Thursday, March 20, 2008

Forensics News on


FRESNO, California (AP) -- Crime scene investigators may dig for bodies at a remote ranch where Charles Manson and his followers once hid because new evidence suggests victims were buried at the site, authorities said.


Tests at Manson's old hideout indicate at least two sites could be unmarked graves.

An ad hoc team of detectives and forensic investigators visited Barker Ranch in the California desert last month to test the soil for evidence of decomposed bodies.

Follow-up laboratory testing revealed that at least two sites could be unmarked graves, and the group is urging local investigators to begin excavating.

Former Inyo County detective John Little said Wednesday he was sent into the desert in 1974 by his former boss to investigate possible human remains buried at Barker Ranch.

"He said I should go up and take a look around the Barker Ranch and try to find four grave sites somewhere around 150 yards from the building," said Little, who set off toward Death Valley first in a pickup, then on horseback. "At that time, there wasn't a lot of really good forensic techniques to find things. Imagine what you could find with the sonar stuff they have now." Photo See photos from the compound »

Even though Manson and many of his followers had been convicted and sent to prison by 1971, Little spent part of the 1970's trying to tie together loose ends from the case. At one point, he came across a cache of canned food the cult members had stockpiled in the Panamint Mountains.

Little doesn't recall what led his boss, then-Inyo County Undersheriff Jack Gardiner, to send him in search of the graves. But Paul Dostie, a police detective from Mammoth Lakes who was on the team that visited the ranch in February, suspects Gardiner was tipped off to their presence by Dianne Lake, a former member of the Manson family.

Prosecutors say Lake's parents encouraged her to join Manson and his followers when she was just 14. She lived with them at an old Hollywood movie set north of Los Angeles. It was there that Manson began preaching of an apocalyptic race war he said was predicted in The Beatles' song "Helter Skelter."

Members believed they were a select group that would eventually come to rule the United States if they carried out gruesome killings that Manson ordered. After authorities raided Spahn Ranch, the Manson family set up alternate headquarters in the Panamint Mountains, near Death Valley, at a dilapidated house on Barker Ranch.

The clan was ultimately prosecuted for nine murders that took place in the summer of 1969.

Lake was later arrested in a raid, and Gardiner and his wife took her in to "deprogram" her, said Steve Kay, the former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Manson.

"How would Gardiner know with such specificity the sites of these graves if it weren't for Dianne Lake telling him?" Dostie said. "It just fits too well."

Gardiner has since died. Little has trouble remembering the exact dates of his visit to the ranch, but is confident in many of the details. A man who answered the phone at a listing for a Dianne Lake in Ojai said his wife was not a former Manson family member.

In the meantime, law enforcement officials are poring over the forensic evidence gathered at the ranch by investigators from Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Inyo County Undersheriff John Eropkin said a decision on whether to dig is expected next week.

Police in nearby Bishop have also reopened a case believed to be linked to the Manson family.

Fillippo Tennerelli was found dead in a motel room there October 1, 1969. At the time, the death was ruled a suicide, but at the behest of Dostie and a relative of one of Manson's victims, police are now reviewing the case to find out whether he really killed himself.


Debra Tate, whose sister Sharon Tate was killed by Manson's clan, said she was told there was a drug link between Tennerrelli and the Manson family.

"At this point, we're looking at whatever shreds of evidence we can gather," Bishop police Chief Kathleen Sheehan said. "There's no statute of limitations on murder."

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