Did the Manson Family kill four people because of their links to Scientology?
Or was it because of their links to Bruce Davis?
We’ve seen that Charlie Manson had some links to Scientology. He studied it for a while, but it’s unlikely that he was ever a true believer, in spite of his claim to be “clear” of the engrams described in Dianetics. After all, he also spent time with some Satan-worshipping types in San Francisco, and he had some very odd ideas of his own. But whatever formal links to Scientology might have existed have been scrubbed out of the records.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the Scientology connections clearly visible in the death of Joel Pugh.
Pugh was born June 7, 1940, to David and Marjorie Pugh. His Dad was a radiologist at the world-famous Mayo Clinic, and the younger Pugh took an interest in the natural sciences. He earned a degree in zoology from the University of Minnesota in 1962 but then wound up being drafted into the Army. By all accounts, he was a congenial, funny guy with a quirky sense of humor who liked to play the guitar and hang out with his friends.
Photos from the website set up by Simon Wells
Pugh was lucky enough to get out again in 1965, just before things took a serious downturn in Viet Nam. He was demobilized in San Francisco, where he soon got a job as a lab tech at a university there and continued his studies. He also met Sandra Good. She was a student at San Francisco State and the daughter of a stockbroker. Things between them went along pretty well, it seems. The two families approved of the match (hers lived in Boulder Creek, and his in Minnesota). Joel’s best friend, Jim Balfour, did not. He described Sandra as “a very loose cannon” and found her behavior disturbing.
Then, sometime in March of 1968, Charlie came into the picture.
Sandra Good dropped everything, even adopting the nickname Manson gave her – Blue, for the color of her eyes. She began hanging around with the Manson Family, and followed Timothy Leary’s famous advice to Marshall McLuhan: tune in, turn on, drop out.
Timothy Leary started out as a psychiatrist but took his own advice, and then took his family and his band on lecture tours, touting the benefits of psychedelic drugs. This “lecture” was given at State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo in 1969.
According to Joel’s brother, Daniel Pugh, Joel was utterly unimpressed with Manson and considered him a phony. Charlie was, to him, “an embarrassing character” and the self-important kind of guy Joel considered a “Gnarl.”
It wasn’t long before the couple split up, and the loss appears to have been a major one for Joel. Sandra Good was his first “real” girlfriend, and yet she’d dumped him for a chunk of phony baloney. His goal was marriage, while Manson’s had a lot more to do with Sandra’s trust fund. Her father had died by then, leaving her with an income of $2,000 a month. That money became the Family’s mainstay, and Manson had no intention of letting a husband come between him and the moolah.
Sandy herself, however, never totally parted ways with Joel. They did not marry, yet she claimed his name. The year after the breakup, she was arrested during the August 17, 1969 raid on the Manson Family out at the Spahn Ranch, when the L.A. Sheriff’s Department charged the lot with operating an auto-theft ring and VW chop shop.
Good was booked under the name “Sandra Collins Pugh” and called herself “Mrs. Pugh” on the occasion of several later arrests, including the Barker Ranch raid of October 10, 1969. She also named Pugh as the father of her son Ivan when he was born on September 16th of the same year, listing Joel on the boy’s birth certificate.
It seems unlikely that Joel was the father. His friend Balfour says Sandy turned up in San Francisco again in the summer of 1969, pregnant, and tried to get Joel to marry her then, or at least to say they were married. She apparently told Joel that she intended to give his name to the baby, but Balfour insists that Joel’s response was clear-cut: “No way.”
Other Family members have named Bobby Beausoleil as the most likely paternal candidate, and the continual round of “free sex” indulged in by various Family members makes for several other possibilities, not least Manson himself.
Pugh himself never did acknowledge the child, and neither did his family. After Good went to prison, the baby was raised by Irwin Kaufman Friedman, aka Johnny Friedman and later on as Partee Friedman. This was Crazy Jake in the Argosy story about the Manson Family, and the masked man on Geraldo Rivera’s Family reunion show.
Friedman and his second wife, Patricia (aka Holly), raised Ivan Pugh in the vicinity of Guerneville – which is where this series started, with the murder of ex-Marine James Willett (See Part 1).
Following the split with Sandy, Joel Pugh apparently toyed with LSD. He had a bad trip that started him on a downward spiral. He did not seek professional help, though his friends offered him advice gleaned from the works of R.D. Laing, a Scottish psychiatrist. Laing was associated with the anti-psychiatry movement, and was considered a thinker of the New Left.
R.D. Laing thought the expressed feelings of his patients were valid descriptions of lived experience rather than symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder, which did not exist and therefore did not need to be treated.
