Thirty-five years after the Tate-LaBianca murders, it's time to demystify the would-be messiah that Vincent Bugliosi portrayed in the best-selling true-crime book of all time, Helter Skelter. The real Charles Manson was a semi-literate, petty criminal – car thief, check forger, pimp, drug dealer – so insecure about his ability to cope in the real world that on the day of the parole that plunged him into infamy he begged prison officials not to release him.
by Denise Noe
Charles Manson is the most famous common criminal in the world, his name a synonym for evil. Thirty-five years after the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders, he continues to be regarded as one of the most devilish cult figures in U.S. history, the possessor of a charisma and sexual magnetism so extraordinary that he ruled a "Family" of fanatically devoted followers willing to kill at his command. This is the Charles Manson that prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, popularized in the best-selling true-crime book of all time, Helter Skelter.
Manson was an unlikely candidate for the role of the would-be messiah that Bugliosi sold first to Manson's jury and then to a feckless national media enthralled by the cult-tinged horror of the Tate-LaBianca murders. At the time of the murders, Manson was a destitute parolee living a hand-to-mouth existence at Spahn Ranch, a place that had once served as a movie set for cowboy flicks and was then functioning as a dude ranch. He and 15 to 20 other drifters with whom he associated had been allowed to live on the premises by its 80-year-old owner, George Spahn, in exchange for helping out with chores like shoveling horse manure, and sexual favors freely provided by some of the young women. The group habitually ate food that its females cadged from dumpsters. A combination of panhandling, petty thievery, and drug dealing also helped them survive and support their primary pastimes: smoking marijuana and dropping acid, making music, and idly conversing.
The real life Charles Manson was not some charismatic leader gone bad, but a pathetic figure from the very beginning. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on Nov. 12, 1934 to an unmarried, impoverished 16-year-old named Kathleen Maddox. The pitiful words "no name Maddox" appear on his birth certificate. Soon after his birth, his mother married William Manson, who provided the last name now known around the world. The marriage did not last long.
In 1939, when Manson was only 4 years old, his mother went to prison for armed robbery. He was sent to live with relatives. His mother reclaimed him when she was paroled in 1942. Manson grew up self-conscious of his illegitimacy and his mother's criminal record.
Fearful of losing yet another man, Manson's mother placed her son in the custody of the state when he was 12. Manson spent his adolescence in various orphans' homes from which he periodically ran away. When on the streets, he would steal, get caught, then get put into another orphans' home and, eventually, into a reformatory.
He grew into adulthood with few of the skills necessary to maintain honest employment. As a young man, he worked at low-paying jobs such as gas station attendant. When he ran into financial problems, he usually ran afoul of the law. For much of his early adult life, he went from prisons to brief paroles. He stole cars, forged checks, and briefly pimped. His final parole prior to his plunge into infamy took place on March 21, 1967. According to both Bugliosi and Nuel Emmons (who authored a book called Manson In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons), on the day of his parole, the semi-literate and unskilled Manson begged authorities not to release him. He just did not know how to get along in the outside world. He was freed over his own objection.
The story of the Manson Family as written by Nuel Emmons was one of happenstance rather than devilish plotting. After his undesired parole, the 32-year-old Manson headed for San Francisco where he found himself surrounded by hippies, young people who liked fast rock-and-roll, and who openly passed around marijuana and LSD. Female hippies were often amenable to no-strings-attached sex. Manson enjoyed it all. Having been cooped up for so long, he also liked hitting the road as a hitchhiker.
After hitching a ride to Berkeley, he met up with 23-year-old Mary Brunner, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin who had moved to Berkeley and was working as a librarian at the University of California. Manson lacked a place to spend the night and Brunner offered to let him stay at her apartment. As Emmons heard it, Manson was disappointed that there was no immediate sexual relationship. However, Emmons wrote that one developed after the pair spent some time getting to know each other, and after Manson moved in a 14-year-old girl he had met in Haight-Ashbury who was not shy about sleeping with the budding Don Juan.
In Bugliosi's version, Brunner was "the first member of the Manson Family." This gives the impression that Manson had decided to form a "Family" of subordinates who would submit to his every whim and that Brunner was an eager recruit in the embryonic cult. The more banal truth is that it was a case of a man and woman deciding to live together for a while.
Not long after this, Manson traded a newly acquired friend's piano for a cheap Volkswagen van. He seduced a few more young women, not that spectacular of an accomplishment in that era. After the 14-year-old decided to go back to her parents, Manson brought another young waif, Lynette Fromme (later to become the infamous "Squeaky") home to meet Brunner. To Manson's delight, the two women immediately hit it off and were willing to share his affection.
The trio began traveling around and attracted other young women, most of whom left after a brief period but a few of whom stayed. They were not a "family" even in an unconventional sense but a shifting group hanging out together with Manson, Brunner, Fromme, and soon Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins, as the constants. During 1968 and early 1969, the group traveled along the California coast, but also made excursions to Oregon, Washington, and Nevada before finally settling down at Spahn Ranch, near the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth. Since Manson did not demand sexual fidelity from the women with him, young, rootless men sometimes joined up with the bunch. Those who would share in the group's eventual notoriety were Charles "Tex" Watson, Robert "Bobby" Beausoleil, Bruce Davis, and Steve Grogan. Other men and women came and went. Many years later, Beausoleil would recall the flavor of the group in an interview with Michael Moynihan for Seconds magazine: "It didn't seem like a guy with his harem. There were other guys there – there were always other guys there. Although I would say that Manson was the figurehead of whatever group existed at any given time, characterizing them as his harem isn't at all accurate."
Did Manson "implant" ghastly ideas into his younger friends? The picture that unfolded in Emmons's telling is a credible one of idle people who spend a lot of time taking drugs, chatting, and ending up sounding alike.
That Manson emerged as "leader" of his little clique, to the extent that it had a leader, was probably less a tribute to his strength of personality than it was a function of the traditional tendency for the eldest male – Manson, at 34, was as much as 14 or 15 years older than most of the others -- in a group to make decisions. While he enforced some rules or tried to, the group was never so much being led as careening slovenly along. The young women often enjoyed playing out a geisha-like submissiveness to Manson who enjoyed filling in the role of a dominant, protective, father figure and lover.
Throughout Helter Skelter, Bugliosi (with co-author Curt Gentry) places constructions on events and statements that skew these live-for-the-moment hippies into a tightly organized, almost paramilitary group, and exaggerate Manson's role as leader. For example, Bugliosi writes that "Manson once designated [Nancy "Brenda"] Pitman his chief assassin." Manson had done no such thing. Manson had said, "Look, if I had all this power you say I have, why wouldn't I just say, 'Brenda, get Bugliosi?'" This was not the "designation" of a "chief assassin" but a name pulled out of the air to make a point. Indeed, Bugliosi gives no evidence that the "designated chief assassin" ever killed anyone although she was convicted of being an accessory after the fact in an unrelated murder that was committed after Manson and the others were imprisoned.
