Monday, February 22, 2016

Gary Hinman's Bus -- Again

There are two basic versions of the events that led up the murder of Gary Hinman at his home on Old Topanga Canyon Road on July 25-27, 1969. The first version is that Charles Manson believed that Hinman had come into an inheritance and sent Bobby Beausoleil, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner over to Hinman's house to get that inheritance from him, by violent means if necessary.

The second version is that Hinman sold some mescaline to Beausoleil who in turn sold it to the Straight Satans Motorcycle Club. When the Satans claimed that the mescaline was bad and demanded their money back, Beausoleil went to Hinman's house to get a refund on the transaction and events escalated into his murder. 

It is worth looking at these two motive versions in some detail, but before we do this we should understand why discerning the correct motive is important.

Gary Hinman's house at 964 Old Topanga Canyon Road
(Photo courtesy of

Why does it matter? 

If the first motive version (the strong-arm robbery gone bad scenario) is true, it reinforces the perception of Charles Manson and the people around him as being violently murderous sociopaths who would stop at nothing in order to further their own interests. If the second motive version (a drug deal gone bad) is true it reinforces an alternative perception of those same persons being caught up in unfortunate criminal circumstances that spiraled out of control and culminated in murder. 

The determination of motive is also important because if a preponderance of evidence supports the drug deal scenario it also reinforces that idea that Charles Manson was not the originating force behind the incident, which further reinforces  the viewpoint that Manson was not the impetus behind all of the illegal activity that emanated from Spahn's Movie Ranch in the summer of 1969.

Looking at the two versions --

The first motive version is the one presented by the prosecution at the various Hinman murder trials. It has also been reiterated in numerous books and media statements regarding the crime. The reason for this is obvious --  it was the only scenario that demonstrated any criminal intent for any of the defendants besides Bobby Beausoleil. But what real evidence is there that Hinman was killed during an attempt to obtain his money and belongings?

Several people (Bruce Davis at his parole hearings, and Kitty Lutesinger and Danny DeCarlo at Bobby Beausoleil's second murder trial) said that Beausoleil, Mary Brunner, and Susan Atkins were going to Hinman's "to get money." This "get money" reason has been advanced to show that the Hinman homicide was the result of a strong-arm robbery gone bad. Maybe so, but yet there is nothing in the general  contention that people went to Hinman's "to get money" that doesn't also jibe with the idea that people went to Hinman's "to get money" as a refund for the Satans on their dope deal. (There are variations in the amount of money people were supposed to "get." Danny DeCarlo has said both $20,000 and $10,000.  Mary Brunner was not sure, saying either $3,000 or $30,000. Susan Atkins, in her book Child of Satan, Child of God, said $12,000. Bobby Beausoleil and Charles Manson say that the amount was $1,000.) Also, although there has been much contention that Manson sent Beausoleil to Hinman's to get a supposed inheritance (or, as Ella Jo Bailey testified at Beausoleil's first trial (which ended with a hung jury) because it was thought that he owned his house and stocks and bonds) this aspect of "get money" was not introduced at Beausoleil's second trial where he was successfully convicted. Was it not mentioned because the prosecution knew that it was nebulous? Remember, trials are where contentions might have to be supported by actual evidence, as opposed to books, media statements, or even statements to police, where no rules of evidence are in effect.

There is no corroborating evidence that supports the "get Gary's inheritance" scenario. And this is not surprising, because there was no inheritance. As to the witness statements that allegedly support the inheritance theory, let's be serious: Any cop or prosecutor will tell you that eyewitness testimony, although sometimes effective on the stand, is actually the worst kind of evidence that you can take into a criminal proceeding. Why? Because there's simply too much opportunity for the witness to be mistaken, or to intentionally lie out of animus towards the defendant, or for other reasons such as being offered deals regarding charges pending against them (See DeCarlo, Ella Jo Bailey) in exchange for what the prosecution believes to be "truthful testimony" (i.e., testimony damaging to the defendant). And as we have seen, there was no introduction of the "get the inheritance" motive at the second and successful prosecution of Bobby Beausoleil. 

So, the only evidence that supports the "strong-arm robbery gone wrong" motive theory is eyewitness testimony from questionable witnesses. There is nothing else to corroborate it. 

