Joel Dean Pugh
June 7th 1940-December 1st 1969
"I wonder in what fields today,
He chases butterflies in his way,
My little boy who ran away."
Over forty years have passed since the Manson Family series of murders gripped the world. While the tragic deaths of nine innocent individuals have been afforded enormous publicity, there were other less documented casualties of this macabre saga. Joel Pugh's slight connection with Manson's circle has been embellished over the years to assume the status of yet another "victim" of the Family's bloody rampage. The truth however, is markedly different. The purpose of this site is to assert some semblance of reality to what happened to Joel, and to re-examine his "relationship" with the Manson Family. Utilising original documents and photographs, I aim to present as close as definitive view of events as I can. While I concede that there will always be interest in this story, certain key facts have clearly been ignored. My hope is that future researchers will be able to amend the catalogue of inconsistencies that have built up concerning Joel, and present a more balanced picture of what actually occurred.
Simon Wells: author of Charles Manson: Coming Down Fast.
London. June 2010
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
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 likable individual. As evidenced by these photos in late 1964, he enjoyed socialising and playing 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 in a university in San Francisco, putting to good use a degree
in Zoology and his interest in natural sciences.
It was in
Francisco 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
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
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.”’
complete immersion in Manson’s all encompassing world placed an enormous strain
on her and Joel’s relationship, and they eventually 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 17th 1969 auto-theft raid on the Manson Family base at
Spahn’s Ranch, Sandy
was booked 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 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. She has since claimed that to
save her child from being put in care she used Joel’s surname as a stalling
device. However, despite the crowd of potential suitors, and the interminable
sex orgies, Sandy
also used Joel’s name on the baby’s birth certificate. This clearly records
Ivan S. Pugh born to Sandra Good on 16th September 1969.
Whatever 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
request was clear; “no way.”
Furthermore, it is evidently clear that despite his embarrassment over
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, and 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 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
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 parent's home. There, he read a book on rainforests and became obsessed with
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 Marrakech, 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
. 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 London 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 main artery that links London
with the west of .
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
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
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. 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 his quest was 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 Pugh 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
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 fix
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 6pm 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.
Police were immediately called, and a few minutes later, 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
played down the comic books and backwards writing importance, saying that there
was “no apparent significance” to their part in his 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, decreed that, “it was obvious that the man had killed himself” despite leaving “no suicide notes.” Recording a verdict that Joel had committed suicide,
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
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 weren’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
area 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. 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 home were starting to question how, why and by whose hand
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 the Manson Family, with 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
had recently received from an associate called Joanne.
Over the years, the contents of this letter has assumed legendary status. In late 2008, after long being presumed lost, the letter was recovered. The full contents of Joanne’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
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.
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 (A)* 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 what happened to Joel, happen
to me - 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.
(*Simon Wells: I take (A) to be LSD)
The original 2-page letter From "Joanne" to Sandra Good
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 Joanne’s letter reading,
‘I can’t let what happened to Joel, happen to me’ was swiftly copied over to
police working on the Tate-Labianca cases in Inyo
County 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 at the time of
Pugh’s demise. The enquiry was soon disseminated to police over at Scotland
Yard. British police confirmed that UK Davis’
movements in the
had been tracked earlier in 1969, but couldn’t confirm his whereabouts in
December 1969. However, local police believed that UK Davis
had made a return trip to
later that year. England
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
at the time, and, not least, the circumstances of his death, Kay, was wholly
sceptical of 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
Despite the considerable interest in Joel’s death from police in
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. 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
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 1990’s. 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. After Joel Pugh's death his parents journeyed to
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,” David Pugh 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 pouring 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.’
(c) Simon Wells 2010