Greetings to all,
In this week’s installment of the justice files, I shared just how Special Agent John Swenson aka The Iron Eagle was birthed in my imagination. I am now sharing that same message with all of my additional readers here on the blog.
~ IE ~
An Atypical Fictional Hero Inspired by a Real Life Tragedy
It was Friday before the long Memorial Day weekend in 1979, and I was in ninth grade in junior high school. I was getting lunch in the cafeteria when Thomas (Tommy) Glenn Lundgren popped up in the lunch line next to me sporting a cast on his arm that he had painted with a rainbow in art class a few hours earlier.
Tommy was a redheaded, freckle-faced kid who loved skateboarding, hanging out at our local skate park, and occasionally got into trouble as did I. He was a small part of a group of fringe friends who I hung out with and one hyper little guy. He was a year younger than me, but we had been in the Boy Scouts together and had known each other since elementary school.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
Tommy showed me the cast and said, “Cool, huh?”
I laughed and said, “You’re crazy, Tommy. Aren’t rainbows for girls?”
He laughed, and we got our food, sat, and ate. He told me he was going to have some pictures taken of him at the local skate park, “Skater Cross,” as I recall. He said that he was going to be in magazines. I laughed it off, and when we finished lunch, he made one of his usual comments, which got him punched in the arm—a punch that he reciprocated as he laughed and ran off.
That was the last time I saw Tommy alive.
The weekend went on without any major drama. My old man was an abusive alcoholic, and my late mother was an alcoholic and speed abuser. My two younger brothers lived in their own world. I ran a small business mowing yards for a couple of local realtors, and I had a few neighbor kids who worked for me. The bucks we earned went toward pizza and sodas. We were nerds and not into drugs.
Tuesday morning was uneventful until lunch when one of my female classmates ran up to me in the cafeteria and asked, “Hey! Did you hear the news?”
“Your little friend Tommy is dead!”
I told her she was full of crap and started asking around school, but there were mixed messages. When I got home I opened the newspaper to see a snippet news story about the day before.
“Body of teen found on hiking trail in Agoura.” The small article described what the male child had been wearing when found, and then my blood ran cold.
“The boy had a bright multi-colored cast.”
The body was Tommy’s, and he was the first victim of William Bonin aka The Freeway Killer who would terrorize Los Angeles for over a year, raping, murdering, and emasculating teens and young men then dumping their bodies alongside the freeways of the San Fernando Valley and other locations. What little innocence I might have had left was gone with Tommy’s murder. I grew up fast as did everyone who knew him. There were no counselors for kids in those days. Shit happened, and you just had to deal with it.
A Protector and Punisher Is Born
Growing up the way that I did in a massively dysfunctional and abusive home leaves its mark. And contrary to what some people think, people can not only survive trauma, but they can also thrive and use it to their advantage in life. I started to write about a character who would bring justice where justice could not be brought and give closure to those living in the darkness of abuse and neglect.
I wrote story after story through the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. I had the protector but didn’t know who he was. He wasn’t a superhero. He was flesh and blood, smart and well trained, and had compassion—a trait not found in a killer.
In the winter of 2013, I was up late writing on an unrelated topic when I saw him in my mind’s eye. My dog Chester was sleeping on the floor next to my desk, and our cat Oscar was up in my loft as well (rare in winter). My wife was sleeping downstairs in the bedroom. I opened a new Word document and typed the words, “What is an Iron Eagle?” and as I navigated the first several chapters of what would become the first novel in my series, I came face to face with John Swenson—a handsome, well educated, at that time LAPD homicide detective with clear blue eyes and a strong build.
As I wrote, he said, “You came to kill me?”
I shook my head and said in my mind, “No. I’ve come to give you life, so that you can protect the people of Los Angeles and beyond.”
It was 3:45 a.m. when John Swenson came into my life, and the Iron Eagle was born.
~ IE ~
Until next time,
Roy A. Teel Jr.
PS: Evil and the Details: The Iron Eagle Series Book Two is dedicated to the memory of Tommy.
