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 6: Cold Cases

How many murders has the Manson Family gotten away with?  Charlie himself was convicted of ten, but we know there were more.  A lot more.

manson vigil

Manson Family members holding vigil at Temple & Broadway, outside the courthouse where Charlie is on trial (1970).  One of them is Cathy Gillies, though I can’t tell which one in this shot – they’re all bald!


We’ve talked about the Willetts couple (Jim and Lauren), and Gary Hinman, and Shorty Shea, and Ronald Hughes.  Who else should be on the list of victims?

Zero, without a doubt.

haught 2

Zero was a petty thief, originally from Ohio.  Here, he’s hanging out with Manson, and looks like he’s ready to smack someone with that magazine. 

scotty davis

Zero came out west with his buddy, Kenneth Richard Brown, better known as Scotty Davis to the Manson Family.  The two of them helped turn stolen VW’s into dune buggies, which brought a lot of cash to the Family.  This is Scotty’s mug shot, taken after the Barker Ranch raid.  http://dirrtyr0ckstar.piczo.com/helterskelter?cr=5&linkvar=000044


Zero also called himself Christopher Jesus, and he was arrested along with Scotty Davis and the rest of the Family during the Barker Ranch raid of October 12, 1969.  His real name was John Philip Haught, although nobody knew that on the day he died.  Except, perhaps, for his companions.

Who were they?

Some, you’ll recognize.

Bruce Davis, for instance.

bruce davis 2   Bruce, of course, was present at both the Gary Hinman and the Shorty Shea scenes, although it was Manson and Bobby Beausoleil and Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins who actually did Gary in.  And according to Bruce, he only cut Shorty once on the shoulder with a knife.  It was the other four guys who killed him.


Who else was there when Zero died?  Why, Country Sue Bartell.

country sue    country Sue 2  Country Sue didn’t actually join the Manson Family until after the Tate-LaBianca murders, but did show up at the Barker Ranch in time to get arrested along with everyone else during that first raid.  She was driving a car full of groceries.

country sue at the courthouse  Here you can see her on the far left, with other Family members outside the L.A. courthouse where Charlie received his first death sentence.


Not much is known about Bartell, except that she wasn’t involved in the Tate or LaBianca killings.  She did, however, make a lot of phone calls.  To lawyers.  Threatening phone calls, aimed at motivating defense attorneys, and intimidating prosecutors.  She was never nailed for doing so, but it wasn’t so easy to trace a phone call back in the late 60’s.  She had a reputation with some fellow Family members too.  Onjya Sipe, for one, said Country Sue reminded her of a mean rattlesnake.

Devils Dropout  A very rare Manson book, in which Onjya Sipe talks about life in the Family, and describes several other members in telling detail.


Another Manson girl was present that day: Catherine Gillies, also known as Cathy Meyers, Patricia Ann Burke, Patti Sue Jardin, and Cappy (short for Capistrano, the nickname given her by George Spahn).

catherine gillies     Catherine gillies2  Cathy Gillies/Cappy was a (more or less) local girl whose grandmother, Arlene Barker, owned the Barker Ranch – Manson’s last hideout.  Charlie traded a Beach Boys gold record obtained from Brian Wilson to Mrs. Barker for the right to camp out at the Barker and Meyers ranches, now part of Death Valley National Park.  The Family stayed there off and on through 1968-9.


The word is, Cappy was a Buffalo Springfield groupie before she joined the Manson Family in 1968.  Charlie cultivated her, not least because he thought the Meyers and Barker Ranches were perfect for his purposes.  So perfect, he decided he’d like to own them.  This ambition reportedly led to a murder expedition being pulled together which included Cathy/Cappy, who was sent off with several others in order to murder her grandma.  The plan was that Cappy would thereby inherit the ranches a little bit early and give them to Charlie. But something went wrong – a flat tire, some say – and the whole thing was called off.

No one knows how serious Cathy/Cappy was about actually doing this murder, but everyone agrees that she was and is highly disappointed that she wasn’t chosen for the Tate and LaBianca killing crews.  She testified for the defense at the sentencing portion of the trial, and claimed the Tate-LaBianca crimes were copycat killings intended to get Bobby Beausoleil out of jail.  She said Charlie had nothing to do with them.  Reportedly, she still argues that the killings were “the right thing to do for those times” and supports the Family members who remain behind bars.  She calls them her “brothers and sisters.”  And her role in Zero’s death is decidedly suspect.

Still, there may have been one or two other folks present the day Zero died.  At least one witness reported seeing a white guy depart the place at great speed just before the police arrived.  Was that, perhaps, Mark Ross?

The house was rented in his name.

Zero_House_091     Zero_House_106

The house in question:  28 Clubhouse Avenue, just off Pacific Avenue in Venice, CA.


Exactly who Mark Ross was or is, however, is open to question.  Seems he also went by the name Y. Lee Freeman, and claimed to have lived with the Family on the Spahn Ranch in 1968 along with a guy named Crazy Jake.  Except that Crazy Jake is really Irwin Kaufman Friedman, aka Johnny Friedman, and later Partee Friedman.  Which is neither here nor there except for the fact that Partee Irwin Friedman died in Sonoma County, CA on Sept. 30, 2008, after living for many years in the Guerneville area.  Which means Crazy Jake/Friedman was handy when a chunk of the Family murdered Jim Willett there in 1972, and could have been the one to alert the Family when the headless body was found a month later.  That would explain how the Family fragment living in Stockton by then heard about it so quickly, and murdered Willett’s wife the next day (See Part 2 of this series for details about the Body in the Basement).

Paul Watkins, another Family member who wrote his own book about it, says Ross was a newcomer, though.  That he didn’t show up until after the Barker Ranch raid.

watkins book   paul watkins 2  Paul Watkins is the guy who gave the prosecution the whole crazed “Helter Skelter” theory of the crime when Manson and the others were charged with the Tate-LaBianca murders.

Either way, Mark Ross (per se) doesn’t seem to exist.   There is a Mark Rosen with the same birthdate, Feb. 27, 1947, according to one researcher, and that guy has a known aka of Mark Ross.  The researcher says Rosen no longer lives in California, but he might be well worth tracking down.

