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(Credits: Far Out / Alamy / Wikimedia / Daniel Olah)

Travel

Barker Ranch: The abandoned gold mine that became Charles Manson’s hideout

@SamWKemp

In the August of 1968, the Manson Family cult murdered six people across Los Angeles, including the heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski. It was in the couple’s shared home that Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger were found dead, murdered at the hands of Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel. The gruesome murders continue to haunt the American cultural imagination – and no wonder. Manson asked Tex to totally “destroy” the victims, which is exactly what he did, ordering Krenwinkel to write “Rise” and “Death to pigs” on the walls, all in LaBianca’s blood.

The intense cruelty of the Tate-LeBianca killings was part of an even grander and infinitely more twisted scheme. Manson intended to frame The Black Panthers for the butchering of Tate and her companions, believing this would spark an apocalyptic race war. With society in ashes, Manson and his followers would finally seize control. But to do that they needed to survive the war they intended to incite, which is precisely what led The Family to Barker Ranch in California’s Death Valley.

Located in the rock-strewn landscape of the Panamint Range, Barker Ranch was constructed by Bluch and Helen Thomason sometime around 1940. In those days, it was used as a storage facility for the mine they had established nearby. The Thomasons had been lured from the city by the promise of gold but would wind up disappointed, later selling the property to one Arlene Barker in 1956.

The Barker family renovated the cabin and built a concrete ‘swimming pool’ to catch rainwater. Later, in the 1960s, Mrs Barker was approached by Charles Manson, who was looking for a hideout for his cohort at the time. Manson managed to convince Barker that the Family were a band of musicians looking for a place to practice, offering her a Beach Boys record – which Manson likely stole from Dennis Wilson – to sweeten the deal. From Barker Ranch, Manson began plotting the murders of August 1968, drawing up a list of celebrities he wanted to murder. Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones all appeared on that list, as did the unfortunate Sharon Tate.

While their leader envisioned the end of the world, Manson’s followers conducted raids on Death Valley, stealing cars and converting them into dune buggies. They quickly gained a reputation as local troublemakers, but none of the local residents could imagine what was going on behind closed doors. Bizarrely, it was the Family’s petty thefts that led to their arrest, not the actual murders. After Roman Polanski’s housekeeper, Winifred Chapman, discovered the bodies of Tate and her companions on August 9th, 1969, the LAPD began a full investigation, later announcing that they had ruled out any connection between the Tate crime scene and that of the LaBianca murders, which had been discovered on August 10th.

However, In December 1969, National Park rangers, California Highway Patrol and Inyo County Sheriff’s officers conducted a raid on Barker ranch and seized a man with a swastika tattoo between his eyes. Manson, who had been hiding beneath a bathroom sink, was arrested alongside a dozen others. At that time, the police thought they were arresting a local car theft ring. Only after the discovery of weapons matching the wound profiles established during the Tate-LaBianca post-mortems did the LAPD become aware of the Family’s involvement in the crimes.

Decades later, in 2008, the LAPD began searching for the remains of an additional victim of the Manson Family murders, which were said to have been buried somewhere in Barker ranch. The police found numerous bullet casings but no new remains.