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I really enjoyed the novel, even with the formatting issues. It was very suspenseful and well thought out.
I was 6 when Tommy was killed. My cousin Mike Spence would have been with him if he wasn’t told no that he could not go to the Skate Park for pictures (he told my Aunt that the man wanted to pay him and Tommy to take their pictures) My Aunt made Mike stay home to watch us little kids (his cousins) while she and my mom went out to do errands. I remember Mike was so mad at us for spoiling his plans. The Lundgrens found out the murdered boy was Tommy while watching the news. The news mentioned his cast 🙁 The case tore them apart. Mister Lundgren wanted justice and went to every trial for Bonin while Mrs. Lundgren kept Tommy’s room as it was and wanted nothing to do with the case and the court. I will never forget his funeral. It was my first and my last one. It was an open casket and they made me as well as everyone else I am sure, walk up to pay my respects to Tommy. They had put so much makeup on him but all I could see were the stab wounds. They had someone playing Stairway to Heaven on the Guitar during the service…I can never here that song without thinking of poor sweet Tommy and all the other boys who were taken so terribly by such viscous monsters.
Tommy was my cousin. We were all so devastated when we heard of his death. We were at his service as we lived in Orange County and visited my Aunt Lucille and Uncle Russell often. To this day I can’t believe how hard it is knowBig that my aunt, uncle and his siblings (my cousins) had to go through this nightmare. I know that this was difficult for them all. Tommy was missed by us all.
My husband remembers a group of Tommy’s friends playing “Cat Scratch Fever”.
I haven’t seen my aunt in a few years but know that she still talks about Tommy and misses him deeply.
I remember all too well Tommy telling me he was meeting a man at “Skater Cross” to have pictures taken…it was the last time I saw my friend alive. Sadly, whenever I speak or think of my years at Sutter Jr High, I am reminded of the evil that took my friend from us. I still miss him and he will never be forgotten.
My parents owned a local retail store called Pachinko Palace. We sold pinballs and video arcade games. Tommy was intent on buying a pinball machine. We had a small arcade that Tommy would visit.
Tommy told us that he was going to have pictures taken for a skate magazine. He had met a man who told him to get his mother’s permission so that he could take pictures of him for the magazine. Tommy was so excited. He obtained his mothers permission but I do not think she paid much attention to what he was talking about.
He went to meet the man that afternoon and became the first victim of the Freeway Killer. We were all heartbroken.
Strangely, Angelo Buono Jr., one of the Hillside Stranglers, was also a customer of Pachinko Palace. After he was captured, my mother showed me his business card. She said he was very charming.
it is strange to think that the one of the Hillside Stranglers visited the same place as a victim of the Freeway Killer.
Thank you for your comment about my late friend Tommy Lundgren. We grew up together in Reseda California he and I were a year apart in school but we were in boys scouts together and went to the same junior high in Canoga Park. I remember you parents business it was on the corner of Tampa and Vanowen next to the 7/11 I worked at that 7/11 for 2 years 81-82. My bothers and I used to go to your parents arcade almost daily were we played video games and hung out with our friends. I remember going in with Tommy several times. It took me many, many years to write a book that dealt directly with his murder at the hands of William Bonin and two others. He was their first victim. Its ironic but there were a lot of prolific killers that frequented the area, the Hillside strangler that you mentioned, Bonin, Manson, and many others. I suppose it was because it was a ghetto and an easy place to get victims. When I wrote the second book in my 45 novel series I dedicated it to Tommy knowing only a handful of people would know who he was. The last time I saw Tommy alive was at school the Friday before his murder. We had lunch together and what remains burned into my mind was the cast on his arm. He had hurt is skateboarding at scatercross a week earlier and he had been in art class and he painted a rainbow on it. I remember looking at it and saying, “Your crazy Tommy.” he laughed as he always did and told me that he and his best friend Mike Spence were going to be on the cover of a skateboard magazine and that he was meeting the photographer on Monday memorial day. He also told me that the guy wanted to make sure that he had his parents permission and as I remember the conversation Bonin actually met Tommy’s mother at his home to get permission for the photo shoot. His mother gave the permission and it would haunt her for the rest of her life. That Monday his friend Spence was not allowed to go with Tommy he had gotten in trouble and he was grounded, he would tell me later as the shock set in, “If I had gone with Tommy I would be dead too!” that hunts him to this day. When I started my series I set out to show the savageness of these killers and to memorialize Tommy so many decades later. His murder was my first but not last with a serial killer as I consulted to the DOJ and FBI for three decades so I saw a lot of bad stuff, but Tommy’s murder was the one that stuck with me as it stole the innocence of our community and the small band of friends that Tommy ran with, me my two younger brothers as well as a whole neighborhood of kids. Tommy had his moments he was a very hyper kid and he was always getting into trouble but he didn’t deserve to die like that and I was very happy when I learned that Bonin was finally put to death in 1996. I know Tommy’s father was in the courtroom everyday of the trial and Tommy was the ONLY kid that Bonin denied killing, though the evidence was overwhelming. Thank you for your feedback I hope your folks continue to prosper in this new age of gaming.
