17 years ago today on November 18, 2005 in the quiet darkness of the early hours of a cold Laytonville morning, multiple gunshots killed social activist, cannabis distributor, and locally well-known disruptor of the status quo, 39-year-old Les Crane. The first evidence pointed to a home invasion, in the nearly two decades since then, the shifting eye of suspicion has landed on everyone from law enforcement to loved ones.
As family members and friends of every victim knows, an oily, black poison spreads from each homicide– damaging almost all who were close to the deceased. And, this is especially true in the case of an unsolved murder. Each person involved, however peripherally, could be a suspect. Family members and friends guiltily wonder if a loved one could be the killer as they try and make sense of evidence that comes to them secondhand from law enforcement intent mostly on gathering evidence rather than giving information or worse, information from someone they sometimes worry might be the murderer and might not be telling the truth. Information is sifted through suspicion, self-protection, and loyalties and comes out twisted and almost unrecognizable. Add in time and the faultiness of memory, then cold, solid facts are hard to find and set side by side to make a truthful narrative.
Motives for Les’s killing offered from different sources and twisted through different stories vary from a love triangle to law enforcement trying to silence Crane because he had evidence against them.
But mostly, the motive offered is money. Les’s sister, Laura Smith, believes her brother, who had two dispensaries in Mendocino County, had over a million dollars the night he was killed. “From the understanding I had,” she told us over the phone, “there was 1.2 million in the safe.” She said her cousin who had visited just days previous to Les’s killing, had learned about the large sum when he was there.
But, Sean Diriam, who says he handled money for Les, claims that though there were often large amounts of cash, on this night there was a relatively small amount–$7000.
“I ran Les’s shop in Laytonville–a dispensary,” he told me via phone. This was backed by Patrick Duff, Les’s friend and manager of the Ukiah dispensary also owned by Les. So Sean said he was pretty clear on how much money was there that night. Sean told us that Les had recently given generously to local charities in preparation for the holiday season. “Les had bought a bunch of turkeys to give to food banks that day,” he explained. (Les was frequently open handed with those in need–earlier that year he had donated $5000 to the Ukiah Community Center Food Bank and even earlier, in late 2004, he had sponsored a clean and sober space for Laytonville kids to play games and eat snacks he provided.)
Nonetheless, the difference between the $7000 said to be there by one person and $1.2 million said to be there by another shows the gaps between the facts that make finding solid footing treacherous.
We interviewed Sean Diriam and we’ll give his account of the homicide, but we want to caution that many people struggling to make sense of the death of Les Crane dispute parts or almost all of it.
The first thing to know before we get to Sean’s story is that Les Crane was brash and bold and upset many people. As his sister told us, Les had “a typical new England assholishness. You would know his opinion…You didn’t have to agree with it, but you sure as hell were going to listen to it.”
Some of the folks Crane upset belonged to law enforcement which after his death lead some friends and acquaintances to look accusingly in their direction.
Crane opened his first dispensary, Mendo Remedies, in April of 2004. Local law enforcement was not a fan. He has a couple of tussles with them and by May of 2005, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department raided his place, seizing 30 gold South African Krugerands and thousands of cannabis clones.
The next day, in typical brash fashion, Les and his attorney filed a law suit asking not only for the return of the gold coins but money for each clone as if the plants were assured of reaching a pound a piece–with prices reaching thousands of dollars per pound at the time.
A month later he took out an ad in the Ukiah Journal asking all 215 patients “if you had your Garden raided, please call Les Crane at Mendo Spiritual Remedies.”
‘What was he up to?’ locals must have wondered.
Then, in late summer, seeking to use a religious exemption to allow people access to cannabis, Les tried to open a second church/dispensary in Ukiah. Then on November 2, he was arraigned on charges stemming from the May raid. On November 16, he has another court date but…before going in and pleading not guilty, he hands out a bag full of free cannabis to supporters and passersby.
=So now he’s aggravating everyone from religious conservatives to marijuana growers who wish he’d just quit stirring the hornet’s nest.