According to the article that was printed in this issue of Argosy, Mark Ross was a budding actor/movie producer who was instrumental in getting the documentary film Manson made.

argosy cover









If you want to read Ross/Y.L. Freeman’s article on life with Manson, here it is:



If you want to watch the hour-long movie Robert Hendrickson made with the help of Mark Ross/Freeman and his friend Crazy Jake, you can find it here:



As for what happened at Mark Ross’s place on Wednesday, November 5th, 1969, there are two principal versions.  One comes from Cappy/Cathy Gillies, the would-be granny-killer.

Cappy says that she was napping, and Zero came upstairs to wake her up.  He wanted her to fix dinner.  But somehow, in the process of waking her, he wound up on the mattress she was using.  Zero then picked up a gun belonging to Mark Ross.  Removing the revolver from its leather holster, he examined the weapon and specifically told her there was only one bullet in the cylinder.  Then, for reasons unknown, he decided to play Russian Roulette with the gun.  He put the barrel up to his head and pulled the trigger.

zero booking slip   The booking form gives the details on Mark Ross’s gun.  Source:  http://www.mansonblog.com/2013/04/who-was-mark-ross-argosy-may-1970.html


Except the gun was fully loaded.  With an automatic, that might have been an honest mistake, but not a revolver.  You can see the cartridges if you open it up, which Cappy says he did.  Cappy also says that she touched the barrel of the gun, but gives no reason for doing so.  I wouldn’t.  It would be hot, for one thing, after being fired.  And I’d be freaked out by the whole thing.

Bruce Davis and Country Sue said they heard the gunshot.  They said it sounded like a firecracker.  Both ran upstairs and found Zero sprawled on the mattress with a gunshot wound to the right temple.  Bruce says he picked up the gun, realized that he shouldn’t have, and wiped it down.  Then he put it back in the holster and left it near the dead man’s right hand.  Which makes no sense, either.

Whether there were any fingerprints on the gun is a subject of some dispute, but the cops were apparently satisfied that this was a suicide, that Zero was either too stupid to realize the gun was fully loaded, or he intended to kill himself.  Either way, no big deal.  No one was arrested.  The body was hauled away.  Bruce and Cappy and Country Sue moved out, forthwith, and hid out in another house in the Simi Valley.

cathy gillies   Cappy/Cathy Gillies (the blonde) looks pretty normal in this photo.


The second narrative comes to us sideways, via Ronnie Howard, the jailhouse snitch who went to the D.A. with the story Susan Atkins had told her about the sexual release she obtained by stabbing Sharon Tate to death.  That story of Howard’s was what finally got the L.A.P.D. and the L.A. Sheriff’s Office to connect the dots between their cases.

ronnie howard  Ronnie Howard was described as a former prostitute in news articles although she also worked as a cocktail waitress.  Don’t know what she was in for when she met Susan Atkins, but she later said she regretted getting involved in the whole damn thing.


Ronnie said Susan Atkins also told her that Zero’s little accident was actually a death ritual.  The story goes this way.  Zero wanted to die while having sex, and had said that he wanted to die at the moment of climax.

Ronnie said Susan had sex with him, although there’s some confusion about which Susan is which.  Susan Atkins apparently told the tale as if she were the one involved, but she wasn’t there.  Definitely.  So did she imagine herself into that role?  Maybe even convince herself that somehow it was her, thanks to the “spiritual union” of the Family, when it was really Country Sue?  Or was it Cappy all along?

There’s no way to be sure, but the general description of events is still pretty chilling.  Whichever girl it was, they did have sex.  When she told Zero she was coming, he shot himself.  Reportedly, Zero did climax.  In fact, he “came all over himself” while his blood spattered the mattress, the wall and her, and some of it even ran down her throat.

Okay.  This may be exactly what happened.  Or Zero’s death may have been somebody else’s idea, meaning this was a sacrifice, all right, but not one that Zero himself made.  It’s more like one that Zero was.  Maybe Charlie decided to bring Zero “into the NOW” – Manson’s way of describing the moment of death, when everything becomes real.

Why else would anyone wipe the fingerprints off the gun?  Why flee the scene as soon as the cops were gone?  And who was that white guy seen leaving the scene?

It’s clear that no one at the police department connected any of these folks with the Tate-LaBianca murders, since arrest warrants for those crimes weren’t issued until almost a month later, on December 1st of that year.   The vast array of aliases and nicknames surely provided still more confusion.  But why didn’t anyone EVER come back and take another look?

Granted, there’s not much chance of getting information out of the folks who were there at the time.  Who can we ask?  Bruce Davis?  Who’s still waiting for his chance at parole on the other killings?  Not likely.

Country Sue Bartell?  Who has dropped off the map since then?  Hmm.  That’s where I would start, I think.

sanders book  ed sanders  Ed Sanders, author of The Family, interviewed as many Manson Family members as he could locate.  One could wish he’d dug a little deeper, though.  In far too many instances, all he did was scratch the surface.


When Ed Sanders talked to Country Sue Bartell about Zero’s death, he mentioned Danny DeCarlo (a Satan’s Slave biker dude who departed the Family after Shorty Shea’s murder – see Part 5 of this series for the details). Sue replied that Danny DeCarlo wasn’t at “the murder, I mean (pause) or whatever it was.”

A decent interrogator should be able to run with that, since Sue seems to be neither discreet nor terribly bright.  You would, however, have to find her.  Or Mark Rosen/Ross, who was pretty talkative at one time.

Otherwise, we’re left with Cappy/Cathy Gillies.  Who never ever denounced dear Charlie.  She did leave the Family, however, when it broke up in the early 70’s.  Rumor has it, she then joined a motorcycle gang, got married and then divorced, and had four children altogether.  She’s a grandma now, living out in the desert.  As far as I can tell, the only crimes she’s ever been charged with in connection with the Manson Family were the ones dropped after the Barker Ranch raid fizzled because of a misdated warrant.

cathy gillies 2011  This is a photo of Cappy/Cathy Gillies from 2011.

Cappy’s not at all likely to cooperate, though, and put her current life at risk.  Besides, she still thinks mass murder is called for, on occasion.  And Manson is still her personal hero.

