Ronald Hughes

Ronald Hughes, Attorney for Charles Manson & Leslie Van Houten

Ronald Hughes

Ronald Hughes was a defense attorney for Manson and Van Houten. He died under dubious circumstances during the trial.

Ronald Hughes was a defense attorney for Charles Manson and later Leslie Van Houten. Hughes was different from the other attorneys in that he had experience with the hippy movement and subculture in Southern California. This became useful in his defense strategies. In fact, Hughes’s nickname was “the hippie lawyer” because of his bushy beard and experience.

Hughes initially defended all four of the Manson members charged in the indictment including Charles Manson, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkle. However, after spending time on the case, he felt it was more likely to convince the jury the girls were under Manson’s influence when they committed the crimes in order to get the girls reduced charges. Especially Van Houten who had only taken part in one of the two nights or murder. Hughes wound up representing Van Houten exclusively.

Manson despised Hughes for compromising his strategy. He wanted to have all of the girls testify that he was not involved and that they alone committed the crimes. Which all of them were willing to do. On at least one occasion Charles Manson was heard telling Ronald Hughes that he, “…never wanted to see him in the courtroom again.” That was the last time anyone ever saw him. Hughes disappeared during a two-week recess where Judge Older had to appoint a replacement, Irving Kanarek, to continue as the lead attorney for Manson and the others.

By the end of the trial the girls begged to testify, but oddly the defense rested without calling any witnesses.

Many have speculated on the disappearance of Ronald Hughes. At least one Manson Family member, Lynette Fromme, said Hughes was murdered in retaliation for betraying Charles Manson. She also admitted that The Family murdered thirty-five to forty people.

Authorities ruled Hughes’s death “Undetermined.”

Police found Hughes’s body after receiving an anonymous tip in March of 1971. It took weeks of searching but the badly decomposed and naked body of Ronald Hughes was found between two rocks in Sespe Hot Springs on March 29, 1971. He had been eaten by animals and his entire right arm was missing.

Retired Ventura County Sheriff Charlie Rudd investigated the disappearance. He believed Hughes was stranded in torrential rainstorms and flash floods he encountered during a hiking trip. He said there were no signs of foul play. Additionally, his friend Ed Sanders who wrote, “The Family,” concurred. Sanders did not think Manson or his followers killed Hughes. He believed Hughes was knocked unconscious from falling rocks and debris and drowned. However, over half a century later, suspicions remain that Hughes’s death might have been among the “Retaliation Murders.”

Ronald W. Hughes was laid to rest on April 7, 1971 in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders and millions of other books are available for Amazon

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