Roy A. Teel Jr.
Hello to Roy and all readers! I am Brenda Axtell (Lundgren) Tommy Lundgren’s older sister. We were only 2 years apart. I also attended Sutter and may have known some of you. We have a younger brother named Michael who was born in 1970 so he was much younger and by the time he went to Sutter, might not of met any of you. Our father Russell Lundgren, passed away in 2010. Our mother Lucille, is still alive at almost 88. Until something like this hits your family, you can never truly understand the intense pain, sorrow, and unacceptance the human brain has for something of this magnitude! Roy, you are right, there was no counseling for kids in those days and my brother and I had none. So, it has been a never-ending road to recovery. Although, you can never fully recover from something like this, especially knowing the torture that your family member suffered. It’s even harder to fathom the ongoing tormenting thoughts a parent endures for the rest of their lives. When I used the term “unacceptance”, a few sentences ago, I am referring to the constant dreams (that the surviving family members still have) of Tommy still alive somewhere in the world and that he really didn’t die such a horrific death at such a young age. Intelligently, we know that is not true but emotionally, it is too strong to accept. It’s so inhumane that it doesn’t seem possible. When we hear about these type of murders we can’t believe it and we are shocked but when it actually hits your immediate family, it reaches a whole new magnitude that no one is at all capable of grasping or understanding at all! Roy, I want to thank you for taking an interest in my brother and for being his friend. I also want to thank you for getting all the facts straight. Some have portrayed him as a hitchhiker who was picked up and that is completely false. He HAD been falsely promised to be photographed and that is the truth among many other facts you stated. God bless!
Hi Brenda, I didn’t know Tommy’s family well, I knew he had a younger brother, I didn’t remember a sister but I’m sure we met at different times. We would have been a year apart, so I was in ninth grade when Tommy was murdered you would have been in your first year of high school. I started high school at Reseda high in 1980. I had known Tommy since sixth grade. We were stair steps in the bully order, there were the big bullies, the medium, the small (where I fell in) and then the outcasts that’s where Tommy would have ranked. So, we knew each other well, as we were bullied by all the same people. We were in boy scouts together. I remember one trip, where our troop was gone for a weekend, it must have been 76 or 77. Tommy bunked with me and a few friends in our tent. He was a handful, for our scout leader. On the first day of hiking, Tommy got so out of control the scout master tied him by the waist with rope and made us hold on to him like a dog on a leash. He was getting into all kinds of trouble that trip, he was very rambunctious. He and my middle brother John Teel spent a lot of time together as they were both really in to skate boarding, the two were at skater cross at least three times a week and on the weekends. I was a drummer, so I ran with a different crowd, but we saw each other daily. His murder sent shock-waves through the neighborhood, me and my two brothers didn’t go to the funeral but we did go to the funeral home for a viewing. Tommy was not in a casket, his body was on a table in the home with just a white gown on. It was me, my two younger brothers John and Ralph along with some other friends. I can’t recall why we saw him that way but it really took our feet out from under us, one image has stayed with me my whole life and it was his neck, they had tried to cover the the slit mark on his throat, but it was not a good job, and we could see just how violently he died. It was in that moment the true brutality of his death and the savageness of his killer that inspired the Eagle. They had not caught his killers yet, so the whole neighborhood was on tilt. As I recall your mother met Bonnin the week before with Tommy at your home and she gave him permission for the photo shoot. I might be mistaken, I do remember that she was inconsolable and just laid down for a long time unable to speak to anyone. I do