The group of mostly older teenagers and young adults had much time on its hands and passed it by taking drugs and playing make-believe games that concluded with sexual orgies orchestrated by Manson. In Emmons's account, Manson says he especially enjoyed acting out scenarios in which he played Jesus Christ. Bugliosi portrays these childlike games as deeply felt religious rituals in which the group believed with 100 percent seriousness that the ex-con was in fact the Christian Messiah.
Manson and his group spent a lot of time just talking. Bugliosi later took things said as pep talks, fantasy, jest, gossip, and speculation with a "Dick and Jane" sort of earnestness and wove them into the grotesquerie of an imminent race war and world conquest by a jailbird.
Making music was another pastime enjoyed by Manson and his young friends. Bugliosi wrote that Manson was obsessed with an ambition to become a rock star. Others like George Stimson, the boyfriend of longtime Manson associate Sandra Good whom Manson now calls his "minister of information," deny that rock stardom was his big dream. Manson did become acquainted with some important people in the entertainment industry.
Sometime in 1968, Manson met Dennis Wilson, a member of the famous Beach Boys rock group. Wilson had a habit of picking up hitchhikers. According to Bugliosi, Wilson told the prosecutor that one day he picked up Patricia Krenwinkel and another young woman, Ella Jo Bailey, who lived with the group. He took the two young women to his estate on Sunset Boulevard where the three chatted. Wilson told his newfound friends that they could stay at his house while he went to a recording session.
The pop star returned to his home in the wee hours of the morning to find an unfamiliar bus in his driveway. When he entered his house, he discovered several young women and one scruffy, middle-aged man there. As Greg King in Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders relates: "Frightened, Wilson asked, 'Are you going to hurt me?' Manson approached him and said, 'Do I look like I'm going to hurt you, brother?' while he knelt down and began to kiss Wilson's feet."
The famous musician and then-unknown parolee became friends. Manson and some of the young women often stayed at Wilson's place. It was during this period that the group to some extent lived with the rocker that Charles "Tex" Watson became associated with it.
In Emmons's account, Manson says other books have him and his group "moving in on Dennis like a bunch of vultures. We never did move in. Some of us stayed there for days at a time, but always with an invitation. He [Wilson] also spent some time out at the [Spahn] ranch with us." Both King and Bugliosi quote Wilson as saying after the group was arrested for the Tate-LaBianca murders, "I'm the luckiest guy in the world, because I got off only losing my money."
When at Wilson's home, the females busied themselves with traditional "women's work," cooking, cleaning, and shopping for the rock star. They also provided sexual services to him.
Manson and Wilson talked extensively about music and Wilson often listened to Manson sing and play his guitar. While Wilson liked the talkative, apparently friendly man, he was unimpressed with his musical talent. He told Bugliosi, "Charlie never had a musical bone in his body."
Generous with friends, Wilson often gave Manson cash handouts and paid for a dentist when Susan Atkins had problems with her teeth. When some of the group came down with venereal diseases, he paid for their treatment by his own Beverly Hills physician. Wilson also presented Manson with some of his gold records. He allowed Steve Grogan to borrow his car, an uninsured $21,000 Ferrari. Grogan had an accident and crashed into the side of a mountain near Spahn, totaling the car.
Through Wilson, Manson met Doris Day's son, record producer Terry Melcher and his associate, talent scout Gregg Jakobson. Manson and his friends often visited Melcher, who then lived at 10050 Cielo Dr. in Bel Air, the home where the Tate murders would be committed. Jakobson arranged for a recording session by Manson and some of the "girls" that took place on Aug. 9, 1968, the exact date when the Tate murders would occur a year later. Melcher had mixed reactions to Manson's musical efforts and ultimately declined to promote him.
Relations between Manson and Wilson ultimately petered out. There was apparently no big blow-up between them. Wilson may have tired sexually of the women once he had sampled them all and not wanted to continue to risk getting STDs from females who routinely had promiscuous, unprotected sex. Finally, Wilson, like Melcher, had concluded that Manson had little future in the record industry.
Also in mid to late 1968, Manson began to consider moving to the desert. Emmons quotes him as saying, "The farther we got from civilization, the better I liked it." The group was often hassled by police for its illegal drug use and petty crimes and Manson thought getting away from high-density population centers would be a way of escaping "society's rules and demands."
Cathy Gillies, another of the young women at Spahn, had a grandmother who owned a desert property called Myers Ranch. Manson and some of the group visited Myers. Realizing their group might be too big for all the people who tagged along with Manson, he and others also checked out another, similar establishment. The second place was Barker Ranch, described by Bugliosi as "located in an extremely rugged, almost inaccessible area south of Death Valley National Monument." Here Bugliosi's account and that of Emmons are in accord: Manson asked Mrs. Barker if he and some friends could stay at her ranch in return for doing some chores. Permission was granted. Manson also gave her one of Wilson's gold records.
While some from the group stayed at Barker, the majority, including Manson, were soon back at Spahn. They were also frequently hassled by the police for drug use and a variety of petty offenses. According to Emmons, Manson yearned for the open space of the desert and the distance he believed it would offer from law enforcement so he began pushing the move to the desert ever stronger. The young people with him often seemed reluctant to move and he gave them many enthusiastic pep talks about the free life they could expect to live far away from the city.
In Emmons's book, the incidents leading to the Tate-LaBianca murders were not the Bible/Beatles/Hitler-inspired delusions of "Helter Skelter" but bungled drug-related fiascoes.
One of those disasters grew from a decision made by Charles "Tex" Watson. Tall and handsome, Watson came from Copeville, Tex. As a teenager, he had done well on his high school track and football teams and been known as a "good kid."
But Watson made a steep drop as a young college man. According to King, "On a dare he broke into a high school some 50 miles away and stole several typewriters; his mother managed to hush up the incident and convince the police not to press charges. After three years at North Texas State, Watson suddenly quit school." In 1967 he headed for California. King quotes him as believing he could find "much better grass" in the Golden State. Even before meeting and joining up with Manson, Watson was heavily involved in dealing as well as taking drugs.
In July 1969, Watson "burned" a dope merchant, a black man named Bernard Crowe. Crowe handed Watson a wad of cash in exchange for some promised marijuana. Watson decided there was no reason to come back with it since he had the money.
An angry Crowe phoned Spahn Ranch and demanded to speak to Watson, who was not there. Manson took the call and learned that Crowe was holding Watson's girlfriend (who did not stay at Spahn) hostage until Watson returned with either the dope or the cash.
Manson wanted to help his pal's girlfriend and enlisted the aid of another man, T.J. Walleman, who lived with the group at Spahn. Walleman brought a gun with him, which Manson ended up tucking in the back of his pants as the two approached Crowe's apartment.
At Crowe's apartment, they found the angry dope peddler and two white friends of his. Watson's girlfriend was also there, weeping and terrified.
Manson told Crowe he would make good on the money and asked the dealer to let the woman go in the meantime. Crowe said she would stay until he got the cash or the drugs. Manson got on his knees and begged Crowe to let the girl go and to give him time to retrieve the money. When Crowe scoffed at Manson's plea, Manson pulled the gun and offered it to Crowe butt first. Crowe was livid. He rushed Manson, attempting to strangle him. With Crowe engulfing Manson, Manson twice pulled the trigger only to hear the gun click. He pulled it a third time and the gun fired. Crowe's heavy body fell to the floor. Manson waved the gun at Crowe's two friends, who didn't move.
