A Hell of a Hoax!  Part 11: Collateral Damage

A Hell of a Hoax! Part 11: Collateral Damage

So the latest news on Charlie Manson is that he’s getting married again.  To a 25-year-old woman he calls “Star.”

charlie and star  Star and Charlie.

Star’s real name is Afton Burton, and she hails from small-town Illinois.  You have to wonder if she has the least idea what she’s getting into with him.  Then again, maybe she does know.  She claims he’s innocent, of course, and argues that he’s a political prisoner.  She also says that she has to marry him so that she can claim his body, if and when…

What the hell she plans to do with it, I can’t imagine, but some kind of shrine is a possibility.

Or the Lenin treatment.

lenin  Vladimir’s body is reportedly embalmed to the point of turning to concrete.  Or maybe that is concrete, painted to look like him.

What kind of offerings people might bring to a shrine like that is another question.

There have been many who were willing to sacrifice all for the man.  And there are still some who think he is innocent.  Others don’t care whether Charlie is wrongly convicted or not.  They just want him out of jail.  Others want him out of this life altogether.  Roman Polanski, for one (although he is no saint, himself).

220px-Roman_Polanski_Cannes_2013  Polanski at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 – he’s still ducking charges re sex with an underage girl on the casting couch.

Among those who’ve tried and failed to rescue Manson or his message, perhaps the best known is Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme.

lynette 2  Fromme has always been a true believer where Charlie’s concerned, even though she was not directly involved in the Tate-LaBianca murders.

She did, however, try keep some of Manson’s other followers from testifying.  She was convicted of obstruction of justice for that.  She was also found in contempt of court when she herself refused to testify.  She didn’t get much time for it, in either case, but made up for that later on.

Fromme had another near-miss when she was picked up by Stockton police in 1972, in connection with the discovery of Lauren Willett’s body in a shallow grave under a house on Flora Street (See Part 1 for the details on that caper, and on the earlier murder of Lauren’s husband, James).

lauren and heidi willett and Brenda  Lauren Willett and her daughter Heidi, together with ‘Brenda’ (Nancy Pitman).

Squeaky was not in the house when the body was discovered, but was instead picked up when she called the house, asking for someone to come and give her a ride.  Which detectives were happy to do.  As a result of that encounter, Fromme wound up in custody for the next two and a half months.  Still, for lack of evidence, she was never even charged in either of the Willett murders, although the other four people involved were convicted.

After leaving Stockton, Fromme headed for Sacramento.  There, she shared an apartment on P Street with another Manson family member, Sandra Good.

sandra good during trial  Sandra Good, awaiting trial on other charges, looks rather pensive here.

The two of them took to wearing quasi-religious robes and changed their names to symbolize their devotion to Manson’s new environmentalist creed.  Squeaky, who got her original nickname from George Spahn, now became ‘Red’ in honor of her red hair and the redwoods.  Meanwhile, Good renamed herself ‘Blue’ in reference to her blue eyes and the ocean.  Both names were reportedly chosen by Manson, who was beginning to promote his ATWA notions about environmentalism from his prison cell.

atwa panda logo  The header for Manson’s web page, where he shows great concern for all living things, except people.

The problem that caught Manson’s interest?  A report by the Environmental Protection Agency, released in August of 1975.  It was titled “A Spectroscopic Study of California Smog” and it showed that smog was affecting a lot of rural areas, including California’s famous redwood forests.

You can get it here, if you’re interested:  http://nepis.epa.gov/Adobe/PDF/20015UR5.PDF

An article in the  New York Times about it also mentioned the fact that in spite of the study’s findings, President Gerald Ford had just asked Congress to relax even further some provisions of the 1963 Clean Air Act, items that had already been watered down once in the 1970 Clean Air Act.  Along the way, the article described a trip to California the president was planning to make in September.

Gerald Ford and hat  Gerald Ford, the man who pardoned Nixon after taking over his job, looks rather dashing here in a Russian ushanka.

The trip had nothing to do with smog or the EPA, though.  It was a purely political move.  See, back in July of 1975, the organizers of the 49th annual Sacramento “Host Breakfast” asked the newish governor of California (Jerry Brown, in his first go-round with the job) to be their keynote speaker.

JerryBrownInauguration1975  Jerry Brown at his initial inauguration, in January 1975 (back when he still had hair and was dating rock ‘n roll queen Linda Ronstadt).

Brown wouldn’t give them a definite answer, and the group got miffed about it.  Since they’re made up of California’s wealthy business leaders, they had (and have) a pretty high opinion of their own importance.  They decided to teach the brash young governor a lesson, and they did it by inviting Gerald Ford, a Republican, to take the Democrat’s place.  Ford saw the chance to make some political hay in a key state while he was trying to get himself elected to the position he only held because Nixon had resigned in disgrace.

So, come September, Ford arrived and spent the night at the Hotel Senator.

Hotel_Senator,_1121_L_Street,_Scramento,_Clifornia  A swanky place, back then, the Hotel Senator is  where my father used to work (yet another odd crosslink between my life and Manson’s).  It’s located across the street from the California State Capitol building and was only a half-mile away from Squeaky Fromme’s apartment.

On the morning of September 5, 1975, Squeaky headed for the Hotel Senator.  She said later that she wanted to make an appeal to President Ford on behalf of the redwoods and dressed in earthy hues and a red robe in order to catch his eye.  The ploy worked.  Ford later said he’d spotted her and thought she was pretty colorful, but he assumed she was just there for some glad-handing.  She didn’t actually say anything to the man, however.  She got herself almost within arm’s length of Ford, and then pulled out a gun.

Pistol_used_by__Squeaky__Fromme  This gun – a Colt M1911  .45-caliber pistol, currently on display at the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It was, at one point, sold as government surplus.

Whatever she meant to say with the Colt, it did not get across.  It turned out she’d only loaded 4 bullets into the magazine and then failed to jack a round into the chamber.  So when she walked up to Gerald Ford and pulled the trigger, nothing happened.

Her gun failed to fire and she was arrested on the spot by Secret Service Agent, Larry Buendorf.

Ford_at_McClellan_5_Sept_1975_A6311-09  That’s Larry, in the foreground, during Ford’s earlier visit to McClellan Air Force Base, located just outside Sacramento.

lynette in robe  The red robe Squeaky wore may have been ‘religious’ in nature, but it also surely helped to conceal the big Colt .45 in a holster strapped to her left leg.

Fromme later claimed that she’d ejected the chamber round in her apartment because she didn’t actually want to kill Ford.  If that’s so, then why did she load the gun at all?  And why did Fromme, knocked to the ground by Buendorf, then say, “It didn’t go off. Can you believe it? It didn’t go off.”

There was quite the commotion, in any case.


The Secret Service wasted no time in moving their man out of harm’s way.

The assassination attempt did not, however, keep Ford from going on to the California state house, where he met privately with Jerry Brown.

Ford said he wasn’t scared by the incident, and I believe it.  When his bodyguards picked him up bodily, Ford insisted they put him back down again so he could walk on his own two feet.  Apparently, he didn’t bother to even mention the assassination attempt to Brown until the end of their half-hour-long discussion.

Still, if he’d known there would be a second attempt on his life only 17 days after Squeaky’s, he might not have been quite so sanguine about it.

The second try came from a completely different angle, too, involving a whole new crew of crazies called the Symbionese Liberation Army.  This is the left-wing guerilla group that kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and turned her into window dressing for propaganda photos like this one, and even had her take part in bank robberies.

Patty_Hearst  The Seven-Headed Cobra symbol used by the SLA was supposedly based on the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, none of which say anything about kidnapping college kids.

After Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the SLA, a ransom demand charged her father, Randolph Hearst, with “committing crimes against the people.”  They demanded his help in freeing two SLA members jailed on murder charges, but when that proved impossible, they insisted that a food distribution system be set up.  At first, the value of the food to be given away to the poor was set at $4 million.  Later, it rose as high as $400 million (allotting $70 to every needy Californian).

Hearst responded by creating an organization called People In Need (PIN).  Some free food was distributed, but violence soon broke out at one of the first four distribution points when crowds overwhelmed the site.  Workers panicked,  throwing boxes of food off moving trucks into the crowd.  After that, the SLA demanded that a community coalition called the Western Addition Project Area Committee be put in charge of the food distribution.  Thereafter, a hundred thousand bags of groceries were handed out at 16 locations across four counties between February 26 and the end of March, 1974.

del monte building  The long whitish building along Mission Creek (lower center in this aerial photo from the 1970s) is the Del Monte building Hearst used to organize PIN and the food distribution demanded as ransom.

