Bud and Blow Torches

As any local will tell you, this slice of the Emerald Triangle has seen its share of unforgettable pot-related stick-ups over the years. Our County’s reputation precedes it: Every would-be dope grower has heard the name “Mendocino” — and every NorCal stick-up artist looking for someone to rob has taken note.    Take, for instance, the still-unsolved murder of Les Crane — the one-time tie-dye clothing salesman who, after leaving Florida, landed in Mendocino County, opened two pot dispensaries and became Laytonville’s reverend of medical marijuana.

Crane was shot dead in his home four years ago while a group of ski-masked thieves stole his pot and cash.

Two years later, Roy Valdez Jr. and Roy Valdez Sr. came along. This father-son duo from Santa Rosa masqueraded as water company workers to gain entrance to a grow near Ukiah. Shotgun and revolver in hand, pop and junior grabbed 14 pounds of pot and hit the road; they were nabbed by police shortly after while driving 100 miles an hour down State Street in Ukiah.

Then, last year, the blowtorch bandits hit Fort Bragg. Perhaps worried that Coasties hadn’t shared in the terror, these Oakland thugs burned — or threatened to burn — the genitals of their victims if they didn’t hand over the dope and money.     While most of the county’s home invasions remain private affairs — unpleasant, sometimes violent exchanges between entrepreneurs of often illicit endeavors — the above mentioned stick-ups are among the few home invasions that each year actually get reported and investigated.

With the last of these unsettling episodes, there could be some justice of the non-vigilante variety in the near future: The trial of Glenn Samuel Sunkett, an ex-con from Oakland and one of the alleged blowtorchers, begins next month. Sunkett was arrested last September in his hometown after some sharp detective work put the puzzle pieces in place: Sheriff’s detectives canvassed local motels where the thief allegedly stayed, gathered eyewitness info, retrieved credit card and car rental details, and were able to put together sketches of Sunkett based on what they learned.

The charges against Sunkett are many: he faces multiple counts of robbery, kidnapping, torture, false imprisonment and threatening — all committed with a firearm. He’s pleaded not guilty on all counts.

The details of the stick up in question are as grisly as they come: Sunkett and two other perps — who detectives are yet to track down — were allegedly staked out in the bushes of a house just north of Fort Bragg late one night last July. When three men and a woman pulled up to the house, the thieves — wielding a revolver — ambushed them, according to Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Greg VanPatten. Michael Bennett, the homeowner, was knocked unconscious in the process; Sunkett and crew put one of the men in handcuffs, tied up the rest up with zip-ties and threatened to blow torch their testicles if they didn’t talk. Nobody was burned, but Bennett was beaten so severely he’s lucky to be alive, VanPatten said; after the incident he was airlifted from Mendocino Coast Hospital to Santa Rosa after the Coast decided it couldn’t treat his serious injuries.

While the group was tied up, Sunkett and crew plundered the place, grabbing several hundred in cash along with some jewelry and pot, VanPatten said. After the robbery, police found 884 indoor plants growing at the property; about 50 more had been uprooted and taken.     Given that Sunkett and crew knew where to go and who to target, they had probably been tipped off by locals, VanPatten said, adding that while it’s likely Sunkett robbed other grows in the area, he’s a person of interest in only one other home invasion in the county — the robbery last May at Fuschiarama, the flower and gift store just north of Fort Bragg on Highway 1. For lack of evidence, detectives haven’t taken that case to the district attorney.

The Fuschiarama heist followed a similar pattern as the robbery that would come later that summer: Three perps ambushed a man named Dusty Loewen, tied him up and threatened to light his crotch on fire. This time they followed through. Loewen suffered minor burns, VanPatten said. Loewen told police the robbers absconded with only $800 in cash — though detectives heard later that it was a pot robbery. Not that it would have been difficult for your less-than-average thug to spot: helicopter pads had been built in Fuschiarama’s front yard — mere feet from Highway 1 — and before the robbery, a helicopter could be seen parked out front.

Rumors abound among Coast growers about which of Mr. Fuschiarama’s activities lead to the confrontation last May, but one thing is clear: He wouldn’t have won a popularity contest with his colleagues.   These days, the chopper is nowhere to be seen, and a For Sale sign recently appeared beside the concrete pads. According to the realtor’s listing, the 13-acre property, which went on the market for $1.3 million, includes majestic ocean views, a park-like setting with barbeque pits, 10,000 square feet of greenhouse space, horseshoe pits and picnic tables.

Helicopter not included.

TIM STELLOH is a reporter for the Anderson Valley Advertiser and can be reached there at ava@pacific.net.


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Manuel García, Jr.
Heartrending Antiwar Songs
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
David Yearsley
Performance Anxiety