Manson ranch dig called off with no remains found
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — A dig for clandestine graves at Charles Manson's last hideout ended Wednesday, yielding no bodies and leaving scientists puzzled over the clues that enticed them to go this far.
The dig had been scheduled to last three days, ending Thursday. But the work went faster than scheduled, with the crew of 20 digging until dusk, then camping out at night beside the ranch house Manson and his followers had used.
"There have been no human remains found," Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze said after the four sites with greatest probability of holding human remains were dug up. "We're finishing up this site and that'll be it for the day — nothing."
Manson and his followers hid out at the ranch following their killing spree in Los Angeles. For years, rumors have swirled about other possible Manson victims, including hitchhikers and runaways who visited the site and were never heard from again.
Scientists who conducted a preliminary probe of the rugged, remote site in February said they identified several spots that could be graves, leading Lutze to conduct the exploratory excavation.
By Wednesday afternoon, the four most promising sites had been excavated and the dirt sifted. With the work done, the teams packed up and went home for good.
The search revealed little more than a .38-caliber shell casing — found on the surface on the first day and promptly dismissed by law enforcement personnel as being recent — and a pack rat's underground nest.
One site revealed fragments of animal bones, an ash pit and some stones used to make arrowheads. Rangers determined it was of archaeological interest, so digging stopped and the site was turned over to the National Park Service.
The researchers and law enforcers involved said the unusual physical environment made it harder to determine what was underground. Plants that exude unusual chemicals and rocks with magnetic properties were throwing off their equipment, they said.
"I haven't been this frustrated in a very long time," said Arpad Vass, a senior researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Vass said the excavation is a learning process.
"We're trying to improve the science. It's in its infancy," he said. "Every exercise we do like this will further the science so that one day we can say, 'Yes there is a body here.'"
Manson's clan was ultimately prosecuted for nine murders that took place in the summer of 1969. He is serving a life sentence at Corcoran State Prison.