The Story of Ella Jo Bailey
She is one of the lesser-known members of the Manson Family, although Ella Jo was with Charlie and the others from late 1967 until July 1969, and their first murder. She also unwittingly inspired that first killing.
Ella Jo Bailey was born January 15, 1947 in Holland, Michigan. Her father, Edward Bailey, was born in New Jersey and was drafted into the Army in 1942. Her mother, Gertrude Boogerd, was born in Iowa and was of Dutch ancestry. We don’t know how Ella’s parents met, but they married and moved to Michigan where they had two daughters, Gloria Mae (1945) and Ella Jo two years later.
Ella Jo attended high school in Holland, and then matriculated to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her father died in 1966 at the age of 45, and a year later Ella Jo and two friends left Michigan, bound for a San Francisco vacation in her grandfather’s car.
The friends returned to Michigan two weeks later. Ella Jo never came back.
By the fall of 1967, she was living on Lyon Street in the Haight/Ashbury district with Susan Atkins and two men, their respective boyfriends. It was a communal situation, but one that bordered on criminality: the men were drug dealers.
Their neighbor was none other than Janis Joplin. They could hear her sing the blues from their kitchen window.
Susan met Charles Manson in November 1967 at a party, and then encountered him again two days later. She was despondent because her boyfriend had just been picked up again by the cops for dealing. Charlie invited her to join him for a walk, where the two went to his apartment and had sex. The next day, he asked her to join him and the other women he was with as they hit the road in an old school bus they’d removed the seats from, laid down mattresses, and then painted the whole thing black.
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Susan said yes (although she was on parole at the time and didn’t have permission to leave) and she brought Ella Jo with her. The two joined Charlie, Mary Brunner, Lynette Fromme and Patricia Krenwinkel as they traveled around the Southwest in the old bus.
Ella Jo was only with them for a couple of weeks and then her boyfriend met them on his motorcycle, and she left with him. But several weeks later, when Manson and the women were squatting at a house in Topanga Canyon near Los Angeles, Susan called Ella Jo and invited her to come visit.
Ella Jo remained with the Family for the next year and a half. She had blonde curly hair, a shy enigmatic smile, wore glasses and reminded many of the actress Greta Garbo.
Dianne Lake, the youngest member of Manson’s Family, later remembered her fondness for Ella Jo in her 2017 memoir:
“She often faded into the background, but we shared a love of nature and quiet and often took walks together… Ella Jo Bailey appeared shy, but it was probably because she was overshadowed by Susan’s big personality. She was a curly-haired blonde with a gentle smile and just a bit of sarcasm in her expression. Her blue eyes twinkled as she amused herself with observations she was too shy to share with the group. Although she stayed on the periphery of things, I enjoyed her playfulness and her open heart.” — Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake, Deborah Herman ©2017 William Morrow
Charlie had relocated the group to L.A. in hopes of making connections with influential people in the music and recording industry. He made his most significant contact through Ella Jo:
“One spring day, following a morning at the beach, Patricia and Ella were hitchhiking on the Sunset Strip. Along came a nice car driven by a rugged, good-looking guy. He pulled up and invited the women in, who said they were going to Topanga Canyon. He asked them, before I drop you off do you want to come by my house for a visit?
They nodded as the young man drove to an upscale home in the Pacific Palisades. The three sat together in the kitchen, eating cookies with milk then went to his bedroom and had sex. Finally, he introduced himself. His name was Dennis Wilson and he was the drummer for the Beach Boys.
…After an hour romping in the sack, Dennis excused himself. He had to go to a recording session but told the women they were free to stay as long as they’d like.
When he returned home at 3:00am, Dennis saw a black school bus parked in the driveway and lights on in his house. He cautiously opened the door and was greeted by Charles Manson. Charlie was grinning like a lunatic. Dennis took a step back and asked if he planned to hurt him.
Charlie quickly assured the famous drummer that he didn’t mean him any harm. He demonstrated his benevolence by getting down on his knees and kissing Wilson’s feet.
Inside the house, Dennis found a dozen people partying, mostly female. Pat and Ella rushed over to introduce him to Charlie (who obviously already knew who the occupant of the home was). Manson then gently nudged a few girls to take their host to bed.” — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
Charlie used Wilson to ingratiate himself with a number of important musicians and producers including Neil Young, Frank Zappa and Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher (the son of Doris Day, who lived at the house later occupied by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, the Manson Family’s most famous murder victim). The Family stayed with Wilson at his Pacific Palisades rented home for several weeks and then, to preserve his relationship with the drummer, Manson moved his group out. They then settled at Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property up on the Santa Susana Pass Road.
But Charlie also sent five of the women — Mary Brunner, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Stephanie Rowe and Ella Jo Bailey — north to the Mendocino area. There, they were supposed to be recruiting young men to the Family. They were arrested weeks later for solicitation and drug dealing.
They spent several weeks in the local jail although Ella Jo was released early (she had a scheduled surgery and her charges were not as severe as some of the others). Eventually, only Mary Brunner was charged and she served another month in jail before returning to the others at Spahn Ranch.
