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Joel Pugh

Sandra Good and Joel Pugh, Christmas 1967, Pugh Residence.


By Simon Wells, author of Charles Manson: Coming Down Fast

Simon Wells recently passed away. Over the past few years, Simon and I have been in contact a number of times. We talked mainly about the death of Joel Pugh which Wells had written an excellent article about on blogger. Wells told me that I could freely use his research and information about Joel Pugh. Now that Wells has passed away, I've decided to publish his page on Joel Pugh here in case his page on blogger should be removed.

The Facts Regarding the Connection between the Charles Manson Family and Joel Pugh

It appears that twenty-seven-year-old Joel Dean Pugh came loosely into contact with the fringes of the Manson Family sometime during March 1968. Joel was born on June 7th 1940 to Marjorie and David Pugh; his father a radiographer at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. Joel was an original, if slightly off-beat character, who combined his professional endeavours with a quirky sense of humour.

"Joel was a very funny guy," recalls his brother Daniel today. "It was just nifty being with him at any time. I sort of admired him so much. He always had this great imagination … When he was little, people would ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Joel had two answers: one was 'to be a pirate'. The other was, 'to be a little boy'".

Like many of his vintage, following his education, Joel was conscripted into the army during the early 1960s. There, he proved to be a popular and likeable individual. As evidenced by these photos in late 1964, he enjoyed socialising and playing the guitar for his friends and colleagues.

Following demob in 1965, Joel moved to northern California. He had taken up a job as a lab technician at university in San Francisco, putting to good use a degree in Zoology and his interest in natural sciences.

It was during his studies that Joel met Sandra Good, a student at San Francisco State College. With the pair mingling in various collegiate circles, they met through mutual friends and quickly hit it off. For a while, things appeared promising. Their respective families shared in this happiness; Joel spending time at the Good family house in Boulder Creek, and in later years at the Pugh's home over in Minnesota.

Their happiness can be seen from a smiling photograph taken over Christmas 1967 at the Pugh household; Joel evidently proud of his petite, glamorous girlfriend. Despite being in his mid-twenties, it was Joel’s first sexual relationship. His brother Daniel recalls the happy scene.

Daniel Pugh: "She seemed like a very nice girl when she was staying with us… Joel had never gone with a girl before, and we were very happy that things were looking up for him."

Joel’s closest confidante at this time was Jim Balfour. He was privy to all of Joel’s movements around Sandy Good and yet he shared none of his friend’s affection for her, as he recalls today.

Jim Balfour: "I was very disturbed by her most of the time. She was probably charming when she needed to be. I thought she was a very loose cannon.”

The couple’s joy was short lived though, and their relationship would not last the distance. After a life-changing meeting with Manson in March 1968, for Sandy everything - including Joel - suddenly took second place. Depressing as it was for Joel to lose his first real love, the fact she’d run off with Charlie’s strange gang added a large measure of insult. For a while, it appears Joel kept up contact with Sandy and even tried to steer her away from her new chapel of friends, especially Charlie.

Daniel Pugh: "When she started hanging around with Manson, Joel was extremely embarrassed about it. He regarded Manson as a phoney, who was very full of himself and a sort of embarrassing character. He didn’t want Sandy to have anything to do with a guy like that; sort of uncool by association…. Manson was what Joel, in his own words, would have called 'a Gnarl.”’

Evidently, Sandy's complete immersion in Manson’s all-encompassing world placed an enormous strain on her and Joel’s relationship and they broke up, putting paid to any future plans. As former Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay tells it, Manson couldn't have planned it better himself.

Stephen Kay: "Charlie wanted very much for Sandy Good not to be married, because her father had been very wealthy. He left a trust fund that paid her $2000 a month, which was the money the Manson Family lived off most of the time; that was their biggest source of income… Joel was an irritant, and Manson didn't want anyone getting in the way of him and the trust fund."

Ironically, it seems that even Sandy held on to the idea of marrying Joel. During the August 16th 1969 auto-theft raid on the Manson Family base at Spahn’s Ranch,Sandy was booked in as "Sandra Collins Pugh". In later arrests, she would again refer to herself as "Mrs Pugh". While it is well documented that the Manson girls used a plethora of pseudonyms when arrested, her choice of name seems significant. A rumour has gathered momentum over the years that Good became pregnant as a result of her liaison with Joel. If there was any truth in the allegations, this would have pointed to their relationship lasting until late 1968. During the Barker Ranch arrest of October 10th 1969, Sandy was quizzed on the paternity of her small baby. It has been since claimed that to save her child from being put into care she used Joel’s surname as a stalling device. However, despite the crowd of potential suitors and interminable sex orgies within The Family, Sandy used Joel’s surname on the baby’s birth certificate. This clearly records Ivan S. Pugh born to Sandra Good on 16th September 1969.