The shooter in the second attempt on President Ford was also a woman, one Sarah Jane Moore, and she was at the time a bookkeeper for PIN.

sarah jane moore  Sarah Jane was born in Charleston, West Virginia but migrated west.  Her checkered career included nursing school, the Women’s Army Corps, and accountant jobs, as well as four kids and five divorces.  Once she got involved with revolutionary politics, she also became an FBI informant!

Not exactly a stable lifestyle.

Moore was never a member of the SLA, either, though she was apparently obsessed with the whole Patty Hearst thing.  She was angry, too, and for some reason decided to take it out on Ford.

Why she ever got the chance, I do not understand.  We know that Moore was evaluated by the Secret Service at some point earlier in 1975.  The agents involved in that decided she was not a danger to the President.  But then she wound up detained by police on September 21st, 1975, on an illegal handgun charge.  The cops confiscated her .44 caliber revolver and 113 rounds of ammunition (which sounds like lethal intent to me because who the hell carries over a hundred rounds without it?).   But then they let her go too.

Why?  I don’t know.  In light of Squeaky’s so-recent attempt, you’d think they would have taken a woman more seriously than that, but hey, this was the 70s!


The very next day, September 22, 1975, Sarah Jane showed up outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where Ford was staying on that occasion.

Moore came a whole lot closer to succeeding than Fromme did.

She’d bought herself a .38 caliber revolver that very morning to replace the pistol she’d lost to the cops.  She got no chance to try it out first.  She didn’t know the gun’s sights were off by a full six inches from a distance of 40 feet, which is how far away she was when she made her attempt.  Thus, when she fired at President Ford, she missed.

The failure was also the result of her arm being knocked aside by an ex-Marine in the crowd named Oliver Sipple, who spotted her pulling the gun out of her blue raincoat and acted on instinct.  Her first bullet ricocheted off the hotel’s entrance and grazed a bystander (taxi driver John Ludwig) instead.

ford in Frisco 2  Ford again gets rushed from the scene by his Secret Service detail.

Seeing she’d missed, Moore promptly made a second attempt, but Sipple shoved his hand into the gun’s firing mechanism.  He wrestled her down to the ground, and that was essentially that.

oliver sipple  Sipple, a decorated Viet Nam vet, wound up being outed as a gay man by all the publicity, with the result that in spite of his heroic behavior, his own father never spoke to him again.

The two assassination attempts had much so in common, it’s kind of weird.  I don’t just mean the gender of the shooters, their general lack of firearms expertise, and the crazy-ass politics in the background.  It’s everything else, too.

Afterward, for example, both women were sentenced to life in prison.  And both of them escaped from jail.

Squeaky was imprisoned at first in the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, CA, which is only an hour away from here.  But in 1979, she attacked another inmate with the claw end of a hammer, and was soon transferred back east.  Then, in 1987, having heard a rumor that Charlie Manson had testicular cancer, she decided she had to see him and escaped from the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia.

Her prison break didn’t last long.  Two days.  Then, boom, she landed at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell, in Fort Worth, Texas.  And there she stayed until August 14, 2009, when she was paroled after 34 years in the clink.

lynnrecent_jpg2  Looks like Squeaky is now in Marlene Dietrich mode – “I vant to be…alone!”

Squeaky was actually locked up longer than Sarah Jane, who was arguably the more competent assassin.  Moore, at least, knew how to load her lame-ass gun!

Moore did her time in some of the very same prisons as Fromme, and even escaped from the same one as Squeaky.  She broke out of the Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia in 1979.  Sarah Jane didn’t get very far, though.  She was caught in a matter of hours, and sent to the Dublin facility where Squeaky got freaky with the claw hammer.

Moore spent the rest of her sentence working in the Unicor Prison Industry for $1.25 per hour as the Lead Inmate Operating Accountant.

I guess you never know when those accounting skills are going to come in handy.

sarah jane on parole  On December 31, 2007, at age 77, Moore was released on parole after serving 32 years of her life sentence. Gerald Ford died one year and five days before her release, and 2 years and 8 months before Squeaky Fromme’s. 

I still don’t understand why either one of these women was ever paroled.  I’m told Federal law allows parole after you’ve served 30 years of a life sentence, if you’ve behaved yourself in the can.

Thing is, neither one of them did.  They both escaped.  Admittedly, they weren’t any better at staging jail breaks than they were at assassination, but I don’t see why they should get ‘extra credit’ for being incompetent outlaws.  And Sarah Jane may now be saying that she was wrong to try and kill Ford, but Squeaky has never said sorry.

Strange times, those were.  It’s startling just to remember how many groups were running around then, pulling of armored car jobs and bank heists, and setting off bombs, and how many people wound up dead because of it.

I’m really hoping this new TV series Aquarius will do a decent job of portraying the times and the Manson clan, and Manson himself.

aquarius  So far, so good.

Next time, we’ll look at another attempt to rescue Manson, causing further Collateral Damage!






A Hell of a Hoax! Part 9: The Other Scientology Murders

Did Charles Manson have a beef with L. Ron Hubbard?  Or with Scientology, in general?  Did Manson order four people killed in order to send a “message” to Hubbard?

14072013-22-charles-manson-went-on-record-as-a-scientologist-he-had-reached-the-stage-of-clear-1971-verurteilt-wegen-mehrfchen-mordes   This pic was clearly photo-shopped.  So far as I can, tell there is no evidence of Manson ever meeting L. Ron Hubbard in person.  Manson did, however, have his own E-meter and used it on various members of his Family. 

There’s been a lot of speculation about it, too, from people suggesting that Manson held a grudge against the Church of Scientology simply because the Scientologists overlooked his “genius.”  You know, like the music biz did.  It can’t be proved, even though it seems certain the Church did erase any records of contacts with Manson, not least because Charlie also had ties to the Process, a Scientology-born splinter group with some odd ideas about Satan.

In looking at the death of Joel Pugh in London, in 1969, we found a number of links between Charles Manson and Scientology, but we found even more between the Church and Bruce Davis, who was Charlie’s favorite hit man.  It’s been suggested that Bruce Davis served as an emissary for Manson when he traveled to England, that his purpose in going there was to work out problems between The Process and Scientology.  But Davis denied to the BBC reporter Bill Murphy that he ever traveled to Manchester England, in spite of statements from witnesses who saw him there.  Murphy himself said he had an acquaintance who had also seen Bruce Davis there, and claimed he was traveling around Manchester with a coven of witches.

Scotland Yard couldn’t be bothered to chase down that lead, so in the end, Davis was only convicted of taking part in the murders of Gary Hinman and Shorty Shea, although he was strongly implicated in another so-called “suicide” – the death of Zero (John Haught), another Family hanger-on.

bruce davis 2 Bruce Davis was also into Scientology, but was kicked out for drug use  early in 1969.

We’ve seen evidence that Davis was in London at the time of Pugh’s death, and staying at a Scientology house.  And in a pamphlet Davis himself produced, when he proclaimed himself a Born Again Christian in 1974, he incidentally reveals that he was also in North Africa, Spain, and Britain in 1969.  Just like Joel Pugh.  An unlikely string of destinations, I would think.  So was Davis following Pugh?

We may never get a full answer on any of this stuff.  Davis knows, but he’s still hoping to get parole.  The California State Prison Board actually granted it to him last year, but his bid was quashed by the Governor after Jerry Brown got a look at the files on Davis and the cases he was and wasn’t charged in.

Sandra Good probably knows.  She was Pugh’s girlfriend, and one-time fiancée.  She even gave his name to her son, Ivan, though the baby could not have been Joel’s, and was probably Bobby Beausoleil’s.  She denies it, though.

sandra good w happy face  Sandra Good, aka Blue, was a stockbroker’s daughter, and seems to have a bit of Peter Pan in her make-up.  This is a mugshot taken in 1969.

