The headline on a story in a Ventura County daily newspaper in April 1968 was intriguing although not particularly threatening: “Nine Nude Hippies Arrested: Found Huddled Around Bonfire”
Readers, of course, wanted to know more.
What was happening in our staid and peaceable county?
Could it be that San Francisco’s “Peace, Make Love Not War” slogans had crash-landed in Ventura County?
The news story contained a few sparse details.
There was a 1952 rickety-looking gray-green-painted school bus, which, for reasons unknown, was being driven by a bearded man with piercing eyes, who identified himself as Charles Manson.
The bus had skidded off the road and ended up in a deep ditch on Deer Creek Mountain Road, 5 miles south of Point Mugu — not exactly a main tourist thoroughfare.
And rumor had it that the bus may have been stolen from San Francisco.
Police arrived and were surprised to see nubile young women running around naked despite the chill. The girls were trying to warm themselves by the bonfire, as if this was just another routine gathering for a July 4th nudist convention.
The night was crisp and blowy but what worried the cops most was the appearance of a tiny baby, barely a week old. The baby, named Steven (or so they were told), was shivering in the arms of his mother, a woman who identified herself as Mary Brunner. (Police didn’t know it at the time, but the baby had been born one week earlier — in an abandoned house in Topanga Canyon as Charles Manson, the father of the newborn, coached several of the female bus passengers to help make the home delivery.)
Charlie’s contribution, according to one: “He bit off the baby’s umbilical cord.”
Much to the chagrin of Ms. Brunner, the baby was taken to Ventura County General Hospital for safekeeping and a medical check.
While local cops determined whether the crippled bus was stolen, they decided to remove all the women and place them under arrest for minor charges, including vagrancy and false identification.
Manson, the bus driver — of no known address — was booked in the local county jail as prisoner No. 47623. He had produced two driver’s licenses.
Another of the women, who was booked for “disorderly conduct and not having proper identification,” was a 20-year-old woman who gave her name as Sadie Glutz. Glutz, however, was not her real name.
It had been a name bestowed upon her by Manson. Her birth name was Susan Atkins.
A few days later the bus (and baby) had been retrieved, the arrestees all released, and they resumed their journey, which took them to their new home: a beaten-up old spread on Topanga Canyon known as the Spahn Movie Ranch.
Eighteen months later the very same Susan Atkins, who had been arrested on suspicion of the murder of a Los Angeles musician named Gary Hinman, began boasting to her prison cellmate about Los Angeles’ most notorious unsolved murder case.
In her gruesome confession she admitted to being a key figure who had played a major role in the brutal slaughter of seven people in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles over a two-night period in August 1969.
Among the murdered was eight-months-pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski.
And thus this week — almost 50 years later — the latest chapter in the heinous legacy of Charles Manson, played out with the death of Manson. There was no mourning for the man who had become the personification of evil.
Ventura County had been a pit stop on the Manson Family’s twisted journey to unimaginable carnage. Its aftermath traumatized the nation. Writer Joan Didion, in The White Album, her 1979 book of essays, put it this way: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believed that the Sixties ended abruptly on Aug. 9, 1969.”