To date, most of the "drug deal gone bad" motive has come from two of the persons convicted of murdering Hinman, Bobby Beausoleil and Charles Manson.  Beausoleil has given several versions of the crime at his various parole hearings, but for his past several sessions with the parole board he has stuck with one version, and it is worth going into some detail here. A good synopsis can be found in Beausoleil's 2003 parole hearing, where he explained the particulars of the drug deal scenario thusly: 

"Well, it was a couple of days before Gary was killed…. [The Straight Satans Motorcycle Club], I was looking up to these guys. I kind of – I was kind of romanticized that their lifestyle was something that I liked. I kind of thought they were cool. I was young, and these guys were 10 – 15 years older than me. And I wanted to impress them, and they were going to have a party at Venice Beach. I wanted them to invite me. I wanted to go along on the party. They said that they wanted to – it was like a ten-year anniversary party for the, you know, for their ten-year motorcycle club anniversary, or something like that. And they wanted to score something different, some psychedelics for their party. And I thought that I might be able to impress them to, you know, to kind of get in with them if I were to set up a deal for them. I knew someone in Topanga Canyon who made mescaline out of peyote cactus buds. That was Gary Hinman. I’d known Gary for a couple of years, and I saw an opportunity to sort of ingratiate myself in these – with these people. So I set up a deal. It was 1,000 tabs or capsules of homemade mescaline for 1,000 dollars. [But] the next day [after the mescaline was delivered to the club], [they] came back to the Spahn Ranch and essentially [they] kind of beat me up. You know. They hit me in the stomach and, you know, pushed me around and held a knife up to my throat and said they wanted the money back because I had sold them bunk. They said that they had gotten sick on the drugs, and they wanted their money back. So I told them I would do everything I could to get the money back."

Some people have decried the description of Gary Hinman as a "drug dealer" as a libel against a dead person unable to defend himself, but it is worth noting that the term "drug dealer" can be used to describe a wide variety of individuals, from the stereotypical image of the shady character peddling narcotics on the schoolyard to someone who is merely a friend who can get you drugs. Hinman likelier fit more into the latter category. (In the 2009 HIstory Channel "docudrama" Manson Tate-LaBianca prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi said that Hinman "furnished drugs to the Family." The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office referred to Hinman's involvement with illegal drugs in a letter mentioned at Bobby Beausoleil's 1985 parole hearing. And finally, from the August 22, 1969 police report on the investigation into HInman's murder comes this: "A home made scale was observed in a kitchen cupboard containing a white powder on one pan. The pan and powder was taken for examination…. The white material in the balance pan was negative for narcotics." 

Los Angeles County Sheriff's investigative report on the 
finding of a scale at Gary Hinman's residence

In 1969 there was no test in routine use by law enforcement agencies that would have identified a suspect substance as mescaline, which, when processed from peyote buds, is in the form of a white powder

Powdered mescaline processed from peyote buds

It has been asked why, if Gary Hinman was manufacturing mescaline at his house, no drug-making paraphernalia was found at his residence by law enforcement officers investigating his murder. The answer to that question is simple: Because one doesn't need specialized equipment to manufacture mescaline out of peyote. Everyday items such as pots and pans, a candy thermometer, and straining cloths do the job nicely (and could easily be missed by cops investigating a homicide and thus not necessarily looking for subtle evidence of drug brewing). The procedure is not particularly difficult, but it does require concentration, and there are numerous steps involved, any one of which if done incorrectly could result in a bad batch. (See

Of great interest to me regarding the Gary Hinman homicide has been the question of what became of Gary Hinman's 1958 VW bus? The answer to this seemingly ancillary query is actually quite important. Bobby Beausoleil claims that he took both of Hinman's vehicles in order to settle the debt he owed to the Straight Satans because of the botched mescaline deal. And if the bus was indeed given to the Satans that would be strong circumstantial evidence in support of Beausoleil's contention that the entire Hinman affair was an effort to satisfy a debt owed to the motorcycle club and not a general "get his money at any cost" scheme. According to Beausoleil and Manson, the bus was taken from Hinman's residence after his murder to give to the Straight Satans as payment for the money they had lost in the mescaline deal. As Beausoleil recalled at his 2003 parole hearing, "….[Hinman] had a couple of old cars, and he offered to sign these over to -- as something that I could take to the bike club that might be worth $1,000."

And that is exactly what seems to have happened to it. 

Let's look at these entries from police investigative reports into the Gary Hinman homicide that touch upon the fate of Hinman's bus after it was taken from his residence following his murder (reports courtesy of the excellent researchers and archivists at

From the supplementary report to the Hinman murder investigation dated January 20, 1970: 

"MR. PUTTEK states that he purchased the 1958 Volkswagen van, that formerly belonged to GARY HINMAN from MARK AARONSON. He described MARK AARONSON as having his front teeth missing, wavy brown hair, 125-130 pounds, 29 years of age, the tattoo on one of his forearms approximately three inches in length. MR. PUTTEK states that he met MARK AARONSON through MARK ROTH…..