Good, now 65, maintains a website for Manson’s so-called environmental group, called variously “Air, Trees, Water, Animals” (ATWA), or “All The Way Alive.”  The website went dormant in 2001, but was relaunched in 2011.  You can find it here:


There’s even an official Face Book page:


That was a startling sight for me.  Not because of their logo, which is rather pretty:

ATWA symbol  Air, Trees, Water, Animals are the four principal items that must be kept in balance.

Or even because of the rather ferocious-looking panda featured on their logo:

atwa panda logo

I was surprised because this page posts a great many of the very same articles I do, on my page and on Pinterest, in an effort to point out how serious global warming is, and how dangerous rapid climate change is to the entire biosphere.  I didn’t expect yet another intersection between my life and Manson’s.  I didn’t expect to ever find any common cause with the man, but there it is.

There is also a website called Manson Direct:


This is where you can find autographed pictures of Manson at various ages, with copyright notices posted on each of them.  I don’t know how that affects anyone who would want to download and print one for personal use, but I’m not going to reproduce any of them here.  The only image without a copyright notice is this one:

blue hands said -pic  I can agree with the sentiment, I suppose, but if he means his own mitts, the last time I looked, those hands weren’t blue.  They were blood-red.

Sandra Good also lived in Hanford for a while, close to Corcoran State Prison, where Manson is confined, although she was never allowed to visit him.  She has since dropped out of sight again, but still supports both Charlie and his movement — and on ATWA’s website, she denies  that Joel ever met Charles Manson or any other Manson Family member.   This is probably true.  Pugh knew Manson only by his reputation, and by his effect on Sandra Good.

The website also insists that Joel wasn’t murdered.  It says his parents went to London after his death and satisfied themselves with the official verdict of suicide.  At that time, however, Pugh’s family had no idea that there were any links with Manson, or that their son’s death was suspected of being a homicide by Los Angeles cops, or that at least one Manson Family member had claimed credit for the killing.  They didn’t know that Scotland Yard had refused to reopen the case, that it never was investigated as a potential homicide.  The Brits never even bothered to contact Joel’s family and ask any questions about his state of mind, or any personal or family history of depression or any other mental illness.  So it wasn’t fully investigated as a suicide either.

scotland yard  Was a Manson Family murder in London too embarrassing for the Yard to contemplate?

There’s not a lot of reason to believe Good in any case.  She might not have had a hand in the Tate or LaBianca murders, but that was only because she was in jail at the time, having been caught attempting to use some stolen credit cards.  She has repeatedly said that she respects the folks who did commit the killings.  And she proved her own loyalty to the Family’s environmental ‘cause’ in 1975.  That’s when she was convicted on federal charges of sending death threats through the mail to 170 businessmen she accused of polluting the environment (in terms that sound an awful lot like those seen in the Unibomber’s manifesto).   She was convicted of conspiracy on March 19, 1976, along with another Manson devotee, Susan Murphy, and Good was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

sandra good and susan murphy 1976  Sandra Good (left) and Susan Murphy wore a sort of nun’s habit in Federal Court, apparently to support their claim of carrying out a sacred mission.

After ten years in prison, Good was paroled.  This was in December 1985, and rather early since one normally doesn’t get parole on a federal beef until 85% of the sentence has been served.  A stipulation of her parole was that she could not return to California. So she moved to Vermont, where she lived quietly under the name Sandra Collins.  Well, until 1989, that is.  That’s when her environmental activism got her back into the news and her identity was made public.  She’d gone after a paper mill concerning the pulp waste they produced.  When her parole was finally over, Good moved right back to California, hooked up with George Stimson, another Manson follower, and the two of them started the websites.

Okay, so it’s safe to say we’re not going to get a lot more out of any of these folks about what happened to Joel Pugh.

What about the other three so-called Scientology Murders?

They all happened before the strange affair at the Talgarth Hotel in London.  And the victim of the first one still has not been identified – to this day, she is known only as Jane Doe #59 Case File 358UFCA.


jane doe 59 sketch  Sketches of the victim, whose face was so disfigured, photographs were deemed more disturbing than helpful in attempting to ID the girl.

Her body was discovered by a hiker (15-year-old Trevor Santochi) on November 16, 1969.  It lay in brush about 15 feet down an embankment off Mulholland and Skyline Drives, in Los Angeles, and she was a mess. She had more than 150 stab wounds, especially around the neck, face, and upper body.

The girl had only been dead for a day or so before she was found, and it was a dump job.  She’d been killed somewhere else, a spot never located by police.   She was white and in her early twenties.  She was willowy, at a height of 5’9 ½”, and weighed only 112 pounds.  She had tinted cinnamon brown hair and green eyes, and she had a few identifying marks.  There was a one and one-quarter inch horizontal scar on her ribs, underneath her right breast.  She had a light brown birth mark on her right buttock, the size of a quarter.  She also had vaccination scars on her left arm and left thigh.  She’d had a lot of dental work done, including 16 silver amalgam dental fillings, but no orthodontics, so she still had the buck teeth Mother Nature provided.

jane doe 59 mulholland drive  This is where the body was found, off Mulholland and Skyline Drives, in the Hollywood Hills near Laurel Canyon.  This is about 6 miles from the site of the Sharon Tate murders on El Cielo Drive.

Jane Doe was wearing a blue corduroy jacket, size 9-10, made in Canada.  She was also wearing “Landlubber” (hiphugger) style blue jeans made in Boston.  She had a tan sweater on, size 32, and she was wearing riding-style boots that might have been made in Spain.  The boots weren’t new.  They were well-worn and they’d been re-soled at one point.  She also had a woven leather belt, about two inches wide, made of one-inch leather strips and a circular brass ring-type buckle.  The belt was marked either ‘Thom 38″ or “Tham 38.”   She also wore a pair of rings.  The one on her right ring finger was made of yellow metal and set with red oval stones.  The one on her left middle finger was made of white metal bearing Indian designs and was probably made in Mexico.

janedoe59 another sketch  Another sketch of Jane Doe 59, showing the clothes she was wearing.

There were also a few indications that Jane was a recent arrival.  The medical examiner found no evidence of smog in her lungs, suggesting she was new to Los Angeles. He did, however, find tuberculosis.  It was a mild case, which she could have thought was no more than a cold.  The M.E. also found some coal dust in the girl’s lungs, the kind she could have acquired from living near coal-burning power plants or coal mines.

The big question, for me, was why this body wound up being classed with the others.  As far as I can tell, it’s purely because of the violence of the attack, the overkill.  That and the fact that Jane Doe had spent a short time out at the Spahn movie ranch while the Manson Family was in residence.  There were lots and lots of stab wounds, but not the distinctive damage done in the next two cases, and there was nothing related to Scientology on or with the body.  There has never been any evidence that the victim was ever associated with Scientology.  There were a couple of witnesses who remembered Jane Doe’s stay at the Spahn Ranch, but no one seemed to know her full true name.  One of them described her as being able to do a British accent, saying she was the person at Zero’s (John Haught’s) house in Venice who, in one account, answered the phone and spoke with a plummy English accent on the day that Zero died.  Which would mean she was there at the same time as Bruce Davis, and knew him.  The suggestion linked to that assertion, of course, is that she knew too much about Zero’s supposed “suicide” and so she had to be silenced.  But no one seems to even know whether she was really American, Canadian, or British.

In her Spanish riding boots, she would have been nearly six feet tall, so you would think she’d stand out on that count alone.  There was also all that dental work.  Was she, perhaps, one of the girls befriended by Dennis Wilson (yes, that Dennis Wilson, of the Beach Boys) when he was hanging around with the Family?  We’re told he paid for dental work for more than one of Charlie’s girls, but no one seems to know which ones, or which dentist actually did the work.

Dennis Wilson  Wilson seems to have had a soft spot for girls with bad teeth.  Then again, the suggestions keep coming up that methamphetamine was involved in a great many incidents to do with the Manson Family.  And crystal meth has a habit of causing “meth mouth” – it literally dissolves your teeth if you keep using the stuff.  It can also set off paranoid frenzies of the sort likely to cause 157 stab wounds.

So who was the vic?

The names offered up for Jane Doe 59 by various parties include Sherry Cooper and Stephanie Rowe/Susan Scott/Barbara Jr., Sherry Andrews/Claudia Leigh Smith/Collie, Collie Sinclair/Beth Tracy, Laura Anne Sheppard, and Diane Von Ahn.

The Sherry Cooper ID is based on the statement of Ruby Pearl, the girlfriend George Spahn acquired after his wife left him.  Pearl was, among other things, a onetime dog trainer and circus performer.

