May 7, 2009

Suspicious fire guts Charles Manson's remote Death Valley hide-out

The Barker Ranch cabin's rock walls and tin roof are still intact, but its wooden interior beams and window and door frames are reduced to ash. An outbuilding is destroyed.

Fire gutted a remote Death Valley ranch once used by Charles Manson.
(National Park Service)

By Julie Cart
Los Angeles Times

Barker Ranch, the old Death Valley mining camp notorious as Charles Manson's hide-out, has been gutted in a suspicious fire, according to the National Park Service.

"The building is gutted, burned out," said Terry Baldino, a spokesman for Death Valley National Park.

The homestead's rock walls and tin roof were still intact, but its hand-hewn wooden interior beams and window and door frames were all reduced to ash, he said.

An outbuilding, originally built as a garage or workroom, was destroyed, Baldino said.

Park officials said the fire might have started last weekend; it was reported Wednesday. No cause has been identified and the fire is under investigation, Baldino said.

The cabin is in a remote area of the park and is used by backcountry campers. It had a stove and a fireplace, but there is no water source in the area. If the fire was inadvertently set, there was no water available to put it out.

"The thing that is really sad," Baldino said, "is that a month ago we had a restoration crew out to stabilize the place. We were afraid the wood lattice and tin roof would come off. We replaced wood timbers in the sagging roof and cleaned up the interior and the grounds. It was actually in fairly good shape when we finished."

Barker Ranch about ten days earlier on April 26, 2009. (KN6KS / Thomas Hart)

The simple cabin was built in the 1930s by a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer, who, with his wife, had staked a gold claim. The Barker family then bought the house and worked the claim.

In the late 1960s, the Manson gang roamed the barren Death Valley landscape in dune buggies and prepared for "Helter Skelter," a race war that Manson was trying to spark. The phrase was taken from a Beatles song, which Manson believed was encoded with predictions that the conflict would destroy modern civilization. Manson and his followers planned to survive by living in a tunnel, then emerge as leaders of a new world order.

Manson eventually was arrested in the cabin, hiding in one of the cupboards, after a 1969 murder rampage in Southern California that involved the killing of actress Sharon Tate, three friends and a teenager at the pregnant actress' Benedict Canyon home, as well as the slaying of a couple in Los Feliz.

The ranch was the subject of renewed attention recently when a local police detective searched the site for possible clandestine graves. The excavation revealed little more than a few bullet casings.