Authorities Hunt for Graves at Manson Hideout

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hide captionA magazine with the killer's photo remains on a kitchen table at the abandoned ranch.

Gary Kazanjian/AP

For nearly 40 years, rumors have swirled that dozens of victims of Charles Manson's family are buried at a remote, mountainous ranch in California's Death Valley National Park. Now, with the help of a dog named Buster, authorities are investigating whether the talk is true.

A police detective last year took Buster, a dog trained to find cadavers, to the site where Manson hid after a killing spree that left seven dead in the summer of 1969. Buster's agitated behavior indicated the presence of decaying human remains, Los Angeles Times reporter Louis Sahagun told Alex Chadwick.

Subsequent searches were inconclusive, as were soil tests, but Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze said he would allow a limited four-day excavation at Barker Ranch beginning Tuesday. The main targets of the dig were to be hot spots that Buster had flagged.

"There was no consistent response from the dogs that searched and no conclusive findings from the soil samplings tested by top experts in the field," Lutze said in a statement. "The only way to determine once and for all whether there are bodies buried at Barker Ranch from the time of the Manson family is to proceed with limited excavation."

Locals, however, have predicted that the only remains investigators will unearth will be from ancient Indian graves. They are concerned about the dig's costs, Sahagun reports. Even if investigators find remains, it's unclear whether Inyo County can afford to perform the necessary tests to identify the victims.

Manson is serving a life sentence at the California State Prison in Corcoran for the murders, whose victims included actress Sharon Tate. Manson had been sentenced to die, but that sentence was commuted after the California Supreme Court declared the state's death penalty unconstitutional in 1972. It was reinstated several years later.

Sagahun posits that if Manson were to be convicted on additional homicide charges, it's possible he might once again receive a death sentence.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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