"MR. PUTTEK stated that he was told after his arrest on October 8, 1969 [Puttek was arrested and charged with murder after having been pulled over while driving a murder victim's vehicle.], that MARK AARONSON had been given the bus on the ranch by CHARLIE MANSON. He stated that he never worried about title to the bus because he was given the pink slip, and it was signed and dated by GARY HINMAN. He stated that he altered the date to avoid paying penalties to the Department of Motor Vehicles…. (Emphasis added)
MR. PUTTEK was asked if he recalled the names of any of the other people who might have been at the ranch or that he met who frequented the ranch. He stated that he remembers the name JOE SHOMMACHER. He describes JOE as 27 years of age, 6 feet 4 inches, brown wavy hair with a mustache and beard. He stated that JOE had a Chopper Harley Davidson Bike and frequently drove a dunebuggy…. He stated that JOE went with MARY ROMMICH two or three weeks after she and MR. PUTTEK broke up. 

"He was then asked to view pictures of people associated with the ranch and CHARLIE MANSON. He states that he saw a picture of HAROLD TRUE and thought possibly MARK ROTH had it. He states that the picture of THOMAS ALDEN [Walleman?] aka TJ appeared familiar. He identified the picture of MARK BLOODWORTH DAMIAN as the person he knew as MARK AARONSON,  and the individual who sold him the 1958 Volkswagen Van belonging to GARY HINMAN.  He stated that the picture of ELLA BAILEY seems familiar but he does not recall why…. He also indicated that the picture of BRUCE MC GREGAR DAVIS appeared familiar as did the picture of MARK WALTZ."

From the February 20, 1970 supplementary report to the Hinman murder investigation: 

"On 7-31-69, Gary A. Hinman was found at 964 Old Topanga Canyon Road, Topanga Canyon, the victim of a homicide. Investigation revealed that two or the victim's cars were taken from location and the victim was forced to sign the pink slips over.

"On 10-8-6, LOUIS JOHN PUHECK was arrested driving the victim's 1958 Volkswagen bus, [license number] PGE 388, Mr. Puheck was advised of his Constitutional rights, which he waived. He stated in the middle of August, 1969, he met a Mark Bloodworth (a.k.a MARK AARONSON) and paid him $350 in cash for the above vehicle. Mr. Puheck further related S/Aaronson gave him the pink slip signed by the victim and told him he hadn't changed the registration."

From the supplementary report to the Hinman murder investigation dated March 17, 1970: 

 "…. a week prior to the Hinman murder, in the late part of July, Charles Manson stated to [Danny] De Carlo, 'We're going to Gary's house and get $10,000 one way or another.'

"On 3-12-70 Mark Arneson, **** Hawthorne, was arrested by LAPD Officer [name deleted], #11951, Venice Division, at 83rd Street and Fordham in Los Angeles, pursuant to Division 64 Warrant #A059953 charging A96 PC. Arneson was subsequently transferred to West Hollywood Station and interviewed by Deputy Charles Guenther. 

"Arneson stated he went to the Spahn Ranch in July or August, 1969 and had a conversation with Charles Manson in the accompaniment of Robert Beausoleil in the salon [sic] building. He stated that Manson asked him if he would like to have a car and he replied 'Yes.' Manson and Beausoleil and himself got into a 1965 white station wagon with the engine sticking out of the front (Beausoleil driving) and went to the rear of Spahn Ranch where a 1956 Volkswagen Micro-bus, red and white in color, with a large eagle painted on the sides, which was parked among the trees. 
"Manson got out of the station wagon and showed Arneson how to hot-wire the car and started it. Manson started the vehicle and drove it back to the saloon building and gave Arneson the pink slip to the vehicle. Manson stated to Arneson, 'If you get stopped by the cops, tell them you bought the vehicle from Gary HInman, who is a Negro wearing a black beret and black jacket.'
"Arneson stated a few weeks later, he sold the vehicle to Louis Pubeck. The vehicle was subsequently recovered and the registered and legal owner is Gary Hinman."