That brings us to Charlie himself, I suppose, but he’s never admitted to anything, and almost certainly wasn’t there when Zero died.  Hands on really isn’t his style anyway.

We could ask Susan Atkins about it, except that she succumbed to a brain tumor in 2009.  We can’t even talk to Ronnie Howard.  She’s dead, too.

That’s odd.  Ronnie was herself murdered.  In 1979.  After years of harassment.

Apparently, a lot of people don’t like snitches, no matter how crazy or murderous the people being ratted out really are.  Ronnie said she lost a series of waitress jobs because none of her co-workers wanted a stool pigeon in their midst.  She had trouble with people following her, and was beaten up several times on her way home from work.

ronnie howard 2  Ronnie points out the bullet hole resulting when someone fired a rifle into her apartment.  She came to regret ever getting involved in the Manson case and told a reporter, “I should have kept my mouth shut in the first place.”


Interesting.  So ten years down the road, Ronnie Howard was on her way home from a weekend in Vegas.  She and her husband, Richard Lopez, and his brother Rudy, wound up at the downtown L.A. bus station.  When a gypsy cab showed up, she climbed in and the two men went to fetch their luggage.  But when they came back, the cab was gone, and so was Ronnie.  Later that night, Ronnie called her husband and said she’d been beaten and robbed by the driver, that he’d taken $400 she won in Vegas and about $800 worth of jewelry, then pushed her out of the cab in an industrial district.

Ronnie complained of headaches after that, but didn’t seek medical care for another 8 days.  That Monday, however, she was taken to Cedars Sinai and wound up dying on Wednesday of a subdural hematoma that had gone untreated for far too long.

Now, I don’t know all the details of this particular case, but a number of questions spring to mind.  Was the kidnapping/robbery ever reported to the police before Ronnie turned up at the hospital?  Did the police take a good hard look at her husband and brother-in-law?  Did the jewelry ever turn up?  Why were they so certain it wasn’t connected to the other assaults?  Or to the Manson Family?

Well, at first glance, I’d have to say that it just wasn’t brutal or vicious or stupid enough to fit into the general pattern.  She was bonked on the head, but there was none of the overkill that characterized the Tate or LaBianca murders, or Shorty Shea’s.  In fact, it seems likely the head injury wasn’t really intended to kill.  And she didn’t end up in a shallow grave.  But neither did Gary Hinman.  Nor Zero, for that matter.

Okay.  Overall, I’m much inclined to believe that Zero was murdered, and that the deed was done by a subset of the Manson Family.  Ronnie Howard, however, might have been done in by a cab driver, or by her husband (who might have wanted that $400 pretty badly if they were in financial straits such that they had to ride a bus to and from Las Vegas).  Or it might have had something to do with the Family, if someone seized the opportunity.  For now, my money’s split between the first two possibilities.

Other cases are more clear-cut.

Next Up:   More Cold Cases





A Hell of a Hoax! Part 5: More Murders

th8L3ZGKKV  Manson, five years ago, at age 75.

Just how many people have been killed by the Manson Family?  Ten?  Twenty?  Forty?  It’s possible that even Charlie doesn’t know.

Manson himself was convicted of arranging ten killings, right?  And we’ve all heard tons about the Tate and LaBianca murders.  Five people and a fetus 8 1/2-months along all died in the first set, and two more folks in the second.  But far, far less has been said about the other two victims.  Who were they?

First, there was Gary Hinman.

gary hinman  Gary Hinman was a grad student working on a PhD in Sociology at UCLA.  He was also a musician who taught others to play the bagpipes, piano, trombone, and the drums at a local music shop.

What kind of a guy was Hinman?  Something of a pacifist, it would seem.  A laid-back type who let all sorts of people crash at his house in Topanga Canyon.  He developed an interest in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism sometime in 1968, and began to plan a religious pilgrimage to Japan for the following year.

On the other hand, he started hanging out with the Manson Family, and got involved in some low-level drug dealing with biker gangs.  The two that get mentioned:  the Gypsy Jokers and Satan’s Slaves.  Not what I would call light-weights.

gypsyjoker      lancspatch

Was Gary just trying to raise some money for his trip to Japan?

The deal that he got into with Bobby Beausoleil (one of Manson’s hangers-on) supposedly involved some bad synthetic mescaline, which Bobby in turn tried to pass off on some of the bikers.  The bikers took exception to the presence of strychnine in it. And really, who wouldn’t?  Then again, given Bobby’s habit of putting on an innocent face and blaming everyone else for his problems, this whole story line may be complete bullshit.

bobby bo           bobby bo w tats

Bobby Beausoleil, in younger days…………….and later on, after he acquired a good deal of jailhouse art.  Beausoleil was a native Californian and a musician with credits on a Frank Zappa album, among others.  He first met Manson when Bobby was living in the basement of Hinman’s house.

Even if the drug deal gone wrong story is true, the amount of money involved, $1,000, was pretty small potatoes. But Bobby said he wanted his money back (or he may have needed to pay the bikers back).  So on July 25, 1969, Beausoleil paid a call on Hinman.  Bobby took Susan Atkins and “Mother Mary” Brunner along with him, but said at his trial that the two women had nothing to do with the drug deal.  They were simply along for the ride. Visitors.

Susan Atkins, however, tells a different tale in her 1977 autobiography.

Before she met Charles Manson, Susan Atkins worked as a topless dancer, and was in one San Francisco show called the Witches’ Sabbath, organized by Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey.  She promptly became one of Manson’s cheerleaders, and it was Charlie who bestowed the nickname “Sadie Glutz” on Atkins.

Susan says she and Mary went with Bobby that day because Manson told them to.  There was a rumor flying around about how Gary Hinman had come into a small inheritance of $20,000 (or maybe $21,000), and Charlie wanted it.  He sent the threesome as his emissaries.  They were supposed to persuade the musician to join the Manson Family.  That, of course, would mean adding his resources to theirs, including that inheritance check.  Oh, and Charlie wanted the pink slips to two of his cars too.

Whatever was said when they got there, Hinman’s answer was clearly no.  And the trio proceeded to hold him prisoner.  Apparently, he did try to make a run for it at one point, but the door he went for was locked.  The threesome heard him and quickly put a stop to that.

