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Before the carnage began, however, the Family lived together as an almost stereotypical 1960s-era hippie commune, making their home at a ranch with a rich history in Hollywood Westerns.
Spahn Ranch was a sprawling Los Angeles County property in the valley, at which a number of Western television shows and movies — including “Bonanza,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Isis” — were filmed. George Spahn purchased the property in 1953, and as the Western genre waned in popularity, so would the demand to use the site.
Spahn was in need of a way to make money: He started to diversify by using it as a place for tourists to visit, as well as renting horses. Manson took a liking to the property, and eventually worked out a deal with Spahn, under which the Family could live there rent-free, provided Spahn, who was going blind, and the ranch would be taken care of.
In Oxygen’s documentary special, “Manson: The Women,” former Family members described their early days on the Spahn Ranch as pastoral and almost utopian.
“Sitting around the ranch front, drinking coffee, watching the parade of wranglers and writers, George Spahn taking his daily walk ... chickens clucking, roosters crowing, the old goat, the dog, the horses coming and going with new riders on their backs," former Family member Sandra Good told the producers of the special.
The extent to which Family members needed to work on the ranch is not agreed upon — some allege the women traded sexual favors with Spahn, who would have been 80 years old in 1969, as part of the deal.
Former Family member Catherine Share, who was called Gypsy while she was with the family, told producers of “Manson: The Women" that she had no trouble taking care of Spahn, because he reminded her of her own step-father.
“But I like cooking, and I could take care of George very easily, because I was used to taking care of a blind step-father,” Share said. “So, I just kind of did what I wanted to do.”
Share added on the show that, to her knowledge, there was no strict requirement for work in order for the Family to stay on the ranch.
“Charlie never said you have to work,” she said. “You know, it was just common knowledge that everybody there wanted to help as much as they could.”
Lynette Fromme, dubbed “Squeaky” by Spahn, disputed rumors that the women were expected to have sex with Spahn in exchange for staying on the ranch.
When asked about what people often get wrong about her story, on “Manson: The Women,” Fromme said, “The idea that I was having sex with this old man on the ranch … That’s a big one.”
Nevertheless, while staying on the ranch, Manson and his followers would indulge heavily in LSD and free love, according to CNN’s 2017 obituary for Manson. These activities would, infamously, escalate to the most brutal murder.
After the Family’s murders, the most infamous being the death of Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, Manson and seven other Family members — Bobby Beausoleil, Tex Watson, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkle, Bruce Davis, and Steve “Clem” Grogan — were later convicted for the crimes they committed in 1971 and 1972. Linda Kasabian was given immunity as a state’s witness. Although most family members were sentenced to death, California abolished the death penalty in 1972; they were instead converted to life sentences in prison instead.
In September 1970, the Spahn Ranch burned in a brush fire along with a considerable amount of Chatsworth, according to the Los Angeles Times. Manson died in 2017 from complications related to colon cancer.
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