What do all of these reports tell us other than the fact that LAPD and LASO officers had trouble recording the correct names of individuals they interviewed? (Misters Puttek, Puheck, and Pubeck are obviously the same person, as are Misters Aaronson and Arneson.) They tell us that Gary Hinman's VW bus was given to Mark Aaronson at Spahn's Ranch around the end of July or early August of 1969 by Charles Manson in the company of Bobby Beausoleil. And who is Mark Aaronson? According to the January 20, 1970 police report, he was an associate of  Joe Schumacher. Now although Joe Schumacher was not a member of the Straight Satans, his brother John was. And the description of Joe ("He describes JOE as 27 years of age, 6 feet 4 inches, brown wavy hair with a mustache and beard. He stated that JOE had a Chopper Harley Davidson Bike and frequently drove a dune buggy…. ") suggests that he at least had a passing familiarity with the biker lifestyle (as does the description of Mark Aaronson, "having his front teeth missing, wavy brown hair, 125-130 pounds, 29 years of age, the tattoo on one of his forearms approximately three inches in length.") And how well acquainted was Louis Puheck (his actual name) with the Joe Schumacher? He knew him well enough to know his correct age and well enough that his girlfriend Mary Rommich started going with Schumacher after she broke up with him. 

Joe Schumacher was well enough acquainted with Spahn's Ranch and the people who lived there that one of his addresses listed for him in Police Lieutenant Earl Deemer's list of "The Family" and related characters is that of the ranch. The list also notes that Schumacher was "FIR'd" (interviewed briefly for law enforcement for a field interrogation report) while he was associating with "Family members." (Mark Aaronson also had a lengthy familiarity with "the Family," having been arrested with them as early as April 21, 1968 during a bust in Oxnard, California.)

In sum, Gary Hinman's bus was given to a known close associate of the Straight Satans motorcycle club. 

That's Gary Hinman's bus behind the exhibit tag

Whenever there is a discrepancy in the testimonies of individuals a person can choose to believe whichever version fits the scenario they want to believe. Thus, people who want to believe that the Hinman murder was the fatal end result of a strong-arm robbery can believe the statements and testimonies of Danny DeCarlo, Ella Jo Bailey, etc. A person who wants to believe the drug deal scenario can believe the statements of Bobby Beausoleil and Charles Manson. To the extent that one relies on witness statement to bolster a case it seems here to be a classic "they said/they said" situation. But in this case the latter "they said" version is supported by the physical evidence of the fact that Gary Hinman's VW bus was indeed given to very close associates of the Straight Satans by Charles Manson and Bobby Beausoleil. There is no corroborating evidence for the strong-arm robbery theory. Gary Hinman had no inheritance, and in fact he had very little material possessions of any value at all. 

Conclusion --

To stick with the strong-arm robbery theory, one would have to be willing to believe that Charles Manson thought Gary Hinman had an inheritance and ordered Bobby Beausoleil to get it from him no matter what it took. When Hinman wouldn't turn over the money that he didn't have, things escalated to the point where he was injured and eventually killed. Manson, apparently desperate enough for Hinman's possessions that he was willing to order murder in order to obtain them, then gave away those possessions. Even assuming Charles Manson's alleged craziness, does that make sense? Why would anyone be so intent on gaining another person's property that he would commit murder to get it, only to give that property away? The answer to that question is the obvious one: He wouldn't. (You can't say that he wanted to get rid of the bus because he thought it was too hot after the murder, because if that was the case why not simply abandon it somewhere? Why give it to persons who could later testify that you had it? Or why take the vehicles at all? Why not just leave them at Hinman's house?)

Unless someone can come up with a credible and evidence-supported reason for the "strong-arm robbery gone wrong" theory to be correct, the only reasonable alternative reason for the murder is the one advanced by Bobby Beausoleil and Charles Manson -- that he was killed as the result of a drug deal gone wrong. And if Gary Hinman was killed as the result of a drug deal gone bad, that not only goes against the stereotype of Charles Manson being an orderer of murders, but it also supports the theory of the chain of events that led to the "get brother out of jail" motive that was the true reason for the Tate-LaBianca murders. 

What could turn the previously carefree and non-violent Bobby Beausoleil into someone who could bludgeon and stab another person to death? Ruling out a sudden and inexplicable metamorphosis into a sociopathic hit man, a likelier explanation is that he had recently had such violence visited upon himself -- as he recalled in his 2003 parole hearing, "[The Straight Satans] came back to the Spahn Ranch and essentially [they] kind of beat me up. You know. They hit me in the stomach and, you know, pushed me around and held a knife up to my throat and said they wanted the money back because I had sold them bunk."

So Beausoleil decided to take care of the problem himself, and he did it with ill advice from other persons. And that was a tragic mistake. Because the Straight Satans just wanted their money back.They didn't care if the money came from Hinman or from the man in the moon. If Bobby Beausoleil had called his mother and said, "Mom, I'm in a jam. Can you wire me $1,000" and she did, the Satans would have been satisfied with that money. And none of the murders that now so interest us would ever even have happened.