Things got no further, however, till Manson showed up, along with Bruce Davis.

davisBruce Davis’ mug shot.  You might think a construction worker raised in the Deep South (Alabama) would have very little in common with Charlie, but no.  Like Manson, Davis was an ex-con, a decent musician, and he had an interest in Scientology.  More on that later. 

Gary doesn’t seem to have realized that Manson was behind all this. When Charlie walked in, followed by Davis, Gary yelled, “CALL THE POLICE!”

Manson’s response was to slash him across the ear and face with a sword (provenance and disposition unknown).  Then Charlie told Gary, “Look, you can cooperate, and give us everything you got, and you won’t get hurt! I want your money, and anything else of value, or you’re gonna get killed!”

Hinman didn’t believe him, it seems.  He asked them all to leave.  So Manson and Davis did, driving away in one of Gary’s vehicles.  Meanwhile, with Bobby standing guard, Mother Mary and Susan sewed up Gary’s sword wound with dental floss.

Yeah, that’s what I said, too.  No way.

Rather than put up a fight, however, Hinman let them do it, and just kept asking all three to leave.

Finally, on the 27th, Beausoleil pulled out a Bowie knife and stabbed him in the chest. Twice.


bobbys bowie knife  The murder weapon.


Prayer beads in hand, Hinman began a Buddhist chant: “Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo.” But with two stab wounds in the chest, Gary soon slipped into shock, and began to have trouble breathing.  Later on, Mary Brunner told the police about Hinman gasping for air.  She said it got very loud, so they all took turns smothering him with a pillow to drown out the sound of it.According to Brunner, Hinman actually died while Susan Atkins was holding the pillow over his mouth.


Beausoleil then wrote “POLITICAL PIGGY” on the wall in blood.  He also drew a leopard’s paw print on the wall, in a rather silly attempt to make the cops think the murder had been done by the Black Panthers.


hinman crime scene  The writing in blood was probably a lot more vivid before it dried.


On the whole, it was a pretty brutal murder.


hinman mannequin  A mannequin showing Hinman’s wounds. Either one of the chest wounds would have been fatal without immediate treatment.  Hinman must have been serious about his Buddhism, however, as there were no defensive wounds.


Bobby being a dim bulb in some ways, he didn’t get too far after that.  On August 6, 1969, he was pulled over while driving one of Hinman’s vehicles.  He gave the cops a strange, confusing story about his friend Gary hanging out with some radical people – basically black militants – and how they must have killed him.  However, Bobby’s Bowie knife, the murder weapon, was found hidden in the wheel well of the very same vehicle, and Beausoleil was arrested on suspicion of auto theft and murder.

Because of that, he wasn’t available two days later, when Charlie announced to the Family that the time had come for Helter Skelter.  But Susan Atkins was, and rode off into history at Sharon Tate’s bloody little soiree.

After two trials, Beausoleil was convicted of Hinman’s murder and sentenced to death.  Then his sentence was commuted to life in prison when the death penalty was banned by the California State Supreme Court. He’s still in prison, but for reasons I don’t understand, he’s now serving his time in the Oregon State Penitentiary instead of a California facility.  Maybe that’s because he is the only member of the Manson family to ever take full responsibility for his crime and express remorse for it.  He also admits, now, that Gary Hinman was never part of a drug burn.

The letter is posted here:


The most disturbing part of this, for me, is the final outcome in court.  Bobby Beausoleil was convicted, sure.  Bruce Davis and Manson were also convicted, although in the end, all three had their sentences commuted to life.  But Susan Atkins was never even prosecuted for her part, even though she was holding the pillow down on Hinman’s face when he actually died.  Since Atkins wound up dying in prison anyway (of a brain tumor) for her part in the Tate murders, she did not really escape justice.  Maybe the DA felt it was an unnecessary expense.  But they were already trying the three men.  Why not one more?

Mary Brunner got away with it, too.  She turned state’s evidence against the men.  But then her testimony was never used at trial.  Why not?  And if it wasn’t used, why did she get to keep her immunity deal?


brunner   “Mother Mary” Brunner would later serve 6 1/2 years on other charges, but walked on everything to do with Hinman.  It’s true.  She wasn’t involved in the Sharon Tate murders, but that’s because she was jailed at the time.  She and “Blue” (Sandra Good) were caught that very afternoon using a stolen credit card at Sears.

Okay, so that’s the story on Hinman.

Who was the next victim?

Donald Jerome Shea, better known as Shorty.

shea in costume  Shorty Shea came west from Massachusetts.  He wanted to be an actor, and he did get into a few films, sometimes doing some stunt work.  Here, he’s in costume for a western shot on location at Spahn’s Movie Ranch.  His day job there was taking care of George Spahn’s horses, and he seems to have been the only guy trying to look out for George himself.


Shorty wasn’t short, of course.  He was a big, beefy guy, 6’4″ and 210 lbs (well, maybe – his autopsy report said 5’11” and 190 lbs).  He might very well have developed into a character actor of some renown.  But he ran afoul of Manson.
For one thing, as mentioned, Shorty cared about his boss, and was leery of the Family, which always seemed to have some scam underway.   He also had a wife, Magdalena Shea, and Charlie didn’t like her.  Nope.  Not one bit.  The one time she visited the ranch while the Family was there, she used a chair in the front room.  Afterwards, the Manson girls all warned each other not to sit in that same chair.


shorty shea wife  Magdalena Shea, seen here at Manson’s trial for the murder of her husband, was an exotic dancer in Las Vegas.  The Sheas were separated at the time of Shorty’s death, but they remained friendly.


What bothered Charlie so much about her?  Mrs. Shea is black.   That led Manson to look down on Shorty.  And then, early on Saturday morning, August 16, 1969, the L.A. Sheriff’s Office raided Spahn’s Movie Ranch and arrested the Manson Family en masse on auto theft charges.  They’d been stealing Volkswagens, converting them into dune buggies, and selling them off.

Strange how many VWs turn up in items about the Manson Family.  At least one of the vehicles stolen from Gary Hinman was a VW bus.  The mysterious Lauren Elder who drove Ronald Hughes to Sespe Springs (and his death) did so with a VW bus.  How many more were involved in murder?


