She offered to kill her grandma for Charles Manson

the life of Manson Family member Catherine ‘Cappy’ Gillies

Did you know that one of Manson’s followers volunteered to murder her own grandmother so that Charlie would have a home in Death Valley?

Catherine Irene Gillies was born August 3, 1949 in Santa Cruz, California. Her parents were Robert William Gillies and Patricia Anne Myers. Her father was 27 at the time of Catherine’s birth and her mother was just 20.

Her father was a school teacher and her mother was an entomologist whose specialty was mosquito control

Patricia was the daughter of William Myers, and Barbara Weddle who was born in Tulare, California in 1905. William died in 1963 when Catherine was just thirteen years old. Grandma Barbara lived another thirty-five years after her husband. She was the one who owned Myers Ranch:

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Myers Ranch back in the late 1960s: I hate it when people put watermarks over images they don’t own!

Catherine grew up in the Capistrano area, as a younger child and as living in Fresno in 1960 when her younger sister was born in 1960. Due to their father’s career, the family moved around the state a bit.

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A school picture of Catherine Gillies

Catherine was a honors student, and a member of the swim team. She attended Sanger High School and then McLane High School, both in the Fresno area. She had a talent for writing, was a natural artist (especially of caricatures) and had a beautiful singing voice. But evidence shows that she had a troubled relationship with her mother. As Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme wrote:

Cappy’s mother had so severely spooked her in trying to kill her spirit that it’s a wonder she could trust any other woman.

Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press

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A high school yearbook photo of Catherine Gillies

By 1968 she was living in the Los Angeles area and dating a young man who was a promoter for the band Buffalo Springfield.

In the summer of 1968, the Manson Family were living at Spahn Ranch — a rundown 500-acre property in Chatsworth. Owner George Spahn was 79, blind, and somewhat down on his luck — he owed several years worth of back taxes on the property and resorted to selling horse and pony rides to make a living.

It is believed that Catherine first encountered the Family when she came to Spahn Ranch to ride the horses.

Cathy Gillies, the blue-eyed daughter of Mr. High School teacher and Mrs. Entomologist, cantered by George’s house on one of his best horses, her blonde hair flying. All of the guys were interested in her. The next time I saw her, she was lying on her stomach by the stone fireplace at the farmhouse with colored pens, paper, and drawings splayed around her… When she began talking, it was of books. She seemed nice enough for a know-it-all. I would come to love Cathy as a mildly rebellious teenager, a lovely tomboy, and a reliable, enthusiastic story teller, generous with details.

Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press

It was old George Spahn who gave Ms. Gillies her nickname when he learned that she had lived as a child in Capistrano. “Capistrano” then was shortened by the Family to “Cappy”.

Cappy leads blind George Spahn around the property

There were at least fourteen or fifteen members of Charlie’s clan living at Spahn Ranch by the beginning of fall and Manson realized that they had worn out their welcome — particularly when Susan Atkins gave birth to a baby boy on the property (Ze Zo Zo Ce, born October 7, 1968). He had wanted to get out of the Los Angeles area for a while and Cappy provided the best opportunity at the right moment:

Cappy said her grandmother had a cabin in the mountains above Death Valley, and her family didn’t use it more than once a year. She had vacationed there since childhood, and said that for all the desert lacked, it had plenty of space for us to spread out, and explore.

Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press

Myers Ranch, owned by Grandma Barbara Weddle Myers, was a hardscrabble 40-acre homestead near Trona, California. It was never intended as a permanent residence, and it showed:

Myers Ranch is a 40 acre recreational ranch in eastern California just east of Sourdough Springs in Inyo County. The ranch was built in 1932 at a time where uranium mining was common in the California desert, which also provided a sanctuary for those seeking to escape from mainstream society…

After the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, the entire area around Myers Ranch became a private in-holding government controlled piece of land within Death Valley National Park.

Myers Ranch was owned by Bill and Barbara Myers who successfully patented the property under the General Mining Act which allowed land owned or controlled by the government to be legally occupied due to an owner’s involvement with small-scale mining. The Myers instead used it as a recreational property until 1960 prior to moving with their children to Fresno California.

