On a recent visit to Saline Valley and the warm springs therein, I found many people who referred to “The Murder Cabin.” Upon asking for some illumination as to what they were referring to, I found the rumor mill had spread a gross misconception about an unfortunate event that occurred in December of 1985, and where it presumably occurred. This erroneous rumor needs to be clarified and corrected, as I am familiar with the event, and the locations in question.

The story spans several years and involves the disappearance of a couple who were camped at Palm Springs in Saline Valley. Despite the best efforts by the Inyo County Sheriff Department and Search and Rescue, the fate of Barry and Louise Berman was not known until many years later. Of some curiosity and concern was the fact that this was the second unsolved disappearance in approximately a year’s time. Locals at the springs, taking events in stride, came to celebrate the springs as “the Bermuda Grass Triangle.” (Bermuda grass was the grass of choice for the lawn at the Lower Warm Springs at that time, being hearty and resilient. I used to joke that the only two things that would survive the Armageddon would be cockroaches and Bermuda grass.) In this chapter, I will strive to clarify the various events of both occurrences and detail the nature of the cabin in question.

Saline Valley, Saline Chronicles


As you read these humble efforts to transcribe some heritage and history, if you find you have some correction, clarification, or tidbit to add, I encourage you to add a comment at the end of this blog. Contributions will be welcome toward the final project, and all due credit will be given.
Please consider visiting the home page: Saline Valley Chronicles for a complete list of chapters published to date, and an overview of the project.

The story of the Berman’s begins in January of 1986. I had left Colorado and moved to the Saline Valley Warm Springs with my little trailer to take a pause and redirect my life and priorities a month earlier, arriving December 5, 1985. (Perhaps more on that later, perhaps not.  I can certainly remember the time and date of my arrival, my departure some years later was a bit more obscure.) Chili Bob was “camp host” at the time, his small 15’ trailer parked next to the lawn near the shady spot under some old growth mesquite, a mountain of beer cases and personal effects near at hand. Chili Bob had been a “resident” of the springs for a few years and was “camp host” by virtue of being in possession of a radio that was set up with a frequency to connect with the Inyo County Sheriff and, in turn, the local Search and Rescue department. (In earlier days, should a need arise, “Lucky Rich” Baldwin connections with CB-radio buffs across the mountains, or campers would have to travel to town to bring word to local law enforcement or rescue agencies of emergent needs. Lucky Rich had an honorary “Inyo County Search and Rescue” card but the local sheriff’s department did not provide the camp with any means of effective communication. When Lucky Rich left the valley for reentry into civilization, Dan Roman (a local store-owner) had several radios adequate to the needs of camp and donated one to Chili Bob so that a more reliable means of communication could be established. At that point the “camp host” became a point of contact for law enforcement, should the need arise to come to the rescue of an emergent need or locate a missing person, who was likely held over with a hangover or a need to finish out all the beer they had brought. Eventually, with Chili Bob’s departure from the position I rose to the call and need and assumed the role of “camp host” for approximately seven years. I likened possession of the radio to be the defining credential of the camp host, much as possession of the conch shell was the mark of leadership in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.)  Both Saline Valley Lower Warm Springs and Palm Springs had been relatively crowded over the week between Christmas and New Year. With the departure of most campers after the holiday, one vehicle in particular stood out at Palm Springs. It remained while others had left, and personal items were scattered around this camp as if someone had just gone out for a day hike. After several days, the absence of any activity in this camp raised the concern of a few folks camped at the spring. They came down to the Lower Warm Springs and made their concern known, and Chili Bob radioed that concern into the sheriff’s dispatch office in Independence.

