Barker Ranch – Panamint, California - Atlas Obscura

Barker Ranch

Death Valley National Park
Panamint, California

The location of the last stand of Charles Manson's doomsday cult. 


It is easy to think of Charles Manson as simply a mass murderer—after all, he surely was one. What people tend to forget is that the murders were part of a grander scheme to bring about the apocalypse. The Manson family was first and foremost a Doomsday cult.

Of course Arlene Barker didn’t know that when she rented her California ranch to them. An older lady, Mrs. Barker believed that the Mansons were a group of musicians who needed space to practice. As thanks for letting them stay there, Manson even gave her a Beach Boys gold record, which he had gotten from Dennis Wilson (it is unclear if the record was a gift or stolen goods).

Barker Ranch is located in a rocky valley in the Panamint Range. Bluch and Helen Thomason began construction around 1940, and originally used the site a storage facility for their mining activity nearby. They built a small cabin, which eventually became a vacation property. The Barker family bought the property in 1956, and expanded the cabin into a larger house. Once the Mansons moved in, the ranch became one of the locations from which they planned a series of murders in an attempt to start an apocalyptic race-war, his “Helter Skelter.”

But as Manson orchestrated the killings of nine people, his followers also conducted raids in Death Valley stealing dune buggies and vandalizing National Park property. It was these relatively petty crimes, not the murders, that led to the Manson family’s arrest.

In December 1969, a joint force of National Park rangers, California Highway Patrol and Inyo County Sheriff’s officers burst into Barker Ranch and dragged a crazed Swastika-tattooed man out from under a bathroom vanity. At the time they thought they were nabbing a group of local troublemakers. It was only after the arrest that Manson and others at the ranch were linked to the murders of Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The fateful arrest ultimately led to a life imprisonment for Manson.

In 2008, a search of the site was conducted looking for the remains of additional Manson family victims, long rumored to have been buried by Barker Ranch. Though bullet casings were found, no new remains were uncovered and the dig was called off. In 2010, much of the wooden structure of Barker Ranch and the infamous vanity in which Manson hid himself burned down. The stone structures are still standing.

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