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The owner of Spahn Ranch was a colorful old dude. George Spahn was 79-years old, blind, a former dairy farmer and horse trainer. Most of his children were named after his favorite horses and by ’68, he was divorced and deeply in debt to the IRS. He let the Family live there because they promised to help him care for his property — he hadn’t been able to pay his hired hands in several years due to his financial woes.
And it was old George who gave many of the Manson Family their colorful nicknames. He called Ella Jo ‘Yellerstone’.
While at Spahn Ranch, Charlie though became more controlling and angry. He started to dictate what was allowed at the ranch. He only allowed the Bible as reading material, and forbade the playing of any ‘black music’. He also refused to let anyone wear glasses and Ella Jo was deeply dependent on her glasses. But she took them off, for Charlie.
In the fall of 1968, Charlie and the Family left Spahn Ranch for Death Valley where they spent a month or two in the desert. Charlie and most of the Family then returned to the Los Angeles area that November and by the start of ’69 they were living at a house in Canoga Park that the Family dubbed the ‘Yellow Submarine’. The Canoga Park house was rented by Bill Vance (or William Cole — his true name is unclear). Bill was an old prison chum of Charlie’s, and he and Ella Jo enjoyed a special friendship.
“Bill was a hulking six-footer in his 40s, with short brown hair, brown eyes, and a battered face. His nose looked like a disjointed mountain range. He’d done time with Charlie for robbery and assault, among other things… Bill hit it off with Ella right away, and Charlie used this liaison to his own advantage. Within a week after our arrival, Bill had arranged for Sadie, Ella, Stephanie, Katie, and Mary to work as topless dancers at clubs in the Valley. To buy vehicles and outfit them properly, we needed money. The girls went to work willingly.” — My Life with Charles Manson by Paul Watkins with Guillermo Soledad ©1979 Bantam Books
By the summer of 1969 however, the Family were still desperate for money. Charlie’s music career was going nowhere, his temper was rising and worst of all, he had a crazy LSD-inspired vision of a global race war after listening to The Beatles’ White Album. The Family were forced to move back to Spahn Ranch, now in even worse shape than the previous summer.
That July, Charlie shot a black drug dealer in an altercation in Los Angeles, and fled back to Spahn Ranch in fear that he had killed a member of the Black Panther Party and they would come ‘get him’. He started to ask everyone, who do we know who has some money?
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Ella Jo Bailey made an offhand comment about Family friend Gary Hinman, a chemist and musician. She heard he came into an inheritance, and suggested him.
Two weeks later, Gary Hinman was murdered by members of the Manson Family. Charlie didn’t kill Gary, but he wounded him. Gary didn’t have an inheritance, but the Family still wanted money that he didn’t have. For that he was beaten, slashed with a sword, stabbed multiple times and smothered with a pillow.
“Ella Jo witnessed Bobby, Mary and Sadie return to Spahn Ranch. She got in Gary’s VW with Mary, who drove the vehicle into a patch of eucalyptus at the back of the property. Ella saw that the ignition was hot-wired together and spied a purse on the front seat, with money inside. Mary told Ella to wipe down the entire car for prints. Later, she saw Gary’s red Fiat at the ranch as well.
Ella testified that Charlie told her a heated exchange had taken place at Gary’s home, between Hinman, Bobby, Susan, Mary and himself. ‘He stated that… it became necessary for him to quiet Gary Hinman down, and he stated that he used a sword and cut Gary Hinman from his left ear down to his chin… The girls put Gary in bed, and that Mr. Hinman asked for his prayer beads and after that he said that he had left Bobby to finish up… He also said that Bobby was foolish to ever let Sadie hold the gun on Mr. Hinman.’
That night, Ella and William Cole took off. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications including Official Court Testimony: August 1971 trial testimony of Ella Jo Bailey
Ella Jo was reportedly horrified that her friends had killed an innocent man and she fled the scene, but she did not call the police to report the crime.
The following year, however, she testified against Manson and two other defendants in their 1971 trial for the murder of Gary Hinman. Her widowed mother moved from Michigan to California to be with her daughter during the trial.
The next year, Ella Jo married an African-American man named Willis and they had three children (a son and two daughters). They moved to Las Vegas and after they divorced, Ella Jo retired to Florida.
Ella Jo Bailey passed away in 2015 from emphysema. Her obituary reads:
“Ella Jo XXXXXXX of Eustis, Florida passed away on Monday, XXXXXXXXX XX, 2015 at the age of 68 years… Ella was a retired Technical Librarian for the Yucca Mountain Research Project. She moved to Eustis from Las Vegas in 2011. Ella was an avid reader who enjoyed crossword and jigsaw puzzles, playing card and board games, and spending quality time with family and friends. More importantly, she was a kind and giving person who had an extremely generous soul. Ella shared unconditional love with everyone she knew. She had a positive impact on many lives and will be greatly missed by all who knew her. Especially (her children and grandchildren). ..All will take comfort in knowing that she is in a better place.”
Rest in Peace, Yellerstone.
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