Monday, October 26, 2015

Nuel Emmons

Have you ever noticed that with this case many things that you thought were the absolute truth turn out to be a corrupted version of the truth.  It really doesn't matter which side you look at, the prosecution, the defense, the good guys or the bad guys every one regardless of bias cannot seem to tell the truth.  This case is still being talked about 45+ years down the road.  The perpetrators have been arrested, tried and sentenced.  The usual course would be that interest in the case would taper off and eventually fade from public scrutiny.  Not so with the so called "Manson Murders".
 The book Manson In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons has, on the back fly leaf, a short statement saying that Emmons knew Manson because he spent time in federal prison with him on two occasions.  The first time was in 1956 when Emmons had been convicted of car theft and the second in 1960 "under similar circumstances."   Any articles about these arrests of Emmons were completely elusive, there were none to be found.

George Stimson gave me a clue that ultimately opened up a new line of research for me.  George said that Charlie called Emmons "Mel" and he thought that Emmons first name might be Melton.  With that knowledge I was able to find one article about Melton Emmons where he and a friend were shooting rats at the dumps in Humboldt County California.  The friend, Theodore C. Annibel, was shot by a third person who was trying to scare the two men away. (The Times Standard Eureka CA Jan. 31, 1955 page 1)

Although interesting, it still didn't solve the mystery of the arrests that landed Emmons in federal prison.  At that point I hit upon the idea of going back and taking another look at Emmons obituary, sure enough the answer was there.  One of Emmons survivors was a son with the last name of Melton.  From there information on Emmons flowed.

Nuel was born Nuel Arnold Emmons September 17, 1927 in Ada Oklahoma.  His parents were Sidney and Christena (nee Folsom) Emmons.  His mother's father, Elias Folsom, died the same year she was born, her mother remarried and Christena used her step-father's last name of Russell until she married Sidney Emmons.  Christena's birthfather, Elias Folsom, is on the American Indian Rolls as being 1/4 Choctaw.
I was able to find Sidney and Christena Emmons in a Muskogee OK city directory in 1932.  They divorced shortly after 1932.  Sidney remarried and eventually moved to Texas.  His occupation was in the production end of the newspaper business. 
Christena moved out to California with her two children, Nuel Arnold and Theda Bara Emmons.  In 1935 Christena married Billy Marvin Melton in Oakland California.

The 1940 census shows Christena and Billy Melton living in Richmond, Contra Costa County along with Nuel and his sister Thedie B.  Both children were using the last name of Melton.  Nuel went to school in Richmond CA.  It was there that he met his first wife, Virginia Fessenden.  Nuel and Virginia had three children born in 1947, 1949 and 1953.  Nuel was still using his step-father's last name of Melton.
(picture of first wife)
While I was not able to find an article detailing Nuel's first arrest I was able to find a few articles where Nuel Melton was playing basketball for a California Youth Authority (CYA) team.   These articles were all in the Santa Cruz Sentinel and dated in the first three months of 1948 when Nuel would have been 20 years old so I am reasonably certain that it's the same person.  An article in the Nevada State Journal dated January 20, 1956 said that Nuel had served a sentence in the past in California's Preston Reformatory which was CYA facility.
The next time that Nuel popped up in the news was in 1952 when he was playing baseball for a semi-pro team called the Vallejo Builders.  The article says that Nuel had played ball for both the New Mexico and Texas leagues prior to joining the Vallejo Builders.  He was a 3rd baseman and is second from the left in the bottom row of this 1952 picture.

