Dearly Departed Tours Sheds Spotlight on LA’s Dark Side

Dearly Departed Tours offers several uniquely presented tours covering Hollywood, specializing in the dark, spooky side of Tinseltown. The tours are custom made taking guests into the shadows and tragic history wedged in the cracks, buried deep in the City of Angels. DDT offers eight tours including the Tragical History Tour (A Trip Down Bad Memory Lane,) and the Hollywood Movie Tour. The G-G-G Ghost Tour: Ghosts & Legends Walking Tour is guided by the (almost) walking dead, embalming charm of RIP the Undertaker and voted the best ghost tour in LA by Los Angeles Magazine.

The Tragical History Tour that started it all includes a visit to the pay phone in front of The Viper Room used for the River Phoenix 911 call among other morbidly interesting spots. Other tragic locations involve Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, John Belushi, Rebecca Schaeffer and Dominique Dunne, along with the scandals of Chris Brown and Rihanna, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry.

The Horror Film Location Tour, so scary it’s only available in October features locations from the original Halloween, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Zombieland, Scream 2, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and A Nightmare on Elm Street among others. You’ll also see where Bela Lugosi died and receive (a copy of) his death certificate for the family mantle. Your host will be Michael Myers (not really but he’ll look the part).

DDT is in the process of renovating a Cadillac hearse for a new murder location tour, filled with bizarre local Hollywood stories. The renovated hearse will seat eight, complete with moon roofs.

Detroit born owner Scott Michaels began his fascination with the darkness under the bright lights on his first move to Hollywood after visiting Liberace’s grave, working three years for the hearse-driven Grave Line Tours. After a move to England he started, then returned to Hollywood to start DDT in 2005 earning a reputation as a local expert in the macabre of Hollywood Babylon. He has also acquired an extensive collection of celebrity postmortem memorabilia displayed in the DD gallery office. Including a picture of the seven dwarfs painted by John Wayne Gacy, the pink suitcase Jayne Mansfield packed the night she was killed as well as glass from the actual accident.
Other deathly alluring items include Karen Carpenters sink, bathroom tile from the house where Bugsy Segal was killed and remnants of John Denver’s plane. Memorabilia associated with Janis Joplin’s death site and Jim Morrison among many other morbid but cool artifacts are on display.

Michaels interest in the Manson Murders started in 1994, years later resulting in the acclaimed 2009 documentary The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter and the Helter Skelter tour. His expertise earned him a feature on E! 20 Most Horrifying Hollywood Murders. He’s also made two Dearly Departed documentary DVD’s, along with 2013’s Hollywood Death Trip with scream queen Danielle Harris. Recently, according to the website, DDT assisted with researching information on the show Aquarius based in part on the Manson Family.

The Helter Skelter Tour: The True Tour of the Manson Murders is a van lead tour to several locations, murder sites and haunts of Charles Manson and the family. Upon arrival guests are welcome to look around at the vast collection of memorabilia from different celebrities and stars in the display cases and upstairs area. Manson related items include a large piece of the fireplace from the Tate house, several vintage items from Spahn and Barker Ranch (the family’s final hideout). Tour collectibles include shirts, hats, pins and other dark but very displayable curiosity raising conversation pieces for the house. A portion of each ticket sold goes to the Justice for Victims of Homicide organization.

Michaels has been doing the tour for over eight years and during its 3.5 hour duration relays a book worth (not as long as Helter Skelter but close) of information about the case. The tour runs on Saturday and as many times as one can assume he’s done it, he still speaks with interest, enthusiasm and passion, even adding humor where appropriate, especially describing the Hollywood/LA Police Department’s “gross miss-handling” of certain aspects and areas of the case. The information presented still fascinates, even 45 years later bringing people worldwide to see these places in person.

Locations visited include the former building of Jay Sebring’s hair saloon and the El Coyote restaurant where the victims had their “last supper.” The bus stop where Winifred Chapman (Tate housekeeper that discovered the bodies) was dropped off every morning, Mama Cass’s gated former house. A house creepy crawled by the family (where “Tex” Watson acquired his hat) and the LaBianca house (now gated). You will venture up Cielo Drive to the turn in the road where the killers walked up. From the Falcon Lair POV as seen on the Six Degrees DVD, you’ll see the road up to where the house formally stood (now a private mansion) and the house of David Oman, said to be haunted by the spirits of Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring.

Michaels describes the killer’s route and where the original phone pole was that Watson cut and the spot where Steven Parent was killed. Other stops include the house the group hosed off in after the murders. The spot where they threw the murder clothes over the cliff (later found by a news team) and the spot where they threw the gun later found by Steven Weiss.

During the multimedia tour the screen shows various elements of the case including movie footage, factoids and a few graphic images. Photos in the tour binder include shots of the actual car used during the two nights of murder. The tour doesn’t glorify Manson or the family but does talk about the Helter Skelter motive/theory from different points of view and Watson’s involvement. Due to time and distance issues the tour does not go to Spahn Ranch.

For the out-of-town spectator it’s a unique experience to see just how treacherous the twists and turns driving in Benedict Canyon are even for an experienced driver and gives an idea of how hard it must have been to navigate in the late 60’s. This tour is not recommended for children or the faint of heart.

An Interview with Dearly Departed Owner Scott Michaels:

Being recognized as an LA expert on the Manson case, in your opinion, what was the motive for the Tate/LaBianca murders?

“I found this case completely fascinating because it unfolds like a real movie with real stars. You could not make this stuff up. Back then there were no security gates so Manson was able to move in and out of “the scene” quite easily and back then you wouldn’t know the difference between Manson and say someone like Dennis Hopper, except Manson is only 5”2. Before this case we all thought we were safe in our own beds. Not after this.”

Based on your research and experience what is it about this case giving it staying power, in the public eye via new shows, continuous books and updates 45 years later?

“Manson is charismatic. No one can believe he convinced these girls who seemed to come from good backgrounds, to do such horrible things. It was the 60’s and people that age were usually talking about peace and love. No one thought the young kids would be murderers. There’s also an “It could have been me” thing going on. It seemed like they chose these people and these homes at random. Of course we now know that it wasn’t random at all, but no one knew that at the time. It was frightening. It still is.”

If you were ever given the opportunity to talk to a former family member, who would it be and what would you say or ask them?

“I don’t have any interest in speaking to Manson. It’s established he’s a liar and there is nothing I could learn from him. I would love to talk to the girls, but I’m sure they wouldn’t talk to me if they knew what I do, or discuss the murders.”

You’ve done the HS tour weekly for years among other tours. How do you keep the material fresh and interesting for yourself?

“I’m always reading. I’m always collecting information and researching. I just interviewed Virginia Graham, the fellow inmate who Susan Atkins bragged about the murders to. Virginia broke the case. It was fascinating and an honor. She’s a great lady.”

In all of your travels was there a spot or place so creepy or scary you’ll never go back to?

“The Wonderland Murder House was one. I have been to dozens and dozens of death spots. I have laid in the spot where Belushi and Joplin breathed their last breaths, along with many others. Wonderland was a bizarre, horrible crime. There were no “good” people involved. Just bad all around. Being in that house alone, that was very, very unsettling. Usually that stuff doesn’t bug me much, but it did.”

For anyone new to the case or seeking more knowledge what books or movies would you recommend?

“Of course Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, and Ed Sander’s book The Family. The most recent biography about Manson is great, and I highly recommend our own film The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter.”

Some tours are offered only on weekends. Check the site or call for availability. Reserve tickets early online.

Images by Mike Ritchie

Check out the Offbeat LA post on Dearly Departed

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