- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2008

RIDGECREST, Calif. - Decades after law enforcement raided the ranch where Charles Manson hid after a 1969 killing spree, detectives and scientists are returning to hunt for undiscovered graves.

The dig scheduled to begin yesterday was to be led by sheriff’s officials, with help from specialists in detecting disturbed soils and chemical markers that indicate likely grave sites.

The expedition to the secluded ranch is expected to last through tomorrow and will take investigators into the Panamint Mountain range, within Death Valley National Park, where temperatures are forecast to surpass 100 degrees.

For years, rumors have swirled about other possible Manson victims - hitchhikers who visited the ranch and were not seen again, and runaways who drifted into the camp, then fell out of favor.

The decision to further investigate the site where Manson and his followers hid after the murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others came after initial tests in February found at least two sites that could be graves.

A group including two national lab researchers, a police investigator with a cadaver-sniffing dog, and an anthropologist with a magnetic-resonance reader determined there was enough evidence to contact the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department.

After further soil sampling with inconsistent results, Sheriff Bill Lutze agreed to the exploratory excavation. The National Park Service has closed the ranch to the public for the duration of the dig.

The searchers will use technology that wasn’t available when Manson and his followers were arrested nearly 40 years ago, such as radar, magnetometers and portable gas chromatograph and mass spectrometers that can detect chemical markers characteristic of bodies in decomposition. They will also dig with shovels, Sheriff Lutze said.

Manson is serving a life sentence at Corcoran State Prison.