Danny DeCarlo was an outlaw biker who joined the Manson Family and later testified against Charlie and the killers.
In the spring of 1969, Charles Manson and his group of nomadic young people (sometimes referred to as The Family) returned to Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property in Simi Valley, California. The Family stayed at the ranch the previous summer, left for Death Valley, came back to the Los Angeles area and waited for 79-year old blind ranch owner George Spahn to let them move back.
Their return coincided with Charlie’s introduction to a powerful new ally. He’d recently made the acquaintance of several members of the Straight Satans, an outlaw motorcycle club and he invited them to spend time at the ranch.
Ultimately, Manson viewed the bikers as a potential army for him and his Family, when Helter Skelter (a race war he’d prophesized while on acid) happened.
The following was excerpted from The Manson Family: More to the Story (published 2019 from Swann Publications)
The Straight Satans originated in the Bay Area (some accounts differ on this) but by 1969, their clubhouse was in Venice Beach. The outlaw biker gang was involved with fencing, prostitution and pornographic films, plus dealing drugs. In Vallejo, during the mid-60s, the bikers worked with Darlene Ferrin, who ran a drug-money laundering hustle out of an IHOP. Ferrin was later one of the first victims of the Zodiac killer. The Straight Satans were also affiliated with Frankie Carbo, a soldier with the Lucchese crime family. Carbo owned the contract for heavyweight Sonny Liston and was implicated as Bugsy Siegel’s killer. Author Bill Nelson (Manson: Behind the Scenes) attempted to link Carbo to Family victim Leno LaBianca. Allegedly Leno had a ‘little black book’ with the names of mob connections which the killers, Nelson wrote, were supposed to take. Nelson was largely discredited as a Manson Family stalker who fictionalized interviews in his work.
Whatever the connection to Carbo, the Straight Satans were a criminal enterprise who happened to ride motorcycles. A lot of the One Percent motorcycle clubs were fronts for organized crime. The most famous clubs included the Hells Angels (based in California) and the Bandidos (out of Texas).
In today’s world, you’ll find motorcycle enthusiasts and even regional club members who have no idea what it means to be a One Percenter. As the saying goes: 99% of motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens, and then there is the other ‘one percent’. Those days of hell on wheels are mostly in the past. Today, doctors, lawyers and CEOs number among the smaller ‘clubs’ which are simply opportunities for friends to ride together. If you see someone looking flashy on a motorcycle, it’s unlikely that they’re the real deal these days. The true One Percenter is now hidden among the rest of genteel society. But in the 1950s and ’60s, being in a motorcycle club meant a true Ride-or-Die mentality.
Both the Straight Satans and Satan’s Slaves (another One Percent club) figure in the story of the Manson Family. Charlie cozied up to the Straight Satans and may have had dealings with the Satan’s Slaves, as well. Both clubs were chapters of the Hells Angels.
The Satan’s Slaves, also based in the Venice area, had among their ranks a man named Joe Dorgan. Dorgan, a known drug-dealer and felon, was engaged in 1969 to a woman named Suzan LaBerge. Suzan was the daughter of Manson Family victim Rosemary LaBianca. Manson himself claimed that he ‘rode with’ Joe Dorgan but Dorgan denied the connection.
Charlie saw the unity and strength in the Straight Satans and he wondered if he could use them to his advantage. He wanted to control who came onto ranch property, as well as thinking ahead to the ‘muscle’ he would need when Helter Skelter came down. The Family would need protection, to escape the coming Armageddon and flee into the desert. Charlie didn’t love the alcohol use that went on in Straight Satan circles (and he really didn’t like the use of speed, or methamphetamines, which were the primary revenue source for the bikers in the late ’60s) but he couldn’t deny their might, their knowledge of guns and their willingness to defend the Family. It ultimately meant turning a lot of his women over to the club, but it was worth it, to have their power behind him. “He thought the Straight Satans would be an army for us,” Gypsy explained. “He used the girls to attract them.”
Straight Satan treasurer Danny DeCarlo was handy with cars, helping to repair some of the junkers the Family drove. He helped Manson fix a trike then converted a couple cars into dune buggies. Danny was also very knowledgeable about firearms. And the girls, who nicknamed him ‘Donkey Dan’, adored him.
Lyn(ette Fromme aka Squeaky) wrote that, “Ruth and Leslie were probably most interested in motorcycle mechanics. They knew if Danny had a knucklehead, a shovelhead, or a panhead motor, and that he was so particular about his bike he wouldn’t let anyone else touch it. After some weeks as on-lookers, though, they were given the honor of polishing parts.” Danny was especially enamored of Ruth Ann, later commenting to detectives how disappointed he was when he later heard her muse about the day she might kill her first ‘pig’.
