A Hell of a Hoax – Part III. The Mystery of the Missing Attorney

The sad thing is, Charlie might even believe this.  Such a narcissist.  And yet, a man of accomplishments, in his own twisted way.  Look at how many people died because of him even after he was caught.

For example:  in 1972, more than a year after Charlie was sentenced to death, remnants of the Manson Family murdered James T. Willett just outside Guerneville and buried him in a shallow grave. Then, a few weeks later, they murdered his wife, Lauren Willett. They buried her in a shallow grave too, in the basement of the house they’d just rented in Stockton.

But why?

Why kill either one? The Willetts had been hanging with the Family for about a year by then. They’d been staying with them at Parker’s Resort on the Russian River (near Guerneville) for a month or so before Jim Willett was killed.

Parkers Resort in Guerneville

Parker’s Resort is still in operation.

Who all was there?

Well, for starters, Priscilla “Tuffy” Cooper. I still don’t know how she earned that nickname, but it is suggestive.

Priscilla Kay Cooper

“Tuffy” Cooper looks like she’s already had a tough life, in this mug shot from 1972.  She was only 21, but by then, she was sporting a tattoo on one arm:  ‘SPIDER.’  I haven’t been able to locate a more recent photo.

And then there was Nancy Pitman, aka “Brenda McCann” – the woman Manson considered the Family assassin.

Nancy Pitman aka Brenda McCann  Here, we see “Brenda” as she looked before Manson’s trial.

nancy & baby eric      eric monfort all grown up

Here is “Brenda” with her baby son Eric Ian Monfort….and here is Eric, all grown up, in a mug shot taken when he was arrested at age 32 (in Portland, OR) for the armed robbery of the Holiday Motel in Bend, OR.  Looks like he took after his Dad in a big, big way, tattoos and all!

Who else was there, at Parker’s Resort?  Lynette Fromme, much better known as “Squeaky” – the woman Manson put in charge of the Family after he went to prison.

squeaky fromme   lynnrecent_jpg2

“Squeaky” Fromme, then,……                                             and as she looked in 2010, after she was paroled.

Lauren Willett, called “Reni” by the Family, was there, of course, and so was her 7 month old daughter Heidi.

lauren and heidi willett and Brenda   Sandy_Lauren

These pictures of Reni, Heidi, and Brenda were taken at the house on Flora Street, when Heidi was 8 months old.

xmas pic of crystal alonzo squeaky nancy and

And there was one more woman, Maria “Crystal” Alonzo, a Family member seen here on the left, next to Squeaky and Brenda and an unknown woman beside their Christmas tree.  In the background, you can see sketches of Charlie on the wall. 

As part of Charlie’s deal with the Aryan Brotherhood, several Manson girls sent nude pix of themselves to AB members in prison as “comfort” aides.  Some took up “housekeeping” duties with AB members when they were released from prison or jail. “Crystal” Alonzo began living with AB hanger-on Billy Goucher, for example, and both were present at Parker’s.

Goucher & Alonzo

As you can see, they were proud to display a symbol beloved of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

James “Spider” Craig was also there, at Parker’s Resort, and so was Michael “Redeye” Monfort.

monfort & Craig

Monfort & Craig prior to their trial in Santa Rosa for the killing of Jim Willett.

Craig and Monfort were both ex-cons and “blooded” members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang with firm ideas about racial superiority, and known for providing contract hits to other parties, such as the Mexican Mafia.  Originally, in order to join the Aryan Brotherhood, a candidate had to kill a black person, but that requirement seems to have been relaxed sometime in 1967.

Monfort was on the lam at the time, having escaped from a state prison work camp. Which would explain why he was so willing to use Willet’s ID right after killing the man.  Goucher was also an escapee, but I don’t know from which facility.

Apparently, Goucher, Craig, and Monfort were in the habit of pulling armed robberies. Goucher later said they’d done so up and down the state of California, never staying too long in any one place. So the robbery of Eden Square Liquors in Stockton was part of that pattern.

Eden Square Liquor Store 929 N El Dorado St_

Where Eden Square Liquors used to be, at 929 N. El Dorado Street in Stockton, CA.

And when Brenda, Tuffy, Redeye, and Spider were arrested in the house on Flora Street, there came that mysterious phone call from Squeaky Fromme. Who was calling from yet another liquor store, only about 5 blocks from the house.

B&E Liquors, as it used to be

B&E Liquors, which is still located at 939 N. Yosemite Street in Stockton, CA.