 In 1953 the articles on Nuel's criminal activities started in earnest.  In May of 1953 a warrant for Nuel Melton's arrest was issued.  He was involved in a statewide car theft ring that when all was said and done consisted of a couple of dozen people from Ukiah to Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.  Melton came under scrutiny when a California Highway patrolman came under investigation because he had sold a vehicle with a stolen engine in it.  It seems that the Highway Patrolman bought a wrecked a car which he took to Melton's garage to be fixed for resale.  Unbeknownst to the Highway Patrolman, Melton put a "hot" engine in the car.  The officer had agreed to split the profits of the sale with Melton in exchange for the repair work.
Melton, naturally, disappeared when the warrant was issued but he did send a letter to the Richmond CA police, mailed from Rodeo CA, "absolving the officer of any guilt in the transaction" as related in the Oakland Tribune, May 14, 1953.  This same article describes Melton as being an "ex-San Quentin convict."  I was never able to discover why or exactly when Melton had previously been in San Quentin.
The aforementioned January 20, 1956 Nevada State Journal article states that Melton, of Klamath Falls OR, was returned to Reno NV to face federal prosecution for driving a stolen car across state lines.  This would be a violation of the Dyer Act, the same charges that Manson was in prison for at the time.  A February 4, 1956 article in the same newspaper says that Melton was given a continuance and a trial date was set for February 17.  Out of all the articles I found on Melton this was the only one that even mentioned a trial and I'm not sure that this trial ever took place because there are no articles saying as such.  It's quite possible that a plea deal was made before it came to trial.
Whatever the outcome of the 1956 arrest Melton did not serve much time because  in July of 1959 Melton was arrested at the San Ysidro CA/Mexico border for smuggling nearly three pounds of heroin that he had secreted in a false compartment in his car.  This arrest landed him back in federal prison in 1960 where he again met up with Charlie Manson but the arrest most certainly was not "under similar circumstances" of his 1956 incarceration. 
This arrest was kind of interesting in that his co-conspirator, Longino Castro, received a 30 year sentence, later appealed and reduced to 10 years, but Melton was out of prison by April of 1966 when he married his second wife in Alameda County.  The particulars of the crime are spelled out in a 1963 appeal filed by Castro.
Some of the highlights in the appeal are-
Melton and his wife, Virginia, were the occupants of the car when the arrest was made.  Longino Castro was not in the car but was at the Melton home in Costa Mesa babysitting the three Melton children while Melton and his wife made the heroin purchase in Mexico.  The car however was tied to Castro but it was determined that Melton had signed a false name to the "pink slip" for the car.  This trip to Mexico was not the trio's first time.
 Virginia Melton was not charged, she was allowed to go home to care for the children.  Melton was able to make the $20,000 bail, then promptly skipped bail and fled out of state.  Castro's trial was severed from Melton's due to Melton's absence and he went to trial  in September 1959, was found guilty and received a 30 year sentence as this was a second narcotics conviction for him.
Meanwhile, Melton described as a body and fender man, had taken the assumed identity of William O'Donnel and was working in Salt Lake City UT as a sheet metal worker.  The FBI located him and he was arrested January 1, 1960.  I was unable to find any further articles relating to this arrested leading me to believe that some sort of plea deal was made in lieu of a trial.
The next time that Melton was in the newspaper was when he and his first wife, Virginia, filed for divorce in Contra Costa County CA in 1964.

In April 1966 Nuel married Elizabeth (Bette) Quiett in Alameda County CA.  He married her using the name of Nuel Melton Emmons, combining his step-father's last name with his birth name.  Bette had two sons.