Within a few days, Inyo County Search & Rescue (ICSR) was in Saline Valley at the springs in force. The missing campers were still unaccounted for. A search was made of the vehicle and the surrounding items. The camp had been occupied by Barry and Louise Berman of Santa Barbara, California. A camera was found in the car, and the film was developed, showing them in their camp, and what they were wearing which gave ICSR an idea as to what kind of prints to identify and follow in their search. A background check indicated that the couple enjoyed hiking and had engaged in many long and strenuous hikes throughout their relationship. They could be far afield, and the perimeters of the search were expanded. Many days of search turned up nothing. The car and belonging were removed from the valley to be stored as evidence. By convention, after a given number of days, a search might be determined to be fruitless and further efforts abandoned. This was not to be the case in this situation. Several key aspects kept this missing-person event on the Sheriff’s radar for an extended effort. Barry’s father was the import and distribution agent for Kahlua, and as such had the wealth and clout to bring pressure to bear. More to the point, through the family’s wealth, Barry owned a ranch in Santa Barbara that was adjacent to Ronald Reagan’s ranch. Reagan was POTUS at the time, and the Secret Service took a dim view of his neighbor disappearing from the face of the Earth. What nefarious conspiracy might be afoot? The search continued, on and off, for years to come.

During the interludes, people speculated wildly on what might have happened. A very popular hypothesis was that the couple had been murdered by an occasional visitor to the valley who went by the name of “Wolfman.” Wolfman was a rather nefarious personality who was never a welcome visitor to camp. He was usually in a mind-altered frame of

Saline Valley, Saline Chronicles

A recent photo of Red’s cabin

reality. Some might describe him as sociopathic. He just didn’t fit well in the polite society known as civilization and would often spend extended periods in Saline Valley, as well as other desert corners outside the valley. Given his nature and temperament he would usually hole up in some remote corner of the valley where he would not have to interact with many people. One of his favorite haunts was a cabin located a few miles above Upper Warm Springs along (but generally hidden from) the road heading up toward Steele Pass. Unfortunately, this cabin came to be known in time by some as “Wolfman’s Cabin.” It was not his cabin and in fact he was just a regular squatter there. The cabin was in fact owned by a miner named Red Braden who had a cinnabar claim nearby. (I believe this was the Cerro Albino claim up toward Steele Pass.) Cinnabar is an ore of mercury, and my understanding is that Red used to boil the cinnabar down in his cabin while he slept at night. This very well may have contributed to his eventual demise due to cancer. I had always known the site to be “Braden’s Cabin” and cringed every time I heard it referred to as belonging to Wolfman. While I lived at the springs I had the honor of meeting his wife Del, who still lived in Big Pine at the time.

Wolfman had nothing to do with the disappearance of the Berman’s. I made an inquiry with Sgt. Lucas of ICSR as to the likelihood of this possibility, and he informed me that Wolfman was not a suspect, because he was located in a jail at the time of the disappearance. To round out the story of Wolfman and further speak to the quality of the man, he was killed a few years later in a shootout with police (not in the valley thankfully). Nor did the so-called “Murder Cabin” play any part in the events of the mystery.

In November of 1988 I was sitting on the lawn of the Saline Valley Lower Warm Springs enjoying a quiet moment. At this point, I had been “camp host” for a few years. A gentleman approached me and said he had something in the back of his car to show me over at my camp. A brow, and flag in my head went up at the same time. We walked over, he opened his trunk, and produced a human skull. I got on the old conch shell (radio) and contacted Dispatch to ask Sgt. Lucas of ICSR to come back out to the springs (he had just been in camp earlier in the day). I sensed the same brow and flag must have gone up across the Inyo Mountains when Dispatch asked if this might have anything to do with those two missing folks. Roger that.

Sgt. Lucas arrived the next morning with another member of ICSR. The skull had been found many miles up the Steele Pass road from the Braden Cabin. It was lying upon the

Saline Valley, Saline Chronicles

The draw leading to the main wash at the site of the discovery

desert pavement above a large wash coming out of the Last Chance Range. The hiker who had brought it to my attention had marked the spot with a rock cairn. He also said he had found another bone, perhaps a femur, up in the canyon that fed the large wash. We arrived at the location of the cairn, and it was not long before we located a mandible. The teeth were all in good shape in both the skull and the jawbone, and I knew dental records would provide a positive identification one way or another. The four of us continued o comb the area. I crossed the large wash and climbed up to the bench of desert pavement above the wash. I found a large rock to stand on and get a good view of the surrounding ground. Off in the distance, something rather white and unusually bright caught my eye. I had located a second skull. I was hoping we would find a second, and at this point I prayed we did not find a third. That would have opened a whole new can of worms that I did not care