Pugh somehow concluded that he himself was schizophrenic, but was never formally diagnosed, and was by then rather past the age (late teens/early 20’s) when schizophrenia usually strikes its victims. He slid further into depression, quit his job, and moved back to his family’s home in Minnesota. There, he ran across a book on rain forests that hooked his imagination, and his family ended up funding a trip to South America with a new girlfriend. That relationship ended quickly, and Joel came home alone. Subsequent travels took him to Morroco, Spain, and then England. Along the way, he became convinced that he could predict the future using comic books, and by the time he got to London, he’d picked up another girlfriend.
That’s when Pugh took a room at the Talgarth Hotel in West Kensington.
Three weeks later, the girlfriend was gone. So was Joel’s interest in life, in food, and in friends. He withdrew further into his comic books, sharing them only with the 7-year-old son of the hotel manager and teaching the boy to write mirror script. He still talked about Sandra Good now and then, but claimed to be on a quest to “find” himself and again refused to seek professional help.
Meanwhile, back home, the Manson Family had finally been connected to the Tate-LaBianca murders. On December 1, 1969, the LAPD announced it had issued warrants for the arrest of Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian in the Tate case. Manson and Susan Atkins were already in custody, and Leslie Van Houten had not yet been connected to the LaBianca case.
That same morning, in London, Joel Pugh came out to the lobby of the Talgarth Hotel, made himself some coffee, chatted a bit with the manager, and returned to his room. That was the last time anyone saw him alive.
The next morning, the maid found the door to Pugh’s room locked. This was odd, because Pugh was not in the habit of locking his door, by day or night, but the maid did not raise an alarm. She simply notified the manager that she was unable to clean the room. It wasn’t until 6 p.m. that evening that the manager decided to check on his guest. When there was no answer to his knock on Pugh’s door, the manager used his pass key, but the door wouldn’t open by more than a foot or so. There seemed to be a weight leaning against it on the inside, and when he reached in, he said he touched something that “felt like an arm.”
The British Metropolitan Police were summoned, in the person of a PC Wright, who forced his way into the room. Joel Pugh was found lying on his back partly against the door, naked except for a sheet across his lower body. There was blood everywhere, and a pair of razor blades lying a couple of feet away from the body.
The coroner reported bruises on Joel’s forehead and on his left shin. He had three-inch-long cuts on both sides of his throat that had severed his jugular veins. He had several slashes along the long axis of both forearms, and a superficial cut across the front of one elbow. The report also notes “hesitation” cuts – the shallow slices sometimes seen when a person attempting suicide doesn’t apply enough force to do the job, and has to try again. There was also a knick in Joel’s left hand, which the coroner ascribed to his holding one of the razor blades and accidentally cutting himself.
These are defensive wounds, incurred when the victim tried to shield him or herself with the hands and forearms. Alone, the gash at the bottom right might just as well be viewed as an offensive wound, incurred when the attacker’s grip on the weapon slipped. Most such cuts occur in the webbing between the thumb and forefinger, or as shown here, at the base of the little finger. Where was the cut on Joel’s hand? We don’t know. The files have been destroyed, along with any photos that might have been taken.
The pathologist (Dr. Richard Pearce) concluded, “There was no wound not capable of being self-inflicted,” and there was no evidence of violence or a struggle. His conclusion: suicide.
There was also no suicide note. And the only drugs in the room? A pipe with some cannabis residue. Not generally something associated with suicide, though “hesitation cuts” are.
The fatal wound here is accompanied by several hesitation cuts that did not do serious damage. Often these are the result of the victim’s attempting to work up his or her nerve to do the deed. In some circumstances, however, they might be an indication of torture. Here’s a good explanation of hesitation cuts:
Two weeks later, at Hammersmith Coroner’s Court in West London, Coroner Dr. John Burton concluded that this was an “obvious” case of suicide, noting the locked door, the presence of weed, and the victim’s emaciated state as well as a disturbed state of mind (he appears to have based at least part of this last on the comic strips and scraps of mirror writing that littered the room – items a psychiatrist said suggested “depressive withdrawal”).
Dr. Burton, by the way, would later become the Royal Coroner, and attend the autopsy done on Princess Diana. His assumption of jurisdiction would also generate quite the controversy in that case, since, as Coroner of the Queen’s Household, he could then convene a jury consisting entirely of royal staff members (unlikely to be completely impartial, don’t you think?). But that is neither here nor there where Joel Pugh is concerned.
The problem, you see, is that at least one Manson Family member/informant told Vincent Bugliosi (Manson’s prosecutor re the Tate-LaBianca murders) that they’d done a murder in London as well. So the authorities in Los Angeles got in touch with Scotland Yard and inquired further.
They were stonewalled.
This in spite of several interesting facts:
(1) Joel Pugh’s hotel room was on the ground floor and accessible through a window.
(2) The window was never examined or processed for signs of an illicit entry.