Ruby Pearl Ad     Ruby Pearl  Ruby, seen here in an ad from earlier days, and as she appeared in later life, was described by Gay Talese in a March, 1970 article for Esquire magazine as a “perky redhead of about thirty with lively blue eyes, a petite figure, and lots of nerve.”

When she was shown the clothing Jane Doe 59 had on when she died, Ruby said she recognized the shirt.  It was one she had seen all of the Family girls wearing at some point in time.  Ruby apparently told the authorities the last girl she had seen wearing the shirt was Sherry.

Sherry Cooper, however, turned up alive later on, in a video with a man known as Donkey Dan.

sherry cooper of simi valley  This is Sherry Cooper, supposedly from Simi Valley.

danny decarlo  This is Danny DeCarlo, also known as Donkey Dan, a sobriquet he was proud of since it referred to the size of his private parts.  Danny was also a member of the Straight Satans biker club. and may have been involved in various drug deals alluded to by Manson Family members in connection with Gary Hinman’s murder.

Susan Scott, aka Stephanie Rowe and Barbara Jr., is better known as one of the “Mendocino Witches” – and we’ll talk about that mess of murder and arson in my next post.  However, Rowe has been relocated recently, alive and unhappy about being found.   She apparently responded to the attempted contact with a lawyer.

susan scott aka stephanie rowe  Susan Scott, or Stephanie Rowe, or Barbara Jr. is believed to be Jewish and does not have any sign of buck teeth.  Unlikely, then, in any case that she’s Jane Doe 59.

So what about Sherry Andrews, aka Claudia Leigh Smith?

Well, Claudia, who was also sometimes called Collie, appears to have been too short, at 5’6″, to be the right girl.  In any case, she too is believed to be alive and well.  After Manson’s arrest, Claudia married Bill Vance, aka David Lee Hamic (who was involved in the murder of Shorty Shea).

claudia leigh smith  Sherry Andrews/Claudia Leigh Smith/Collie doesn’t look like a happy camper in this mug shot from 1969.  She also doesn’t have buck teeth.

Bill Vance  Marrying this guy, Bill Vance (aka David Lee Hamic), probably didn’t improve matters much.

All right, so we’ve struck out with all of those possibilities.  What about Collie Sinclair, also called Beth Tracy (at least that’s the name she used when arrested during the raid on the Barker Ranch)?

Collie Sinclair aka Beth Tracy  This is the only decent photo I’ve seen of Collie/Beth.  She is clearly a separate person from the other Collie (Sinclair, shown above), but no one seems to know what has become of her.  And once again, no buck teeth.

I have not been able to locate a photograph of Laura Anne Sheppard, nor any record of her, post-Charlie.

This, however, is what Diane Von Ahn looked like:

Diane von Ahn  Now, there we have some buck teeth, although no one describes her as tall.  Diane Von Ahn was apparently introduced to the Manson Family by Bill Vance, mentioned above, and later lived with Vern Plumlee, another Mansonite.

vern plumlee the welder  Vern Plumlee was an AWOL Marine at the time of the Tate-LaBianca murders.  He’s told a lot of stories, some contradicting each other, about what he got involved with, including doing Creepy Crawly home invasions – something Mansonites did in order to experience “the tidal wave of the Great Fear” Charlie talked about so much as a pathway to living in the NOW.

Well, if Diane did take up with Plumlee, she isn’t the dead girl.  Plumlee is known to have done five years in prison for a robbery/stabbing in Long Beach right after this, and then settled down to work as a welder and raise a family, apparently with Diane.  If so, then she can’t be Jane Doe 59 either, in spite of that toothy smile of hers.  Nor can we ask her about any other Manson girl with buck teeth, as she has passed away just recently.

So, at this point, we’ve run out of possible Jane Does.  The Sheppard girl is beyond my search capability, and has only been named by one party I know of, a guy who was never a part of the Manson Family and offers no particular reason for naming her.  After 45 years, it’s ever more unlikely that we will ever find out exactly who she was, let alone who killed her, although her DNA has been run through a number of databases.

Well, what about the other two murders, then?

Doreen Gaul and James Sharp…They’re a two-fer.

Doreen Gaul 2  Doreen Gaul was all of 19 when she died.  The eldest of four children, she had  graduated from a parochial high school in Albany, N.Y. in the spring of 1968.  Formerly a devout Roman Catholic, she was fascinated by Scientology and came west to learn more about it.

She didn’t last long.  Shortly before midnight on November 21, 1969, a man taking a short cut through an alley between Arapahoe St. and Magnolia Ave., south of 11th St. in Los Angeles, stumbled across the bodies of two teenagers. They were both nearly faceless, and so badly damaged, police assumed they had been the victims of shotgun blasts. Both had been stabbed fifty or sixty times, and their right eyes had been cut out.  Both had tire marks on their bodies from a motorcycle.

James Sharp, only 15 years old, was still fully clothed and had his ID in his pocket.  Gaul, however, had been stripped, and wore nothing more than a string of beads around her neck.  The two were linked by the only thing they had in common beyond their murders – Scientology.

scientology symbol  This is the “new-era” Scientology symbol. The “S” stands for Scientology. The top triangle represents a set of Scientology factors — knowledge, responsibility and control. Collectively the first three factors make up the KRC triangle. The lower triangle consists of the ARC triangle of affinity, reality and communication.  And that, my friends, is just about all I know about Scientology.

At the time, Scientology had four “church” and administrative buildings in Los Angeles, and a number of communal living quarters in old Victorian mansions on side streets in the neighborhoods near MacArthur Park.  This was about half a mile from the alley where the bodies were dumped.

James Sharp was living with an older Scientology worker in an old three-story apartment building at 921 S. Bonnie Brae St.  A block away, Doreen Gaul was living in 14-room commune called Thetan Manor at 1032 S. Bonnie Brae, but had only been there for four days.  Gaul was about to become a Thetan “clear,” which meant she had reached an advanced level of study, the same level Manson claimed he had achieved, while in prison.

800px-South_Bonnie_Brae_Tract_Historical_District,_Los_Angeles  1032 Bonnie Brae is the house on the left, with green trim, located just off the Historic Route 66.

Sharp was the son of a well-to-do salesman, and came to California with his father’s permission to study Scientology.  His family lived in an upper middle class suburb called Crestwood, southwest of St. Louis.  The boy had left high school in June, and his father described him as “very, very intelligent boy.”

Gaul was also described as bright.  In the words of her father, “She was a good kid, but an emotional kid.  She was always looking for green grass and rainbows.”

The bloom was off the rose where Scientology was concerned, however.  Just before her murder, Gaul apparently made a telephone call to her father, asking for an airplane ticket home.  Mr. Gaul told New York Times reporters that he’d promised Doreen he would send her a round trip ticket.  She replied that she only needed a one way ticket.  Her father says she then told him, “I think this stuff is all a bunch of crap.”  She was planning to leave the Church of Scientology.  She had been offered a job by a friend in New York.

Why, then, did she supposedly leave the commune that Friday night with James Sharp for the purpose of an auditing session, to be conducted by the younger student?  What happened between that night and the discovery of the bodies?

auditing  Auditing with an e-meter goes something like this, according to the Church of Scientology.  I’ve never tried it.

No one seems to know where they went or what they did.

The resident agent of Scientology’s American St. Hill Organization at 2723 W. Temple St. was the Rev. Natalie Fisher,  who said, “This organization has no facts or information regarding the circumstances of the crime, but we are doing everything in our power to assist law enforcement agencies to see that justice is done.”  And in the end, the Church offered a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer(s) – $30,000.

Still, the Church got touchy when asked for membership lists.  It was left to other residents to inform the police that Bruce Davis had spent a lot of time in the very same communal house as Doreen Gaul, and had, in fact, dated Doreen along with several other young women.  Witnesses said Davis was extremely angry when he found out that she was seeing a black man at the same time, owing to the prejudice against blacks he shared with Manson.

When questioned later, after acquiring two life sentences, Davis was offered immunity but denied even knowing Doreen, although he did admit to being intimate with nine other girls at the same address.  His exact whereabouts at the time of the murders, however, remain unknown.  He disappeared from public view right after the death of Zero (John Haught) in Venice on November 5th, and then he’s said to have left the country on or about the 24th of November, 1969, eight days after Jane Doe 59 turned up and three days after Gaul and Sharp were found.  Which gave him plenty of time to get to London before Joel Pugh’s death on December 1st.