100_0322  Hinman’s VW came to a sad end.


Charlie was convinced that Shorty had snitched on him to the police and helped set-up the raid, although it all came to nothing because of a clerical error re the date on the search warrant.  This was only a week or so after the Tate-LaBianca murders, but the police and the sheriff’s deputies had not put their heads or their cases together yet.  On the other hand, the Family was certainly on edge.

There was already bad blood between Manson and Shorty, anyway, and this too was over a woman, but not Shorty’s wife.  It was all about Windy Bucklee.  Windy was another of the “regulars” who worked off and on at Spahn’s ranch.  She landed there in 1963 after a troubled childhood in an Indian boarding school.

Accustomed to the interdependence and loose social structure on the ranch, Windy let another employee, Bill Vance, have a set of keys to her truck, so that he could use it while she was at work.  Then came the day she was pulled over by the cops and found out her truck had been used in a string of armed robberies.


bill vance david lee hamic  “Bill Vance” turned out to be an alias used by David Lee Hamic, whose life was pretty chaotic at the best of times.  For example:  while using Windy’s truck to ferry Mansonites around to the sites of various robberies, he was sharing a house with a midget named Little Harvey Williams.  Little Harvey was a carnie and the owner of a bull named Elmer that had three eyes and four horns.  Harvey used to travel around with the bull, which was featured at fairs, parades, and sideshows.  So Manson and his crowd may not have seemed all that strange to Vance.


ElmerTheThreeEyedBull  Elmer’s booth at Streamland Park in Pico Rivera, CA, circa 1960.


Windy figured things out, right quick, about who had done what with her vehicle, but didn’t rat on Vance.  Instead, she proved to the cops that she’d been at work when the robberies happened.  Then she went and cornered Vance at his house and gave him a thorough tongue-lashing before demanding her truck keys.  An hour later, Charlie showed up, wanting the keys back.  When she refused to do it, Manson broke her jaw, then kicked the shit out of her while she lay on the ground.  Windy apparently tried to shoot Manson for that, but was in bad shape by then and couldn’t get the safety off on her gun.

Such a pity.

Anyway, she wound up hospitalized for a couple of days but didn’t press charges.  She had very little faith in the legal system that had stolen her from her own parents simply because they were Indians.

Shorty soon heard about all this, however, and when he got a look at Windy, he lost it.

Shorty turned on his heels and headed down the street to Bill Vance’s house, screaming, “Come out of there, you yellow bastard.”  Little Harvey came out first and made the mistake of trying to calm Shorty down.  The midget went flying.  Then Vance came out, and Shea coldcocked him with one punch.

Next up was Manson, who came out talking tough, with a knife in his hand, but it did him no good.  Shorty beat him right into the ground, and left him lying in the street, unconscious. Windy has said she thinks that beating is what got Shorty killed, and it’s why Charlie brought a whole posse along for the job, including Vance.  He couldn’t stand the humiliation.

Payback happened on August 28, 1969.  Manson Family members Charles “Tex” Watson, Bruce Davis, Steve Grogan, Bill Vance, Larry Bailey, and Charles himself took Donald Shea for a ride.

shea suspects


“Tex” Watson and Bill Davis, we’ve met before.  Likewise Manson and Shorty.  But who are the other two?


Paul Grogan was a high school drop out and sometime guitar player who was considered borderline retarded by some Family members, and at least one judge – James Kolts.  It was Kolts who later said Grogan was “too stupid and too hopped up on drugs to decide anything on his own,” and commuted the jury’s death sentence to life in prison.


charles watson in movie  Grogan, shown here in a piece of soft porn filmed at the ranch, was known to the Family as “Scramblehead,” or “Clem,” short for “Clem Tufts.”  He also used the name “Grant Mollan.”  All things considered, however, he came out the winner compared to the rest of this group.


Larry Bailey (aka Larry Jones) was a homeless kid who hung around Spahn’s Ranch but wasn’t really part of the Family. Manson thought his facial features betrayed a mixed racial background and wouldn’t accept him.  Still, Bailey is reportedly the person who gave Linda Kasabian a knife on the evening of the Sharon Tate murders.  Bailey was also present when Manson told Kasabian to go with Tex Watson to the Tate home and do whatever he told her to do.  Bailey was also included in Shorty’s short ride to eternity.


larry bailey  “Little Larry” Bailey also went along on a later caper aimed at getting Charlie Manson out of prison, a plan which involved hijacking a plane and threatening to kill a passenger every hour till Manson was released.  But we’ll get to that later.


Now, where were we? Oh, yeah. That’s right. In the car. Possibly a ’59 Ford.

Shorty Shea, alas, found himself in the front seat, in the middle and surrounded on all sides as the car headed up a canyon toward Susana Pass, a route that has often been used by smugglers to ferry drugs across the Mexican border.  Accounts differ somewhat as to who did what, exactly, but some things are clear.  Shorty was attacked on two fronts at once.  From the backseat, Grogan/Clem struck Shea with a pipe wrench while in the front seat, Tex Watson stabbed him.  Davis later admitted to “cutting” Shea on the shoulder, but otherwise said he just couldn’t do it (well, he was talking to the parole board, trying to present himself as a human being).

The group then pulled over, pulled Shorty out of the car, and finished him off.  In some versions, there was a second car, and it wasn’t the men but Leslie Van Houten who gave Shea’s body the kick that rolled him downhill to his final resting place, a shallow grave at the bottom of the slope.  Some think the body wasn’t buried at all, that erosion of the hillside covered him up, but Clem later claimed to have dug the grave.  What’s more, he said he did it all on his own, and he is the one who finally drew a map for police and told them where to find it…but that didn’t happen until 1977.


th4JKNLOAG  Exhuming Shorty’s remains turned into a ticklish job.  His skull was found above ground and his left hand was missing.  Say, who else do we know who lost his head (and a hand) and wound up in a shallow grave after crossing the Family?  Remember Jim Willett?


