Ronald Hughes

Attorney for Charles Manson, Leslie Van Houten

Ronald Hughes was a defense attorney for Charles Manson. Hughes was also known for his association, experience and knowledge of the hippy movement and subculture in Southern Californi and was nicknamed the hippie lawyer because of his bushy beard.

Ronald Hughes was born on March 16, 1935 in Ventura County, California. He was best known as a defense attorney for Charles Manson. Hughes was also known for his association, experience and knowledge of the hippy movement and subculture in Southern California, which became useful in his defense strategies. In fact, Hughes was nicknamed “the hippie lawyer” because of his bushy beard and experience.

Hughes initially was defending all four of the Manson members charged in the indictment including Charles Manson, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkle, however, after much time spent on the case, he felt it was more likely to convince the jury that the girls were under the influence of Manson when they committed the crimes and that the better strategy would be to get the girls lesser charges, especially Van Houten who had only took part in one of the two nights or murder. Hughes wound up becoming the exclusive attorney for Van Houton.

Manson despised Hughes for a strategy that went against what Charles had already planned, which was to have all of the girls testify that he was not involved and that they alone committed the crimes without any instruction or influence from him, 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”, and coincidentally, that was the last time anyone ever saw him. Hughes mysteriously 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 his co-conspirators.

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

There has been much speculation on the disappearance of Ronald Hughes and at least one Manson Family member, Lynette Fromme, said that Hughes was murdered in retaliation for what Charles Manson deemed as betrayal. She also admitted that a total of thirty-five to forty people were Murdered in total by the Family. No one has ever been charged in Hughes disappearance and his death was ruled “Undetermined” and/or remains unsolved.

Hughes body was found after police received an anonymous tip in March of 1971, where police were told to search in the area of the Barker Ranch in Inyo County, California, an area where Manson and several family members lived for a period of time after the Spahn Ranch raids. It took weeks of searching but the badly decomposed and naked body of Ronald Hughes was found between two rocks on March 29, 1971; it had been eaten away by animals and his entire right arm was missing.

A retired Ventura County Sheriff, Charlie Rudd, who was assigned to investigate the disappearance, believed that Hughes was stranded in torrential rainstorms and flash floods which he encountered during a hiking trip. He said he came to this conclusion due to him believing there were no signs of foul play involved. Additionally, a friend of Hughes who eventually wrote a book titled, “The Family”, concurred with that belief; that Hughes was not killed by Manson or his followers, but that he was knocked unconscious from falling rocks and debris and subsequently drowned.

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


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