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10 Strange And Unusual Deaths Connected To The Manson Family

by Robert Grimminck
fact checked by Jamie Frater

In August 1969, the murder of eight-month-pregnant actress Sharon Tate and her four houseguests, along with the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the next day, made international headlines. The murders were as senseless as they were brutal. What shocked people even further was who committed the murders: the Manson “Family,” a group of young hippies under the guidance of a strange, short man with wild eyes and wild hair named Charles Manson.

In total, Charles Manson was convicted of nine counts of first-degree murder, which included the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders and those of Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea. Hinman was a music teacher who was killed by Family member Bobby Beausoleil over money and property. Shea was murdered because Manson believed that Shea had reported the Family to the police.

However, there were a number of strange and brutal deaths that have been linked to both Charlie Manson and members of his Family. In fact, LAPD believes that the Family could have claimed up to 12 more victims. Here are 10 possible cases where Manson and his Family may have had a hand.

10Sherry Doe

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One possible victim is known simply as “Sherry Doe,” or Case File 358UFCA. Her body was discovered dumped on an embankment off Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles on November 16, 1969. The young woman, who was probably between the ages of 20 and 23, had been stabbed 157 times before being dumped.

A ranch hand that worked at Spahn Ranch, the Manson Family’s home from mid–1968 until their arrest in winter 1969, said that she remembered seeing a girl who fit the description of the unidentified girl hanging around with the Family. She believed that her name was “Sherry.” The police looked into it and found that there was only one Manson girl who went by the name Sherry. That was Sherry Ann Cooper, aka Simi Valley Sherri. She and Barbara Hoyt had fled, and were alive.

The crime was linked to the Family because of the barbarity of the stabbing and the area in which the body was found. The body of “Sherry Doe” has never been identified.

9Laurence Merrick

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The Manson Family murders were obviously big news, and Hollywood ate the story up. One of the films made about the Family was a documentary called Manson. One of the film’s co-directors was Sharon Tate’s old acting coach, Laurence Merrick. The film contained a lot of candid interviews with Manson Family members. However, it was plagued with legal problems, and its release was delayed a number of times. When it was finally released in 1972, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

On January 26, 1977, Merrick was outside his Hollywood studio when he was shot by a young, heavyset man. After shooting Merrick, the murderer ran away and was never caught.

Since no suspect was ever arrested, it is unclear if the killing was the work of Manson or members of the Family. However, Manson, who adored media attention, was once again in the news five years after his death sentence had been commuted to life.

8Nancy Warren And Clida Delaney

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On October 13, 1968, the bodies of Nancy Warren and Clida Delaney were found near Ukiah, California. Nancy, who was a wife of a highway patrol officer, was eight months pregnant, just like Sharon Tate. Clida was her grandmother and neighbor. They had been beaten and strangled to death with 36 leather thongs.

After the Family members were arrested, they became suspects in this brutal double murder. Besides the similarities between Warren and Tate, the authorities knew that a few members of the Family had been in the Ukiah area at the time of the murders. Another similarity is that leather thongs were used during the LaBianca murders—a leather thong which Manson was known to wear had been used to bind the hands of Leno LaBianca.

No one in the Family was ever charged with the murders and no arrests were made.

7Mark Walts

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Sixteen-year-old Mark Walts wasn’t a Manson Family member, but he did hang around Spahn Ranch at times. Spahn Ranch was a big movie set where studios shot Western movies and TV shows. George Spahn, who was blind, owned the ranch, and the Family lived there for free in exchange for doing work around the place.

On July 17, 1969, Walts hitchhiked to the Santa Monica Pier to do some fishing. His pole was found abandoned at the pier, and his body was found the next day near Mulholland Drive. His face had been brutally beaten and he’d been shot three times in the chest.

After the murder, Walts’s brother called Manson and said that he knew Manson was the one who’d killed his brother and swore that he’d get revenge. The brother didn’t act on his threat, and Manson was arrested just a few months later. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department investigated Spahn Ranch in regards to Walts’s murder, but no links were found and the murder was never solved.

6Marina Habe

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Marina Habe was the daughter of writer Hans Habe and actress Eloise Hardt. On December 27, 1968, Habe was home from university and was out on a date. Early on the morning of December 28, after returning home, she was kidnapped from her mother’s driveway by at least two people in a black sedan. Her body wasn’t found until two days later in the underbrush off Mulholland Drive. The 17-year-old had died a brutal death. She had been beaten and stabbed multiple times in the back and chest. The coroner said that she was probably stabbed by more than one person.

There were no suspects in the case until members of the Family were arrested. There was some speculation that Habe knew some of the Family members, although it was never proven. The murder of Habe has never been solved.

Another interesting aspect of the murder is that Habe’s body was dumped in almost the same spot that Sherry Doe’s body would be dumped 11 months later in November 1969. Also, both women were viciously stabbed to death.