remember your father, he was very angry and when Bonnin was captured he moved heaven and earth for justice for Tommy. Tommy’s murder is the ONLY murder Bonnin NEVER confessed to, something I don’t understand. However, there was a tragedy of errors with either police or the sheriff’s department. Bonnin had been arrested before Tommy’s murder and he was wanted on several warrants of rape, he was NOT to be released, but through an error he was and the rest is a tragic history. I still think of Tommy to this day, as I am writing the final novel in the Iron Eagle Series right now. So many of my titles after ‘Evil and the Details’ dealt with the savageness of humanity and in my years consulting to both local, state and federal law enforcement, I saw even more horrific killings. I hope that you and your family find some peace, I bring Tommy’s killer to justice in book two, and with the most honorific end, when the Eagle finally allows death to take the monster, the Eagle says as he does in ALL the novels, “May God not have mercy on your soul.” If I could have been there when they killed Bonnin, that is exactly what I would have said.
Hi Roy, I just wanted to clarify to you and to anyone who visits this blog, the fact is that my mother NEVER met Bonin before to give permission for pictures or anything. She never even knew anything about it. Thank you again.
Hi Brenda, thank you for the clarification that’s why I never take word on the street as true. I didn’t think that would have made sense since she would have been able to identify Bonnin in a second. Peace to you and yours. Roy
Hi Brenda, my name is Gonzalo Ramirez and I lived across the street from you and your family. I’m not sure if you remember me, but Tommy was a great friend to me (we were one year apart). I was in Mass yesterday for all Souls Day and was thinking about and prayed for your brother. I think about Tommy all the time and what kind of life he would have had for not the tragic events that happened so long ago. I am thankful to have come across this blog and read your comments. I have very fond memories of Bothwell Street and times at your house hanging out with Tommy. Mike Spence, Tommy and I ran around a lot back in those days and always had lots of fun. Please say hi to your Mom and Michael for me. Sorry to hear about your father’s passing. Gob bless!
I am Tommy mother and in 3 weeks I will be 88 years old. Tommy was the second young boy in the
hands of Bonin. When my daughter moved to Victorville about 20 years after Tommy left she found out her next door neighbor was a close friend of the mother of one of the boys on Bonin’s list. Small world. I saw your picture in Sutter’s year book of 1979. I am close friends to this day with Michael Spence’s Family. He and Tommy were very close. Thank you for being a friend of Tommy’s at the end.
Hello Mrs. Lundgren,
Thank you so much for your reply and kind words. Tommy and I were close friends, I knew Mike Spence well too. I remember speaking to him just a few days after Tommy was found he was in total shock. He just looked at me and said, “I was supposed to go with Tommy, if I had I would be dead too.” Since Bonnin had two accomplices in his murder spree that would most likely be true. Tommy’s murder changed all of us in the neighborhood, in many ways it took away our innocence and left many with a life time of fear.
The last Time I saw Tommy, was the Friday before Memorial Day, the one thing that haunts me to this day was our conversation. I was standing in line to get some food for lunch and Tommy popped up manic as he always was; and raised his arm to show me his cast. It had a rainbow on it and he said, “I painted this on my cast in art class this afternoon.” “You’re crazy Tommy.” “Yea well me and Spence are getting our pictures taken by a photographer for a skate board magazine at Skater Cross and I want a look cool.” I asked, “Didn’t you break your wrist on your skate board?” I don’t remember his reply, but we both got food and sat at a lunch table and talked for about a half hour before he saw someone he knew and bolted off, which was how Tommy was he was a hummingbird. The cast was burned into my memory due to a small news story the Tuesday after Memorial Day about the unidentified body of a young boy with a multi colored cast.
