranoid-schizophrenic bag lady have to make sense? This is the logic that sent Lang to federal prison and satisfied the court. But those closest to the case — including former Deak executives; the prosecuting assistant district attorney; and the daughter of Deak’s secretary, Bonnie Lauder — have never been convinced. “I have always believed,” Lauder told us at her home in Staten Island, “that there was something wrong with the story I was told about how my mother was killed by a random bag lady.”
Lauder is not alone in suspecting deeper forces at work.
“I never bought the operetta story of a crazy woman shooting the elephant hunter point-blank in his own office,” said Antal Fekete, a Canadian economist who met Deak while teaching at Princeton in the 1970s. “I often think that the producers at the CIA should pick a more credible scenario when they plot the elimination of some of their former employees who babble too much.” Otto Roethenmund, a former executive in Deak’s company who was in the office the day of the killing, said Deak’s murder “was a very, let us say, interesting thing. But I prefer not to speculate.”
New revelations about Lois Lang’s transformation from homecoming queen to homeless killer provide excellent grist for substantive speculation, if not the basis for officially reopening the Deak case.
A standout college athlete with an M.A. from the University of Illinois, Lang married in the mid-’60s and took a job coaching the University of California-Santa Barbara women’s tennis and fencing teams. An old U.C.-Santa Barbara yearbook shows coach Lang standing tall in a team photo. It was around this time that she began losing her mind, seeing “fakes” all around her, strangers whom she accused of pretending to be family members, her husband and, at an open-casket funeral, her mother’s corpse.
In 1970, the university declined to renew her coaching contract. Lang and her husband soon divorced. Her life quickly became a blur. Lang complained of “amnesia” and said that her ex-husband’s business partner moved her into an apartment in Mountain View, Calif., where she lived on “grants” and “took flying lessons.” (Moffett Field Naval Base and NASA’s Ames Research Center are located there). She told psychiatrists in 1985 that this business partner, or his “fakes,” took her to Deak’s offices at 29 Broadway in 1971. She said that “friends” taught her marksmanship at firing ranges. In August 1975, records show that Lang was discovered naked and catatonic in a Santa Clara motel room. (Neither Lang’s ex-husband nor his “business partner” could be located. Lang, who is imprisoned at a federal facility two hours north of New York City, did not respond to interview requests.)
Police responding to the motel room took Lang to nearby Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. For the next month, she was put under the care of Dr. Frederick Melges, a psychiatrist associated with the Stanford Research Institute. One of Dr. Melges’ main areas of research: drug-aided hypnosis. A few years after Lang was put in Melges’ care, the New York Times exposed the Stanford Research Institute as a center for CIA research into “brain-washing” and “mind-control” experiments in which unwitting subjects were dosed with hallucinogenic drugs and subjected to hypnosis. Melges, who died in 1988, is today remembered in the field for his research on the relationship between perceptions of time and mental illness.
Congressional hearings subsequently uncovered a large network of top-secret CIA-funded psychological warfare programs grouped loosely under the project name MK-ULTRA. These programs today sound like absurd cloak-and-dagger relics of “Twilight Zone”-inflected Cold War hysteria. But the people running these programs, which continued until at least 1979, were often leading researchers backed by the U.S. government. Enormous resources were committed to the study of how human behavior might be controlled for the purpose of interrogation and the creation of “programmed” assassins and couriers. In a detailed roundup of MK-ULRA-related operations, Psychology Today explained that the CIA “conducted or sponsored at least 419 secret drug-testing projects” at “86 United States and Canadian hospitals, prisons, universities, and military installations,” and that “by the agency’s own admission, many [experimental subjects] were ‘unwitting’.”