I never expected to stumble into a real-life mystery. But I did. While waiting tables at a L.A. strip joint, I learned that a former club co-owner had been murdered and his killer never caught. In 1989, machine gunfire mowed down Horace “Big Mac” McKenna while he sat in his chauffeured limousine, waiting for the gate to his estate to open. McKenna’s murder remained unsolved while I worked at the strip club from 1995-97.

McKenna, a six-foot-six bodybuilder, had been a California Highway Patrolman before his arrest for running a prostitution ring and his conviction for passing counterfeit money. He spent four years in federal prison. After his release, he became a wealthy strip club owner, living a colorful life. His hilltop estate in Brea boasted a menagerie with a tiger, a jaguar, and an alligator. He was described variously as kind, eccentric, and intimidating.

I heard whispers about McKenna’s murder while I worked at the club. Rumor had it that his business partner and former CHP partner, Mike Woods, orchestrated the hit. Woods’ bodyguard, David  “English Dave” Amos, also benefited from the murder—becoming a club co-owner after McKenna’s death. The two men certainly didn’t keep a low profile. In 1994, they collaborated on film called The Takeover about rival drug lords in a turf war.

But the McKenna case remained cold.

Then, in February 2000, the gunman himself finally gave authorities a break. Johnny Sheridan, a manager at the strip club, admitted that Amos had hired him to do the hit. He agreed to wear a wire in order to catch Amos. The sting operation succeeded. Amos then turned on Woods, the mastermind of the crime. Police arrested all three men in October 2000. Woods was convicted of first-degree murder while Amos and Sheridan both pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

Despite the speculation surrounding McKenna’s death while I worked at the club, the outcome of the case still shocked me. I’d worked with Sheridan daily. He was a considerate, if haphazard, manager with a lovely wife and adorable child. The British Amos exuded lively charm. Only Woods, who had a reptilian chilliness, seemed to fit the part of “murderer.” But I learned that you can never really know what someone is capable of doing—even someone you think you know well.

These events loosely inspired parts of HOLLYWOOD DOWN LOW, where a strip club co-owner’s suspicious death sets the story in motion. I never solved a real-life mystery, but my protagonist, Allison Patrick, does catch the killer.


  1. Patricia Roberts on July 6, 2023 at 8:40 am

    where can I buy the book?

Leave a Comment