Rumors, of course, abounded after Shorty disappeared, along with his gear.  Some said he’d gotten disgusted by George Spahn’s refusal to kick out the Manson Family, and moved on.  Others said he’d been dismembered, chopped up into nine different pieces.  Everyone soon found reasons for denying they’d had any part in it, even though the cover-up afterward seems to have involved at least half of the Family.

No matter.  They didn’t do nearly a good enough job of cleaning up.  For one thing, Shorty’s car turned up about four months later, on December 9th.  Inside his 1962 Mercury, police found his bloody cowboy boots and his footlocker, sporting the fingerprints of Catherine “Gypsy” Share and a palm print left behind by Bruce Davis.


catherine gypsy share  Some of the Manson girls underwent what they considered military training while out in the desert, which for some reason, was often done topless.  Here, “Mother Mary” Brunner seems intent on learning her lessons.


Shorty’s possessions were all packed up in that footlocker, too.  Everything but his prized .45 caliber pistols.

Shorty Shea was in the habit of pawning those matched pistols whenever he ran short of cash, and he must have done so shortly before he was killed, because there was a pawn ticket in that footlocker, a ticket which somehow came into the hands of Bruce Davis, though he denied ever touching the locker.

Davis did have some sense of caution, however.  He handed the pawn ticket off to Steve DeCarlo, and asked him to redeem the pistols.  But by the time DeCarlo did so, he’d heard about Shea’s murder.  So he didn’t turn the guns over to Davis.  He took them to another pawn shop and sold them again.  Then he split.


danny decarlo  Danny DeCarlo was a member of the Straight Satans biker club, but joined the Manson Family to act as “protection” for Charlie and because he liked the lifestyle.  Once he figured out what they’d done to Shea, DeCarlo left.  In fact, he jumped bail on a weapons charge and fled back to his native Canada, which has no death penalty and won’t extradite anyone facing capital punishment.  One wonders what else he was worried about, since he had not been involved in killing Shorty.


Despite the lack of a left hand, there wasn’t much doubt that it was Shorty’s body they’d found.  For one thing, there were lots of old injuries and identifying marks.  While serving as a paratrooper in Korea, Shea had made a bad jump, and shattered both hips and both ankles.  He had five pitchfork scars on his chest from an accident he’d had as a teenager.  He had tattoos of three horses on his chest, and another of a rose and a lady on his upper left arm.  He also had the words “I’ll always love you Nicki” tattooed over his heart.

The autopsy report showed lots of wounds, and indications of several weapons used:


shorty shea autopsy  Some wounds were due to a buck knife, and some were caused by a machete, while others came from a monkey wrench.  Some may have come from an axe.


So how did it all turn out?

Well, as I’ve mentioned, Charlie Manson, Bruce Davis, Tex Watson and Clem/Grogan were all convicted of the murder.  All were awarded the death sentence by the jury, but in Grogan’s case, the judge commuted that sentence to life in prison.  And that made Clem eligible for parole.

Guess what?  He got it.  Grogan served only 14 years, in the end. Which is why the hoax about Manson being paroled was so damn believable to me.

Well, so far, Steve Grogan is the only Manson killer who has won parole after getting the death sentence.  Others have for lesser offenses, but not the major players.  And it looks like it served Clem well to play the dummy.  He even managed to marry (twice) while in prison, to father two sons during conjugal visits, and then, having become a family man of a different kind, he was released as being “no further danger to the public.”

Rumor has it, he changed his name, and his sons’s names as well, and took up house-painting somewhere in the Simi Valley.  But other rumors say that he no longer just picks a little on a guitar.  It’s said that he’s become a highly skilled musician and excels at playing the blues.  He has even been seen in Paris, playing in clubs on the Left Bank.


charles watson playing  Here is one shot of Clem, living the good life, playing his music, and enjoying his freedom.  Who’s a Scramblehead now?


These are the killings considered resolved by the justice system.  But there were more.  Maybe a lot more.


Next up:  Cold Cases




A Hell of a Hoax! Part 4: The Missing Attorney and More Murders


The many faces of Charlie Manson, down through the decades…

This series started with a hoax, a credible-looking news release that said Manson had been granted parole.  That ticked me off tremendously, and then, when I started to scratch around, looking into it, I discovered there had been a Manson Family murder in my home town – Lauren “Reni” Willett was shot in the head the day after her husband’s decomposed headless body was discovered in the woods near Guerneville.

I’ve been exploring the reasons the killers gave for committing these two murders – basically, that he wanted out and was threatening to rat out the male members for the armed robberies they’d been pulling.  But there are other possibilities.  One arose from the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Ronald W. Hughes.

Who the heck was Ronald Hughes?

Kanarek & Hughes  That’s Hughes, on the right, doing the fist pump.

He was Manson’s public defender up until a couple of weeks before Charlie went on trial for the Tate-LaBianca murders.  Then he switched clients.  Irving Kanarek took over Charlie’s case, and stayed with him through his conviction on the first six counts of murder adorning Charlie’s rap sheet.

Irving Kanarak

In this later pic, Mr. Kanarek does not look like he’s enjoying himself nearly as much.

Kanarek was an experienced attorney with a well-earned rep for obstructionism.  He is believed to have set a record for the number of objections raised during Manson’s first trial, although it’s hard to say for sure without going through the entire transcript.  The press quit counting at 2oo, which occurred on Day 3.  He raised nine of them during the prosecution’s opening statement alone, and was himself found guilty of contempt of court four times during the trial.

Despite his efforts, Kanarek didn’t impress his client.  Manson offered to fire him at one point during the trial. Word has it, Kanarek went down  on his knees and begged for his job.  At other times, Manson threatened to have him killed.  Even so, Kanarek saw the case through, and wound it up with a seven-day-long closing argument that basically accused the three women charged with him of having committed the murders out of their love for Tex Watson, not Charlie.

Judge Older wasn’t impressed either.  He told Kanarek that he was totally without scruples, and said the lawyer’s summation was not an “argument but a filibuster.”

Hard guy to impress, I guess.

Then again, Judge Older was no Lance Ito.

Older was a Flying Tiger.


judge older and his tiger

Charles Herman “Chuck” Older wasn’t just a pilot in the Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots who fought the Japanese in China before Pearl Harbor.  He was an Ace.  He shot down 18 enemy planes and held the third highest score for the entire group.