In Emmons's telling, Manson and Walleman left, certain Crowe was dead and Watson's girlfriend safe. The next day, Walleman told Manson that he had heard on TV that a high-ranking Black Panther had been found shot and killed. Walleman and Manson were understandably unnerved. The shooting could be explained to the police as self-defense or justifiable homicide but Manson was certain the Black Panthers would avenge the killing.
Manson's fear of retaliation by the Black Panthers completely changed the dynamic at Spahn Ranch. Manson had the formerly carefree group set up round-the-clock guard posts. The move to the desert seemed even more urgent because he now thought he and his friends had to hide from the Black Panthers as well as the police. (Manson would not find out until a year later – not until he was under indictment for the Tate-LaBianca murders – that Crowe had survived the shooting and that he was not associated with the Black Panthers.)
Shortly after the Crowe shooting, Manson and his group suffered a second major blow. This one involved Bobby Beausoleil, who often stayed at Spahn. Beausoleil had played in a "nudie Western" called The Ramrodder and an experimental short entitled Invocation of My Demon Brother. He also appeared briefly in the cult classic Mondo Hollywood, a documentary about the late 1960s Hollywood scene. A handsome and self-confident 21-year-old, admiring women nicknamed him "Cherub" and "Cupid."
Together with Manson and others, Beausoleil sometimes dealt drugs. An upset group of bikers who had bought mescaline from Beausoleil and Manson showed up at the ranch. They claimed the dope had made several of them sick and demanded their money back. According to the 1998 interview Beausoleil gave to Michael Moynihan, Beausoleil told the bikers he was skeptical of their claim. "The next thing I know I've got an arm around my neck, and a knife held up in front of my face, threatening my throat," Beausoleil recalled. "This pretty much let me know in no uncertain terms that they wanted the money back – this wasn't negotiable."
Beausoleil and Manson conferred, then Manson phoned their contact, musician Gary Hinman, who claimed he did not think his drugs had been bad and did not have the money to reimburse the bikers for their loss. Beausoleil and Hinman had long been friends. At one point, Beausoleil had lived in the basement of Hinman's home.
Later that evening, Beausoleil, armed with a gun, visited Hinman to try to shake him down for the cash. Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner, both acquainted with Hinman, went with Beausoleil. (Bugliosi, in keeping with his habit of ascribing tight control to Manson, wrote that the women had been "sent" by Manson rather than, as Beausoleil remembers it, that they had simply requested to come along because they knew Hinman.)
When the three got to Hinman's home, they were sorely disappointed. Hinman insisted he simply had no money. He let Beausoleil look into his checkbook and see for himself that it had no balance. The scene became increasingly emotional, as both sides were desperate and Beausoleil struck his former friend twice with the pistol. Even after being hit, Hinman insisted he didn't have any money. Beausoleil handed the gun to Susan Atkins and told her to shoot Hinman if he moved while Beausoleil searched other rooms for money. With Beausoleil out of the room, Hinman rushed Atkins and took the gun away from her. While Hinman held the gun, either Atkins or Brunner called Spahn Ranch and told Manson that Hinman was threatening them with the gun. Manson and Gary Davis headed for Hinman's. Davis brought along a gun while Manson grabbed a short sword given to him by a biker.
When Beausoleil saw Hinman with the gun, he charged him. As they wrestled, a shot went off, lodging in the kitchen sink. Beausoleil re-secured the gun and control of the situation. By the time Manson arrived at Hinman's, the confrontation had subsided and an agreement had been reached. Hinman would turn over the titles to his two vehicles to Beausoleil so that he could offer the vehicles as payment to the bikers. A little while later Manson knocked on Himan's door. As soon as Hinman opened the door, Manson made a dramatic sweep with his sword, slicing off a part of Hinman's ear. Believing he had scared Hinman into coughing up the needed funds, Manson, along with Davis, exited.
Beausoleil commented that Manson probably felt he was going to "save the day." What he had done was turn a resolved situation into a nightmare. Beausoleil, Atkins, and Brunner attempted to tend Hinman's wound but it was too severe for them to deal with. Beausoleil called Manson, now back at Spahn, and said, "Look man, you've left me this problem." Manson, according to Beausoleil responded, "Well, you know what to do as well as I do." Later, Bugliosi would allege that Beausoleil killed at Manson's command because of this statement, which Beausoleil told Moynihan he actually interpreted as "put[ting] it back in my court." Beausoleil was certain the wounded Hinman would go to the police the first chance he got. In a panic, Beausoleil stabbed him to death. Then he decided to try to make this killing look like the work of political radicals and wrote "political piggy" in Hinman's blood on a wall of his residence. The trio took Hinman's two vehicles, a VW bus and a Fiat.
The bikers agreed to accept the bus. Beausoleil kept the Fiat.
Homicide officers were sent to the house of Gary Hinman on July 31, 1969. As Emmons wrote in his introduction to his book on Manson, "the officers were assailed by swarming flies and the pungent stench of decaying human flesh. They found one male body, marked by multiple stab wounds, that they established had been dead for several days."
On Aug. 6, while aimlessly driving Hinman's Fiat, Beausoleil was arrested as a suspect in Hinman's slaying. In the tire well, police found the knife used in Hinman's murder.
Three days after Beausoleil was jailed, several of the young women at Spahn heard of his arrest. According to Emmons's book, they, not Manson, discussed a vague plan to trick the police into releasing Beausoleil by committing similar murders so the cops would think the "real" killer was still at large. The signature similarity would be using the victim's blood to leave behind a scrawled message. George Stimson backs up this part of Emmons's book and Susan Atkins called this "copycat" plan the "primary motive" for the Tate-LaBianca slayings in her memoirs.
Wanting to lift the spirits of the depressed and anxious group, Manson suggested that Mary Brunner and Sandra Good go out to buy some trinkets with stolen credit cards. Yet another screw-up: they were arrested for attempting to use the credit cards.
Those arrests triggered a rage on Manson's part, leading him, against his better judgment, to agree to the copycat murder scheme devised by some of the young women. Manson told Emmons he knew this scheme would put him right back in prison for life even if he didn't go on the killing spree. Manson prevailed on Tex Watson to take the lead, telling him he owed him a life for the life Manson had taken on his behalf when he [as he incorrectly believed] killed Crowe.
The Tate-LaBianca Murders
Late in the evening of Aug. 9, 1969, the killing spree that would stun and horrify the world was unleashed.
According to both Watson and Emmons, Manson advised Watson to hit the house formerly occupied by Terry Melcher because Watson was familiar with it. Another reason for suggesting it was probably because, as Bugliosi quoted Susan Atkins as saying, "It is isolated."
One of the ranch hands regularly allowed Manson and others in the group free usage of an old Ford he owned. Watson, Kasabian, Atkins, and Krenwinkel piled into that vehicle. According to King, "Watson drove, although Kasabian had been brought along specifically because she was the only one at the ranch who possessed a valid driver's license." King also wrote that Watson told Kasabian "that there was a gun in the glove compartment, and that, if they were stopped by the police along the way, she should throw the gun, and all of the knives – which she carried in her lap – out the window." The killers also brought along a heavy length of rope and a change of clothes for each of them.