On the night of November 18, Sean says he helped Les, who he said he felt was like a dad to him, write on his computer. They were at Les’s property out the 307 Road off Hwy 101 north of Laytonville with Les’s girlfriend Jennifer Drewry.
But, according to Sean, Jen had told him he could score some oxycontin cheap if he wanted–a friend of Jennifer’s would meet him out by the gate and sell it to him. (Sean told us, Jen had never before helped facilitate him getting drugs like this.)
“Les didn’t like me going and getting extra drugs,” Sean said. “So I snuck out to get the oxycontin.”
Sean told us he slipped out the back through the room the dogs were kept in and met the friend by the gate. When he came back in, he says, he closed the door between the room the dogs were in and the rest of the house, then went to his room. “I ate the pills and went back to bed,” he said.
In the early hours of the morning, Sean said, “I heard the door get kicked in…I heard, ‘This is a raid. This is a raid. This is a raid.’ I assumed it was the feds. Because Les had said the DEA was watching.”
Sean didn’t want to startle the officers. “I put my hands on top of my covers so I wouldn’t get shot,” he told us. “I wanted to make sure they could see my hands. I was worried about a cop with an itchy trigger finger shooting me even though there were no guns on the property.”
The door was at the end of Sean’s bed. “I was looking at the fucking door,” he told us. “I remember my door getting swung open by a big guy who filled up the door[way]…wearing a hoodie…When I see it is a big guy in a hoodie with a bat that’s when I’m like ‘Oh, fuck, I’m fairly certain this is a robbery.’”
He says the man reached over from the foot of the bed and grabs his shirt, pulls him upright, and hits him with something black that looks like a Billy club. “It is not until I am vertical that he starts beating me over the head,” Sean tells us. “I have three scars on my head from the beating.”
As he was getting hit, Sean said he heard sounds of distress from out of the room. “I recall hearing screaming when I’m getting beaten,” he told us.
Sean said, “I see him coming around for another one. I go to catch the bat.” To his surprise and the intruder’s also, “I pulled the bat from him.”
He told us he said something like, ‘Quit fucking hitting me please,’ before putting the bat up against the guy’s chest and surrendering it to him. “Because what was I going to do?” he asked. “I’m not Rambo here.”
At that point, Sean says the guy “drags” him into the main part of the house where the kitchen and dining room combine. “There is one short guy standing on the treadmill’ in the dining room looking into the kitchen, he explained. “Jen is standing there screaming…One guy has two guns…I remember he was pointing them both of them straight out.” According to Sean, “The guy with two guns was wearing a biker mask. Foam. He had a hoodie. ”
According to Sean, when he was dragged out, Jen was at the point where the kitchen meets the dining room.
Later, Sean learned from Jen that she had slept in a different bedroom from Les because they had had an argument, according to her. Sean said that this was “the only night I remember her sleeping in a separate bedroom.” He added that he “didn’t witness the argument…I was already in bed.” According to Sean, he said that when she came out of the room because of the commotion, she was hit on the head.
“I was right next to the pantry where the flooring for the pool table was right near my back,” he said. “The big guy threw me on the floor and he went into Les’s room.”
According to Sean, “My shirt is all fucking torn. There’s blood. I see two guns right in my eyes telling me to stay the fuck down…He was a white guy and he had blue eyes…I’m wondering where this blood is coming from. ‘Oh, it is coming from me.’”
Sean said he looked up “at the dude with the guns” and said, “I don’t want this. I don’t want this.”
Jen, Sean explained, kept screaming wordlessly. “It was ear piercing,” he told us.
“I hear one of them say, ‘She’s being too fucking loud…I see some feet come closer to me…I see one gun pointing at her…I hear a pop. She’s falling down…” And the screaming stops.”
Sean said he thought, “Oh, my god, they shot her. She’s dead. Welp, you’re dead. You don’t just shoot one person and leave the other person alive.”
According to Sean, the man with the gun runs past him back to Les’s room. He says he hears “five…six shots.”