Older also fought in World War II and in the Korean War.  Not the kind of guy you can buffalo.

Kanarek tried.  He managed to drag the trial out for a whole ten months, which was the longest in American history, at that point.  Charlie did his part, too.  Along with instigating bizarre behavior by his co-defendants, Charlie acted up on a regular basis, and wound up being removed from the courtroom on several occasions.  Charlie threatened his own attorney, as mentioned, as well as the prosecutor (Vincent Bugliosi) and Judge Older.

Then he tried to attack the judge.

I think Manson was lucky the bailiffs stopped him.  I know that in response to the death threats, Bugliosi got a bodyguard.  Older started carrying a loaded .38, and he certainly knew how to shoot much larger guns than that!

While all this was going on, Ronald Hughes was there, but he was representing Leslie Van Houten.

the threesome

Leslie Van Houten (left), Patricia Krenwinkel (center), and Susan Atkins (right) being transported to the courthouse in 1970 after carving Xs into their own foreheads in imitation of Charlie’s move.

Charlie didn’t like that either.

You see, Hughes was actually doing his job.  He took on the state’s witness, Linda Kasabian, and put on a show of his own in trying to discredit her.  His pointed questions led to a detailed discussion with Kasabian about the finer points of preparing magic mushrooms for a “trip.”  Then he got into her belief in ESP.  Hughes even got her to admit her own idea that she might be a witch because she had experienced what she called “vibrations” emanating from Charlie.

That part was fine with Manson, but then Hughes tried to show that his client, Van Houten, wasn’t acting independently, but was completely under Manson’s control. This strategy ran directly counter to Manson’s plan.  Charlie was going to allow his girls to implicate themselves in the crimes and clear him of all involvement.

So, yeah, maybe it did take the guy four tries to pass the Bar Exam.  Maybe Hughes didn’t have that much experience on the job.  Yes.  The Public Defender’s Office was his first job as a lawyer, and yes, the Manson trial was, in fact, his very first trial in front of a jury.

In fact, you have to wonder what the Public Defender’s Office was thinking, handing this guy a big splashy death penalty case.  What some would call the Trial of the Century (up until O.J.’s, at least).

You’d think they were trying to set Charlie up with an automatic appeal on the grounds of ineffective counsel.  But Hughes surprised nearly everyone.  He did a decent job.  Even the chief prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, thought so.

ron hughes

Ron Hughes was nervous at first, but he took to reporters and mikes in no time.

If you’d like to hear the man speak for himself, try this link:


So what was the outcome of all this, after 22 weeks of hijinks and outbursts, of chanting, scarred foreheads, and death threats?  Another big courtroom surprise.  The prosecution rested its case, and five minutes later, the defense did likewise, without having called a single witness.

The courtroom exploded.

Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten all jumped up and shouted about how they wanted to testify.  Even when order had been restored, the threesome insisted they wanted to take the stand, to tell the jury they’d killed Sharon Tate and the others on their own, that Charlie had nothing to do with the killings.

That’s when Hughes stood up and told Judge Older, “I refuse to take part in any proceeding where I am forced to push a client out the window.”

After that, Manson was allowed to make his own statement to the court, but Hughes repeated his objections and advised his client and the other two women not to testify.  Older halted proceedings there, and ordered a ten-day recess so the opposing teams of attorneys could prepare their closing arguments. Hughes later told a reporter that he was confident he could win an acquittal for Van Houten, but when the ten days were up, Hughes no-showed.

That was on November 30, 1970.  Police found that Hughes had gone camping during the recess.  Reportedly, he’d asked two friends to drive him up to Sespe Springs, in Ventura County.  Hughes himself was living in a friend’s garage at the time, and he couldn’t drive his own car.   He’d been pulled over by the CHP on October 30th and slapped with a number of fix-it tickets over problems with his brakes, turn signals, stop lights, and horn. Until it was all repaired and signed off, he’d be liable to arrest if he were caught driving it again.

The two friends were James Forsher and Lauren Elder, both supposedly 17 at the time and possessed of a Volkswagen bus.

Now what was Hughes doing, hanging out with a pair of teenagers?  He was 35 by then.  “Hippy lawyer” or not, this seems odd to me.  And it’s odder yet that Forsher and Elder came back, but Hughes didn’t.

sespe springs

Sespe Springs, shown here, lies in the hills above Ojai.

It rained an awful lot that weekend.  It was, in fact, the biggest storm of the year.  So many roads in the hills were flooded or washed out that it was another two days before the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office could even mount a search for Hughes.  His companions, James Forsher and Lauren Elder, told the Sheriff their VW bus got stuck in the mud.  They decided to abandon the bus and hitch-hike their way home, but Hughes preferred to stay put, and work on his closing arguments.

If so, why didn’t he leave when the wilderness area was evacuated?

We don’t know, but Hughes was last seen alive by three other campers on the morning of November 28, 1970 (the day after the two teens left). The other campers later told investigators that Hughes was alone at the time and had stopped for a brief chat. Hughes, they said, appeared to be in good condition, and was well clear of the flood waters.  All of these people then underwent a lie detector test on these questions, and all of them passed with flying colors, including Forsher and Elder.

Nevertheless, no Hughes.

By December 2, Hughes had been missing for nearly two weeks.  Judge Older gave up.  He appointed a new attorney, Maxwell Keith, for Leslie Van Houten and ordered the proceedings to continue. The women threw a fit and demanded the judge let them fire all their lawyers, and then reopen their defense.

The judge had had a bellyful by then.  He denied the request. So when court reconvened, all four defendants pitched another fit.  They accused Older of doing away with Ronald Hughes.  So the judge booted all of them out of the courtroom and carried on regardless.

judge older

Like Queen Victoria, Judge Older was not amused by irregularities.

Hughes didn’t turn up again until March 29, 1971.  A couple of fishermen found his body wedged between rocks in a gorge-like section of Sespe Creek.  After four months in the water and weather, his remains were in such a state, they had to be identified by means of dental X-rays.  The autopsy couldn’t determine the cause of death.  It was ultimately ruled ‘Undetermined’ and the Sheriff decided to call it an accidental drowning – something he defended to the bitter end, by the way.