When they got to the cul-de-sac of 10050 Cielo Dr., Watson stopped the Ford. He took a pair of box cutters from the back of the car, went to the side of the gate, and shimmied up a telephone pole. He severed the home's telephone wires, then returned to the car. He drove it back down the cul-de-sac and parked it. He heaved the coil of rope over a shoulder, pulled the gun out of the glove compartment, and motioned for the three women to follow him.
The gang of four got to the gate and stopped. Atkins testified before the grand jury of the Tate-LaBianca homicides that they did not go through the gate "because we thought there might be an alarm system or electricity." They saw a low part of a fence and threw their bundled-up changes of clothing over it, then climbed over it.
Startled by the headlights of an approaching car, the women lay down and Watson went up to it. "Halt!" he told the driver, Steven Parent, 18, who had just been visiting the residence's caretaker, a 19-year-old man named William Garretson who lived in the guesthouse behind the property.
Seeing Watson's gun, Parent shouted, "Please don't hurt me, I won't say anything!"
Watson shot Parent four times, killing him.
Then Watson indicated that Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Kasabian should follow him. The group came up to the dining-room window. Bugliosi quotes Atkins as telling the grand jury: "Tex opened the window, crawled inside, and the next thing I knew I was at the front door." Krenwinkel followed her while Kasabian stood guard outside.
The three saw a tall, blocky man dozing on a couch. He was Voytek Frykowski, 32, a Polish émigré and boyfriend of coffee heiress Abigail Folger. He and Folger had been asked to stay at the house by their friend, movie director Roman Polanski. Polanski along with his wife, an exquisitely lovely minor actress named Sharon Tate, were renting the residence. Polanski did not want her to be alone while he was away in Europe making a movie.
Frykowski woke up and Watson pointed the gun in his face. Frykowski asked, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
"I am the Devil and I'm here to do the Devil's business," Watson replied according to Atkins's testimony as well as his recollection.
Watson told Atkins to see if there were other people in the house. She went down a hallway and saw Abigail Folger reading in a bedroom. Folger apparently assumed Atkins was an invited visitor to the Tate home and smiled at her.
Atkins went into the next bedroom where she found Sharon Tate. Although Tate was eight and a half months pregnant, she wore scanty clothing that left her pregnant belly bare. She sat on the bed, chatting with her former lover and still close friend, prominent Hollywood hairdresser Jay Sebring.
Brandishing a knife, Atkins said, "Get up and go into the living room. Don't ask any questions. Just do what I say."
Also armed with a knife, Krenwinkel entered Folger's bedroom and gave similar instructions.
When Frykowski, Folger, Tate, and Sebring assembled in the living room, Watson ordered them to lie on their stomachs on the floor.
"Can't you see she's pregnant?" Sebring said of Tate. "Let her sit down."
Watson shot Sebring. After the female victims screamed, Watson ordered them to keep quiet, then asked if they had any money. Folger said she did. Atkins accompanied her to the bedroom and Folger handed over $72 in cash.
Atkins and Folger returned to the living room.
Watson told Atkins to fetch a towel and tie Frykowski's hands. She did, but could not make it tight.
As written in Helter Skelter, "Tex then took the rope and tied it first around Sebring's neck, then the necks of Abigail and Sharon. He threw the end of the rope over the beam in the ceiling and pulled on it." Folger and Tate stood up to avoid choking. One of the victims asked what the intruders were going to do and Watson replied, "You are all going to die."
They begged for their lives. Watson ordered Atkins to kill Frykowski. She raised her knife. Frykowski slipped his hands from the towel and knocked Atkins down. She swung frantically with the knife, probably wounding Frykowski in the legs.
Frykowski ran to the front door, screaming for someone to help him. Watson shot him twice and raced after him, repeatedly banging Frykowski's head with a gun butt with one hand while knifing him with the other.
Folger managed to free herself from the rope. She made a break while Krenwinkel ran after her, repeatedly stabbing her in the back.
Atkins saw Tate struggling with the rope and subdued her by putting an arm around her neck while holding a knife to her. A weeping Tate pleaded for her life and that of the unborn baby due in two weeks. Atkins said, "Woman, I have no mercy for you."
Meanwhile, a badly bleeding Folger was still fighting for her life against a repeatedly stabbing Krenwinkel. Seeing them on the front lawn, Watson rushed to Krenwinkel's side and added his knife thrusts to hers. Folger said, "I give up. Take me." Watson finished her off.
Then he returned to the living room where Atkins was still guarding the sobbing Tate. Watson ordered Atkins to kill Tate. While Atkins had told cellmates Howard and Graham that she killed Tate ("I just kept stabbing her until she stopped screaming"), she told the grand jury that she was unable to kill the woman but held her while Watson stabbed her to death. Watson backed up this account in his book.
After all the victims were dead, Watson told Atkins to write something on the door in someone's blood. She wet the towel in Tate's blood and printed "PIG" on a door.
The three bloodied murderers went for the clothes they had left in the bushes. Then they found Kasabian in the car. Watson again took the wheel. He drove until he found another brushy area where the killers discarded the clothing that was soaked with blood and changed. They discarded the weapons they had used at various locations in similar areas. Then Watson drove the group back to Spahn Ranch where they informed Manson of their gruesome night's activities.
One of the many bizarre aspects of this most bizarre case is the puzzle of caretaker William Garretson. Garretson told authorities that, after Parent left, he spent the rest of the evening writing letters and playing his stereo until retiring. He heard nothing unusual although people in the Tate house were being shot and screaming for their lives. Police polygraphed the young man and cleared him of any involvement in the murders. They decided there was no reason he would have had to hear the horror that was going on since, as Bugliosi noted, the "guest house was . . . a considerable distance beyond the pool" that was between it and the main house.
At about 8 a.m. the following day, housekeeper Winifred Chapman went to the Tate house to report for work. When she got close to the gate, she was immediately worried because she saw that wires had been cut. She discovered that the electricity was not off when she pushed the button to the gate and it swung open.
She went into the residence through a service-porch entrance. In the living room, she saw great pools of blood and, outside on the lawn, a body. Screaming hysterically, she fled the house yelling, "Murder, death, bodies, blood!"
Chapman's shock was soon shared by the police and then by the entire world when the media learned of five people brutally slain at the Tate house.
The next night, another group left Spahn in the borrowed Ford. Again Watson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Kasabian were in the car. But this time there were three more people crammed in: Manson, Steve Grogan and 20-year-old Leslie Van Houten. Van Houten had previously lived and been in love with Beausoleil and, according to Emmons, was "willing to do anything" to get him out of jail.
This time, Kasabian was behind the wheel. Manson told her to drive until they got to Waverly Drive in the affluent Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. As at the Tate house, familiarity was the reason they stopped here. King wrote: "For nearly a year, Watson had lived just two miles away . . . Kasabian herself recognized the house where they stopped, a big, Tudor-style mansion where she had formerly been to a party. Manson had also been to the house on several occasions . . . But Manson said they were going to the house next door, a smaller Spanish-style home perched at the top of a long driveway."
