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 2: The Body in the Basement


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

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

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

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

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

Check it out for yourself:


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

lee majors

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

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

alvin karpis

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

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

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

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

manson04   Manson poster

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

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

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

mother mary brunner & Valentine                      Stranger in a Strange Land

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

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


Now I disapprove.

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


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

What the heck was going on back in 1972?

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

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

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

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

guerneville burial site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willett Pot Still Reserve

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

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

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

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

This house, at 720 W. Flora Street:

720 W. Flora St.

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

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

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

Priscilla Kay Cooper

              Priscilla Kay Cooper

Nancy Pitman aka Brenda McCann

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

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

squeaky fromme

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

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

lauren and heidi willett and Brenda

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

sketch of ground floor 720 w Flora

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

sketch of basement 720 W Flora

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

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

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

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

Let’s have a look:

October 17, 1972

Jim Willett is last seen alive, near Guerneville.

October 29 

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

October 30th 

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

October 31st

Monfort makes bail. Goucher doesn’t.

November 8th    

Jim Willett’s body is found in Guerneville.

November 9th or 10th  

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

November 10th      

Squeaky Fromme gets off the bus in Stockton.

November 11th 

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

November 12th

Reni’s body is dug up.


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

Heidi Willett 8 mos

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

The big unanswered question about all this?

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

Next up: The Mystery of the Missing Attorney