Charles E. Dederich once described himself as "Mr. Synanon: its designer, chief executive and single greatest asset." Most Synanon members believe him.
But ex-members claim that in the past few months he was "always drunk, and obsessed with violence, with creating his own army." Dederich today lies hospitalized with "acute depression."
Authorities arrested Dederich in connection with a rattlesnake bite Los Angeles attorney Paul Morantz received when he reached into his mail box Oct. 10.
A reformed alcoholic when he founded Synanon 20 years ago, Dederich was too drunk and sedated to be formally arraigned after his arrest Saturday at his home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
Arizona judge Everett Milam arraigned Dederich in the hospital Sunday on a Los Angeles warrant charging him with being a fugitive. Bond was set at $500,000. The proceedings were designed to give Dederich the opportunity to waive his extradition rights and return to California.
However, Arizona authorities said today California must submit a formal extradition request before any further action can be taken in Dederich's case.
"His head is not exactly screwed on straight," a Dederich psychiatrist said Sunday during the arraignment.
John Watson, one of the Los Angeles prosecutors who took part in the arrest at Dederich's home, said, "When we went in, he was in a stupor, staring straight ahead, with an empty bottle of Chivas Regal in front of him."
Synanon members who have looked to Dederich for direction for two decades say they are shocked, but not discouraged.
"Spirits here are good," said one official who asked not to be identified. "This is not a Jim Jones type of thing. Nobody's gonna line up for Kool-Aid. We're going to persist. It would be a pretty sad testament to the work of Charles E. Dederich if the whole organization fell apart."
But those who have left Synanon say the parallels between Dederich's Synanon and the Rev. Jim Jones' Peoples Temple are remarkable. Members' devotion to Dederich was as unquestioning as the devotion of Temple members to Jones.
Former members have told police that Dederich goaded those in Synanon to "get Paul Morantz," to "break his legs," to "teach him a lesson."
"If the authorities do move in on Synanon, I fear a helluva bloodbath. The leadership is mad as hatters," former Synanon president Jack Hurst predicted several weeks ago.