Watson and Manson left the car and went to the back of the LaBianca home. Manson turned the door and found it unlocked. The pair entered and saw grocer Leno LaBianca. Like Frykowski the previous night, he had been napping on a couch and woke confronted by intruders.
"Who are you?" the shocked man asked. "What do you want?"
Manson said, "We're not going to hurt you. Just relax. Don't be afraid." Then he handed a leather thong to Watson who tied Leno LaBianca's hands with it. Then Manson searched the rest of the house, finding boutique owner Rosemary LaBianca lying in bed in a nightgown. In Emmons's book, the woman tried to cover herself up and Manson handed her a dress that was folded over a chair. He took her to the living room, tied her hands, then left.
At the car, he told Krenwinkel and Van Houten to enter the residence.
Then, as King wrote, "Manson climbed back into the car and, together with Kasabian, Atkins and Grogan, drove off into the night." Watson, Van Houten and Krenwinkel left Leno and escorted Rosemary back to her bedroom.
King described what they did next: " . . . the women stripped the pillows off their cases. Along with Watson, they placed one of the cases over Rosemary's head. Watson took a massive lamp from the table at the side of the bed, unplugged it, and wrapped the cord round and round Rosemary's neck and through her mouth. He then returned to the living room with the second pillow case, and did the same to Leno, taking another lamp and wrapping its cord round the terrified man's neck."
Van Houten and Krenwinkel, who for reasons no one has ever explained did not go to the house armed, went to the kitchen for knives. Hearing them going through the drawers, Leno shrieked, "You're going to kill us, aren't you? You're going to kill us!" His wife heard his cries and began making some of her own.
Watson started stabbing Leno and continued stabbing him even after the wounded man shouted, "Don't stab me anymore! I'm dead! I'm dead!" The blade of the steak knife broke off in the man's throat and Watson fetched a double-tined carving fork from the kitchen with which he stabbed the man over and over in the stomach.
In the bedroom, Van Houten was trying to hold a panicky Rosemary down so Krenwinkel could stab her. Like Watson, she damaged her knife, in her case because it bent against Rosemary's collarbone. Krenwinkel left Van Houten in charge of Rosemary when she went to get Watson.
Rosemary was able to pull away from Van Houten. Still blinded by the pillowcase tied over her head, Rosemary swung the lamp in a wide arc against her attackers. Watson stabbed her. She fell onto the floor with Watson still plunging his knife inside her as Van Houten and Krenwinkel tried to prevent the screaming woman from crawling away.
When Rosemary was motionless, either unconscious or dead, Watson handed the knife to Van Houten who stabbed her several times, mostly in the exposed buttocks and lower back. An autopsy would show that a wound in the lower back killed her although there is no way to know whether that wound was inflicted by Van Houten or Watson.
Even with two dead bodies, the killers were not finished. Going back into the living room, Krenwinkel saw that the double-tined carving fork was on the floor. According to King, "She picked it up and thrust it into his exposed stomach. Giving it a twang, she watched it wobble back and forth." Later she recalled thinking, "You won't be sending your son off to war." With a knife, she carved WAR into the dead man's belly." Then, as Atkins had done the night before, and Beausoleil had done at the Hinman residence, Krenwinkel left messages printed in blood: RISE, DEATH TO PIGS, and a misspelled HEALTER SKELTER.
Finally the three took showers in the LaBianca bathroom to wash the blood off of themselves. Then they hitchhiked back to Spahn Ranch.
The bodies of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were discovered the next day by Rosemary's children from a previous marriage, 15-year-old Frank Struthers and his older sister Suzan, along with her boyfriend.
Although the words written in blood at the Tate and LaBianca homes were intended to remind the cops of the Hinman murder, the authorities never made such a connection. Once again, the straggly group had failed.
After the murders, the group at Spahn Ranch was divided into two factions: those who had been part of, or at least knew of, the murders and those who were in the dark about their closest friends' role in them. Those who knew had intense feelings of anxiety and foreboding and inevitably transmitted some of their tension to the rest of the group.
According to Emmons, Manson was sure the jig was up on Aug. 16. That day a massive police raid descended on Spahn Ranch. Twenty-six people there were arrested, but to their great surprise it was for auto theft, not murder. The group was booked – and then to its amazement – released. A couple of days later, there was another arrest on minor charges.
Both Bugliosi and Emmons agree that these arrests led to the murder of Donald "Shorty" Shea, an aspiring actor who worked as a ranch hand at Spahn and who "disappeared" shortly after these raids.
Helter Skelter reported that Bugliosi's informants, hangers-on at Spahn like bikers Al Springer and Danny DeCarlo, claimed that Manson and others were convinced that Shea had "snitched" on the group. The informants also said that several people from the group got together to slice Shea up and that his head and limbs were cut off and buried in different places.
The raids made Manson's projected move to the desert seem absolutely necessary so he and most of his friends headed to Barker Ranch. However, some left the group from there, including Tex Watson, who went back home to Copeville, Tex.
In mid-October Ranger Richard Powell, while on patrol in the Panamint Mountains, came across the charred remains of a Michigan Articulated Ski Loader, a vehicle that lifts heavy loads in a manner similar to that of a tractor. Suspecting arson, the ranger began a series of regular patrols around the area. Three days later, he happened across a red, four-wheel drive Toyota occupied by five ragged-looking hippies. He had nothing on which to hold them but, according to Greg King in Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders, "when he returned to Death Valley National Monument Headquarters, he ran the license plate and discovered that the Toyota was registered to Gail Beausoleil, wife of Bobby Beausoleil then in jail in Los Angeles in connection with the murder of Gary Hinman."
Powell and other officers suspected this motley group from the Barker Ranch might be behind the burning of the vehicle. They were also suspected of other crimes. According to The Trial of Charles Manson by Bradley Steffens and Craig L. Staples, the Inyo County police department "suspected [people at the ranch of running] a stolen car operation."
In late October, rangers raided the Barker Ranch and arrested Manson, Atkins and, according to Helter Skelter, 22 other people on a variety of charges unrelated to the Tate-LaBianca homicides but that included arson and theft. Another young woman present at the ranch, Kitty Lutesinger, was not arrested but according to Helter Skelter, asked "the officers for protection." She had been living at Barker Ranch but wanted to leave it and said she was scared others there might try to kill her. Authorities were already interested in Lutesinger because sources had indicated that she was Beausoleil's girlfriend. Indeed, at the time the officers interviewed her, the pretty, blond 17-year-old was five months pregnant by him. It was from Lutesinger that authorities were first told of Atkins's involvement in Hinman's death. Lutesinger said she knew nothing first hand but had heard people say Atkins had been in on the Hinman killing.
Bugliosi wrote that the next day, Oct. 13, officers questioned Atkins in jail. Atkins confessed to being part of the Hinman slaying, but refused to repeat this admission into a tape recorder. A charge of first-degree murder was added to the lesser charges facing her. Atkins was placed in the Sybil Brand Institute, a Los Angeles women's house of detention, to await indictment and trial.