Whatever is the truth, it’s clear that Sandy was still actively seeking a connection with Joel. At one point during mid-1969 when the fortunes of the Manson Family were on the decline, Sandy returned to San Francisco to catch up with her old circle of friends. In addition to informing all and sundry that “a lot of shit was going to come down”, she made a proactive attempt to cajole Joel into marrying her.

Jim Balfour: “She was visiting, and she was pregnant, and she wanted Joel to either marry her or say they were married, because she was going to use his name as the father, and that’s what she did… My understanding of it is that she probably thought that with the things that Manson’s people were being charged with, that it would look better if Manson weren't the father of the child, and that she would use Joel as a respectable person… However, Joel’s response to Sandy’s request was clear; 'no way.'”

Furthermore, it appears that despite his embarrassment over Sandy's involvement with Manson, Joel never met Charlie or any other Family members. Equally, he never visited any of the Family's various encampments around California; Spahn Ranch included. This has been confirmed by Joel's closest friend Jim Balfour and other associates in Joel's circle.

By 1969, Joel’s mental health had started to take a slide. Adding a strain on his fragile psyche, Joel had been dabbling with LSD. As a result of one bad trip, he’d withdrawn inside himself, believing that he could never be happy again. Joel’s wacky, off-beat persona was in itself an unwitting foil to his inner turmoil and also prevented him from gaining any proper help. His brother Daniel recalls this upsetting duality.

Daniel Pugh: "I totally missed the fact that he was losing it… I didn't realise he was being as serious as he was about a lot of things. He decided that he was schizophrenic as a result of reading stuff by R.D Laing, and like Laing, he thought it was some sort of a spiritual gift or something… The last time I saw Joel he remarked, very wistfully, that it would be nice if there was 'something you could take that would let you be happy.'"

Joel had maintained contact with various friends he’d met in high school who had also moved to California. One of them was Tom Davis, someone who had been allied to the Pugh family by dint of their fathers' working together in Minnesota's Mayo Clinic. Others who moved to California from Minnesota were a "Nancy" and a "Joanne". They kept up a close alliance with him, and shared similar interests in soul searching. Some of these friends were aware of his slide into depression and rallied around as best they could. Being open to all the new psychological slants on offer, they freely offered their own opinions on his melancholy. In a tape-recorded message at the time, Joel’s father David recalled their misguided attempts to pull him out of his despair.

David Pugh (Senior): "When Joel was in trouble out there, his friends were all aware of it. And they were either having him read this kind of crap or else they were quoting it to him. And they were trying to give him psychotherapy with the stupid information they had obtained from this way-out type of clinical psychiatry that these people read. Some of the others in the group wanted him to get professional help, but others felt they could talk him out of the problems."

As a result of his mental decline, Joel would stop working in the laboratory and return to his parents home. There, he read a book on rain forests and became obsessed with South America. Pleased that his son finally seemed interested in something other than his own psychological state, Joel’s father funded a trip for him and a girlfriend to visit the region. Despite a considerable amount of time spent wandering around, Joel never found the rain-forests of his dreams. Compounding his disenchantment, he split up with his partner while away. In the end, Joel returned home somewhat deflated.

Despite his disappointment, Joel’s wanderlust was unabated and he decided that he wanted to go to Morocco. Landing in Marrakesh, his hopes of authentic middle-eastern promise were swiftly dashed. On seeing the legions of western travellers revelling in various hedonistic states, he turned away disgusted and headed off towards Spain.

There, he ran into some fellow Americans who were also travelling through Europe and together they continued their journey. It was during this period that Joel convinced himself that he could predict the future from reading comic books; a game he’d become increasingly obsessed with. One female on this travelling party was a school teacher named Harriet Smith, who recalled Joel saying that he’d deduced from the comic strips that ‘she would become his wife.’

Despite his bizarre predictions, Joel was taken under the wings of his travelling buddies and tagged along with them to London. By all accounts, Joel became romantically involved with one of his fellow travellers (not Harriet Smith). Once there, Joel and his lover found lodgings in West Kensington, an area which despite the swanky name, had long been a cheap base for peripatetic travellers. The room he rented was at the Talgarth Hotel, situated on the busy Talgarth Road, a major artery that links London with the west of England. The title ‘Hotel’ was a somewhat grandiose one, as the property was nothing more than a collection of basic, self-contained rooms, available for long-term rent.

