Sometimes it seems every major news story has a connection to the San Gabriel Valley.
Take the search for bodies Tuesday at a run-down ranch in a desolate corner of Death Valley.
The ranch, known as the Baker Ranch, was the last known hideout of Charles Manson and members of the Manson Family before their capture in October 1969. Some speculate that undiscovered victims of the Manson Family killers remain buried on the ranch after all these years.
A few months ago cadaver dogs searching the grounds had two significant hits, according to their handlers. The search scheduled for Tuesday will be a fairly scientific endeavor according to the Los Angeles Times:
PANAMINT SPRINGS — Spooky rumors have persisted for decades that there may be clandestine graves at a secluded ranch used as a hideout by the Charles Manson clan after a 1969 killing spree.
On Tuesday, Inyo County sheriff’s investigators and scientists packing portable ground-penetrating radar, magnetometers and shovels will convoy to the Barker Ranch on a mission to confirm or put to rest such speculation.
So what’s the local connection?
Leslie Van Houten. In the span of a couple years Van Houten went from Monrovia High School’s Homecoming Queen — to convicted murderer on Death Row.
Here’s some of what the Famous Trials Web site says about Van Houten:
Although described as being the least committed to Manson of the three female defendants, Van Houten nonetheless agreed to participate in the murderous raid on the LaBianca home on August 10, 1969. She helped hold down Rosemary LaBianca while Tex Watson stabbed her to death. In a November 1969 interview with police, Van Houten admitted to knowledge of the Tate-LaBianca murders, but denied participation.
Van Houten’s first attorney, Donald Barnett, was dismissed after crossing Manson. Her second lawyer, Marvin Part, wanted to show that Van Houten was “insane in a way that is almost science fiction.” Part saw her crime as influenced by LSD and Charles Manson, but Van Houten saw it differently: “I was influenced by the war in Viet Nam and TV.” At Manson’s urging, Van Houten fired Part and yet another attorney was appointed. When Van Houten’s third attorney, Ronald Hughes, also began pursuing a strategy that ran counter to that favored by Manson (Manson opposed any strategy that suggested the other defendants acted under his influence), the Family had him killed. No one has ever been charged with his murder.
Hughes is not among the potential victims buried at Barker Ranch. His body turned up in Sespe Hot Springs in Ventura County.
So who might be buried at the Barker Ranch?
As for Van Houten, here’s some links of interest:
Classmates from Monrovia High School.
Van Houten’s 2007 parole hearing
Victim’s letter to parole board