ranching in the sierra

2

On February 24, 1973, Hope Masters (31) was spending the weekend with her fiancé Bill Ashlock (40) in her mother’s ranch in Sierra Nevada. In the middle of the night, she was woken up by an intruder with a gun. Bill was already dead, his bloodied body still sitting in the sofa where she’d last seen him before going to bed.

The intruder violently raped Hope and tied her up in a hogtie position, covered her with the blankets and, in a baffling gesture, told her he loved her.

When she asked why he’d killed Bill, he explained that he was a hit man and his real target was Hope. He’d been hired, he claimed, by Hope’s second husband, with whom she was in the middle of a divorce, to do a “Sharon-Tate like” massacre and her children also had to be killed.

It was around this time that Hope recognized the man she was talking to. She knew him a Taylor Wright. He had introduced himself as a Los Angeles Times reporter and said he was doing an article about eligible bachelors and wanted to interview Bill for it. Taylor had spent the afternoon of that February 24 with the couple and was still talking to Bill when she went to bed.

A bizarre two days followed in which Taylor kept alternating between declaring his love to Hope and threatening her. He took pictures of her, drove her home, spent time with her kids and visited her parents. Even though they told them that Hope had been targeted by a hitman that had killed Bill, and Taylor had saved her, Hope’s stepfather was suspicious of the story and insisted they called police, especially considering Bill’s body was still at the ranch, three days later. 

At first Hope refused to identify the man who’d raped her and killed her fiancé, and to this day people can’t agree if it was because she was afraid of him or in love with him. Eventually, she cooperated with police and Taylor was caught. His real name was G. Daniel Walker, and he’d escaped from an Illinois prison three months earlier.

Walker acted like a textbook psychopath. He was charming, persuasive and showed no remorse. After a string of petty thefts that seemed to have been done more for the thrill of it than necessity, he’d killed a cop that stopped him for a routine check.

Both Walker and Hope were arrested and charged with Bill’s murder. But after a while the prosecution decided to offer Hope to dismiss the case against her in exchange for her testimony against Walker, which she reluctantly gave. He was convicted. Hope visited him twice in prison. Later, when asked why he’d let her live if she hadn’t helped him in the murder, she said: “Everyone thinks Walker let me live because either we were sexually mad for each other, or my parents paid him off… It never seems to occur to anybody that maybe he let me live because he thought I was a good person. A useful person. A valuable human being.“

Walker’s stay in prison has been interesting, to say the least. In 1986, a deputy state attorney general sued him and his family for plotting to poison him and other members of the justice system. Then he was involved in a mail order scam from his prison cell.

The book A Death in California goes deep into this unusual case and there’s also a condensed version of it in this 1981 article of the New York Times.