In yet another coincidence (the Manson chronicles are littered with them), Ronald Hughes’s body was found on the very same day the jury slammed Charlie and all three of his winsome co-defendants with the death penalty.

Leslie Van Houten eventually won a new trial on the grounds that losing her attorney like that had compromised her defense.  She even managed to hang the jury, the first time out.  But the state came back for another shot, and this time she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  This is ironic, since by that time, at least two Family members were claiming that Hughes was murdered by the Family, and that it was done on Manson’s orders.

One of them was Sandra Goode.

sandra good during trial  Sandra “Blue” Good imitated Charlie when he Xed himself out of society by carving that X into his own forehead.  When he shaved his head, she followed suit (as did many others in the Family).  During the trial, Blue was one of those demonstrating on the street, outside the court house.

Squeaky and Sandra Good  Squeaky Fromme and Blue (Sandra Good) in happier times.

In his book Helter Skelter, the prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi said Sandra Good told him the Family had killed Ronald Hughes.  She called it “the first of the retaliation murders.”  Then she claimed that Manson family members had killed “35 to 40 people.”

This total would appear to include Jim and Lauren Willett, since they were killed about a year and a half after Hughes disappeared in November of 1970, and the book came out in 1974.

Did Blue know what she was talking about?  The odds are pretty good, since she was BFFs with Squeaky Fromme at that time, and she also seems to have been involved in the Willett affair.

Sandy_Lauren  That’s Lauren “Reni” Willett behind the refrigerator door in this pic, and that is Blue in the foreground, and this is the house on Flora Street, in Stockton, CA where Lauren Willet’s body turned up, buried in the basement.  This is also the house where Squeaky Fromme was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the Willetts’ murders.

The claim that Hughes was murdered has been repeated by at least one other well-placed Family member, but that has never bothered retired Ventura County Sheriff Charlie Rudd, now 85.  The former sheriff insists there was no sign of foul play, and says Hughes must have been caught up in a flash flood.  Either he drowned, or he was knocked out by debris or rocks in the water, and then he drowned.

Well, when I was taught forensic science, I learned a basic principle.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Having attended several hundred autopsies, I can also tell you that a body which has been in the water for four months is going to be mostly maggots.  Whatever evidence of foul play there might have been at the beginning is likely to be long gone.  Your only hope would be finding marks on the bones.  But 25% of fatal head injuries leave no detectable marks on the skull.  Nearly two thirds of lethal bullet wounds leave no mark on the bones.  And it’s perfectly possible to kill someone with a knife and leave no sign on the skeleton.  Or simply knock a guy over the head and let him fall into the flood.  So Rudd’s insistence that there was no evidence?  Holds no water at all with me.

There’s also the curious coincidence that Hughes went up to Sespe Springs with a young couple called James and Lauren.  There’s been a lot of argument about whether these two were actually Jim and Lauren Willett.  Bugliosi himself indulged in speculation about it, and found himself being sued by James Forsher about that.  Forsher lost his suit in the end (ca. 1980), because Bugliosi had done nothing more than speculate.  He’d never actively accused Jim Forsher of anything, and the mere fact that he was alive after 1972 proved he wasn’t Jim Willett.  As for Lauren Elder, no one seems to know what became of her, or who she was in the first place.

There’s a story about her being a passenger on a small plane that crashed in the mountains near Independence, CA in 1976.  She survived the crash and even managed to walk out to get help.  Was this the same Lauren Elder?

JP7T_SG_Plane_Crash  The plane did not survive the crash.  Courtesy of the Manson Family Blog at http://www.mansonblog.com/search/label/Lauren%20Elder.

Or had the original Lauren Elder been the girl who married Jim Willett?  The teenage mother who was hanging out with Squeaky Fromme and Sandra Good and Tuffy Cooper and Nancy “Brenda” Pitman in 1972?  Where was she in November of 1970?  Was she riding around in a “borrowed” VW?  The Manson Family had, after all, been arrested by the L.A. Sheriff’s Office the first time around for stealing VWs and setting up a chop shop where they could be converted into dune buggies and then sold to the clueless and credulous.

I don’t know.

James Willett would have been 24 in November of 1970, and Lauren Willett would indeed have been 17.  James Forsher was apparently 22 at the time – when he later sued Bugliosi, that’s what the papers reported.  The Lauren Elder involved in the plane crash would have been 21, not 17.  Much has been made of these disparities in thereported ages of the two Jameses and the two Laurens, but are the differences all that large?  How reliable can any calculations be if they’re based on the original “James” and “Lauren” really being 17?

Then there are other troubling questions.  Does it bother anyone else that when this “James” and “Lauren” got their VW stuck in the mud, they simply abandoned the bus?  So far as I can tell, they never did call a tow truck out to try and recover the vehicle.  Why?  Because it was stolen?

And if Brenda was, as he himself said, Charlie’s designated assassin, where was she that rainy weekend when Hughes disappeared?  Where was Blue?

nancy10  A rather fuzzy pic of “Brenda” much later in life.

Even if she did nothing, or maybe went no further than setting Hughes up for the kill, how much did Lauren Willett know about all this, and was that maybe why both the Willetts were killed?  Perhaps they had a lot more to spill than the beans on a bunch of robberies.

At this point, it might be that only Blue and Brenda know for sure.  But they’re both enjoying a happy retirement.  Blue’s in Florida.  Brenda’s in Oregon, selling ceramics by the seashore.

Sandra good old lady  Blue, I’m told, is still sending letters and money to Charlie. 

Perhaps we’ll never know the truth.

As for Hughes, his closed casket funeral was held on April 7, 1971, and he was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Ronald W Hughes Westwood Memorial Park LA  The Manson trial was his first and last, but Ron Hughes showed a lot more character than his fellows at the defense table.  The “hippy” lawyer was, for my money, the best of the bunch, if maybe not the wisest in terms of self-preservation.

The larger question, of course, is this:  If Hughes really was murdered, if his death truly was the “first of the retaliation murders,” then who were the other victims?

It sounds like there are lots of candidates.

Next time up:  Who Killed Cock Robin?