Daniel ‘Danny’ DeCarlo was born June 1944 in Toronto. He earned his U.S. citizenship after serving four years in the Coast Guard. When he met Manson, Danny was going through a divorce (his ex was a Benzedrine addict and Danny was raising their son, Dennis). The ranch was the perfect place to hang out with guys he had something in common with, and girls that were more than willing to make themselves available to him. That included babysitting Dennis, who joined Pooh Bear, Ze Zo and John Partee’s son at the ranch.
Danny was always closer to Bobby and Tex than to Manson. But Charlie fawned over the Straight Satans. That spring, he paid several outstanding traffic tickets for SS member George Knowl. As a thank you, the club loaned Charlie their prized cutlass sword, a signature possession of the outlaw club. Manson thought it was a gift, but it was not intended to linger far from the Straight Satans’ Venice clubhouse for long.
With the exception of DeCarlo, the other Straight Satans weren’t fans of Charlie. They were concerned about the depth to which Danny got sucked into the Family. Once, several bikers rode onto the ranch and threatened to rape and kill everyone if Danny weren’t released to them.
Charlie gave them his usual ultimatum: ‘Kill me, man’. Charlie would get down on his knees and offer his enemies a knife or gun and dare them to kill him. His sacrificial lamb act struck the wrong nerve with the Straight Satans, who fled Spahn Ranch and remained suspicious about Manson’s motives.
Charlie pictured the Straight Satans as his army, eventually marching with the Family to their crystal cavern in the desert. To curry favor with them sometimes meant turning a blind eye to their cozying up to his women. But he seethed with the implied rejection. Leslie (Van Houten, one of the Manson Family killers) recalled that once, she “left with a biker, and it was in Redondo Beach and it had been friendly, and Manson came and got me… And he made it real clear to this man that there would be problems, you know, unless I went with him, and I did. I went back… I learned early that there was consequence for all action in that relationship.”
…On March 24th, Danny DeCarlo’s estranged wife Miriam showed up at Spahn Ranch. As written earlier, Miriam was a pillhead and Danny was keeping their 10-month old son, Dennis. It was 11:00pm when she arrived at Spahn, looking for Danny and Dennis. She barged into one of the larger buildings and encountered almost two dozen people including her ex-husband. She demanded that he return her son to her or she would take him to court.
“From the time she hit the door she never stopped moving, jumping on tables and throwing anything she could grab. Danny shouted, ‘I swear ta God I’ll kill you if you don’t get down,’ and they tangled, she digging into his face and drawing blood with her nails, he pulling her long black hair until she was a crazy mess on the floor.”
Danny then brutally kicked his ex-wife with steel-toed engineer boots. Manson joined the action, grabbing Miriam by her hair and dragging her into another room. She managed to flee and drove to the Devonshire police station, seven miles east of the ranch where she filed charges against both men. Miriam warned police that her ex-husband was a member of the Straight Satans and she feared he would kill her.
The police investigated and on the morning of March 30th, arrested Manson and DeCarlo. They were charged with assault with intent to do bodily harm, but it doesn’t appear the charges went any further than that. Charlie is participating in serious, even violent crimes and associating with known criminals, but law enforcement didn’t think this guy’s parole needed to be revoked?
- The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including the following citations:  Catherine Share from the documentary “Manson” ©2009 The History Channel; [2,4] Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press;  Leslie Van Houten, from her 2016 parole hearing
Danny DeCarlo and Bruce Davis drove the killers (Bobby Beausoleil, Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins) to the home of the first victim of the Family, chemist/musician Gary Hinman. DeCarlo gave Bobby a gun and Davis handed him a knife before the two men departed, leaving the killers at the scene.
But Danny later turned state’s evidence against Manson and the Family, testifying during their trial. He had no choice. Again, excerpted from The Manson Family: More to the Story…
On October 15th… Danny DeCarlo, Al Springer and six Straight Satans were arrested for marijuana possession and receiving stolen property. Danny also faced a federal charge of purchasing a pistol under a false name. Days later, DeCarlo ratted out the Family. One can barely blame him: he’d have served in federal prison, within Manson’s reach. He wanted to protect himself and his son.
…on November 12th, Al Springer spoke to the Venice P.D. Springer told them how he’d gone to Spahn Ranch in mid-August… He alleged that Manson pulled him aside and bragged about all the people he’d stabbed and killed. He told Springer he went on late-night murder sprees, stabbing people at random and just the other night he ‘knocked off’ five rich piggies.