Birthing the Manson Myth
During early November Atkins began conversing with two fellow inmates, Ronnie Howard and Virginia Graham. She struck them as strange and sad. Graham thought Atkins, who insisted friends call her "Sadie Mae Glutz," tried to act both silly and super-tough to cover up her fear at being in prison. She loved to regale Graham and Howard with bizarre stories. She claimed she had performed fellatio on her infant son and described life as "one big intercourse: smoking, eating, stabbing, everything is in and out."
Atkins also told of her worship for "a man, this Charlie" whom she called "Jesus Christ." She said that she and a group of other young people loved him and obeyed his every command. Charlie was going to lead Sadie and the others into a hole in Death Valley, "the Bottomless Pit," that led to a place in the center of the earth where an entire undiscovered civilization lived.
Howard and Graham dismissed this as lunacy. But then Atkins began discussing matters they had to take seriously when she confided that she, along with others, had committed the recent Tate murders. She went into great detail, mentioning that the swollen-bellied mother-to-be had been wearing a bra and bikini underpants when she was murdered. Atkins claimed she had stabbed Tate to death, then tasted her blood. Atkins described all this smiling and making statements like, "You have to have a real love in your heart to do this for people."
Atkins also said she had helped commit the LaBianca murders.
Howard and Graham were flummoxed. Could Sadie just be making all this up? The two debated this possibility and decided to let her talk further until they had a firm sense of whether or not these admissions were real.
During a chat with Graham, Atkins told of a "death list" of top celebrities. Atkins claimed that she and her cohorts planned to murder Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen in various gruesome ways.
Eventually, Howard contacted authorities about the confessions made to her and Graham. The police soon satisfied themselves that Atkins and her friends were the Tate killers and that associates (but not Atkins herself) had murdered the LaBiancas.
Prosecutor Bugliosi's first mistake was taking what the attention-craving Atkins said about Manson as gospel. He never considered the possibility that this "very, very strange girl," as he characterized her, could have mixed truth with exaggeration, hyperbole or outright fantasy. Because of her description of Manson, Bugliosi believed Manson "was not only capable of committing murder himself, he also possessed the incredible power to command others to kill for him." His book shows that he latched onto anything that supported this view while discounting anything that cast doubt on it.
Because of Bugliosi's belief that others committed these murders for Manson, at his orders, and not as hired killings but because he had supposedly sold his gullible "followers" on his own crackpot religious prophecy, the Manson myth was born.
The Jury Trials
There were two trials for the Tate-LaBianca murderers. The first was of Manson, Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. The second was that of "Tex" Watson. Shortly after the slayings, Watson had returned to his native Texas from which he fought extradition to California for several months.
Manson, Atkins and Krenwinkel were charged with seven counts of murder for the Tate-LaBianca victims. Van Houten was charged with two counts of murder in the LaBianca case.
Manson sought and was granted the right to represent himself. The next month, January 1970, he filed a motion "charging that the sheriff was depriving him of his spiritual, mental, and physical liberty . . . and asking that he be released forthwith."
In March he filed another motion requesting that the "Deputy District Attorneys in charge of the trial be incarcerated for a period of time under the same circumstances that I have been subject to"; and that the court allow him to "be free to travel to any place I should deem fit in preparing for my defense."
The judge assigned to handle the pre-trial motions, William Keene, declared the motions "outlandish" and "nonsensical," and vacated Manson's ability to represent himself. Obstreperous defense attorney Irving Kanarek, a legend in Los Angeles County for needlessly prolonging trials through the use of ridiculous objections and torturous cross-examination, would defend Manson.
The trial of Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten began in Judge Charles Older's court on July 24, 1970 and lasted for the next six months, until Jan. 25, 1971, making it the longest – and most raucous – trial in California to that date, and a marathon of an ordeal for the sequestered jurors. The prosecution phase of the trial – thanks largely to defense attorney Kanarek – took over five months. To show the defendants' frame of mind, the prosecution introduced much testimony about the band's sexual habits, particularly its regular participation in group sex, and its copious use of illegal drugs. Among those testifying to their lifestyle and the bits and pieces of talk that the prosecutor weaved together into his grand theory of "Helter Skelter" were Spahn Ranch hand Juan Flynn, motorcyclist Danny DeCarlo, and people who had lived and associated with the bunch at various points including Barbara Hoyt and Paul Watkins.
Linda Kasabian was Bugliosi's star witness. Frequently breaking down in tears, she described in graphic detail the horrors the group committed at the Tate house. Kasabian was on the stand for two days under direct examination while the cross-examination, led by Kanarek, lasted a week.
The defendants often acted up in court. (The trial of the Chicago Seven, where Yippies Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin turned a federal courtroom into a live-theater type setting, had concluded just five months earlier.) Manson came to court with an X carved into his forehead; his co-defendants followed suit. The group shouted at witnesses, chanted slogans, and threw what amounted to tantrums. According to The Trial of Charles Manson by Bradley Steffens and Craig L. Staples, "Manson's attempts to disrupt the trial were held in check by Judge Older, who did not hesitate to remove Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten from the courtroom whenever they defied his calls to order. . . . The interruptions occurred so often that all four [the] defendants spent much of the trial in a holding cell outside the courtroom, where they listened to the proceedings over a loudspeaker."
At the trial (and later in his book Helter Skelter), Bugliosi put forward the theory that Manson was a man of extraordinary charisma with a "family" of fanatically devoted followers. His magnetic personality drew people, especially women, to him and led his followers to submit willingly to his complete domination, ultimately murdering at his command. Manson did have an uncanny ability to attract and manipulate directionless young women.
Bugliosi argued that Manson had persuaded his "followers" that the Tate-LaBianca crimes would be blamed on blacks. This would result in white retaliation murders, then black revenge, then the Helter Skelter of a racial apocalypse and world conquest by the magnetic Charles Manson.
Bugliosi asserted that Manson had concocted this apocalyptic vision based on his idiosyncratic readings of the Bible, together with his own interpretations of various Beatles songs, especially those in a release called the White Album. In Bugliosi's account, Manson believed that one Beatles tune, Helter Skelter, prophesied an imminent black-white Armageddon. In the coming race war, the blacks would annihilate the white race – all except for Manson and his devotees who would be hiding out in the "Bottomless Pit" while the war was fought. The mentally "inferior" blacks would be unable to govern, so Manson and his people, having grown to the 144,000 "elect" prophesied in Revelation, would then rise out of the Pit after a vague number of decades to form a new society based on his ideals. Manson would become king of the world. It wouldn't matter to the jury, or the media, that Bugliosi's theory of the Tate-LaBianca murders was absurdly false.
In Emmons's book, Manson remains incredulous that Bugliosi could possibly believe the tale that Atkins spun about Helter Skelter:
If saying I would find the hole in the desert where I saw water means building a city under ground [as the D.A. said], then I don't know how to speak or hear. And if in expressing my opinions about the whites and blacks and wanting to be away from their hassles means I wanted to start the war and straighten out the world afterwards, then I'm not the only one with a huge imagination. The whole thing about the desert was that I loved being out there and so did some of the kids.
