Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Excavation to Begin at Manson Family Hideout

by Donna Weaver

Well, it's about time! A decision has been reached to commence a "limited" excavation to search for human remains at the former Death Valley hideout of Charles Manson and his followers. Police now believe Barker Ranch may be the location of several clandestine graves of additional victims possibly murdered by the Manson Family cult.

Following the grizzly murders of seven people in 1969, little has changed at the cabin where Manson was found hiding in the bathroom (pictured below right) when arrested at Barker Ranch. An officer who used the facilities there had found Manson, who was taken into custody along with several of his cohorts.

Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze issued a statement last Friday: "There was no consistent response from the dogs that searched, and no conclusive findings from the soil samplings tested by top experts in the field. Therefore I believe the only way to determine once and for all whether there are bodies buried at Barker Ranch from the time of the Manson family is to proceed with limited excavation in a very few areas." The excavation will take place May 20-23 at which time the federally owned park will be closed to visitors. A few weeks ago, Sheriff Lutze had postponed the decision to dig, saying ownership of the land was a compelling consideration on whether or not to proceed with the excavation.

Manson (pictured below left) apparently is no stranger to burying people in his backyard. Before moving to Barker Ranch, Manson and his followers resided at Spahn Ranch. On the night of August 8, 1969, Manson sent his right-hand man, Charles "Tex" Watson and three others to 10050 Cielo Drive with instructions to kill everyone inside. Murdered in the brutal killing spree were Steven Parent, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Sharon Tate and Sharon Tate's 8 month-old unborn fetus. The homicidal rampage continued the following evening with the horrific murders of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca.

Eight days later, on August 16, 1969, Manson and other family members were arrested on suspicion of auto theft. They were released, however, due to a date error in the search warrant. Manson blamed the arrests on Spahn Ranch hand Donald "Shorty" Shea. Believing Shea ratted them out to the police, Manson decided it was time to move, but before leaving for Barker Ranch, Manson and other family members killed Shea and buried him behind Spahn Ranch.

Although we may soon find out if there are indeed more possible victims of Charles Manson and his followers buried in unmarked graves on Barker Ranch, identifying the remains and proving who killed them may be difficult, if not impossible. Still, if nothing else, the discovery of human remains may help ensure that Manson family members who are on one-year parole reviews will never see the light of day.


Kathryn Casey said...

About time is right, Donna! Glad they're finally stepping up and doing the right thing. If there are bodies buried on the ranch, somewhere there are families without closure who deserve answers.

Leah said...

I wonder why they waited so long to start looking.

Rae said...

"I wonder why they waited so long to start looking."

They didn't really wait, though. They first looked after the original trial, when two of Manson's girls told them there were more bodies out there. At the time, they found nothing.

Time and advancements in forensic science have given them an advantage they didn't have back then, hence the renewed interest.

It's to their credit that they never closed the possibility of investigating further when the first search yielded nothing.

Diane Fanning said...

Isn't there something similar to ultrasound that can show unusual disturbances in the earth made even decades earlier? And do you know if they have any plans to use that equipment.

Leah said...

Thanks Rae, I didn't know that. I hope that if there are other bodies out there they will be found.

Pat Brown said...

My biggest interest in this is scientific! I want to know the accuracy of the dogs and the tests that were done that determined there are human remains at those locations. Rarely are proper records kept as to how useful these methods are and I am curious to see if the doggies should get extra bones and if the other tests hold water.

Ludmila said...

Well as you Donna "it´s about time".

Why the ownership of the land have to think if they have to proceed or not about the excavation?

Leah said...

I was wondering the same thing Pat, about the dogs in particular.

Does anyone here know who does own the Barker Ranch?

Donna Weaver said...


Yes one of the technologies used among others in trying to locate clandestine graves is a type of ground penetrating radar. It is my understanding that something new will be tested at Barker Ranch. The Utah Technology Assistance Program uses lasers to see if human bones glow in the dark. This technology has not been designed specifically for use at a desert homicide scene, so it will be interesting to see if it works.

Donna Weaver said...


I agree. Ownership of the land should not be a consideration if there is a strong indication of the location of clandestine graves containing human remains. As the survivor of a missing homicide victim, I can imagine the anguish of families who have loved ones that went missing from that area. Finding them, no matter how much time has passed, along with the pursuit of justice on behalf of homicide victims most certainly should outweigh any land ownership considerations.

Donna Weaver said...


Using cadaver dogs is not an exact science in itself, but has proven to be very successful in different types of scenarios besides locating homicide victims, such as victims of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, plane crashes, victims of genocide, etc. The only way to positively confirm the presence of human remains is to excavate and retrieve the remains for testing. Although the soil samples taken from the location were inconclusive, this may be because this could be a nearly forty-year old crime scene. The fact that dogs from two different agencies alerted to the same areas at Barker Ranch tells me there may a good chance they may have found something.

Barker Ranch is now federally- owned National Park property.

Thanks for your comments!