Quite the busy boy, if he did all five of them in.

But some people think he did much more than that.  Some people think Davis was also the Zodiac Killer, of (mostly) San Francisco fame.  Partly this is because of Davis’ known taste for meth, and the violence involved in the Zodiac killings, but mostly it’s because of a note found in Doreen Gaul’s room at Thetan Manor.

zodiac     bruce davis 3

A sketch of the Zodiac Killer isn’t completely unlike Bruce Davis’ mug-shot, aside from the glasses.

Most of what we know about this Zodiac connections comes from the case files of Lt. Earl Deemer, who was called out to the scene on November 21, 1969 (coincidentally, the night of the full moon), and took part in the search of Doreen Gaul’s quarters.  Deemer, a homicide dick, found a typed note among her possessions that was a carbon copy of the original (never found).  The note caught his attention because it was all in capital letters, and it rather closely matched the Zodiac letter found in the Cheri Jo Bates case of November 29, 1966.

I couldn’t reproduce the image, but you can find it and take a look for yourself here:


And here is the “confession letter from the Cheri Jo Bates case, the only Southland murder even tentatively assigned to the Zodiac Killer:

cheri jo bates zodiac letter

It’s typed in all caps, and has the same misspellings as the note in the Doreen Gaul case.

cheri jo bates confession letter

Here’s a somewhat more legible version of the same letter, mailed to a newspaper, the Riverside Press-Enterprise.


And this is the threatening note from October 29, 1966, signed “Z,” and associated with that case.

cheri jo bates crime scene  Bates was also stabbed over and over again, on the night before Halloween in 1966, in Riverside, CA.

The connection seems iffy, at best, to most of the folks who’ve examined it.  If you’re interested in that aspect, however, you might want to check out a book called “The Zodiac/Manson Connection” by Howard A. Davis, or “Manson Behind the Scenes” by Bill Nelson.  Neither one provides much in the way of citations or solid proof of their assertions.

manson behind the scenes cover   This one is self-published, and can be ordered online.  No cover photo was available for “The Zodiac/Manson Connection.”

Nelson claims an ex-Family member told the author he “knew” Bruce Davis and Tex Watson were the killers of Gaul and Sharp, but doesn’t name this stalwart “witness.”  He never mentions Jane Doe 59 at all, perhaps because Bobby Beausoleil has been pointed out as Davis’ accomplice on that one, and on equally untenable grounds.

Nelson does talk about some interesting aspects of Lt. Deemer’s part in the whole investigation, but the sad truth is, there has never been enough evidence, really, to take these cases anywhere.  Absent a genuine confession by Davis, I don’t believe they ever will be resolved.  I still have my opinions, though, and Davis seems to have left his stamp on all four Scientology killings as well as Zero’s “suicide.”  That would mean he’s good for six, not four, and maybe more.

And we’re still not done with the Manson Family murders…

Next time up:  A tragic case of triple homicide, arson, and over-the-top revenge in the case of The Mendocino Witches!




A Hell of a Hoax! Part 8: The Scientology Murders

Did the Manson Family kill four people because of their links to Scientology?

Or was it because of their links to Bruce Davis?

manson logo  Sorry, Charlie.  You’re neither one.

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.

joel pugh grad pic  Joel Dean Pugh’s graduation photo.

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.

joel pugh playing guitarjoel pugh hanging out 

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.

joel pugh and sandra good  Joel and Sandra in happier days.

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.

TimothyLeary-LectureTour-SUNYAB-1969  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.

spahn ranch raid  The Family, living on the Spahn Ranch at this point, was making money by turning stolen Volkswagens into dune buggies and selling them “under the table.”

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.

ivan pugh all grown up   A Friedman family photo, rather fuzzy, date unknown, includes a grown-up Ivan Pugh (aka Bucky).

bobby bo pic  IMHO, “Bucky” looks a lot more like Bobby Beausoleil (shown here) than he does Joel Pugh, but DNA is probably the only way to be sure, and Ivan has a right to his privacy.

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.

220px-Ronald_D__Laing  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.

Talgarth Hotel  The Talgarth Hotel, 7 Talgarth Road, London.

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.

mirror writing  Mirror writing is backwards, and meant to be read by looking at its reflection in a mirror. 

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.

Manson arrest  Manson (center) during his arrest at the Spahn Ranch.

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.

defense wound  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.

hesitation cuts  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.

davis  Bruce Davis, imitating Manson, carved a swastika into his own forehead after his arrest in the killings of Gary Hinman and Shorty Shea.  

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.

self inflicted stab wound  This man died of self-inflicted stab wounds.  The location of the wounds and the angle of the blade are both consistent with a right-hand grip and the use of considerable force.

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.”

scotland yard   Scotland Yard doesn’t seem to have kept close track of visas in those long-ago pre-9/11 days.

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!


A Hell of a Hoax! Part 7: The Scientology Connection

Charles Manson has declared himself to be Jesus.  And Satan.  Simultaneously.

Quite a trick, if you ask me.

What does he really believe?  Well, there’s this pseudo-environmentalist credo he spouts sometimes that sounds a lot like the Una-Bomber’s manifesto, but I don’t think Charlie is nearly as much of a true believer as Ted Kaczynski.  He once had his followers spend irrational amounts of time out in the desert, searching for the Bottomless Pit, but I don’t know what the heck that was supposed to accomplish.  Unless he was in his Satanic phase, and looking for some lost real estate.

Too bad he wasn’t exposed to a wholesome and nutritious religion in his youth…

fllying sm

But not everyone is touched by His Noodliness.

Apparently, Charlie did spend time studying Scientology.  And Buddhism.  And several other things that caught his interest and had something to do with how the mind works.  The story goes that Manson was exposed to Scientology back in the early 60’s.  Enough so that when he was arrested in 1961, Charlie put it down as his religion.

There’s no mention of how that started, however, or who Manson might have studied with.  The first time any of that comes up, it’s 1962 and he’s in the federal pen on McNeil Island, in Puget Sound.  That’s where he encountered another convict named Lanier Rayner.  Rayner was running group sessions, explaining Scientology to fellow convicts and “auditing” them.

dianetics  This is the current edition of L. Ron Hubbard’s book on the principles behind Scientology.  I don’t really know what it says, since I found myself unable to make it through chapter 2.


Fact is, I’m not all that familiar with Scientology either.

My contact with it has been limited to the Writers of the Future program, now known as the Writers and Illustrators of the Future.  That’s a contest established by L. Ron Hubbard’s will which takes entries from un- or very-little-published writers of spec fic and fledgling artists in the same genres (sci fi, fantasy, horror, etc.).  Judges from the field pick out quarterly prize winners.  Once a year, the first prize winners for each quarter get to compete for the Grand Prize for that year.  Then the prize winners and a few runners-up are invited to take part in a workshop aimed at helping them develop their skills and prepare for a full-time career in the field.

The winning stories and illustrations are put together in an anthology, and you get a check for that as well as your prize money.  It’s been a while, but my first published story came out in one of those.  A vampire story called “A Winter’s Night” appeared in the 1987 collection, volume IV.

writers of the future  Somewhat to my surprise, this has now become a collector’s item.  Not that pricey, but between three and four times its original cover price.


Mind you, when I first got the phone call telling me I’d won a prize for the First Quarter, I just laughed.  I had to.  They called me about it on April Fool’s Day!  But then the check showed up, and it didn’t bounce, and none of my friends could afford to carry a joke that far.

Then I was worried about whether I should accept the invitation, because Scientology was getting a lot of bad press.  It still does.

scientology protest  These protestors say they wear V-type masks to avoid retaliation by Scientologists.  Some claim to be ex-members.


In the end, though, I went, and wound up spending a week with the likes of A.J. Budrys, Orson Scott Card, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, learning the finer points of story structure (thank you, Mary Sue) and catching a clue about things like interviews, research techniques, and career planning.  Only heard the word Scientology once, in that entire week. It came up on the last day, during the session re tips on handling interviewers, both friendly and hostile.  That’s when they suggested that if we were asked about it, we should just tell the truth – that this was the only time it came up.