After the prosecution rested, Judge Older asked the defense attorneys if they were ready to put on their cases. Speaking for the defense as a group, Krenwinkel's attorney Paul Fitzgerald replied, "Yes, Your Honor." The judge told him he could call his first witness.
Fitzgerald undoubtedly sent a jolt through the judge, the jury, prosecutors, spectators and reporters when he said, "Thank you, Your Honor. The defendants rest." In their summary statements to the jury, the defense lawyers argued that the prosecution had failed to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt so they did not need to put on a defense.
The jury labored nine days before returning its verdict. Manson, Atkins, and Krenwinkel were guilty of seven counts of murder and of conspiracy to commit murder. Van Houten was guilty of two counts of murder and of conspiracy. Judge Older sentenced all four defendants to death.
Watson went on trial in August 1971. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity. In writing about how he countered Watson's psychiatric plea, Bugliosi again undermined the myth he fostered about Manson's amazing control. "By the time I'd finished [cross-examining Watson]," Bugliosi claimed, "it was obvious to the jury that he was in complete command of his mental faculties and always had been. . . . I tore to shreds his story that he was simply an unthinking zombie programmed by Charles Manson" – a story that Bugliosi had undoubtedly inspired Watson to tell.
King wrote, "Immediately after the Tate-LaBianca verdicts, Manson, Bruce Davis and Steve Grogan were tried for the murder of ranch hand Donald Jerome 'Shorty' Shea. All three were found guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death. After reviewing his psychiatric evaluations, however, the presiding judge reduced Grogan's sentence owing to his admittedly diminished mental capacity."
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty as administered at that time was unconstitutional, automatically commuting the sentences of all condemned, including the Tate-LaBianca defendants, to life imprisonment.
Unraveling the Manson Myth
Why did the media and public so readily accept Bugliosi's grandiose portrait of an impoverished petty criminal? Because it played directly into some universal themes.
One is that of personal transformation. The province of water-cooler conversions and talk-show success stories, this dream inevitably suggests the possibility of a nightmare. If a person's sins or phobias can be washed away, why not one's morals? Why couldn't peace-loving hippies be "born again" as brutal murderers?
Another is the archetype of complete O-like submission to a powerful Other. The myth made Manson into a sexual superman and his associates, especially the women, into what Bugliosi called "zombies, robots, automatons" eager to do their master's bidding.
Despite Bugliosi's lionizing of Manson, there are many reasons to doubt his status as a charismatic, "dictatorial" leader.
Those reasons can be found in many places, including the memoirs of two of his supposedly most devoted "family" members, Tex Watson's Will You Die For Me? and Susan Atkins's Child of Satan, Child of God, Emmons's Manson in His Own Words, as well as a close, critical reading of Helter Skelter itself.
All four volumes should be read with many grains of salt. Watson and Atkins wrote their memoirs in prison and after they became born-again Christians. Both books are clearly written with the parole board in mind.
Manson In His Own Words carries the subhead "as told to Nuel Emmons." Emmons was a career criminal who straightened out in middle age, turning to auto repair for a legitimate income and later to writing. He had some acquaintance with Manson prior to Manson's Tate-LaBianca infamy. They had served together at Terminal Island 1956-57, when Emmons was 28 and Manson 21. They were friendly but not close. In 1958, when both were on parole and Emmons ran an auto repair shop in Hollywood, Manson contacted him. Manson explained that he had been in a minor traffic accident and said, "My parole officer is giving me a lot of static. Either I fix the guy's car I hit, or he is going to have my parole violated and send me back to the joint." Emmons repaired both cars.
The two met again in 1960 at McNeil penitentiary and again their relationship was a casual one.
Emmons recalls in his introduction that when "Manson's name surfaced" in connection with the Tate-LaBianca slayings, "I was astonished – not because he was involved, but because this man supposed to have powers to manipulate others into carrying out his every whim bore little resemblance to the man I remembered."
A decade after the Tate-LaBianca murders, Emmons decided to try to visit his former acquaintance and see where it could lead. In 1979, he began seeing Manson at Vacaville, a maximum-security state prison in Northern California. After several visits, Manson agreed to tell Emmons his story.
The title, Manson In His Own Words, is misleading. In his introduction, Emmons says he had no tape recorder when he talked with Manson except "when interviewing Manson for a commissioned article for publication." Usually, he "made mental notes until I could record them on tape or in writing." Obviously, writing what one recalled from a conversation would tend to lead to error. This is especially true with Manson who is given, as Emmons says, to "frequent, frustrating leaps" in his conversation. Additionally, some of the book's information about Manson's early years does not even come from Manson himself. Emmons's introduction states that he "pieced [Manson's] childhood together with help from many sources. In addition to what he told me, which contained many gaps, I journeyed across the United States to where he was born and the places he spent the first 16 years of his life. In Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky I talked to those who could fill in gaps and verify what Manson said." Yet this information "pieced together from many sources" appears in the book as Manson's first person narrative.
Shortly after the book came out, Manson denounced it as "bullshit."
In Helter Skelter, Bugliosi advances the same theory he used at trial to prosecute Manson successfully. He depicts Manson as an extraordinary, even unique criminal who held a variety of pseudo-religious beliefs with which he thoroughly indoctrinated the deluded young people who followed him, served him, and ultimately murdered for him. However, despite this overall perspective, Helter Skelter, repeatedly cites incidents that undercut the book's thesis of Manson as a charismatic leader.
He wrote that Manson once "tried to enlist a motorcycle gang, the Straight Satans, as his personal bodyguard. With the exception of one biker named Danny, the group had laughed at Manson." Even that one biker, Danny DeCarlo, did not really act as a "bodyguard." Rather, Bugliosi writes that he hung around the group because he "liked broads."
Helter Skelter quotes another biker, Al Springer, as explaining why he and others shied away from the group around Manson: "Everybody got sick of catching the clap . . . the ranch was just out of hand." Not tightly controlled but "out of hand" according to Bugliosi's own book.
Bugliosi writes that "Manson rarely gave direct orders although his suggestions had the force of commands." This statement is disingenuous. After all, if he was a charismatic, "dictatorial" leader as Bugliosi believed him to be, why wouldn't he give direct orders? And if "his suggestions had the force of commands," what were the penalties for failing to follow them?
The prosecutor turned author also says Sandra Good, one of those most loyal to Manson, "had gone against his wishes" when she "went into the hospital to have her baby instead of having it delivered by the Family." However, he mentions no punishment meted out by the supposedly "dictatorial leader" for her disobedience.
In Will You Die For Me? Tex Watson disclosed that he was capable of both disobeying and deceiving Manson when it suited his purposes. He wrote that, on the day after the LaBianca murders, his mother tried to contact him through a friend. Watson assumed she had heard from authorities that her son was wanted for the murders. "I asked Charlie what to do," he writes. Charlie told him to "call her . . . Find out what's happening."
"But I couldn't," Watson wrote.
Instead, the man who supposedly did everything "Charlie told him to," lied to his "dominator." He made up a story about calling home and finding out that the FBI was hot on his trail.