You have to wonder why she couldn’t just walk 5 blocks. Why did she need a ride? Was she lost? And why was she willing to talk to the Stockton police officer who identified himself only as “Earl” when he answered the phone? Why did she accept his offer to pick her up?

Was she casing the site of another planned robbery? Was she expecting another gang member to join their merry troupe?

Later on, police learned a lot from the one guy who couldn’t have killed Reni Willet because he was still in jail at the time – Billy Goucher. There was also, it seems, a Confidential Informant (CI) feeding news items to the cops. This informant is said to have told the authorities that a body would be turning up near Guerneville, and so it did. The CI never testified, however, and I’ve seen nothing that would identify the informant. That’s fine with me. The Manson Family is into retaliation, as we’ll see later on.

Goucher said that Jim Willett grew weary of their nomadic lifestyle and that he apparently came to mistrust his companions. He asked his wife to take their baby and head back east, to get Heidi away from the Family. But Reni refused to go. She’d run away from home to come to California, and she had no wish to see her own parents again. She didn’t even know Willett’s family, in Kentucky. She wanted to stay with what remained of the Manson Family.

Worse, Reni told them what Jim had in mind.

So the men took him up that old logging road off Mays Canyon. They told him they were going to bury the loot from the robberies, and got him to dig the hole. Jim Willett didn’t realize until too late that what he was doing was digging his own grave.

According to Billy Goucher, the three men shot him with a .22 pistol (not a .38, as reported elsewhere, although no .22 pistol ever turned up), and with 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns. They then covered up the body and returned to Parker’s Resort. Billy said that Reni knew all about this, and claimed that she approved of the killing.

She certainly didn’t attempt to escape, although in the picture below, she doesn’t look like a happy camper.

frenemies at Parkers Resort

A picture taken by another camper (not part of the Family) of Reni and baby Heidi at Parker’s Resort, along with Tuffy Cooper.  I’m not sure who the gent is. This may be Jim Willett.

Still Reni seems to have packed up her baby and gone willingly with those same companions when they took her dead husband’s station wagon and left en masse for Stockton. Well, except for Crystal Alonzo. She parted ways with the group somewhere along the way, or perhaps it was a matter of splitting up with Billy Goucher.

We can assume that Billy Goucher’s version of events is more or less self-serving. We certainly can’t ask Reni about it, or Jim, or baby Heidi for that matter. What the truth of the matter is, I can only guess. But it’s highly suggestive that Goucher’s story includes three of the weapons confiscated at the house on Flora Street, in Stockton.

Rohm RG .38

A .38  caliber six-shot Rohm RG revolver, blue steel with brown plastic grips.  This gun’s ballistics matched the bullet recovered from Reni Willet’s head.

stevens 940e 20 ga shotgun

A 20 gauge shotgun, Stevens brand, Model 940E, blue steel with wood grips, sawed off.

iver johnson shotgun

 A 12 gauge full choke Champion brand shotgun from Iver Johnson Arm and Cycle Works, sawed off, with a drawing of the Aryan Brotherhood cloverleaf on its butt:

666, the Number of the Beast, is also a feature of Aryan Brotherhood tattoos, while Old School Brotherhood types might simply wear a blue-inked 666 across the base of the throat.


So the cops had made their cases.  They had an eye-witness, they had one murder weapon for sure, and they had two sawed-off shotguns that probably were (it would be decades yet before ballistic comparison could match up a firing pin with the marks it left behind on the brass base of a shotgun shell).  They had the two bodies, and their suspects all had substantial pedigrees of one kind or another.

The trials, however, were not a cake walk. Reni Willett’s murder came up first, here in Stockton, and then her husband’s, in Santa Rosa.

The defendants tried everything they could think of. For one thing, the women involved with the two cases (Tuffy Cooper and Brenda) somehow managed to marry the two male defendents – Redeye and Spider. They did so because of the law that says a spouse cannot be forced to testify against the other half of the partnership.  But it did no good. The jury had already heard a great plenty about the Manson Family, as had everyone else in the whole damn country. And Redeye and Spider were no choir boys.

In the end, Monfort was convicted of 2nd degree murder for the killing of Reni Willett, and took a sentence of 7 years to life.  Craig, Tuffy Cooper, and Brenda were allowed to plead guilty to being accessories after the fact.  Squeaky Fromme was released for lack of evidence she’d even been there when Reni was killed.


Squeaky’s 1965 high school yearbook photo… so, so ready for the prom?

Mighty short sentences, if you ask me.  Damn near a gift.  I can’t imagine how that happened.