(3) The Manson Family was known to conduct “Creepy Crawly” expeditions in which Family members slipped or broke into houses and crept around in the dark while the residents slept, unawares.
(4) Pugh never locked his door at any other time in the 5 weeks he stayed there (arguably, he might have if it was indeed a suicide and he didn’t want to be found by the 7-year-old he’d befriended).
(5) The crime scene was extremely similar to the bloody messes seen at the Tate and LaBianca murders.
(5) That claim of responsibility.
(6) The overkill exhibited (I’ve got much more to say about this in a bit).
(7) The sheet – a lot of suicides choose to strip for the deed, but I’ve never seen one who stripped and then covered up again with bedding or a towel or anything else.
(8) A Manson Family member who has since been convicted of two bloody murders, and implicated in several others, was in England at the time – Bruce Davis.
Somehow, neither Interpol nor Scotland Yard found any of this compelling.
To me, however, it’s quite the puzzle. Even if Pugh’s state of mind were in such as to make his suicide plausible, why do it this way? We’ve all seen it done plenty of times in movies or on TV, but very few people actually do themselves in with a blade – only 1.5% of “successful” suicides, as a matter of fact (that’s according to the FBI). For one thing, it’s painful. For another, it’s messy. For a third, it fails. A lot. When a blade is used, suicide is much more often attempted than accomplished, and usually it indicates a cry for help rather than determination to do the deed.
There’s also the question of why he cut himself so much.
Both forearms, I can see, and gashes being along the axis of the blood vessels he targeted – that’s something you see in the case of someone who means it, who knows that horizontal cuts across the wrist all too often will not do the job. The superficial elbow cut is unusual, but I’ve seen it before (I’ve worked on some aspect of more than 400 death investigations in the U.S., aside from war crimes investigations overseas). A deep cut at the elbow can be very effective, but hard to do yourself unless you’re drunk, drugged up, or in some sort of frenzy for other reasons. What I don’t understand is why he would cut himself on the neck as well? And beyond that, on BOTH sides of the neck?
Cutting or stabbing yourself in a frenzy can lead to this kind of overkill, but while he was stoned?
Okay – there were two bloody razor blades found at the scene. He could have had one in each hand. But neither were found in the victim’s hands, and there’s no mention of a “death grip.” That’s what frenzies do – they use up all the ATP in the smaller muscles, especially in the hands, and so death can result in instant rigor mortis. ATP is the chemical the body uses as fuel for everything it does, including muscle contraction and then relaxation. So when it’s gone, the muscles stiffen. In a situation of extreme stress and exertion, it can happen in the moment of death, and it can actually involve the whole body, not just the hands. And it can’t be faked. That’s why the death grip is considered diagnostic in things like this. The woman who dies with a death grip on a butcher knife and has 27 stab wounds to her own abdomen and upper torso can be confidently ruled a suicide if all those wounds are within her reach – and yes, that example comes from a real case often used in teaching crime scene investigation.
What’s more, people who stab themselves use their dominant hand, not both. Especially in a state of high excitement.
Then again there’s that nick on Joel’s left hand – the pathologist called it defensive, but some wounds could go either way, and we don’t know much about this one – exact size, location, angle, depth or anything else.
And what would explain the bruises on the man’s forehead and shin? Nothing was ever offered up about that, just the coroner’s decision that they weren’t signs of a struggle.
I don’t buy it. Especially not when Bruce Davis was in the vicinity.
Inyo County DA Frank Fowles was one of those who made inquiries through Interpol, asking them to check visas to see if Bruce Davis had been in England at the time. Scotland Yard’s reply?
“It has been established that Davis is recorded as embarking at London airport for the United States of America on 25th April 1969 while holding United States passport 612 2568. At this time he gave his address as Dormer Cottage, Felbridge, Surrey. This address is owned by the Scientology Movement and houses followers of this organization.
“The local police are unable to give any information concerning Davis but they understand that he has visited our country more recently than April, 1969. However, this is not borne out by our official records.”
Davis spent more time on Scientology than Manson ever did. He was actually a member of the Foundation Staff at Saint Hill (Scientology’s Head Office in the United Kingdom) from 1968 up until April 1969. That’s when he was officially sacked (for drug use), but Davis clearly maintained some connections with the group right up until he himself was arrested for murder. So it doesn’t surprise me that he would take advantage of a Scientology center just outside London, if only for the sake of free housing. However, there doesn’t seem to be any connection at all between Pugh and Scientology. So it would be hard to construct a scenario in which Scientology was directly involved in any attack on Pugh. Providers of unwitting assistance? Much more likely. And when you consider the other three murders, you’d have to see Scientology as a kind of collateral victim since they lost at least two members to homicide, and possibly three.
I’m talking about the deaths of Doreen Gaul, James Sharpe, and the girl still officially known as Jane Doe. But we’ll chat about their murders next time!