5Darwin Scott

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For most of his early life, Charles Manson was unsure who his real family was. He was born to an unwed teen mother, and his grandparents raised him to believe that he was their child and that his mother was his sister. For a while, it was unclear who his father was, but two years after his birth, Manson’s mother sued a man named Walker Scott, who was a colonel in the army, for child support. Beyond that, there is no evidence that Manson had any relationship with Walker Scott.

Jump ahead a few decades to May 27, 1969, and Scott’s brother, Darwin Orell Scott, was found brutally stabbed to death in his Ashland, Kentucky apartment. Just before the murder, a group of hippies led by a man who called himself “Preacher” was in town giving out LSD. They only left after the townsfolk burned their house down because they “didn’t like hippies.”

Manson was on parole in California at the time of the murder, but the murder occurred when Manson was out of touch with his parole officers.

4James Sharp And Doreen Gaul

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On November 7, 1969, 15-year-old James Sharp and 19-year-old Doreen Gaul were found stabbed to death in an alley in Los Angeles. The murder of the two young Scientologists involved extreme overkill, both being stabbed between 50 and 60 times.

Police immediately saw the similarities to these murders and those of the Tate-LaBianca murders. They were motiveless, gruesome stabbings that went way beyond what was needed to simply kill a person. Coincidentally, the killings of Sharp and Gaul happened close to where the LaBiancas lived. Another interesting connection was that both Sharp and Gaul were involved with a splinter group of Scientology called The Process Church of The Final Judgment, otherwise known as The Process.

Charles Manson had a connection with The Process. From his early days in prison, he was interested in Scientology, and a lot of Manson’s ideologies were taken from The Process. When Manson Family member Bruce Davis was sent to London on Manson’s behest, he visited The Process’s headquarters. Finally, members of the Process visited Manson in prison, and he gave them an interview for one of their publications.

Were Sharp and Gaul killed by the Manson Family? We may never know.

3Joel Pugh

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Photo credit: Daily Mail

Joel Pugh was a Family member who was married to another member of the Family, Sandra Good, aka Blue. He was also one of the candidates for the father of Good’s child. Regardless of fatherhood, Good’s child was given the last name Pugh.

On December 1, 1969, Pugh’s body was found in the Talgart Hotel in London, England. His wrists had been cut and his throat was slit twice. In the room, no suicide note was found, but there was writing on the mirror. The hotel manager remembered seeing the words “Jack and Jill,” but English police didn’t keep a record of the writing. They ruled the death a drug-induced suicide.

The “suicide” happened when a number of Manson Family members were being arrested for the Tate-LaBianca murders. Was Pugh overcome with guilt because of what he knew? Or was he murdered on Manson’s orders? One possible person who would have had the opportunity to kill Pugh was Bruce Davis, who was involved in the murder of Shorty Shea. Davis had been in London earlier in 1969. It’s unclear where he was between then and early 1970, when he went back to California.

2John Haught

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By early November 1969, about three months after the Tate-LaBianca murders, the police were starting to close in on Manson and his Family. In October, the police had arrested a number of Family members on suspicion of grand theft auto. Once in prison, Family members began to squeal on each other. It ultimately became their undoing.

John Philip Haught, otherwise known as “Zero,” came from Ohio to live with the Family on Barker Ranch, their home before Spahn Ranch. Haught was one of the people arrested in the October raid, and Manson thought he might possibly have loose lips.

On November 5, 1969, police were called to a beach house in Venice Beach, where a group of Manson followers were now living. Haught had been shot in the head. The witnesses all said that Haught had been high and playing Russian roulette. When the police checked the gun, they found that it was fully loaded, with a bullet in each chamber. Yet, for some reason, they still wrote it up as a suicide.

1James And Lauren Willett

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While in prison, Manson had an uneasy relationship with the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. Although Charlie was a full-on racist, the Aryans didn’t have him join their ranks. He did, however, have an agreement with them: In exchange for protection, Manson gave the Aryans access to his women.

As a result, some of Manson’s remaining free Family members sometimes lived with members of the Aryan Brotherhood. Three such Family members were Priscilla Cooper, Nancy Pitman, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who was staying with two members of the Aryan Brotherhood along with the Willetts, who were a family of three. On November 8, 1972, the body of former Marine James Willett was found in a shallow grave. He had been shot with a shotgun and decapitated. The police tracked his car down to the home where the Family members were living.

While searching the house, they found Lauren Willett buried in the basement. She had died from a gunshot to the head. Family member Priscilla Cooper said that she did it to herself while playing Russian roulette. Luckily, the Willetts’ daughter was not harmed.

Priscilla Cooper and Nancy Pitman were given five-year jail sentences, but the charges against Lynette Fromme were dismissed. She was later arrested after pointing a gun at President Gerald Ford in Sacramento on September 5, 1975. The gun was loaded, but there wasn’t a bullet in the chamber. She was sentenced to life in prison and was released on parole in August 2009.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian crime-fiction writer. You can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter, or visit his website.

fact checked by Jamie Frater