Charles Manson and the Manson Family murder sites
Los Angeles, California, Death Valley, U.S.A
Article and Pictures, Tony Hart-Wilden
On Saturday August 9th 1969, followers of Charles Manson known as “the Family”, butchered 5 people at 10050 Cielo drive in Benedict Canyon Los Angeles. The next day they murdered a further 2 people in the nearby Loz Feliz district. These events became known as the Tate/ La Bianca murders. They were part of Charles Manson’s master plan to start a race war in which he and his followers would eventually merge as leaders of a new world order. At that time Manson and the Family lived on an abandoned ranch in Simi Valley. As evidence grew of their involvement in the murders, they moved out to the Barker ranch, in the hills above Death Valley. During that time they made regular outings, to the ruins of the former mining town of Ballarat. Manson and his followers were eventually prosecuted for their crimes, and received long jail sentences only escaping the death penalty due to recent changes in Californian law.
I had just read the Vincent Bugliosi book, Helter Skelter, about the trial of Charles Manson , and having recently moved to Los Angeles from England , I decided to visit some of the locations where the events depicted had taken place. The most famous murders associated with Manson are the Tate/La Bianca murders. The former were committed on August 9th 1969 and the latter the next night on August the 10th.. Charles Manson himself never actually committed them, but he gave the orders for his followers known as the Family to carry them out. And it was for this that he was successfully convicted by Vincent Bugliosoi who was the chief prosecutor at his Los Angeles trial. The first location I visited was the site of the former Spahn movie ranch in Simi Valley . This was where Charles Manson and “the Family” lived at the time of the murders. The ranch was actually where many famous cowboy movies in the 4o’s and 50’s where filmed until it fell into disrepair. Once I left the highway 101 , I headed out into the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley , until I reached Chatsworth. Up ahead is the 118 freeway. Just before you reach it, there is a turnoff to the left which is known as the old Santa Suzanna pass. The road is rarely used now, and it gradually takes you up into the hills before slopping down again a few miles away to Simi Valley .
The road twists and turns as it ascends, there are no houses, just uninhabited wasteland, and a few boulders along the embankments. I had read that the ranch had in fact completely burnt down during a fire in 1970s, but I thought there still may be some signs of where it once stood. The only landmark along the way is a modern building on the right hand side, which is the home of the Church of the Rocky Road . The Spahn ranch location was supposed to be directly opposite. I drove about 2 miles up along the Santa Suzanna pass until I found the building, and was able to park on a dirt track across from the main driveway. I didn’t have any recent photographs of the area, but I could tell by the bend in the road and the small enclave of rocks in the background that this is what I was looking for. There is actually a fence along the perimeter of what are now a few acres of yellowed grass. There is also a steel gate, and a “keep-out” sign in front of a small dirt track. I climbed over the fence and had a walk around, but there is actually nothing to see at all. There are no remains, not even any foundations, just a flat dry piece of desert. But somewhere out here once lay the body of Donald “Shorty short” a ranch hand killed by the Manson Family but whose remains lay undiscovered for ten years.
Just beyond the rear of the field there is a dry creek bed. This is where Charles Manson and his followers taught themselves how to shoot, and apparently you can still find the occasional empty gun cartridge from the thousands of rounds they fired. The area does of course attract the curious, and also some people with more sinister intentions. Several years ago, two teenagers were murdered in the surrounding hills after venturing up here one night. I found a way back out through a gap in the fence, and planned the next days visit. The following morning, I began my journey from Sherman Oaks, taking one of the canyon roads which climbs up the hill that separates the San Fernando Valley from Beverly Hills and Hollywood . The first location I had decided to visit was that of the Tate murder house. Although it is referred to most commonly as the Tate murders, this is only because Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski was the most high profile victim. There were in fact four others that died. They were Abigail Folger the coffee heiress, and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski, Jay Sebring the international hair stylist, and Steven Parent.
The site of the former Tate murder house, is 10050 Ceilo Drive , off of Benedict Canyon . The road there from the valley is quite steep and fairly narrow, but there are spectacular views as it crossesover the crest of the hill and then descends, twisting and turning downwards for several miles. Ceilo Drive is not that easy of a place to find, I had a map with me, but still missed the turnoff several times. Eventually I was able to pull off the main road and into a secluded cul de sac. Technically the address 10050 no longer exists. To discourage sightseers and those with a continued interest in Charles Manson the street address has now been changed to 10048. The address of the site of the other Manson murder house has also been changed. This was where the killings of Rosemary and Leano Bianca occurred at 3301 Waverly Drive, this has now been changed to 3311. It reminds me of the way the original street names of the Jack the Ripper murder sites in London, England, had also been changed for the same reason, and this was done over a century ago. So it’s not just in modern times that people for whatever reason, are interested in such events.