Once in West Kensington Joel began to ensconce himself in his room with his female companion. However, the joy was to be short-lived. Joel’s partner would leave after three weeks after moving to London. The hotel’s manager, Joseph Falk, would later note Joel’s gradually diminishing state. "Mr Pugh became more withdrawn and stopped eating. Eventually, he was only drinking coffee."

According to the Talgarth’s records, Joel moved in on October 27th 1969, a month before Manson follower Bruce Davis reportedly made his second trip to the UK. Sharing the room with Joel was the female he was having a relationship with. Joel took out weekly terms on a single room and was allotted a ground floor flat overlooking the rear of the property with a rail-line running alongside. Manager Joseph Falk was impressed with his guest, noting Pugh as being a "very nice person…Very clean in his ways and quite a gentleman." From time to time, Joel’s travelling friends would pop over and try to encourage him to visit various sights around town with them. Depressed, he’d tell them that he was "unworthy of London" and was content to stay in his room. At one point during his stay, he told fellow traveller Harriet Smith about the breakdown of his relationship with Sandy Good. Clearly, it was still on his mind. Smith, like other members of Pugh’s travelling group, was more concerned about Joel’s slide into depression and tried to get him to seek professional advice. Joel refused, telling her that he was on a quest to "find out who I am."

In spite of his enforced isolation, Joel would always keep his door unlocked and would wile away the hours playing guitar and reading. His most consistent visitor during those days was the seven-year-old son of the manager, who’d occasionally pop by. The young boy evidently enjoyed Joel’s company, especially as Joel shared his beloved comic book stories with him. He also showed the little boy backwards writing; a process that Joel himself found fascinating. Much to the child’s delight, Joel would reflect whatever was written in the mirror to make it legible, scribbling jokes and fragments of nursery rhymes. Meanwhile, his fascination with comic books would start to overwhelm Joel, and alone for so many hours of the day, he felt that he was being sucked into their fantastical tales.

December 1st 1969 would prove pivotal in the fortunes of the Manson Family. In Los Angeles, relieved police finally announced they’d broken the Tate-Labianca case by finally connecting it to the Family’s nefarious activities. For Joel Pugh in London, the day would signify a much darker and finite conclusion to his personal troubles. The only known movement of Joel that day was that he popped down to reception to make himself a coffee. There, he met the hotel manager and exchanged some small talk. Once his coffee was fixed, Joel swiftly retreated back to his room. That was the last time he was seen alive.

The following morning the hotel’s cleaner was performing her usual duties and wasn't unduly perturbed when she found Joel’s door locked. At around 6 pm that evening, manager Joseph Falk knocked on Joel’s door to check he was okay. On getting no response, Falk attempted to gain entry using his passkey. However, on unlocking the door, Falk sensed a weight keeping the door shut, and could only partially open it. Putting his hand around the door, he felt "what seemed like an arm’ hanging limply on the inside."

The Police were immediately called and PC Wright, a constable from the local Hammersmith police station, arrived at the premises. Forcing his way into the room, he saw Joel lying on his back, with a couple of razor blades lying about two feet away from him. He was naked, save for a sheet covering the lower part of his body. There was blood everywhere. On inspection, Joel’s throat had been slit twice, there were razor cuts to his wrists and a bruise on his forehead.

On searching the room further, a pipe with traces of cannabis resin was discovered. Police also found the comic books and the mirror writing that so captivated Joel’s young friend. Pugh’s body was taken away to await a coroners’ inquiry, although the job of notifying Joel’s family was passed to the American consulate.

With no immediate clues to Joel’s death, a thorough and comprehensive autopsy was ordered. Metropolitan Police pathologist, Richard Pearce, made the following observations: "The body is thin, there are bruises on the forehead and left shin. There are incised wounds in either side of the neck (three inches long) parallel to the sterno-mastoid muscles and extending deeply to the muscle; the external jugular veins are divided. Trial cuts are present. There are a number of slashes of both wrists in the long axis of the forearms, and a superficial cut across the front of the elbow." Adding to his belief that Joel had inflicted the wounds on himself, Pearce noted that Pugh had a nick in his left hand from holding a razor blade.

