Body found in Sespe area probably Manson attorney

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, March 31, 1971 edition of “The OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on the front page. It is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown. The photo of Ronald Hughes was added to this article by the “Ojai Valley Museum”.

Body found in Sespe area probably Manson attorney

Ventura County sheriff’s deputies traveled to Los Angeles today to pick up dental records which will conclusively tell if the body found Saturday in the Sespe area is that of missing Manson case attorney Ronald Hughes.

Although the body is the right size and a friend has said he is “firmly of the opinion that it is Hughes,” tests conducted so far by the Sheriff’s Department and the county coroner have proved inconclusive. The body was of a large man. Hughes weighed 235 pounds.

Hughes disappeared in the remote area of the Sespe Hot Springs during a sudden storm Thanksgiving weekend. The body, found Saturday by two fishermen, lay in ice cold water about 7 miles south-east of the hot springs, the Sheriff’s Department said. The spot is in the middle of the Condor refuge near Pigeon Flat, close to the west fork of the Sespe Creek and Alder Creek.

Although search and rescue teams and a mystic-led party had combed the general hot springs area, they had not entered the region where the body was found.

“It was not searched before because the area is so rugged and the creek was up so far it was inaccessible,” a sheriff deputy said. “The area is known as the narrows. The creek runs from mountain to mountain.”

Although the fishermen found the body Saturday, it was not reported to the Sheriff’s Department until Sunday night. The body was lifted out by helicopter Monday and taken to Skillin Mortuary in Santa Paula.

Same head form

Ronald Hughes, Manson defense attorney.

The body was naked except for remnants of a shirt around the neck. Although the head was battered beyond recognition apparently from the body being washed downstream, officials said the remains were quite well preserved by the icy water.

Autopsy work began Tuesday and is expected to take another couple of days. There were no outward signs of foul play. Along with dental records, fingerprints will be used to aid in the identification.

Samples of Hughes’ fingerprints were provided by the lawyer’s friend, Paul Fitzgerald, also a defense attorney in the Manson case. Fitzgerald was in Ventura County Tuesday to view the body. He said he was positive it was Hughes’:

“He had a strange shaped head, sort of a majestic configuration,” Fitzgerald said. “The head is the same. Some of the beard is still there.”

The discovery of the body came on the same day that Charles Manson and his three female co-defendants were given the death penalty for committing the Tate-LaBianca murders.


Meet the Mansons

The following article was first printed in the Summer 2020 “Ojai Valley Guide” magazine. The magazine was published by the “Ojai Valley News.” The article is reprinted here with their permission. The photo of Mitch Mashburn eating a potato was added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

DREW’S ENCOUNTER WITH THE MANSON CLAN

Meet the Mansons

“X” marks the spot!
I’ll explain this in a bit.

LOOK BACK IN OJAI
with Drew Mashburn
Contributed on behalf of the
Ojai Valley Museum

I’m unable to recall the exact dates of this adventure because it was over 49 years ago, but it was definitely in March of 1971. That’s when the five of us, Mike Payton, Mitch Mashburn, Jimmy Mitchell, Genemarie McDaniel, Heidi Sommers, and myself took a trip back into the remote Sespe Hot Springs in Los Padres National Forest. I drove my 1964 Chevy pickup with my motorcycle in the bed. Genemarie and Heidi rode in the cab with me. Mitch and Jimmy rode in the bed. Mike rode his motorcycle.

We left Saturday morning from Ojai. We drove up Highway 33 to the Rose Valley Recreation Area. Sespe Creek Road was dirt and wound for about 16 miles back to the hot springs so we crossed the Sespe Creek many times. The first crossing was at Lion Campground. We had zigzagged many times when we came upon a Volkswagen van and a Ford Mustang stuck in the middle of the wide, deep, creek. There must have been at least a dozen vehicles waiting to cross, but their drivers were leery about it. All of the vehicles lacked four-wheel drive, including my pickup.

4WD problems were not going to stop us; we figured we had enough able bodies to push the pickup to the opposite bank should the high water flood the engine. We pushed the van and sedan out of the creek, then offloaded my motorcycle. Mike and I rode our motorcycles across the creek in a shallower spot than the main crossing. Then, we waded back across the creek. We loaded into my pickup and I attempted to drive across it. No luck! The wet engine stalled about midpoint in the creek and I was unable to get it started again. We wound up pushing the pickup onto the far bank.