Algys Budris, 2 years before I met him a sweetheart of a man and a hell of a writer.


 Kristine Kathryn Rusch, date unknown,  is the award-winning author of several series of note in science fiction, fantasy, mystery and romance under various noms de plume,  and is also a former editor of both Pulphouse and the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.


        Orson Scott Card in 2008, author of Ender’s Game, the Alvin the Maker series and many other books.         

I know that some people don’t believe the contest and the Church of Scientology are really separate, funding-wise.  I don’t know about that.  For me, the workshop, the check, the anthology, and the sheer validation provided by all of that was immensely valuable, and I’m grateful for it.  Among other things, it was a chance to meet some people who have either bought my work since or made their own splashes in the field.  The Grand Prize Winner that year, for example, was Nancy Farmer, who has since won a slew of awards for her young adult and children’s novels, including the Newbery medal – three times!

John Moore was also part of that group, and Mary Turzillo, and Rod Garcia Y Robertson, all of whom are now much more published.   Quite a few other authors have taken that hand up since then, like Jay Lake and John Scalzi.  So far as I know, none has become a Scientologist.

jay lake   Jay Lake in his heyday, before he was stolen from us by cancer.  He was the author of ten novels, five collections, and more than 300 short stories.

john scalzi   John Scalzi,  raconteur and Hugo-winning author of “Red Shirts” and seven other highly entertaining novels.


I don’t know that Manson ever formally joined, either.  He did claim that over the course of his year-long studies with Rayner, he achieved Scientology’s highest level and became a “clear.”

What does that mean?

Well, according to Wikipedia, Scientology is all about dealing with fallout from a dude called Xenu.  Check it out for yourself, if you like:


The whole thing was started by the science fiction writer mentioned above, L. Ron Hubbard, in the early 1950s.  Hubbard said his goal was to help people overcome toxic thought patterns (my interpretation).  Along the way, as those patterns are brought to the surface and eliminated, the subject becomes “clear” and more capable of rational thought.  When you get past that stage, and into Operating Thetan levels One and Two.  At that stage, you’re let in on the real story of how people got so screwed up…Xenu’s story.

Hubbard wrote about it in a screenplay titled Revolt in the Stars  in 1977.

l ron hubbard  L. Ron Hubbard aboard his yacht.  He spent a lot of time at sea in later years.

According to Hubbard, Xenu was the ruler of a Galactic Confederacy some 75 million years ago.  The Confederacy consisted of 26 stars and 76 planets, including Earth.  The planets were overrun by excess population, topping 178 billion (which doesn’t seem like a lot, given that many planets – it works out to 2.34 billion per planet, about a third of Earth’s population right now).

Anyway, things were headed south and Xenu was about to be deposed.  To save himself, Xenu called for income tax inspections or audits, and his minions called citizens in by the billions.  His henchmen would then paralyze these people and freeze their bodies in a mixture of alcohol and glycol, supposedly so he could capture their souls.

I have no idea why either alcohol or glycol would have any effect on a person’s soul, but that’s how the story goes.

The kidnapped were then loaded up on spacecraft that looked just like DC-8’s but without the fanjets.

DC8  Not sure why they would have looked like DC-8’s, which are not at all well designed for interstellar traveling comfort, nor yet the mass transport of frozen folks.

dc8 like  It would have looked something like this, back in the day (that day being about 10 million years before that nasty asteroid hit Chicxulub and wiped out the dinosaurs).


Arriving on Earth, then called Teegeeack, the bodies were stacked up like cord wood around our volcanoes.  Hydrogen bombs were used to set off eruptions, and caused all kinds of havoc but failed to destroy the thetans (the immortal spirits, or souls) of the slaughtered.  Those Thetans were forced to undergo brainwashing by Xenu, corrupting them.  And when they were released, they promptly attached themselves to early humans, and are supposedly still haunting us.

Mind you, this stuff is only revealed to members who have already contributed large amounts of money (we’re talking six to seven figures here).  Otherwise, the Church of Scientology omits any mention of Xenu in public statements, and has gone so far as to sue people who bring it up for copyright violation and/or theft of trade secrets – oh, my!  Kind of cheeky, in my opinion, to claim copyright on behalf of Xenu, let alone attempting to extend that copyright for 75 million years.  Even more so when, if asked directly, Scientology officials have either denied or tried to conceal the tale of Xenu.

They have no shame on this point, however.  That may explain why and how they have also committed some truly awful science fiction to film.

battlefield earth  Based on a series of novels by L. Ron Hubbard, it’s the kind of sci fi film that gives Plan 9 From Outer Space a run for its Rotten Tomato rating!


At any rate, Manson never got that far.  He wasn’t told about Thetan Levels One and Two.  Still, according to Vincent Bugliosi, who wrote about it in his book, “Helter Skelter,” Charlie was at first so loudly enthusiastic about it that he drove one cell-mate to getting himself thrown into Solitary Confinement for the sake of the peace and quiet it offered.  But by the time of Manson’s release from the Federal Penitentiary at McNeil Island, he was all done with Scientology.

Charlie hung on to some of the phraseology, though – ‘auditing’ and ‘coming to the Now’ – and to ideas like karma and reincarnation, which the Bug remarks, “perhaps fittingly, Scientology had borrowed in the first place.” (pp. 144-145)

Manson also picked up recruitment tricks, and came up with the winning combination he used to bring so many of society’s castaways into his Family:  affection, acceptance, and the freedom to cast off the past and become someone brand new.  Not that any of this was completely new to him.  Apparently, when he was only six years old, Manson contrived to get several little girls in his class to beat up another boy he didn’t like.  At that tender age, of course, wee Charlie looked like an angel.


After his release from prison, Manson went to Los Angeles.  L.A. Times reporters say that he met several local Scientologists there, and that he attended several parties for movie stars, possibly including the July opening of the Church’s so-called celebrity center.

Later, when Manson and his Family were captured, detectives found Scientology literature at the ranch, along with an e-meter.

Mark VI model-Scientology_e-meter at Peoples Fair in Denver  This is a Mark VI e-meter, shown at the People’s Fair in Denver a few years back.


Mark_VIII_Ultra-E-Meter  This is the latest version, the Mark VIII.


What’s an e-meter, you ask?

The formal term is electropsychometer.  It’s a modified ohmmeter – that means it measures electrical resistance/conductance across the skin.  When the subject grabs the silver canisters, one in each hand, it induces an electrical current of 1 to 5 volts, in fractions of a milliamp, and then measures resistance.  It’s one of the elements used in lie detectors.

A trained Scientologist is supposed to be able to use an e-meter to detect spiritual impediments resulting from past experiences (including those of the Thetans haunting us).  On the one hand, it’s a religious artifact invented by Hubbard himself (not really).  On the other, it’s supposed to cure all sorts of physical and mental illnesses.  BUT – it’s not in any way a medical device, because then the Church would run afoul of the FDA, which has rules about people practicing medicine without benefit of a license and a medical degree.  The e-meter is supposed to measure the mental mass and energy of the subject’s mind, however, something which changes when problem thought patterns are cleared.  In fact, Hubbard himself claimed that it was so sensitive, he could use one to detect the pain a tomato feels when it’s sliced.

You can make one for around $5 worth of parts, but if you want the official version with the shiny futuristic case, it’ll run you about four grand.  The e-meters used by the Church of Scientology are manufactured by members at their Gold Base facility.



Nobody knows where Charlie got hold of his e-meter…some have even suggested he was actually recruited for some sort of Black Ops unit of Scientology.

Once Manson was arrested for the Tate-LaBianca bloodbath, of course, the Church of Scientology wanted no part of him.  Even before that, he seems to have been declared a “suppressive person” by the Scientologists.  When he showed up at the L.A. Org’s headquarters (in ’68?), telling them he was “clear” and wanting to know what came next, the receptionist referred him to the Ethics Office.  Apparently, this is standard procedure for those perceived to be psychos of some sort.  He may have caught on to that, because he never did show up there.

But that outcome may have been nothing to do with his psyche.  Maybe Manson’s reception had something to do with his joining the Process.

The Process has been described as a ‘sex and Satan’ sect, and was formally titled The Process Church of the Final Judgment.  It was founded by a pair of British Scientologists, Mary Anne (aka Mary Anne MacLean) and Robert DeGrimston (aka Robert Moor), who broke away from Scientology to start their own organization, based on the philosophy first espoused by Alfred North Whitehead.

robert de grimston

Robert Moor reinvented himself as Robert DeGrimston, but ended up working for the phone company after his church fell apart.