Later in his report, Pearce would note, "There was no wound not capable of being self-inflicted," and that there was no evidence of a struggle or violence. Dr. Charles Lindsay, a psychiatrist from St. Bernard’s hospital in London played down the comic books and backwards writing importance, saying that there was “no apparent significance” to their part in Joel's death.

On paper, the Coroner’s suspicions of suicide tied in with the circumstances Joel was found in: his emaciated state; the length of time he’d spent isolated in his room, and the residue of the cannabis resin found in his bedroom. Additionally, the fact that the door was locked from the inside added considerable weight to the decision of suicide. In summing up, Coroner Dr John Burton declared that, “It was obvious that the man had killed himself” despite not leaving any suicide notes. Recording a verdict that Joel had committed suicide,Burton made special note of the quantity of Cannabis that was in the room: “Whether that might have been contributory to his condition,” Coroner Burton mused, “we cannot say. But there is evidence that his mind was disturbed.” Dr Burton would go on to have a long and distinguished career. He would later be employed by the British monarchy as “Royal Coroner” and would be present during the post-mortem on Princess Diana in 1997.

The Coroner's hearing regarding Joel was held a couple of weeks later at Hammersmith Coroner's Court in West London. There was a smattering of press there to hear the verdict, although with no foul play recorded the story was not deemed worthy of any national interest. However, both the West London Gazette and the Fulham Chronicle made some mileage out of the reverse writing and the comic strips scattered around. The Fulham Chronicle’s headline "Death Notes In Mirror", would later fuel erroneous rumours that the backwards writing had been written on the mirror in blood.

Following the hearing, police immediately suspended any further investigations into Joel’s death, and their paperwork was duly filed away and later destroyed. At that time Scotland Yard wasn't in the slightest bit aware of the dead man’s connection with Manson, Sandra Good or with Bruce Davis, one of Charles Manson’s closest associates, who it was alleged, happened to be in the London at the time Joel died.

When Joel’s parents were informed of their son’s death, they allowed his body to be cremated in England and waited for his remains to be sent back to the family home. Whilst the tragedy hit the Pugh family hard, Joel’s father (himself a sufferer of depression) was familiar with the landscape of mental illness. Having charted his son’s slow slide into melancholy, he had no cause for suspicion over his death. A couple of years later, Joel’s father and brother Daniel travelled over to the UK to retrace Joel’s last footsteps. In London, they visited the Talgarth Hotel and talked with the owner about Joel’s unhappy end. At that time they had no idea that police investigators back in the States were starting to question how, why and by whose hand Joel died.

On the surface, Joel’s death appeared nothing more than the tragic demise of an intelligent and likeable young man with everything to live for. For some in Manson's Family, their eyes sharply tuned to signals from anyone who’d crossed their path, news of Joel’s death came quickly, and in a manner that would intrigue a legion of investigators to this very day.

Following the arrest of Manson and his cohorts at Inyo County during October 1969, Joel’s ex, Sandy Good, and Squeaky were holed up inside a motel on the fringes of Death Valley; their brief to keep close contact with Manson and act as his communication line between the disparate strands of the Family. With news of Charlie and his clan now out in the public domain, police were keeping tabs on anyone connected to the Family. As Manson’s prime emissaries, Sandy and Squeaky’s movements were kept under close surveillance. Aware of this, and equally aware of their rising accommodation costs, the pair decided to flee their motel room in early in January 1970. As expected, police jumped swiftly in and filleted the room for clues. Among the detritus left behind, was a letter Sandy had recently received from an associate called Jo Anne.

Over the years, the contents of this letter have assumed legendary status. In late 2008, after long being presumed lost, the letter was recovered. The full contents of Jo Anne’s note have never been publicly revealed before, and offer a fascinating perspective on Joel’s untimely death.

Although the letter was written without any forwarding address, much of what is said appears to follow previous conversations. Reading between the lines of the text, it is abundantly clear that Joanne was very close to Joel. Pugh’s close friend Jim Balfour, confirms today that Joanne was indeed a lover of Joel’s before he travelled to Europe. The letter’s first references to Joel’s recent death occur early in the letter. All the references to Joel are reproduced here verbatim; no words or phrases have been changed.

Pugh! Sandy, I’m changing and changed so much since. I’m pulled, twisted-my body and my mind have gone through so many changes in the last two weeks, feeling one part of me pulling towards Joel- so strongly I took acid to attempt to reach him, and even thought of killing my own self- all these- or some sort of experience and things replaced by a high of feeling his presence- his nearness- a new strength because I have a friend, a lover, who knows- and he told me the day before he left that he’d either come back or send for me if he were in a good place. I’ve got to find out what to do, and yet I can’t let happen to me what happened to Joel- or should I ?…I’m not sure if its help I need or a lover, or a purpose or new friends. I’m not so sure anything will help, but I’m ready to try anything- first off a move- a move- far away- maybe Europe-anonymity- God, sounds like Joel. Jesus what can I say.