As we were hoopin, hollerin’, generally congratulating one another and wringing out our wet socks, I happened to look back towards the high flowing creek. There was a short, young lady and a fairly tall, young man wading across with heavy backpacks. The water was about chest deep on the gal, and I was fearful that, should she fall over with the pack on, she’d be swept under the water. I hurriedly headed in her direction, and as I extended my hand to her, I noticed an “X” engraved into her forehead directly above her nose. The gent had an engraved “X” too. I was only 19 years old and was more interested in camping, chasing girls, riding motorcycles, and the like than following the news; but, I immediately knew what those X’s meant. These two were, without a doubt, part of the Manson Clan. Now, I didn’t know much about Manson and his clan, but I’d certainly heard about them and the horrific deeds they had committed.

I assisted the young lady to safety. The gal did all the talking. I swear the dude had an I.Q. of a turnip. I suspected he might have blown his mind with drugs, but he didn’t seem under the influence at the time. The gal told me that she and her partner were in search of attorney Ronald Hughes. Hughes had been Charles Manson’s defense attorney in the Manson Clan trials but went missing after he switched to co-defendant Leslie Van Houten’s attorney. I knew that Hughes was considered missing in the Sespe Wilderness. The gal asked if she and her buddy could ride with us. I had her sit next to me in the cab. The turnip-brained friend of hers rode in the bed, and we put my motorcycle back in the bed too. None of my friends asked them about the X’s. Everybody loaded up and off we went with Mike leading the way on his motorcycle.

Ronald Hughes, Manson defense attorney.

The gal and I chatted. I decided that she was a pleasant, but odd chick. She told me she was Hughes’ “girlfriend.” That seemed odd to me at the time. We didn’t have any more difficulties crossing the creek on the rest of the journey. About a mile or two away from the hot springs, I stopped and told the gal this was as far as I intended on giving them a ride. She told me that she wanted to “camp” and “party” with us. I knew enough about the Manson Clan that I didn’t want these two hanging out with us, so I told her that I didn’t want her and her friend showing up at our camp. They got out of the pickup and that was the last we saw of them.

We traveled on to the hot springs, enjoyed them and spent the night. At some point the next day, we decided to head partially out of the Sespe Wilderness. We spent one more night at a campground. It was dang cold the following morning; I was extremely happy to have my down-filled sleeping bag. After a nice breakfast that included potatoes that Mike had boiled before the trip we decided to head for home.

Mitch Mashburn downing a boiled potato for breakfast.

My heavy motorcycle sliding around the pickup’s bed made it unsafe for Mitch and Jimmy riding with it. We offloaded the motorcycle and I rode it. Jimmy began driving my pickup. We had trouble crossing the one deep crossing again, but got the pickup unstuck and kept going.

“The wet engine stalled about midpoint in the creek and I was unable to get it started again.”

Mike and I were quite a ways in front of the pickup. Mike was ahead of me and we were crankin’ and enjoying the bumpy, curvy road. Mike rounded a curve, and a few seconds later, I rounded it with dust a-flyin’! There was a long straightaway after the curve. Mike should have been on that straightaway, but he wasn’t. I quickly braked and flipped a U-turn. Back to the curve I went. I found motorcycle tracks that led over the edge of the cliff at the curve’s midpoint; I feared the worst. I got off my bike and called for Mike before I looked over the edge. I didn’t want to look over and see my lifetime bud laying dead. I called a second time and Mike answered. I quickly moved to the edge and saw Mike about 40 feet below me. There was only one large bush at the base of the cliff and it was next to the extremely rocky riverbed. Mike and his bike had landed in the bush. It broke their fall. One LUCKY dawg! Mike was not injured and he’d only broken the bike’s mirror.

The rest of our group soon caught up with us. We were stumped as to how we were going to get the motorcycle up to the road. Soon, another pickup stopped. The guy driving it asked if he and his passengers might assist us. This guy was in his late 30s or early 40s. He told us he had a rope and suggested we tie it to the motorcycle, then everybody grab the rope and pull it up the steep cliff that was made of very loose shale. Mike and I kept the bike upright and pushed while all the others pulled on the rope. We were successful!

The gent informed us that the lady in his party was a “psychic.” He told us they were looking for Hughes using the lady’s mental powers, but had been unsuccessful. Now, it was necessary to return to their New York residences.

