Tate Lawyers Body Believed To Be Found
Monday, March 29th, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Mar. 29 — A body believed to be that of missing Manson case defense attorney Ronald Hughes was found in the rugged Sespe Hot Springs near Ojai, and a team of Ventura County sheriff’s deputies was hiking into the area, officials reported today.
Hughes vanished in that area last November.
The body was found Saturday by two Glendale men, Donald Chessman, 49, and John Wells, 47, who didn’t make their way out of the nearly inaccessible area until late Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with The Press-Telegram, Chessman, the operator of a television shop, described the discovery of the body.
“We spotted the body at about 11 a.m. Saturday while on a fishing trip eight miles below the hot springs in the Sespe Narrows near the west fork of Alder Creek.
“The body was unclothed, its right arm was missing and animals appeared to have eaten some of it away. But it was in surprisingly good shape for the time that had elapsed since death (Hughes disappeared last Thanksgiving weekend). It was decomposed, but not too badly.
“We tried to get out to where the body was — about midstream, with its head wedged face down under some rocks. But the current was too swift and we weren’t able to get to it.
“I couldn’t tell you if the body was bearded, because its head was beneath those rocks in three feet of water. But the scalp looked bald. That could have been because It had been in the water so long.
“There didn’t appear to be any mud on the body.
The water’s very clear at that spot.”
The sheriff’s search team started for the Sespe area at about 9 a.m. today and planned to hike into the area unless heavy fog lifted, permitting the use of helicopters.
Hughes, defense attorney for Leslie Van Houten, one of the three female defendants convicted with Charles Manson of the Tate-LaBianca murders, had been late to court several times, so when he failed to show Nov. 30 it didn’t cause too much of a stir.
The burly, bearded lawyer went into the rugged Sespe area near Ojai with two teenage friends last Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving.
The two friends had hiked out of the rainwashed and flooded area when their car became mired in mud. Hughes remained behind.
A telephone call Dec. 1 from a man identifying himself as the novice trial lawyer led authorities to believe he still was in the mountainous Ventura County retreat.
One of the calls was received at the Tate trial courtroom, the other at the office of chief defense counsel Paul Fitzgerald.
And a note from one of Hughes’ friends indicated Hughes was stuck in the flooded Sespe region “and wouldn’t come back until the roads were clear.”
Several extensive searches of the area were conducted by Ventura County sheriff’s deputies, but they failed to find the bachelor attorney’s body.
Then, last Monday, authorities began searching the Barker Ranch near Death Valley after an anonymous male telephoned the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, saying Hughes had been killed and buried there by the Manson clan.
It was at the remote ranch site in Inyo County that Manson and his tribe made their “last stand” before being captured by lawmen. But the search for the lawyer at the Barker Ranch was abandoned when no traces of him were found there.
Before his disappearance, Hughes had been the most colorful defense attorney — with no office, next to no money and a mattress on the floor of a garage that he called “home.”
He was replaced at the trial by attorney Maxwell Keith.
A graduate of Queens College in New York, Hughes migrated to California, was graduated from UCLA law school and passed the bar on his fourth attempt.
Hughes knew the communal “family” of Charles Manson months before Manson and three female codefendants were charged with murder and conspiracy.
By BILL HOMER