Saline Valley, Saline Chronicles

The bright object that caught my eye as I found it before it was moved

to imagine. Time spent in further search resulted in no new skulls, thankfully, and we proceed up toward the canyon where the other bone had been found. Turns out the bone belonged to some burro remains, so we returned to the original site. The conventional means of searching the ground at this point was to start at the point of the original discovery, and fan out into increasingly widening circles while scouring the ground for any evidence. We covered the ground thoroughly for a great distance and came up with nothing. Back at the original cairn, we were collectively pulling on our chins when I believe we all took note of the same anomaly at the same time. We are standing above a smallish draw that led into the main wash as a tributary of the occasional cloud burst and flash flood that sculpts the rocky desert terrain. It looked normal enough until we looked at it critically and

Saline Valley, Saline Chronicles

The shallow grave upon its initial discovery

questioned the size of so many larger rocks collected at the bottom of the draw. The hydraulics of the amount of water that would pass through and erode such a draw would not be sufficient to move those sizes of rocks, and there was no sign of collapse of the walls of the draw that might have dropped the rocks into its bed. Aha. Sgt. Lucas made a close inspection and exclaimed that we had bones buried under the pile. At this point, we postponed further inquiry and returned to camp, where Sgt. Lucas contacted dispatch to send the forensics team in the next day. The bones were exhumed, material sifted, and soon the bodies were positively identified as belonging to Barry and Louise Berman. There was no doubt they had been buried in a shallow grave.

One mystery was solved, but many remain. The fate of the Berman’s is now known. How they came to this unfortunate turn is the subject of much speculation, but no conclusion. Barry was a blacksmith, and he owned a unique belt buckle of his own design and made by his own hand. The photo evidence taken from the camera removed from their car showed him wearing that buckle as they were camped at the springs. The buckle was not found within the grave site. It has yet to be found.


There was another incident, prior to the mystery of the Berman disappearance which led to the characterization of the Saline Valley Springs as “the Bermuda Grass Triangle.” About a year previously, I was camped at the Lower Warm Springs as a visitor prior to my taking up residence at the Springs. During that two-week stay, another camper known as “Caveman” Mike ran out of the springs one night (in bare feet and ill dressed I believe) screaming of the devil(s) trying to get him (or roughly thereby). This may have been one of those indigent souls who happened along into Saline Valley who ran out of meds or beer or some such vital commodity. As he was missing the next day as well, having failed to return, ICSR was called and they arrived to seek out and rescue the lost soul. Several days of searching turned up nothing other than the fact that apparently this fellow had no friends or family in the “real” world and was just a poor lost soul who would continue to be lost. As Sgt. Lucas pointed out: it is hard to find people when they do not want to be found and it was likely that Caveman was just such a case. A few years later, talking with Sgt. Lucas he indicated that while Caveman was never officially found, it was some weeks after the initial search when Lucas had received various reports that the missing fellow had been spotted at some other watering hole in a different county. That was sufficient for our local sheriffs, and while the mystery of Caveman was never properly or officially solved, there was never any dire consequence of the disappearance.

So ends the tale, and hopefully the misinformed identification of Braden’s Cabin as “the Murder Cabin.”

You can read more about Red Braden and Braden’s Cabin in the prologue “The Saga of Red Braden”

As you read these humble efforts to transcribe some heritage and history, if you find you have some correction, clarification, or tidbit to add, I encourage you to add a comment at the end of this blog. Contributions will be welcome toward the final project, and all due credit will be given.
Please consider visiting the home page: Saline Valley Chronicles for a complete list of chapters published to date, and an overview of the project.

Saline Valley, Saline ChroniclesSaline Valley first inspired me to pursue a more serious engagement with the art of photography. My favorite picks are shared on my Smug Mug Gallery of Saline Valley Art at: https://timenspace.smugmug.com/Saline-Valley-Art/


Saline Chronicles directory and overview: https://timenspace.net/saline-valley-chronicles/