The general idea was that Jehovah, Lucifer, Christ, and Satan were all aspects of the same godhead.  In the end, Satan would become reconciled to Christ, and they would come together at the end of the world to judge humanity, Christ to judge and Satan to execute judgment.  That would lead to a further reconciliation between Jehovah and Lucifer.

L. Ron Hubbard did not approve.  He personally declared the founders to be ‘suppressive persons’ in December of 1965.

The pair decamped to Xtul in the Yucutan, then New Orleans, and eventually to San Francisco.

processianssmall  The happy couple, in their robes…


The Process wasn’t welcomed by the competition.  The DeGrimstons paid a visit to the Black Pope, Anton LaVey, but the head of the Church of Satan did not see them as kindred spirits.

Undeterred, they set up a church at 407 Cole Street in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, ground zero for the flower children of the 1960’s.  And a mere two blocks away, at 636 Cole Street, Charlie Manson was already building his own little Family.

Was there any direct contact?

I’d say so.  For one thing, elements of the Process turned up in Manson’s little rituals out in the desert.  For another, once the authorities had Charlie locked up and awaiting trial for the Tate and LaBianca killings, the Process sent people to visit him in jail.

Now, the purpose of the visit was supposedly to ask Manson about whether he had ever had any contact with Church members or ever received any literature about the Process.

The result?  The Church published an article about Manson, with part of it by Manson.  It was in the special “Death” edition of their magazine.

processdeathsmall  The cover is pretty lurid, but it’s also appropriate to its subject.


You can read the contents here:



Even so, the Process went to great lengths to disassociate themselves from Manson, denying that he’d ever ‘really’ been a member, just like Scientology.

I don’t believe either one, by the way.  For one thing, an FBI raid on a Scientology headquarters building yielded some paperwork indicating their records had been vetted not once but twice in order to erase any formal connection with Manson.  That says there was something to BE erased.

On the other hand, I don’t blame either Church for what Manson did, or for what his Family did.  That is all on HIS head, and on his followers’.  Manson certainly did borrow ideas and phrases and symbols and more from Scientology, and from the Process, and probably also from Anton LaVey’s group (one of Manson’s girls was, after all, a dancer in one of Anton’s productions).  It’s also possible that Charlie got some kind of logistical assistance from one or more of them, but… if that did happen, I’m pretty sure it was unwitting on their part.  Charlie’s agenda was just too crazy, too lethal, and too horrifying.  The rabid publicity afterward did none of these groups any good, and I think the people running them were smart enough to know how that would go.

All three groups have rhemselves been accused of some pretty abhorrent stuff in other venues, but I don’t have first-hand knowledge of any of that, and I’m not getting into it here.

What I am going to do, now that we have some background on Charlie’s ‘belief system,’ is take a look at four homicides with direct links to all of this.


Next Up:  The Scientology Murders

A Hell of a Hoax…. Part 2: The Body in the Basement


There was a Manson murder in my home town.
charlie loves you

Stockton is usually considered a backwater. It’s an agricultural town with a little light industry here and there.

The two things most people remember about it? The first big schoolyard shooting took place here about 25 years ago, and now the place is bankrupt.
Cleveland School scene
A young girl, wounded in the chest by Patrick Purdy during the shooting at Cleveland School, being attended to by medical personnel. Photo by Michael Chow//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Stockton does have a deep water port on the Sacramento River, but mostly the place is just, well…flat. Featureless. The water goes every which way because Stockton sits on the eastern end of the river delta feeding into San Francisco Bay. There’s so much water, we get lots of floaters – stiffs adrift in the sloughs and canals, in the rivers and creeks. So many, in fact, that when the long-dead are found anywhere else, the local LEOs tend to describe them as “dry floaters.”

Basically, it’s the kind of place people avoid because Fresno is classier. And less dangerous. Stockton is, after all, now rated as being “safer” than only 3% of American cities. Your chances of becoming the victim of a violent crime here are one in 64, compared to one in 236 for California as a whole.

Check it out for yourself:


It’s always been a rough and ready kind of town, and not just because of the naval base that used to sit on Rough and Ready Island, a bit further into the Delta west of town. Remember that old TV series, the Big Valley? Some of the sleazier stuff in that one happened on Stockton’s waterfront, and a lot of it wasn’t so fictional. Sailors were shanghaied, and traffickers dealt in all sorts of things. Opium dens were connected by tunnels that still exist in some parts of what used to be Chinatown. By the 1940s, the place was wide open as far as drugs and booze and ladies of ill repute were concerned.

lee majors

For a young and hunky Lee Majors, The Big Valley was his big break… not least because as “Heath” he was often shirtless!
Still, so far as I know, Charlie Manson has never set foot within the city limits. Or has he?

In March of 1967, Manson was released on parole from a federal prison on Terminal Island, in L.A. He was given permission to relocate to San Francisco, where the Summer of Love was about to get started. He wanted to be a musician. In fact, he’d been taught how to play a steel guitar by a fellow inmate, none other than Alvin Karpis, a famous bank robber of the Great Depression.

alvin karpis

Alvin Francis Karpis (August 10, 1907 – August 26, 1979), a Depression-era gangster nicknamed “Creepy” for his sinister smile.

Charlie didn’t have much luck plying that trade, however. He got by on panhandling. Then he took up with Mary Brunner, a 23-year-old library assistant at UC Berkeley. Manson moved in with her, and then talked Brunner into allowing other women to move in. Eighteen of them.

By the end of the summer, Brunner was pregnant, and Manson had turned himself into a guru. Together with eight or nine of his devotees, he got hold of an old school bus and did it up hippy-style, replacing the seats with brightly colored rugs and pillows. The group wandered on up to Washington state, then moved southward again, all the way down to Mexico.

So, yeah. Manson could have passed through Stockton. He pretty well had to, since Interstate 5 just didn’t exist in this part of the Central Valley yet. That left him with only three north/south choices – the Pacific Coast Highway or U.S. Routes 101 and 99. The coast road isn’t school bus friendly for several long and ultra-curvy stretches. U.S. 101 is better, but turns pretty narrow and curvy too, by the time you get up to Oregon. Rte. 99, however, cuts through this berg like a meat cleaver.

manson04   Manson poster

     In 1967, Manson looked more like this…………….…….…..…than this.

Mary Brunner gave birth to her son on that bus, reportedly while smoking weed to help her relax. The group, after all, saw no need for prenatal care, for hospitals, birth certificates, or vaccinations. She named her son Valentine Michael Brunner, an obvious reference to Valentine Michael Smith, the hero of Robert Heinlein’s novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. I don’t know whether Manson ever read the book, but Stranger was pretty damn popular with the younger generation about then, especially hippies.

I’m sure Heinlein would not have approved. He grew hugely annoyed with the people who kept turning up on his doorstep, wanting to camp out on his property (for free, of course) and try to grok the universe with him.

mother mary brunner & Valentine                      Stranger in a Strange Land

“Mother Mary” Brunner and her baby                                    Charlie might have seen
  boy, Valentine Michael, in 1968…                                              himself in this role….

To my further surprise, I discovered that Valentine had a childhood nickname: Pooh Bear.


Now I disapprove.

My family nickname is Pooh Bear, damn it! And I’m not sharing. Not with the Manson family. Maybe I did spend some time in the City while Charlie was there, and maybe the family did kill somebody on my turf. Maybe an ex of mine did time at Corcoran State Prison while Charlie was there. But that’s it – no more little coincidences, y’hear me?


The Universe, as always, just laughs up its sleeve and refuses to answer. All I can do is turn back to the subject of my quest – the body in the basement. That happened in 1972.

What the heck was going on back in 1972?

This was after Manson’s trial. That ended in 1971, despite nearly endless disruptions in the courtroom and the disappearance of a defense lawyer (Ronald Hughes – you’ll hear more about him later). On April 19, 1971, Judge Older sentenced Manson and all three of the women tried with him (Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel) to death. Tex Watson, tried separately, received the same sentence in November of that year.

