To some, canine forensics is still a bone of contention.
When it comes to cold cases, few are hotter than those associated with the notorious Barker Ranch, the last hideout of the Charles Manson Family before their arrest in October 1969, following a fierce Los Angeles murder spree.
Rumors have lingered for decades that buried bodies of other Manson victims–perhaps runaway teens who encountered the gang somewhere in the desert–may lie in clandestine graves on the rugged desert barrens near the ranch house on Death Valley National Park’s southwestern fringe. Despite past digs, no bodies were ever found.
Manson follower Charles D. (Tex) Watson denies there are other victims buried at the Ranch. Watson, who is serving a life sentence for seven counts of murder, claims on his website (http://www.aboundinglove.org/) to know of no one buried there by the Manson Family:
“The only runaways I knew at Barker Ranch . . . were picked up by the California Highway Patrol. There are only two faithful members of the old Manson family left. It stands to reason that if there were bodies buried at Barker Ranch, at least one of the rest would have come forward with reliable information during the past forty years.”
Results of a recent search by human remains detector dogs (HRD) and two scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, seem to dispute Watson’s claim.
When Buster, a 5-year old pure bred black Labrador Retriever who belongs to Mammoth Lakes, California police detective Paul Dostie, was turned loose behind the ranch house last year, he alerted on several potential grave sites. Locating old graves is a game to Buster. He darts through the brush, nose to the ground, searching for scents related to human decomposition. When he yelps once and lays down, it means he’s found one. It also means he gets a reward–a favorite toy to play with.