Nor was that the only time Watson circumvented Manson. Watson revealed, "Charlie, for all his use of acid, was absolutely against speed. He believed it was bad for your body. But when a young guy from one of the neighboring ranches began sneaking it over, Susan-Sadie, and Bruce Davis, and I started carrying it around in the bottom of a cigarette package. Later we hid it in a Gerber's' baby-food jar under the porch of one of the buildings. . . . I was willing to kill for Manson, but I wasn't willing to give up my speed."
The last sentence says it all – except that Watson did not kill "for" Manson. Rather he needed little encouragement to commit murder because he was an anti-social personality for whom killing was an exciting way of showing toughness and giving vent to his hatred and cruelty. He was not going to abstain from a pleasure because Manson opposed it.
Watson indicated that he murdered less in "slavish obedience" than a desire to show off. He wrote that he "had to prove to these women [the other participants in the Tate-LaBianca slaughters] that I was just as dead [to conventional morality] as they were, just as open to Charlie, just as one, just as aware." He murdered in much the spirit he had previously stolen some high school typewriters: that of rising, or more accurately, sinking, to a dare. Of course, "open to Charlie" would not include phoning his mother when Manson told him to or not using amphetamines when Manson counseled against it.
Atkins's memoir, Child of Satan, Child of God, shows that, long before she met Manson, she nursed delusions of grandeur and once fantasized herself as a Christ-figure while on an acid trip: " . . . prostrated on the floor. My arms were stretched out, and I sensed I was on a cross. 'I have to die for these people,' I thought." Watson described Atkins as often "want[ing] to fight Charlie himself for the center of the stage."
Like Watson, Atkins killed out of a desire to prove her emotional hardness. In her own account, Atkins stated that she participated in the Hinman killing to "show him [Manson] I can be just as tough as he can."
Like Watson, she went against Manson's wishes. Again like Watson, self-indulgence won over "slavish obedience." Manson once asked her to forego LSD because she was seven months pregnant. He feared her use of the drug might harm her unborn child and said, "children are precious, Sadie." She took it anyway. Her book mentioned no punishment from the man whose suggestions supposedly "had the force of commands." She also told the story of the hidden stash of amphetamines.
While Manson's suggestions did not "have the force of commands" as Bugliosi claimed, it is likely those around him tended to follow them simply because these young people were often at a loss as to what to do and looked up to him as a quasi-father figure.
There was always much reason to doubt the perception of Manson as a man of extraordinary personal power and the decades since his final imprisonment have only added to them. If he had such charisma, why was he living in poverty at Spahn Ranch and eating out of dumpsters? Someone with the powers of persuasion attributed to him should surely have been able to convince his mindlessly compliant slaves to work regular jobs and give him their paychecks. That would have enabled him to rise to an at least middle-class existence.
As Emmons recounts in his book, Manson skewers his myth more pointedly than anyone else:
I was a half-assed nothing who hardly knew how to read or write, never read a book all the way through in my life, didn't know anything except jails, couldn't hold on to my wives, was a lousy pimp, got caught every time I stole, wasn't a good enough musician to hit the market, didn't know what to do with money even if I had it and resented every aspect of family life. But a week after Sadie's [Susan Atkins's] story, I was a charismatic cult leader with a family, a genius who could program people into doing whatever I asked of them. Shit, if there were any truth to what I was said to be capable of, I'd have been sitting in Hearst Castle with stereos in every room, listening to my own platinum albums.
In the many years of his imprisonment he has never mesmerized his guards – some of whom are women and might be thought susceptible to the charms of this supposed sexual superman – into helping him attempt an escape. One of the many factors casting doubt on Manson as would-be world ruler is his comfort at being in prison, a comfort that Bugliosi points out in the 25th anniversary edition of Helter Skelter. "I suspect that Manson isn't miserable or even unhappy behind bars," Bugliosi wrote. "Having spent 42 of his 59 years in jails, reformatories, and prisons, he obviously has become totally institutionalized." Surely this would be a devastating fate for someone who genuinely expected to be a great leader. Bugliosi also quoted a psychiatric report as stating that, rather than a dominant person, "Manson is a passive-aggressive personality."
Manson lives in a squalid, brutal place of deprivation and monotony.
Of course, in his case, the monotony is broken up by the occasional interview. Knowing he has no chance of parole, Manson frequently plays with those who talk to him, posing as the dangerous superman of myth.
The mask dropped on one memorable occasion and the boogeyman showed the world a surprisingly ordinary man behind it.
Diane Sawyer interviewed Manson for the TV program "The Turning Point" in 1994, on the 25th anniversary of the Tate slayings. From their prison, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel were also interviewed.
At first, Manson enthusiastically played the part of the Villain We Love To Hate, saying to Sawyer, "I'm a gangster, woman!" and making tough-guy talk. Then, via satellite, he was shown part of the interview with Krenwinkel, whom he had not seen in a quarter of a century. He saw, as did the audience, a stout, gray-haired, wrinkled woman with pearl-button earrings. His reaction was sad, wistful, and from the heart: "She got old on me."
Vincent Bugliosi got rich and famous on him.
One of the women first associated with Manson, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, made headlines in 1975 when she pointed a gun at then-President Gerald Ford at an outdoor event in Berkeley, Calif.
Fromme claimed she wanted to draw attention to what she saw as an injustice perpetrated against Manson and did not actually intend to murder Ford. She stated in a 1987 interview published on a web site with which both Sandra Good and George Stimson were associated, "There were four bullets in the handle of the gun – none in the chamber. Had I wanted to use a bullet, I would've jacked back the slide 'til it clicked and pushed it forward, injecting one into the chamber."
A jury decided that she had simply made a mistake in not bringing the bullet into the chamber and convicted her of attempting to assassinate Ford. She was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The next year, Sandra Good was convicted of "issuing threatening communications through interstate commerce." She had mailed a series of letters to various corporate heads that said harm would come to them and their wives for causing pollution. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison and served 10. She lives in Hanford, Calif., close to the California State Prison at Corcoran where Manson is held. The prison does not allow her to visit him.
As noted, Watson and Atkins became Born Again Christians behind bars and published their memoirs. Patricia Krenwinkel took correspondence classes and earned a B.S. degree; Leslie Van Houten did likewise and acquired a B.A. Of those convicted in the Tate-LaBianca murders, Van Houten is considered the best candidate for parole because she participated in only the LaBianca killings.
In 1977, the story of Shorty Shea's decapitation and the slicing up of his body was proven false. One of those imprisoned for Shea's murder, Steve Grogan, drew a map for authorities showing where the body had been buried. The remains were found at the place Grogan designated and they were intact. Partly because of his help in finding Shea's corpse, Grogan became the only person associated with the so-called "Manson Family" murders to be released when he was paroled in 1985.
Linda Kasabian, who was granted immunity for all her crimes in exchange for her testimony, appears to have gotten on with her life after the trial. In the 1994 edition of Helter Skelter, Bugliosi wrote, "My latest information is that Linda Kasabian moved from New Hampshire and is now living under an assumed name in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three children."
Bobby Beausoleil, the intended beneficiary of the copycat Tate-LaBianca murders, remains in prison despite his having been convicted of a single murder that was not aggravated by factors like torture or rape. It is probable that the specter of a headline reading "Manson follower paroled" is behind his continuing imprisonment.