And in February, 1972, those five death sentences were all reduced to life in prison. That’s because the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty by way of California v. Anderson, 493 P.2d 880, 6 Cal. 3d 628 (Cal. 1972). Which is why Manson and co. are even eligible for parole. In theory, anyway. You see, in a separate 1971 trial, Manson had also been found guilty of masterminding the murders of Gary Hinman and “Shorty” Shea, and drew a life sentence for those two killings. So Manson had ten murders on his sheet. He also had half the family still on the street. Or on the road. And some of them were hanging out in Stockton.

Still, the killing there was only uncovered because of another.

On November 8, 1972, near Guerneville, an older fellow named Robert W. Stevens was hiking on an old logging road near the Russian River when he noticed a hand sticking out of the ground.

guerneville burial site

Parker’s Resort is where a subsection of the Manson Family stayed for about a month in October of 1972, including the Willetts. The headless body was found in a clearing NE of the mountain peak embraced by Mays Canyon (just follow the red line north on the map to the left).

The 71-year-old Stevens reported his discovery to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, and deputies dug up the badly decomposed remains. Whoever put the body there hadn’t done a good job of it, failing to dig the hole deep enough and doing nothing at all to disguise or secure the site. That’s why the corpse had the one hand exposed. As it turned out, the other was missing, along with his head. The work of scavengers, said the Deputy Coroner.

The Sheriff’s Office had been searching for a body just a week before that, supposedly the victim of a different sort of “family” – the Hell’s Angels. While three bodies were eventually located in other parts of the county (and linked to a biker called George “Baby Huey” Wethern), this particular search found nothing of note, and that site was clear across the Sonoma Valley from the one Bob Stevens stumbled across. Plus, the headless body was wearing the tunic from a Marine’s dress blues.

As far as I can tell, NCIS did not get involved, in spite of the uniform. It was detectives from the Sonoma Sheriff’s Office who finally identified the body as the remains of James L. T. Willett (apparently no relation to the James P. Willet who is San Joaquin County’s District Attorney at the moment – that’s just another weird little coincidence). The 26-year-old and very dead Willet was a former Marine, a Vietnam combat veteran who’d received an honorable discharge in L.A., taught ESL classes to immigrant kids, and then somehow fell in with the Manson family. It would later turn out that he had been forced to dig his own grave before he was shot with a .38 caliber handgun and buried in it.

The first person to be connected to Willet’s murder was an ex-con named Michael Lee Monfort. He was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, with whom Manson had formed an uneasy alliance while on Death Row. Rumor has it Charlie did so by becoming the submissive partner of another gang member also confined at San Quentin.

Monfort used James Willett’s identification after he and William Goucher Jr. were arrested for robbing the Eden Square Liquor store at 929 N. El Dorado St. in Stockton.

Since Willett had no criminal record, and his family owned Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (in Bardstown, Kentucky), Monfort would have looked like a fairly good risk to a bail bondsman. This, even though $10,000 back then was about half the price of a modest 2-bedroom house (it would be worth roughly 54 to 55 grand in today’s dollars).

Willett Pot Still Reserve

Willett Pot Still Reserve is first rate Bourbon and runs $45-$50 bucks a pop.

The bonding company would have demanded a 10% fee in cash or kind to secure the bond. They would have checked with the DMV for a vehicle in Willett’s name that could be used as an asset. They might have even checked with Willett’s family about his old addresses. One of them would have matched the address on his ID: 704 ¾ Coronado St., Los Angeles, CA.

The end result? Monfort got away with his impersonation of Willett. There was no automated system then for confirming his identity through fingerprints. So Monfort walked, and promptly skipped, while Billy Goucher stayed in the pokie.

Jim Willett’s body turning up brought things into focus, however, especially when Stockton cops looking for Monfort located the dead man’s station wagon outside a house in Stockton.

This house, at 720 W. Flora Street:

720 W. Flora St.

Photo taken ca. 2011 – courtesy of The Grump from Pahrump, via the Manson Family Blog http://www.mansonblog.com/search/label/James%20Willett

Stockton police came back with a warrant for Montfort, but had the door slammed in their faces by a woman inside. The officers kicked the door in and dropped on the people inside, including Monfort and another Aryan Brotherhood member – James Terill “Spider” Craig.

The two women present had Manson’s X carved into their foreheads: 21-year-old Priscilla Cooper and 20-year-old Nancy Pitman (also known as Brenda McCann). The cops also found an 8-month-old baby girl who turned out to be Heidi Willett, the dead man’s daughter.

Priscilla Kay Cooper

              Priscilla Kay Cooper

Nancy Pitman aka Brenda McCann

Nancy Pitman, AKA Brenda, was once described by Manson as his leading candidate for Family assassin.

A few minutes after the police made entry, another woman called the house asking if someone could pick her up and give her a ride to the house. The cops obliged, and soon took Lynette, better known as “Squeaky” Fromme, into custody.

squeaky fromme

“Squeaky” Fromme became the unofficial head of the Family in Manson’s absence. http://www.mansonblog.com/search/label/Lynette%20Fromme

Inside the house, police found a number of weapons, including a sawed-off shotgun, and James Willet’s discharge papers. They also noticed extension cords running across the floor to a trap door that gave access to the basement. When they looked further, they found freshly turned earth underneath the house. Investigators raised their eyebrows at that and decided to obtain a fresh warrant. Around 5 a.m. the next morning, they exhumed the body of 19-year-old Lauren Chavelle Olmstead Willett, nicknamed “Reni” by the group. She was James Willett’s wife and Heidi’s mother, and she had been shot in the head.

lauren and heidi willett and Brenda

       “Reni” Willett, holding Heidi, while “Brenda” looks on.

sketch of ground floor 720 w Flora

A sketch of the ground floor of the house at 720 W. Flora, showing where blood spots were found on the floor.

sketch of basement 720 W Flora

A sketch of the basement at 720 W. Flora St., showing where the body of “Reni” Willett was found.

The body had been there no more than 24 hours. The cause of death: a gunshot wound to the head.

At first, “Brenda” identified herself as “Lauren Olmstead” and then as “Karen McCartney. She claimed that baby Heidi’s mother had just left for Kentucky so she could be with the baby’s father, Jim Willet. Meanwhile, Monfort was claiming to be “Gordon Foote.”

Then, after the body in the basement was discovered, Priscilla Cooper told the police that “Reni” had accidentally been shot by Monfort while he was explaining how dangerous it is to play Russian roulette. That didn’t explain why she was buried in the basement, however, and the timeline was so tight. So…suggestive.

Let’s have a look:

October 17, 1972

Jim Willett is last seen alive, near Guerneville.

October 29 

Brenda, Priscilla, Reni and baby Heidi, along with Mike Monfort, Spider Craig and Billy Goucher all arrive in Stockton by means of Jim Willett’s white 1965 Ford station wagon. They rent the house at 720 W. Flora.

October 30th 

Mike Monfort and Billy Goucher busted for robbing a liquor store twelve blocks away, at Eden Square.

October 31st

Monfort makes bail. Goucher doesn’t.

November 8th    

Jim Willett’s body is found in Guerneville.

November 9th or 10th  

Monfort Fails To Appear (FTAs) in court on the armed robbery charge. Reni Willett is killed.

November 10th      

Squeaky Fromme gets off the bus in Stockton.

November 11th 

Squeaky visits Billy Goucher in jail. Later that day, Willett’s station wagon is spotted, around 8 p.m. Monfort et. al. are arrested. Squeaky Fromme turns up and admits to having spent Friday night (the 10th) at the house on Flora Street.
Squeaky’s returned to the very same facility where she’d gone to visit Goucher.

November 12th

Reni’s body is dug up.


A suspicious mind might wonder whether someone in the vicinity of Guerneville heard about the headless body being found and somehow communicated that information to the folks who were by then hanging out on Flora Street, in Stockton. Within a day of that news breaking, Willett’s wife was killed. That left only the 8-month-old Heidi as a witness to whatever the rest of the group had been up to, in Guerneville, in Stockton, in various other parts of the state.

Heidi Willett 8 mos

Little Heidi, thank God, came through all this unharmed. She was taken to Mary Graham Hall, the children’s shelter for San Joaquin County, and later turned over to relatives. From what I’ve heard, she was raised by her mother’s parents (with the approval of the Willetts). At last report, she is doing well.

The big unanswered question about all this?

What was all this about? Why kill Jim Willett to begin with?

Next up: The Mystery of the Missing Attorney