Beyond me is a wide tarmac driveway that curves away to the left, and a large iron security gate. You can’t actually see any of the current house at all. The seclusion, which hasn’t changed since the 70,s when the crime was committed, greatly aided the killers in their ability to carry out the murders without detection. On either side of the gates there are gaps, boarded by trees and a grass embankment. The killers simply climbed up one side of the embankment in the darkness and made their way across to the house, where at that time its occupants lay sleeping. It was around 1 am in the morning. All five people were butchered including a pregnant Sharon Tate. On one of the internal doors of the house was the word “pigs” written in blood. At the La Bianca house the next night, the words “helter skelter” were written in the same substance on the fridge door. This was actually meant to have said helter skelter, but was misspelled. Helter skelter was Charles Manson’s reference to the race war he planned to instigate. This was supposed to happen by pitting the affluent whites of Los Angeles against the poorer black communities. Manson believed the blacks would emerge victorious, but wouldn’t be able to lead the population. This is when Manson and his followers would step in, and govern them all. Helter skelter was a line from the Beatles White album and Manson convinced himself that when he listened to the album that the Beatles were sending a message just to him.
The Tate/La Bianca murders were the first steps in the implementation of Charles Manson’s master plan. After his followers murdered Rosemary Bianca, they were instructed to steal her wallet and plant it in a gas station in an area of Los Angeles largely populated by blacks. Manson believed that when the wallet was found, that whoever used the stolen credit cards, would quickly be picked up by police and they would be implicated in the murders. The Manson murder house was actually up for sale, in the late 90’s but there were no takers. Eventually it was torn down and another one has now been rebuilt in the same location. Bella Drive is a road that leads into the hills above Ceilo drive where you can look down onto the rebuilt Ceilo drive house. There are a few related locations very close to 10050 that I discovered by reading the book Helter Skelter. I took a few pictures, and then headed back up Benedict Canyon. A few hundred yards away on the right hand side there is a short dead end street called Portola. Halfway along there is a faucet where after the murders, the Manson family stopped to wash the blood from their hands.
If you turn back around and use the starting point of 10050 Ceilo drive, there is an interesting recreation of events that you can do for yourself. Again I got this from the pages of the book Helter Skelter. Susan Atkins one of the Manson family members that carried out the Tate murders recorded how after they fled the scene they had changed clothes in the car before coming to a point along Benedict canyon, where there was “a mountain on one side, and a ravine on the other”. When they had arrived at this point they discarded their clothes over the side of the ravine in an attempt to avoid detection in case they were stopped by the police on the way home. Despite the criminal investigation already being well under way, no one had yet attempted to locate the whereabouts of the bloodied clothes. It was actually a news crew that read Susan Atkins confession and attempted to retrace what happened. They changed clothes in the car as the driver sped up Benedict canyon. At exactly six minutes and twenty seconds, they reached a point corresponding to the description where there was a mountain on one side and a ravine on the other. Amazingly they found all the bloodied clothes that the killers had worn, that the police somehow overlooked. I checked my watch, and set off up the road as fast as I could, although I didn’t try changing my clothes. Approximately 6 minutes later, there was a “mountain on one side a ravine on the other”. The exact location is 2901 Benedict canyon road. I pulled the car over and looked down the ravine, knowing this was the same view the killers would have had over thirty years ago as they threw their blood stained clothes over the side into the dark gap below. Not far away, there is another winding canyon road known as Beverly Glen, the gun used in the murder was thrown over the side of another embankment only to be discovered several weeks later. Charles Manson and his family planned to wait out the coming race war he had planned in Death Valley Nevada . There was a place called Barker ranch where they lived, an inhospitable place, only accessed by four wheel drive vehicles. The remains of the ranch are still there if you can get to it. During their stay there they used to venture down into Death Valley into what was already an abandoned ghost town by the name of Ballarat.
I was in Death Valley , a few months later, on a separate trip, and I read about the Manson’s connection with the area. Ballarat is an interesting place. There are a few old shacks, an abandoned Ford truck and somewhere there is supposed to be some graffiti that Charles Manson once left on the back of a door. I couldn’t find it, but apparently it’s well hidden, and they don’t want anyone stealing the door as a souvenir.
Manson and his followers remain behind bars. Charles Manson himself is in California ‘s Corcoran prison where he has been for the last thirty three years. Most of the other Family members remain imprisoned in various other parts of the country. Squeaky Fromm, one of the more famous of Manson’s followers tried to assassinate the then president Gerald Ford in 1975. The myth and legend that surround Manson and his Family continue to grow, particularly via the internet. Manson himself continues to make news every few years when he comes up for parole. But it is unlikely that he will ever be released.
A History Of Charles Manson – Wikipedia
His Biography – Bio
The women that murdered for Manson – People
The Final Confessions Of A Psychopath – Rolling Stone Magazine
Manson, And The Manson Family – Official site
The Criminal Biography of Charles Manson – The Crime Museum