Then all of the intruders, he’s not sure how many, ran out fast.
“Why the fuck am I alive?” Sean says he thought. “I scoot over to the mop closet. I get the phone [that was sitting on the kitchen counter] and call 911…When I was getting my shoes on and calling 911, I heard Jen asks for water and a towel. How is she alive?”
But Sean doesn’t stop dialing 911. He told us, “I needed to get an ambulance because I didn’t hear Les screaming and gunshots happened. That’s not good. I can do one and one.”
He says he heard the operator saying, “911, what’s your address?”
He said he told her, “They shot my dad…They shot my dad.”
The operator keeps trying to get Sean to give details, but he was shook up and according to him said something like, “I don’t need fucking cops…I need a fucking ambulance. There was a shooter. I need a fucking ambulance right fucking now.”
Meanwhile, Jen had gone to Les’s room and found him bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds. As Jen related to the Ukiah Daily Journal, “[Les] was lying there. He could still talk. There was a lot of blood. The Count [which was Sean’s nickname] was hiding, talking to 911.”
She said she asked Les, “Who did this to you?” And she told the Journal that he said, “They came to see The Count today.”
Around this time, while still on the phone talking to the 911 operator, Sean moved towards where Jen is with Les. “He’s in the middle doorway,” Sean remembers. “His feet are towards the doorway. [Behind him,] the safe is open…Les is in a big puddle of blood naked…I believe he was shot in the back.”
Jen told the Ukiah Daily Journal that Les was “shot in the back of the head, in an arm and in his abdomen.” She explained though, “There was so much blood I couldn’t see all the holes.”
Sean brought a towel and water to Les. “In the movies, they pack bullet holes with cloth,” he explained. “As I am trying to tear the towel to take care of him, I hang up [on 911.]”
The towel is difficult to deal with Sean told us. “It’s a brand new towel. He [Les] starts losing bladder control. I’m not a very smart guy, but that is not a good sign.”
Sean went on, “He looked like a fish out of water. Mouth open…gasping…Eyes not aware. I didn’t know what to do. I’m a dumb fucking kid. This is not real. This was not even in my possibility of what was going to be in my life.”
According to Sean, Les “comes to some sort of cognition.” Sean told us that the dying man said something like “What…what…what.” He added, “I see he wants to get up.” He helps him up, he said. “When I laid him down on the bed is when he said to tell [his son] he loves him…I get a blanket and tuck it behind his head….I tell him you know I will. You can’t leave me here. I was crying…I was scared shitless.”
A deputy with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department arrives and, to Sean’s fury, checks to make sure no intruders are left before letting the medical personnel come in. “I need a fucking ambulance,” Sean says he tells the deputy. “He’s in the other room fucking dying here.”
When the medical personnel come in, Sean says they attempt to help Jen and him. “I’m covered in blood from fucking head to toe–my blood, his blood, who fucking knows,” he tells us. But he says he wants the medical personnel to get to Les. “I didn’t call an ambulance for me,” he said. “I called it for him. Gunshot wounds take priority.”
The medical personnel go back into Les’s bedroom. When they come out, Sean told us, “I grabbed one and asks one if [Les] is going to be alright.”
The look the man gives him makes Sean who is now out on the porch of the house “try to go back inside [but] the cop wouldn’t let me. I was jumping up and down and screaming.”
Both he and Jen are eventually taken to the hospital where he has three head wounds and she has a broken arm.
Sean told us that he can’t forget what happened even 17 years later. “I think it about all the fucking time,” he said. “It keeps you up at night for a long fucking time.”
According to Sean, Les died for “a little bit of weed and what was in the safe..$7000.”
17 years later, family and friends have no answers–only questions and suspicions. Patrick Duff, a friend of Les Crane, has set up a website to collect information about the murder. On the site, is a detailed timeline of what led up to the night of Les’s shooting and what happened after. Duff hopes that people will come forward with any information that they know to help solve the homicide and to help stop the spread of suspicion.