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

May 7, 2009 |  4:42 pm

Barkerranch

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, chief of interpretation at 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 used by backcountry campers. It had a stove and a fireplace, but there was 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.”

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 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 some new world order.

Manson eventually was arrested in the cabin, hiding in one of the cupboards, after a 1969 murder spree in Southern California that included the killing of actress Sharon Tate, three friends and a teenager at the pregnant actress' Benedict Canyon home, and 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.

—Julie Cart

Photo: The Barker Ranch homestead after the fire.

Credit: National Park Service

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