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Accused Killers Followed ‘Guru’

Chatsworth, Calif., Dec. 4 – Here in the barren, boulder-strewn Santa Susanna mountains, the accused killers of actress Sharon Tate and at least seven other victims lived a life of indolence, free sex, midnight motorcycle races and blind obedience to a mysterious guru inflamed with his power to control their minds and bodies.

This picture emerges from interviews with employees of the Spahn Ranch, a dilapidated riding stable whose western-style buildings are sometimes used as movie sets.

It was here that Charles Manson and his “family” of about 18 young people lived for a number of months before the murder of Miss Tate and four others on Aug. 9. They left about a week after the killings when police raided their camp looking for stolen automobiles and made several arrests.

The next home for the roving, nomadic band was a ranch near Death Valley, where they set up a fortress-like camp guarded by sentries, and continued their car-stealing activities. They remained there until mid-October when police moved in and arrested Manson and several others for receiving stolen property. Ten of the “family,” members are now in custody, although only three, excluding Manson, have been directly charged with murder.

Even today, people who knew Charlie Manson are afraid to talk about him publicly. “He’s got his zombies out,” said one employee of the Spahn Ranch, “There’s more than one family that’s been conditioned to believe that Charlie Manson is always right.”

Manson and the “family” were allowed to stay on the Spahn Ranch simply because people were afraid of him.

“I couldn’t get rid of them,” said George Spahn, the elderly, blind owner of the ranch, sitting in a fly-covered room with dogs and saddles scattered everywhere. “I smelled a rat but I was afraid to crowd them. I was scared to death of Charlie. I was afraid that if I crossed him he’d hurt me. I guess I got it right.”

The “family” — about six men and 12 women — arrived in a broken down school bus after a slow trip from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. They slept late and often stayed up most of the night, racing motorcycles on Santa Susanna Pass road or singing.

The center of this life was Manson, a 34-year-old man with a five-page police record stretching back 18 years. Little is known of his early life, but several years ago he started collecting young girls with a powerful magnetic attraction.

The girls living with Manson told people that they loved him, that they had been thrown out by their parents, that they had nowhere else to go.

“He played the guitar, he sang, he would make love to a girl.” said one employe of the Spahn Ranch. “He preached love and peace and all that, you know. He conditioned the girls to do anything.”

Using the girls as “bait” the employe said, Manson also attracted several young men to his coterie who helped him steal cars and convert them into dune buggies.

Manson’s control of the group was so complete that some called him “God” and “Satan.” Others called him “Hymie,” by which they meant “Hitler.”

“Charlie always had first crack at the new girls, the girls, told me that,” said Spain. “But they didn’t seem jealous of each other.”

Beneath Manson’s doctrine of love and peace, however, ran an undercurrent of violence. The family stocked up on guns and knives. Neighbors who complained about their motorcycle racing were threatened with murder.

In his preaching, Manson stirred up a mixture of violent rhetoric and pseudo-religious thought. He drove his followers into a frenzy of hatred against “society.”

Police believe that Manson finally ordered them to commit murder to “punish” that society for its excesses.

By Steven V. Roberts

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