— From

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A recent photograph of Myers Ranch: source unknown

The Family arrived at Myers Ranch in mid-October. Dianne Lake recalled their arrival:

The last connection to civilization was the little town of Ballarat, which was more a cluster of buildings than a proper town. Ballarat, now officially considered a ghost town, sits at the foot of the entrance to Goler Wash… We stopped in Ballarat to get soda pop and shoot the breeze with the few grizzled old miners who ran the small store there. All they had were a few candy bars that looked as ancient as they were and a rusted-out refrigerator that hummed loudly.

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

Life at Myers was not easy (it took several hours just to get to Ballarat for groceries and there were scorpions and snakes, plus very cramped quarters for 14–15 people. But still, they loved it. And then, Cappy admitted that she didn’t actually have permission to stay there. Her grandmother could show up anytime, and ask them to leave. So Charlie and Paul Watkins went into Ballarat to ask around about other properties and someone suggested nearby Barker Ranch. Charlie got permission from owner Arlene Barker (he gave her one of the Beach Boys’ gold records to woo her) to stay at her property, which was very similar to Myers Ranch.

The Family stayed in Death Valley during October and November 1968, and then most of them left for the Los Angeles area.

Cappy grew very close to her sisters-in-arms. Sandra Good recalled,

“Cappy showed lots of personality but also feelings of inadequacy. She had creamy skin and fine white-gold hair, a full mouth and big china blue eyes. She didn’t like her legs, so she never wore dresses or skirts, and she tended to gain weight. Cappy loved most everyone at the ranch, and saw each person’s gifts and beauty, and often seemed humbled by what she saw. Overall she was exceptionally beautiful and didn’t know it. She loved to talk and laugh and tell stories with the other girls.”

— A letter from Sandra Good to Lynette Fromme, quoted in Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press

She was also an incredibly loyal young woman, and believed in Charlie.

In the summer of 1969, the Family had returned to Spahn Ranch and a chain of events began that led to the murders of ten innocent people. In the aftermath of the murders, Charlie and his Family fled back to Death Valley. Goler Wash — the main passageway to Myers Ranch — was in poor conditions and that isolated those who stayed at that property. Most of the group returned to Barker Ranch.

Cappy saw that Manson was frustrated by their diminished living conditions, and she came up with a solution:

Cathy Gillies offered to kill her own grandmother, so she could inherit Myer’s Ranch and solidify their desert stronghold. Charlie agreed and sent Cappy and two others to do the deed. But they got a flat tire and had to turn around.

The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications

We are not sure who the other two members of the Family were who accompanied Gillies on her mission of murder. But their mission went bust because of that flat tire. Barbara was spared. We can’t imagine that she ever felt safe with her granddaughter again.

And after the arrests at the end of the year, Cappy remained with the Family. She supported the defendants, and accompanied the women on their sidewalk protests outside of the courtroom. She helped sew the famous ‘Charlie’ vest (which included locks from some of the women’s hair) and never renounced Manson.

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Cappy during the trials

After the trials, Cappy met a man named Dave Barton, a red-haired biker and Vietnam Veteran from Fort Worth, Texas. Eleven years her senior and already divorced with three children, ‘Red’ (as he was known) and Cappy fell in love and married in 1973. The couple lived in Trona, California — not far from Myers Ranch. Cappy and Red had a son followed by (we believe) two more children before they divorced. Red remarried, Cappy did not.

Cappy wound up retiring in Oregon. She was still as free-spirited as ever, and a doting grandmother (no idea if she ever wondered if her own grandkids might kill her, as she had once tried to murder her grandma). Her Order of the Rainbow name was Silver, but later in life she dyed her blonde hair a bright, electric blue.

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Another dang watermark!

It is rumored that Cappy never turned her back on Manson or the Family. We know that she remained friends with Squeaky and Sandy for many years, including the years in the ’70s when they were each incarcerated. It is also believed that she continued to assert that killing those people in ’69 was the right thing to do, that they (the Family) were under attack and at war with the establishment.

Catherine Irene Gillies died of cancer on June 29, 2018. She was only 68 years old.

We remember her on her birthday, and wish her children and grandchildren our most sincere sympathies. May she rest in peace.

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Catherine Irene Gillies: 1949–2018

This article has been excerpted from the blog at

You can learn more about former Manson Family members here:

And more about the Manson Family nicknames here:

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series.

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