This gent told us they intended to return in the near future to continue their search. He asked me if I’d be willing to rent camping equipment, buy food and organize whatever else would be needed for a second attempt to locate the missing attorney with the psychic. I jumped at the opportunity. He asked me to immediately start locating what would be needed and that he’d send me the money to buy the supplies. We exchanged phone numbers. My group again thanked his party for their assistance and off they went. Soon, we were back in civilization with a sense of having a terrific adventure.

The next week, I searched stores selling camping and expedition equipment. The gent called me. He asked if I had acquired everything and I told him I had compiled a list with the places to get everything. He asked me to buy it all with my own money. I told him I didn’t have that kind of money. He told me he’d arrange to get me the money and call again. I never heard from him.

Undoubtedly that was because on March 27 two fishermen stumbled across Hughes’ dead body in the middle of the creek. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department conducted the investigation. It’s never been determined if Hughes’ death was accident or murder. Some speculate Manson had placed a hit on Hughes because Manson didn’t like Huges’ trial strategy. In fact, some people suspected the reason Hughes was in the Sespe was to hide from Manson and his clan.

I’ve wondered all these years … did the couple we gave a ride to with the X’s knock off Hughes?

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 5)

The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the May 2, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  Bald used the same title for many of his articles, so the Ojai Valley Museum added “(No. 5)” to distinguish this particular article.

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 5)
by
Howard Bald

The back country men and their fall cattle drives were the most picturesque and exciting of all to me. Along in November the cattle for market would be rounded up, and those in the upper Cuyama valley would be driven via trail over Pine Mountain to the upper Sespe, where they would join with the Sespe cattle and those from the upper Santa Ynez.

There being no highways and trucks, the cattle were driven single file from the Sespe through Cherry Canyon over Ortega Hill into the north fork of the Matilija and down to Ortega Ranch – some six miles above the upper edge of Matilija lake. There they camped the second night.

From the Matilija Hot Springs on to Ventura it was easy going, for they had a road to travel. What is now Casitas Springs was known as Stony Flat, and was a large hay field. There the cattle were held overnight and the next day delivered to lima bean fields east of Ventura, where they became the property of the Hobson brothers, Will and Abe, the fathers respectively of Mrs. Edith Hoffman and Mrs. Grace Smith (all deceased).

The Matilija school children were alerted well in advance by the bawling cattle and shouting cowboys, as they forded the stream some 100 yards above the school. School would be dismissed until the last yip of the cowboys died away down the dusty road.

Among the cattlemen on these drives were, of course, various Reyes boy – Rudolpho, Anselmo, Peter and Rafael. Then there were the Wegis brothers, Frand and Gebhard. They were all from Cuyama.

From the Sespe and the upper Santa Ynez were the Eduardo Canet cowboys and various homesteaders, among them Ygnacio Ramos, the Warner brothers (Dave and Jack), Ramon Cota, Manuel Lopez. Perhaps the most colorful of them were the Ortega brothers, grandfather and great uncles of Milito Ortega, Ventura’s ex-postmaster.

There were many legends of their exploits in that rough country. Ramon Ortega in 1914 at the age of 82 went over a bluff, and both he and his horse were killed. He had always said he would die back there, and that he didn’t want to be packed out like a dead deer. Jacinto Reyes (he was always affectionately known as J.D.) packed uncle Ramon out sitting upright on a saddle horse as he had always wished to be brought out.

As I have mentioned, the Matilija school stood on the east bank of the river. Water was carried up in a galvanized bucket. All drank from the one tin cup. One small, battered tin basin served for washing our hands, and naturally there was a minimum of that.

There was a theory this creek water was soon purified in its flow over rocks and through sand and gravel. So there was no concern over contamination by sewage from the several resorts above.

My sister’s attendance at that school was of short duration for when mother discovered some foreign objects crawling in her hair there was something of a scene. There was one boy, Mike, that Margaret was quite fond of, but following this episode, she told him she didn’t wish to play with him anymore, that he was lousy. Mike replied: “No, Maggie, I ain’t had no louses for a month.”

Shortly after that Margaret returned to Nordhoff, while I continued attending Matilija regardless. Our home, Rancho Rinconada, was just midway between both schools. J.D. Reyes and I gave the ranch that name.