The Stable Manager of Spahn Ranch

Ruby Pearl got to know the Manson Family before their arrests

Scott A. Weiss
8 min readJul 31, 2022
Ruby Pearl talks with reporter Jim Newsom about her experiences with the Hippie clan she called “The Family”.

This article originally appeared in the Valley Times newspaper on December 2, 1969 and is included in the compilation book “Terror in the Canyon: Mayhem, Madness and Murder in the Summer of ‘69.” It was written by Jim Newsom, Bruce Swenson and Bill Milton

A tiny woman horse wrangler said she doesn’t fear for her life and proceeded to tell a tale of terror and death that went beyond the stretch of any imagination. She is Ruby Pearl, stable manager of Spahn Movie Ranch, the alleged home for more than a year of a Hippie “clan” police said was involved in mass murders. Mrs. Pearl has worked the ranch for her blind employer, George Spahn, 80, for 15 years.

Within 30 minutes after the news broke that police had charged residents of a “Hippie type commune” that had once resided on the famed old William S. Hart western set and stable with murder, this newspaper had a reporter-photographer on the scene.

What police couldn’t (or wouldn’t) talk about, Mrs. Pearl discussed freely.

“I took two of them into town the other day and if they wanted to get me they would of, I suppose,” she said.

As the police net closes and more suspects are charged, there will be 12 large question marks:

Who killed five (and a baby) at the Tate residence; a market owner and his wife; Gary Hinman; a girl known only as “Sheri,” and a Hippie youth known only as “Zero”? Where is stunt rider and actor Ron Shea?

The role each plays in the web of mystery is partly developed by the woman wrangler who lived around the Hippie clan for more than a year.

“That’s ‘Tex,’ all right,” she said as she looked at the Los Angeles Police Department photo of Charles D. Watson, 24, who will be extradited from Texas to face five counts of murder (a figure that may be increased).

“He worked here as a mechanic for a while. He was a nice, quiet man.

“And that’s Patty… yes, that’s her,” Mrs. Pearl said, as she looked at the picture of 21-year-old Patricia Krenwinkel. Even as she spoke, police in Mobile, Ala., were arresting the young woman.

“She was sort of the manager of the group, guess you’d say.”

Something happened within the group. There were arguments. Mrs. Pearl maintains the fights led to other murders.

She read that a pretty young girl’s body had been dumped last November 1 in the Studio City hills, dressed in riding boots, blue jeans and a blue corduroy jacket.

“I identified her as ‘Sheri,’ a girl who had worked here at the ranch for me. I never knew her last name.”

The woman horse-handler recalled having seen Robert Kenneth Beausoleil, 21, whom she identified as “Jasper Bousolay,” with the transient group of perhaps a dozen Hippie types who lived in a rundown green trailer at one end of the ranch, and in a shed behind.

Beausoleil was charged with murdering Gary Hinman, 34, allegedly to obtain possession of several cars. His trial in Santa Monica saw a hung jury last week. The charges have been refiled.

Beausoleil was arrested in San Jose Aug. 5 (the Tate murder was Aug. 9) in one of Hinman’s cars. With him was 21-year-old Susan Atkins, 21, who is awaiting trial.

The second Hinman car was found on the Spahn Ranch property.

The possibility of still another “Spahn Ranch Commune” murder was raised when Mrs. Pearl said she feared her friend of 10 years, stunt rider and part time actor Ron Shea, 35, had met with dire misfortune.

“I’m afraid he’s dead. I know him. If he was okay, he’d be here now. We haven’t seen him in two weeks.” Mrs. Pearl said Shea had argued several times with the Hippie group and one man had thrown a knife at him shortly before Shea dropped from sight.

More death indications were brought out when Mrs. Pearl revealed that she knew of still another man known to the commune who died. She said, “Zero was killed several weeks ago.” (On the basis of only that information it was not possible to locate an official police report).

She said the Hippies a year and a half ago moved onto the ranch, which ekes out a living for Spahn and his hired help by renting horses and permitting tourists to view the site.

“The girls were all real nice. A fellow named Charles Manson, who also called himself Summers, seemed to lead the group. He was 30, or older,” she said. “They called themselves ‘The Family.’

“They didn’t pair off or anything. They just did everything together. There were less than a dozen, but they had lots of visitors.”

Then, six days after the LaBianca slaying, Malibu Station Deputy Sheriff’s raided the movie-set home and booked 30 persons on burglary and grand theft charges.

It appeared they had broken up a ring which was stealing Volkswagen cars and converting them to dune buggies. Also taken in the raid was a .45 caliber automatic pistol and a 9mm rifle.

Half were men and the other 15 were women. Four children under two were discovered. The suspects were released later on grounds of insufficient evidence.

