The Trail Went Cold – Episode 53 – Ronald Hughes

November 27, 1970. Ventura County, California. While representing Leslie Van Houten during the Manson Family’s murder trial, 35-year old attorney Ronald Hughes leaves to go on a camping trip. He never returns and his decomposed body is found wedged between two boulders in a gorge four months later. While the actual cause of death cannot be determined, rumours circulate about foul play, as Charles Manson had grown angry at Hughes and allegedly threatened him. Was Ronald Hughes’ death nothing more than a tragic accident, or was he an unconfirmed murder victim of the Manson Family? The first “Trail Went Cold” episode of 2018 chronicles the unexplained death of an aspiring attorney whose first and last case turned out to be one of the most famous murder trials of all time. Special thanks to listener Andrew Dodge for providing the opening narration for today’s episode.

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Additional Reading:

“Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders” by Vincent Bugliosi & Curt Gentry

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The Trail Went Cold is produced and edited by Magill Foote.

All music is composed by Vince Nitro.

3 thoughts on “The Trail Went Cold – Episode 53 – Ronald Hughes

  • Two things:

    Ronald Hughes knew Manson and Family before the murders:

    Long Beach Press-Telegram, 3-29-71
    Hughes knew the communal “family” of Charles Manson months before Manson and three female codefendants were charged with murder and conspiracy.

    The body was not badly decomposed:

    LATimes, 3-30-71
    One of the men who found the body: “..the body was not decomposed, apparently because of the cold water.”

    LATimes, 3-31-71
    “Dep. Coroner Merle Peters said the cold water of Sespe Creek had “done a remarkable job of preserving the body..” “

  • I’ve been hiking in the Sespe Hot Springs area (including once during a natural disaster – forest fire this time) and I might be able to explain what happened to Mr. Hughes.

    The hot springs are a series of pools (three IIRC) each of which have different temperatures, that are warm enough for bathing comfortably in all seasons. It stands to reason that while Mr. Hughes was hiking in the area, that’s where he would have washed up.

    The pools are situated just above the inlet of a long lake, but well below the old road (which I suspect was open in ’71 and probably the same road that the VW got stuck in) that leads into the area.

    If Mr. Hughes was taking bathing in one of the hot springs when a flash flood came through, 7 miles away (which is about the length of the lake if memory serves) wedged in a boulder with no clothes on is exactly how I would expect him to be found. The water would probably go right through the springs area and into the lake.

    Having been in the area and being able to visualize the layout, it’s an easy scenario to imagine. Of course, I don’t know the exact spot he was found. But that fits the facts as I know them.

  • Doh! I should have checked the map before I posted…what I remember as a lake apparently is a creek, but there was enough water in it that when the forest fire hit when I was hiking in that area, my plan was to head there if I got trapped. At any rate, it’d be very interesting to know the spot where he was found, because if it was downstream flow-wise from the springs themselves, that’s what I would guess happened. Enjoying the podcasts.

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