In 1968 Nuel was again arrested for possessing heroin for sale.  He was arrested in the name of Nuel Melton in Berkeley CA even though he was using the last name of Emmons at that time.  According to newspaper accounts he had arranged to sell a little more than two pounds of heroin to a client that turned out to be an agent with the California State Bureau of Narcotics.  The heroin was said to be 80% pure, when cut and sold on the street heroin is about 5% pure, so this was an enormous amount of heroin in Melton's possession.
Melton's arrest was not reported by the press until other arrests of people associated with Melton were taken into custody.  One of those people was Michael Barrigan who was named by a US Senate crime-committee as "one of the biggest international traffickers in narcotics."  Barrigan, a Baja California rancher, had been sought by authorities for more than 20 years.  In all 6 1/2 pounds of "exceptionally pure" heroin was seized, it had an estimated street value of $2.5 million back in 1968.  In today's economy that $2.5 million translates to $17, 093,750.00! 
I located a San Francisco Chronicle article dated April 18, 1968 which says, in part, "Matthew O'Connor, Chief State Narcotics agent in Northern California said two of his agents, Henry Lopez and Julius Beretta, got on Barrigan's trail through the arrest in Berkeley last Friday of one of his customers, Nuel A. Melton, of Pinole.  Presumably Melton "talked,"  because the next day, Saturday, state agents struck in San Diego, arresting another man and seizing another 10 ounces of heroin."
When Barrigan and his confederate, Mike Ramirez, were arrested in Mexico the next Monday after a short gunfight where no one was injured, they were in possession of 70 ounces of heroin.   Barragan and Ramirez were held and charged for their crimes in Mexico.  Sources for these arrests etc. are The Times San Mateo, Oxnard Press Courier and The Oakland Tribune all dated April 17, 1968.   The image is of the San Francisco Chronicle  dated April 18, 1968.
 I have no doubt that Melton/Emmons turned out to be a snitch with this arrest.  He did not serve a single day in prison for the heroin trafficking charges.
In 1968 Emmons, his wife Bette and her two young sons moved to Lake County CA and settled there for the duration of their lives.  Emmons was using that last name exclusively now.  Bette got a job with the county and Nuel opened a body and fender shop in Nice CA.  Emmons mother and step-father, Christena and Billy Melton were already in residence in Lake County as was Emmons sister, Theda, her husband and their children.  Things seemed to be moving along fine, all happy families, until 1975 when Emmons was arrested again!
April 24, 1975 he was arrested in Lake County under the name Nuel Emmons and the charges were for possession of a stolen car and two stolen motorcycles according to a Ukiah Daily Journal article dated April 25, 1975.  The court proceedings, which George Stimson obtained and kindly shared with me, state that Emmons was charged with four counts of receiving stolen property.  The first count was that between July 5, 1973 and October 8, 1974 Emmons did knowingly receive stolen property.  Second count, that between December 8, 1973 and October 8, 1974 he did knowingly receive stolen property.  Third count, that on April 24, 1975 did knowingly receive stolen property and the fourth count, that between June 29, 1972 and October 8, 1974 did feloniously take property of another and the value of such property exceeded the sum of $200.00.
It seems that authorities had been watching Emmons for a while........
November 19, 1975 he plead not guilty and a jury trial was scheduled for December 9th.  On December 10th he withdrew his not guilty plea and plead guilty to a charge of receiving stolen property, sentencing was scheduled for December 22nd.  On January 21, 1976 Emmons was committed to the California State Department of Corrections in Vacaville CA for "diagnostic evaluation and recommendation" for a period of time not to exceed 90 days.  The outcome of this evaluation was that Emmons was to serve 6 months in the Lake County jail with credit given for the time spent in Vacaville.  He was also ordered to pay $1700. restitution to a specific person as well as abide by the usual conditions of probation once released from jail.  He was released from probation July 7, 1978.
There was no mention of any of Emmons prior crimes, under the last name of Melton, in any of the court proceedings that George was able to obtain so I have no idea if they were taken into consideration when sentencing was pronounced.
On Monday March 3, 1980 an article by Nuel Emmons ran in The Ukiah Daily Journal which was an exclusive interview with Charles Manson.  This article planted the seed for the book on Manson he wrote.
The article also seemed to be the start of Emmons newspaper writing career.  April 1980 Emmons began reporting as a special correspondent on various local and national sports stories.  August 7, 1980 he wrote another story on Manson this time reporting that Manson had been released from solitary confinement and was given a job assignment at Vacaville Prison.  April 1981 found Emmons giving a talk to the Mendo-Lake Prayer and Share Christian Writers Fellowship at a mobile home park in Lakeport CA.  He was billed as a "well known sportswriter".
It was announced that on June 12, 1981 Emmons would be a guest on NBC's Tomorrow show speaking about the autobiography of Manson that he had been preparing for the last 15 months.  This show also presented Manson's first televised interview which Emmons had arranged.  The book would not be published until 1986.  He would continue to write sports stories for the UDJ during this time.  September 11, 1983 Emmons got his own column in the UDJ, "Lake County Picquancy" a folksy column about the happenings and people in that county.  I found this column to be a bit cheezy and he featured his own family in many of the columns.
Here's a Mother's Day 1984 column that pretty much names every female he was related to.  The column ran on Sundays for about a year.
In 1986 "Manson in his Own Words" as told to Nuel Emmons, Grove Press, was finally published.  It was published by Grafton Books in 1987 in the UK under the title "Without Conscience".   The book duly received reviews from critics across the US and it was generally well received netting Emmons many interviews.  However the book's most vocal critic was Charles Manson, himself, who declared the book to not be a accurate representation of the truth. 
Ben Gurecki shared with me a letter from "Mel" to Manson that he has in his archives.  Ben has a story about Manson's false teeth involving Emmons that he hopefully will share with us in the comments.  Coincidentally, Ben and Charlie have recently been talking about Emmons and Charlie said Emmons was a "cheat and only lying to himself."  I have to wonder if Manson ever had an inkling that Emmons was quite possibly a snitch.  I don't think so because I doubt that he would have ever agreed to do the book.  Manson has spoken out about his feelings on snitches and they aren't warm and fuzzy feelings.
It is amazing to me that Emmons was ever allowed to interview Manson, let alone the many years it took to gather the information for his book.  Emmons was a convicted felon.  He had federal convictions as well as state convictions.  He was a drug trafficker.  His last felony conviction was in the 70s and he did not get off parole until a scant year before he started his interviews with Manson.  I thought that felons were not allowed, by law, to interact with each other particularly if one of those felons was still in prison.
Nuel Emmons died in Lake County CA on November 19, 2002.   Photo by George Stimson.