Springer asked the detectives whether there was a homicide victim who’d had his ear slashed or cut off. As a matter of fact, they told him, they did. Springer said that Manson did it. That Manson used a cutlass sword belonging to the Straight Satans to kill a guy named Hinley or Henland and someone named Bobby helped with the crime. Springer also told them that DeCarlo probably knew more about the murders but was scared of Manson. DeCarlo had told him about a .22 buntline revolver that the Family used to kill a Black Panther. Al explained that Tex had burned a drug dealer and Charlie shot the man rather than give back the money.
On Monday, November 17th… Danny DeCarlo showed up at the Hollywood Division, ready to talk. He said Manson bragged about going after twenty grand from Hinman and that Bobby told him he killed the musician. DeCarlo said Beausoleil admitted to stabbing Hinman and writing messages on the wall in blood to blame the Panthers.
He also brought them the cutlass sword. From Helter Skelter, “According to Danny, the sword became one of Charlie’s favorite weapons; he had a metal scabbard built for it, next to the steering wheel of his personal dune buggy. When the Straight Satans came to get Danny… they spotted the sword and reclaimed it. On learning that it was ‘dirty,’ i.e., had been used in a crime, they had broken it in half. It was in two pieces when DeCarlo handed it over.”
DeCarlo wanted to cut a deal. “In 1966 he had been convicted of a felony, smuggling marijuana across the Mexican border, a federal charge; he was currently appealing the sentence. He was also under indictment on two other charges: along with Al Springer and several other Straight Satans, he had been charged with selling a stolen motorcycle engine… and giving false information while purchasing a firearm… which was federal. Manson was still on parole from a federal pen. ‘So what if they send me to the same place? I don’t want to feel a shank in my back and find that little son of a bitch behind me.’”
…”Let me explain something to you, Danny, so you know where you stand. We’re dealing with a guy here who we are pretty sure is responsible for about thirteen murders. Some of which you don’t know about.”
DeCarlo: “I know about — I’m pretty sure he did Tate.”
Question: “O.K., we’ve talked about the Panther, we’ve talked about Gary Hinman, we’re going to talk about Shorty, and you think he did Tate, that’s eight… Our opinion of Charlie is that he’s got a little mental problem. But we’re in no way going to jeopardize you or anyone else… we don’t want another murder. We’re in business to stop murders. And in this business there’s no sense in solving thirteen murders if somebody else is going to get killed. That just makes fourteen.”
DeCarlo: “I’m a nasty motorcycle rider.”
Question: “I don’t care what you are personally.”
DeCarlo: “The police’s general opinion of me is nothing”.
Question: “That’s not my opinion.”
DeCarlo: “I’m not an outstanding citizen…”
Question: “As I told you the other day, Danny, you level with us, all the way, right down the line, no bullshitting — I’m not going to bullshit you, you’re not going to bullshit me — we level with each other and I’ll go out for you a hundred percent. And I mean it. So that you don’t have to go to the joint. Did you have anything to do with Shorty’s death (a ranch hand killed by members of the Family)?”
DeCarlo denied involvement in Shea’s death, saying the ranch hand had been his friend. But detectives sensed he was holding something back. Finally, DeCarlo admitted that Bruce gave him pawn tickets for Shorty’s pistols. He picked up the guns and sold them.
One detective said, “That puts you in a pretty shitty spot, you’re aware of that?” Danny admitted yeah, he knew.
- The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including the following citations: [1,2,3] Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry ©1974 W.W. Norton & Company
Danny DeCarlo did testify against Manson and the others at trial. He should have received a portion of the $25,000 reward (he was one of four people up to split that reward which was offered by actors Yul Brynner, Warren Beatty and other friends of Sharon Tate Polanski, but Danny fled California after the trials).
Roman Polanski after Sharon’s murder
what happened after his beautiful wife was killed by the Manson Family
He wound up in Toronto, Canada, married to another member of the Family (Sherry Ann Cooper, who was eight years younger than DeCarlo). There, the two got involved in some pretty felonious deeds, as you can see from this interview:
Danny, Sherry and Danny’s son Dennis then fled Canada back for the states. The couple had a daughter named Gina, and then they divorced. Gina was tragically killed in a traffic accident in 1991. Sherry is believed to currently be in the Los Angeles area and may be remarried.
Danny and his son Dennis wound up in Oregon, where he owned a gas service station. Today, Danny is retired, still rides motorcycles and per recent pictures, he still has that handlebar mustache, although now it’s gray.