The Sunshine Place is a thrilling true crime podcast. It is about Synanon, which started out as a drug rehab and became a violent cult. The host is Sari Crawford whose father, Bill Crawford, was one of the twelve founding members of Synanon. There are seven episodes in this series. In this podcast, you learn about how a organization that was dedicated to treating alcoholics and drug addicts went down a dark path. At the helm was Charles “Chuck” Dederich who charmed people into joining Synanon and then manipulated them into participating in his dark social experiments. From the first few minutes of listening to The Sunshine Place, you will be eager to find out what happens next.
The founding member of Synanon was Charles “Chuck” Dedrich. Prior to the founding of the group, he was a heavy drinker. Alcohol caused major health problems for him and he went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to stop drinking. After he was sober for a little while, he envisioned a new way for people to stop using alcohol and drugs. He brought alcoholics and later drug addicts to a meeting he ran and they participated in “The Game.” The Game” was when members aired out all of their grievances, which frequently involved insulting members of the group. Synanon gradually expanded and a headquarters was set-up in Santa Monica. Hearing how dependent members were on Dedrich when they were trying to get clean helps explain how this group became a cult.
Once at Synanon, members were put to work right away. This included cooking for the groups of people, cleaning the headquarters, and hustling to make money for Synanon. The atmosphere was partially similar to that of a military boot camp. Members marched, sang Synanon cadences, and had their heads shaved. Odd practices included children being raised by the group and living in separate houses from their parents. A cruel social experiment implemented by Dedrich was making couples switch partners every once in a while even if they were married. As time went on, his rules became even more twisted and cruel. Men were forced to get vasectomies and women were made to get abortions. It is astonishing to hear what members of this cult were forced to do.
For certain Synanon members, leaving the group was not an option. They were destitute when they joined and had no personal possessions or money. Those that left and reported to authorities what they witnessed at Synanon were attacked. Phil Ritter, who was in a custody battle with his wife that belonged to the cult, was physically attacked when he subpoenaed Deidrich over his practices at Synanon. Ritter was beaten to an inch of his life and was in a coma for two weeks. Paul Morantz, a lawyer who helped people leave the cult, was bitten by a rattlesnake that was put in his mailbox by members of Synanon. The creators of this podcast give great detail showing how Synanon descended into madness.
The Sunshine Place ends in suspense, which leads me to believe that there will be Season 2 though nothing has been officially announced yet. This podcast is well crafted and contains a lot of revealing interviews with former members of Synanon. Mixed in with their interviews is a narrator reading Dedrich’s transcriptions. This provides insight into what he envisioned for his cult. This makes for a fascinating podcast that true crime fans will thoroughly enjoy.
You can listen to The Sunshine Place on the podcast website. Transcripts of each episode are provided. You can also listen to this series on podcast apps such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and many others.
Mike is currently reading We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter.