Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center (Cal State L.A.)

1800 Paseo Rancho Castilla LA 90032

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Toxicology Trees & Canyon Cultists: The Gettler Boys & Krishna Venta’s WKFL Fountain of the World—Sunday April 28th

The Los Angeles Visionaries Association, Esotouric and Dr. Jay Vargas invite you to the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab for an afternoon’s inquiry into the history and practice of forensic science in Southern California, in support of new research coming out of the Criminalistics Department.

Presentation #1 – Dr. Jay Vargas and the Family Tree of Toxicology

Alexander Gettler is commonly known as the father of forensic toxicology in the United States. He was prolific at refining analytical tools and creating new methodologies to detect poisons and other toxicants in the 1930s and 1940s in New York. His pioneering work is the subject of Deborah Blum’s best-selling book The Poisoner’s Handbook. Lesser known are the stories and accomplishments of the young chemists who studied with Gettler, known in the profession as the “Gettler Boys,” many of whom became established toxicologists in their own right.

Join Jay Vargas, Ph.D., Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics at Cal State LA as he describes who the Gettler Boys were and some of their important accomplishments to the field of forensic toxicology. A discussion about the “family tree” of toxicology will also be presented as Dr. Vargas describes his own student-driven research at Cal State LA and attempts to trace his own career lineage back to the founders of the field.

The program will include a lab session in which attendees will observe a recreation of early chemical tests used in Gettler’s day to detect the presence of heavy metals.

Presentation #2 – Detective Mike Digby on Krishna Venta’s WKFL Fountain of the World cult

Arson and bomb detective Mike Digby returns to the teaching crime lab to share his research into a fascinating mid-century intentional community that settled in Box Canyon above Simi Valley, and became notorious in 1958, when two disgruntled members assassinated leader Krishna Venta and numerous other people with a dynamite bomb. Mike will present an engaging history of cult leader Venta (real name: Francis Herman Pencovic) and his lengthy career as a fraudster, how and where the bomb and components were assembled, the bombing itself, the scene, aftermath and police investigation. Although their leader was dead and many members killed or injured, Fountain of the World community was still intact in the 1960s, providing instruction to their neighbors, the Manson Family, about how to find free food in supermarket dumpsters.

ABOUT Mike Digby: After serving seven years in the United States Army, Mike Digby joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department where he served proudly for more than 34 years. For the last seventeen years, he was assigned as a Detective Bomb Technician in the Arson/Bomb Squad where his duties included rendering safe and disassembling improvised explosive devices, examining and disposing of military ordnance and conducting post-blast investigations. A self-proclaimed “bomb nerd” and decorated detective, Mike has spent years studying the motives of bombers, their methods of attack and the bombs that they built. He has served as technical advisor on BBC and Discovery Channel programs. In December 2016, Mike published The Bombs, Bombers and Bombings of Los Angeles, a book which documents several dozen bombing events that took place in the Los Angeles area over the past hundred years.