After his funeral, I started following the search for the “Freeway Killer” and when Bonnin was caught along with his accomplices I followed the trial. What Bonnin got for the savageness he committed was not justice. The character in my forty novel Iron Eagle Series was born right after Tommy’s murder, and through decades of research, and my own brush with killers through decades as a consultant to local, state, and federal law enforcement, through my businesses. When I was forced to retire in 2011, I set out to write my series. I was initially going to write about Tommy’s murder, and bring justice to his killer in book one, but decided not to. I wanted the title that would be dedicated to his memory to stand alone in bringing justice for Tommy and all the all victims of monsters like Bonnin.
The Iron Eagle aka John Swenson, has a final statement that he makes when he allows death to take his victims, after he tortures them, a thousand times more savagely than they tortured their victims, “May God NOT have mercy on your soul.” In the case of Tommy’s fictional kille,r who is a composite for multiple serial killers inspired by Tommy’s murder, in book two in my series “Evil and the Details” Bonnin is played by Tom Marker a monster, I wanted to replicate as closely as I could the savageness of the monster that took Tommy’s life, and then give him the most agonizing death possible, and based on my readers reviews I succeeded. Creating that character was not hard but killing him in the way that I did was in and of itself ,cathartic for me, as I wrote the final scene on Marker I was satisfied through my fiction how I would have loved to have seen Bonnin die the same way, there are killers so savage that even the death penalty cannot give justice.
As I finish this series, and as I speak with actors, and directors, interested in adapting my series to the large and or small screen. I want you to know, that the savage murder of my childhood friend ,Thomas Glenn Lundgren will be front and center as both the inspiration for the Eagle, and that his memory will live on for generations.
Peace, Dr. Roy A. Teel Jr.
My name is Peter Reilly. I am your cousin, as your Mom Sundine (Aunt Sue) was my Grandmother Angela Zarrelli’s sister. I vaguely remember meeting you back in the very early 1960’s. My mom was Eleanor who was your first your cousin. I was never made aware of Tommy’s murder until very late in life and consequently never was able to express my sympathies to you and your family. I cannot imagine what you and your family went through as a result of this tragic and senseless crime. I hope you get this as I have no other way of contacting you.
Bonin soecifically denied being involved with what happened to Tommy. Also it doesn’t fit his MO. His sister said above the stories about him hitchhiking were not true..Tommy said he was going to meet a man he met prior to have his picture taken. You know I have wondered whether Randy Kraft or someone unknown could of been involved. Kraft was known to have previously approached people in parks. One case in particular involved him abducting a 13 year old boy in a park out looking for a missing dog.
Hi Josef, I remember exactly what Tommy was going to do he told me over lunch the Friday before his murder. He told me a man had approached him and his then best friend nicknamed Spence about taking photos of them on their skate boards.Spence was unable to go with Tommy due to family issues. Tommy was last seen near Scatter Cross on the corner of Vanowen and Reseda Blvd at around 11 am on Monday Memorial Day. However, Bonin was known to be in that area at that time so it is very possible. I learned of Tommy’s murder in the newspaper. A very small clip that simply said, “Body of young boy discovered on a hiking trial in the Agora Hills. It described his clothing and one very distinct feature “a bright multi colored cast on his arm.” My blood ran cold as Tommy showed me that cast that past Friday he had just painted it in art class. As to Bonin, he had accidentally been released from county jail. He was being held on a traffic issue and was released just as a warrant came over for his arrest on an attempted rape charge. His accomplices in the killings would testify that when Bonin got back in the van he said no one would ever be left alive. Did Bonin murder Tommy? It is a question that will remain unanswered though Bonin did NOT confess to all of his killings and he has been connected to others since his death.