Then came their trial for the killing of Jim Willett, which took place in Santa Rosa.  That trial took some odd turns too, what with a clerical error about the last-seen-alive date for the victim, and an attempt to change the venue and/or separate the defendants for independent trials.  Plus, most of the case depended on that paragon of neonazi virtue, Billy Goucher.

In June of 1973, Goucher pleaded guilty to second degree murder in the death of James Willett.  Goucher agreed to the plea to reduce his charge from first degree murder and therefore do less prison time.  He wasn’t afraid of the death penalty because it had been abolished in California the previous year.  He also agreed to turn state’s witness in the upcoming trial of Monfort and Craig.  Otherwise his guilty plea would not be allowed to stand.

Come time to testify, however, and Billy Goucher had changed his mind.  He recanted his previous statements, possibly under pressure from the Aryan Brotherhood.

The District Attorney probably had a fit over this, while the two defendents acquired an air of jaunty confidence.

At the last minute, however, Goucher changed his mind again.  In January of 1974, as he prepared to take the stand after all, his compadres gave in.  Redeye Monfort pleaded guilty to 2nd degree murder.  Spider Craig pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact.  The women weren’t even charged.  A ridiculous outcome, with Squeaky in nominal charge of the group, and Brenda the Family’s assassin (according to Charlie).

The end result?

Monfort, having pleaded guilty to two murders, went off to prison, but not for anything like long enough.  In due time, he got out again.  And on March 20, 1996, he found himself in court again.  In Sacramento.  Where he was sentenced to 878 years-to-life after pleading guilty to 32 armed robberies.  This time, thanks to California’s three-strikes law, Redeye got what he should have received for the murders – an effective life sentence, since he won’t be eligible for parole again until 2746!

Spider Craig did 5 years in prison, got out, and promptly returned to his old habits too.  Until 1978, when someone apparently took serious offense to his habit of ripping off cocaine dealers in the Sacramento area. On November 15th, at 4 a.m., someone blasted Craig and his new partner, Ed Barabas with a shotgun.  Said someone then stuffed them into the trunk of a stolen car, and set the vehicle afire.

1967 gold Dodge

A 1967 gold Dodge very like the one that burned in 1978.

Barabas was pronounced dead at the scene, but Spider survived a bit longer, in the burn unit at U.C. Davis Medical Center.  He lingered there until December 22nd, in a medically induced coma.

Curiously, Craig’s last words were these:  “She’s dangerous!”

If so, who was “she?

I can’t help but wonder whether he meant Brenda.  He was still living with Tuffy Cooper, but the Aryan Brotherhood had broken off its relationship with Charlie Manson.  Rumor has it (and Squeaky confirmed it), the Brotherhood wanted Charlie to make his bones, to qualify for membership the old-fashioned way, by killing a black man with his own hands.  And Charlie wouldn’t do it.  He’d never done his own killing, and wasn’t about to start.

In turn the Brotherhood fostered a split within the Manson Family, with a Brotherhood leader named Kenneth “Curly” Como pulling some key Family members into his own orbit.  That would include Mother Mary Brunner and Brenda.  How this all worked out is unclear to me, not least because Como died ten years ago.  But when did it happen?  Toward the end of 1973, just about the time Billy Goucher was changing his mind, again and again, about testifying against Craig and Monfort.  Hmmmm.

Well, what about Brenda?  We know that when she went to prison, her parents moved to Napa, bought the house seen below under an assumed name, took custody of her baby, and raised him there until Brenda and Redeye Monfort were released.

Pitman Napa Home

The reunited couple/family stayed put until Monfort finished his parole.  Then, lickety split, they were all gone.  We know she had two more sons, seen here on the beach when all three boys were grown.


And apparently, she is still living in Oregon somewhere, making a living by selling ceramics.

None of which answers the question of why the Willets were killed.  Billy Goucher (who later married Crystal Alonzo) said it was because Willett wanted to leave and threatened to inform on the other three men.  Some have suggested that Willett was also involved in the robberies, but there’s no evidence anywhere to support that.

I have to wonder just what he knew about other group members.  Brenda, for instance.  And Squeaky.  Both of whom believed in retaliation, and both of whom had been present at earlier crime scenes.  Or may have been.

There is, for example, Ronald Hughes, the public defender who represented Charlie for a couple of weeks, and then became Leslie Van Houten’s attorney.  The lawyer who went missing right before the closing arguments were due to start in the Tate-LaBianca murder trial.

Did Brenda have something to do with that?

Next Up:  The Missing Attorney and More Murders





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