“After that they argued and things changed,” Mrs. Pearl recalled. “They only came around at night… they hid out.”

It wasn’t long after that the group moved out and headed for a new location the Barker Ranch, located in Inyo County near the Death Valley National Monument. Mrs. Pearl said Bruce Davis and Bill Vance, two other “The Family” members, moved out with the group.

“They (police detectives) started coming around here two months ago looking for evidence,” she said. “They took Charles Manson into custody… I know they have him,” she continued.

The woman wrangler said stunt rider “Shorty” had found “pot in the trailer after they moved out.”

She also described one of the male members of “The Family” as, “talking like a crazy man when he was high on whatever they were taking.”

Mrs. Pearl could offer no reason as to why some of the members of the Hippie clan would have entered the home of beautiful Sharon Tate Polanski, 26, and slay her, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, 26, hair stylist Jay Sebring, 25, Polish playboy Wojiciech Frykowski and 18-year-old Steven Parent, of El Monte.

She was also baffled by the clan’s alleged involvement in the death of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, slain the day after the Tate murders.

Deepening the complex mystery was the fact that last Aug. 8, police in the San Fernando Valley arrested Mary Brunner, 26, of 21019 Gresham, Canoga Park, and Goode Pugh, 21, of San Francisco on forgery charges. Miss Brunner, who is reportedly now in Wisconsin, entered a plea of “guilty” to the charge and was to be sentenced in Superior Court Dec. 4. Det. Darrell Doster told Valley Times-Hollywood Citizen-News reporter Bill Milton that both women were residents of Spahn Ranch. The Pugh woman was released and was in an advanced state of pregnancy.

She was arrested again during an Aug. 16 raid on the ranch along with 25 other persons.

A shopping list was allegedly in Miss Brunner’s possession when she was arrested after a short vehicle pursuit. One of the items on the list was for a quantity of lime, according to Detective Doster.

Mrs. Pearl said detectives searching the ranch had indicated some time ago that they were interested in members of the squatting clan as suspects in the Tate case.

Another major surprise in the grisly story is the linking of the Tate and LaBianca cases. For the four months of the investigation, police steadfastly maintained the two murder scenes were not the result of the work of the same suspect or suspects.

During the morning of Aug. 10, an inspector in the Los Angeles Police Department passed a reporter, who was ordered to wait at the bottom of the LaBianca driveway. Newsmen had observed the large, red scrawl of “Pig” on the living room wall, which was plainly visible from the street.

“Is the writing the same in both cases?” we asked. “What writing?” the inspector answered.

With that, LAPD clammed up, releasing only what the press inadvertently had found out for themselves.

George Spahn has owned his ranch (with other shareholders) for more than 20 years. He is blind and spends much of his time cradling one of more than a half-dozen dogs which prowl the corral and house, which are filled with tack and saddles.

“I had no idea those people were like that,” he said as he petted “Gin Gin,” a new puppy.

Mrs. Pearl said the clan paid nothing for the use of the land they squatted upon, but “would help out now and then with the light bill and things.”

“The girls were sweet… all right. I know they got mixed up in this because of the boys,” she added.

Why did someone fire three shots at her from the crest of a hill behind the ranch that William S. Hart once rode down? “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I’ll tell you, we scrambled. I guess someone wanted to scare us.”

Meanwhile, the lights in offices of Homicide Divisions of LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department burned all night as Southern California law enforcement agencies seem bent upon one task — scooping up the Spahn clan gang.

One television station aired film of the Barker Ranch filmed last weekend, indicating a portion of the press was “aware” of the casting of the police dragnet. The release of the first news was seen as a “necessary move” for LAPD to make, though it may have been forced out hours before police had finished finding and arresting.

The care in which the evidence was gathered, including the constant perusal by three district attorney deputies of all search and seizure practices involved, shows the “homework” being done by LAPD.

Secondly, the requesting of Grand Jury indictments shows another legal “safeguard” being sought in the case that was tough to crack and will be even tougher to prosecute.

Detectives say they do have a “murder weapon” in the case. They will not comment further. The obtaining of such a weapon is a new development as up until several weeks ago, when police talked about a pair of prescription glasses, they had no such gun or knife. (The Tate victims were both stabbed and shot.)

Chief Edward M. Davis said the “victims probably didn’t know the murderers” (and vice versa). He would offer no motive theory.

What is left is a bizarre account indicating a thrill-killing spree, plain and simple. However, since nothing about these cases has been simple, one will just have to wait for a group of young Hippies to face the court.



Scott A. Weiss

Author, freelance writer and self-employed recruiter. Bylines in the Daily Beast, Seattle Times, Classic Rock Magazine, LouderSound.