Police in Inyo County greedily scanned the letter for any coded information. Not surprisingly, alarm bells rang when they found out Joel Pugh had recently died in what they claimed were "mysterious" circumstances. The passage of Jo Anne’s letter reading, "I can’t let happen to me what happened to Joel" was swiftly copied over to police working on the Tate-Labianca cases in Los Angeles. Inyo County District Attorney, Frank Fowles, whose department had let Bruce Davis slip through the net in the wake of the Barker Ranch raid, was quick to act.

Recently discovered papers reveal that Fowles’ investigations went to the highest level of authority on both sides of the Atlantic. Initially, Fowles went to Interpol to confirm whether Davis was in the UK at the time of Pugh’s demise. The enquiry was soon disseminated to police over at Scotland Yard. British police confirmed that Davis’ movements in the UK had been tracked earlier in 1969, but couldn't confirm his whereabouts in December 1969. However, local police believed that Davis had made a return trip to England later that year.

Despite being consumed with the caseload of the Tate-Labianca case, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi was alarmed by the details of Pugh’s death, and would later add it to the list of deaths that he felt could be attributed to the Manson Family. District attorney Stephen Kay, privy to all the data flying around in Manson Family case files at that time, recalled an atmosphere of deep suspicion once news of Joel’s death made its way back to Los Angeles. With Pugh’s past association with Sandra Good; the likelihood of Bruce Davis being in the UK at the time, and, not least, the circumstances of his death, Kay, was wholly sceptical of the suicide verdict. He still is.

Stephen Kay: "When people over here ask me; 'Do you think that the Manson Family committed any more murders than they were prosecuted for?' I say, 'Well, the one we always thought was the most suspicious was Joel Pugh being murdered in London.’

Despite the considerable interest in Joel’s death from police in California,no attempt was made to contact the Pugh family to ask pertinent questions regarding Joel’s history of mental illness. Likewise, the full text of Joanne’s letter was never revealed to anyone outside the police. In fact, it was not until the publication of Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter in 1974 that Joel’s family became aware that their son was being talked about as another possible victim of the Manson Family.

Sandra Good sternly refused to comment on the fate of her former partner Joel for the best part of thirty years. In reaction to a feature written by Stephen Kay regarding her continued support for Manson, a statement was posted on the website she hosted during the late 1990s. Within the text was a brief passage concerning Joel Pugh.

“Pugh is usually described as the husband of Sandra Good. In fact, they were never married. Although Pugh is also described as a "former Manson Family member" in (Bugliosi’s) Helter Skelter, he never met Manson or any of the other so-called Family members. Following Joel Pugh's death, his parents journeyed to London to satisfy themselves with the official verdict of suicide. After checking all the medical records and the files at Scotland Yard they were satisfied that the death was, indeed, a suicide.”

Following Joel’s passing, the Pugh family attempted to move on. Joel’s father David had taken the news badly, and as a fellow sufferer of depression, the spectre of his son’s demise weighed heavily on him. As had become customary in the Pugh household, Joel’s father would keep in contact with his two sons by means of tape-recorded messages. When Joel died, he put his thoughts regarding his death onto a cassette, which he then sent over to his sons David and Daniel. The tape survives to this day and reveals his sense of great sadness at the loss of his son. “It hurt all of us terribly (that) Joel destroyed himself,” Joel's dad would reflect. “I think that worse things could have happened to him. We loved him dearly. I don’t know if Joel realised how much we loved him. But I think he did recognise the deep affection that we had, and I think he had great affection for us.”

In the years after his death, Joel started to appear in his father’s dreams on a regular basis. Upon waking, he’d have to face the sad truth that his son was dead. To distract himself, Joel’s father would often stay up late translating texts from Japan; a country whose culture and language fascinated him. While poring over an anthology of Haiku one night, he came across a piece that moved him deeply and seemed to resonate with the loss of his son. It is a bittersweet reminder of the human cost of all this soul-searching gone awry.

‘I wonder in what fields today,

He chases butterflies in his way,

My little boy who ran away.’

Side note: Manson family member Bobby Beausoleil is Ivan pugh's father.