Program Note: Are there more victims buried on a remote ranch in Death Valley where Charles Manson and some of his cohorts were arrested nearly 40 years ago? Watch Ted Rowlands' report tonight on 360° 10p ET
After 90 minutes of driving down dirt roads and up narrow rocky trails in our four-wheel-drive truck I finally said it, “Wow, this place is in the middle of freaking nowhere”. It’s not hard to understand why Charles Manson and his “family” decided to make the Barker Ranch in Death Valley, California their hideout.
Even today when it seems no part of Southern California is without a sub-division and a Starbucks, the infamous ranch exists in another dimension. Abandoned gold mines dot the steep canyon walls. Old mining equipment rusts half buried in the hot sand. As retired local prospector Emmett Harder likes to say, “These canyons are full of ghosts”. This place sure feels that way.
Correspondent Ted Rowlands, producer Sara Weisfeldt and I are navigating these trails to find ghosts. After the infamous “Helter Skelter” murders in Los Angeles almost forty years ago Manson and his followers fled to the Barker Ranch. It was the last place Manson would breathe free air. In the end police found him hiding inside a bathroom cabinet.
Recently, a police investigator and his K-9 partner put the Barker Ranch back in the news. Over the years Mammoth Lakes Police investigator Paul Dostie had come across reports that Manson family members, various wannabes and ill-fated passers by were murdered and buried at the ranch...
The detective decided it was a good opportunity to work out his cadaver dog Buster, as part of their training regimen. Buster has the rare ability to alert his partner to decomposing bones, which means he can find very old graves. It was during this session that Buster started to key in on several possible burial sites around the Barker cabin. That’s when Dostie started to believe in ghosts.
Now here we are, hours from nowhere and with nobody around. The dead quiet of the canyon is broken only by the occasional Navy F-18 streaking overhead on its way to bombing practice at nearby China Lake. Ted and Sara are out walking the area trying to find Manson's old truck. It is nothing more than a bullet riddled heap with “Helter Skelter” written in faded spray paint on the back.
I am in the cabin shooting video. Alone. The place is beyond creepy. The cabin is what real estate agents would call rustic, in other words it’s falling apart. The kitchen stove is still there along with various cabinets and a broken down refrigerator. The bathroom cabinet (where the diminutive Mason was found curled up in a ball) is long stolen. Being alone in there, the breeze gently banging the door against the frame, I almost felt old Charlie breathing down my neck.
While continuing to shoot video I hear the whine of motorcycle engines approaching. A gang of British tourists dismounts their dirt bikes. One of them starts singing “Helter Skelter!” With media reports of the new search, it seems the Barker Ranch going through a mini tourism boom.
Before the Manson family took residence, many a gold prospector met his doom on these jagged cliffs. Before them, Indians buried their dead in these parts.
It’s getting late in the day and we still have a long rough ride back to civilization. Ted jokes that we should overnight in the cabin. Ah, no thanks. I don’t scare easily, but if ghosts do exist you can bet you will find them here.
Filed under: Crime & Punishment
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