Puzzling Question In Tate Case Remains Unanswered
Tuesday, March 23rd, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Mar. 23 — The question remains — why? Why did three fairly ordinary, middle class American girls sneak out in the night and knife to death total strangers? Why is it that they show no regret, no guilt, shed no tears?
Why do they still idolize Charles Manson after he used them as cannon fodder at the trial and brought them to the threshold of the gas chamber?
The sensational murder trial is almost over. Manson and three of his women, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, have been convicted of murdering Sharon Tate and six other persons.
All that remains is the sentence.
It was a fantastic trial. The president of the United States got involved. A gargantuan sized defense attorney varnished. The tiny Manson leaped over a table clutching a yellow lead pencil trying to get at the judge, one of the original Flying Tiger pilots.
President Nixon’s name came into the case when he criticized press coverage of crime during a discussion with reporters last August in Denver while the trial was in progress.
“Here is a man who is guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason,” Nixon said. His press secretary, Ronald L. Ziegler, said later the President had intended to use the word “alleged” and had not meant to prejudge Manson.
And red-bearded defense attorney Ronald Hughes vanished on Thanksgiving weekend when he went camping in a remote area that was swept by torrential rains. Months of searching failed to turn up his body.
But nothing was more fantastic than the behavior of the three girls. They sat with their heads together, their long dark hair flowing down their backs, like a trio of witches. They giggled. They chanted. They made faces at Charlie.
And then they got on the witness stand and said, yes – we murdered. So what?
Before the trial started long ago last June 15, the prosecutor was talking about its significance. Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi is the prototype of the clean cut, all-American “establishment” adult.
Bugliosi said he viewed the murders as an ominous portent of the extremism to which the revolt of young people against authority can lead when it is mixed with drugs, parental failure and criminal associates.
The district attorney got out a photograph of the runty, shaggy Manson and shook his head.
“What I can’t understand is the hold this man has over those girls,” he said.
The fact is that Manson not only had – and has – such a grip on the three girls on trial but just as unwavering slavishness from a dozen other young women who have camped out on the street corner outside the courthouse for months.
The jury got a chilling insight into the wild fervor of those still free when Catherine Gillies, 21, got on the stand and talked about how she felt about murder.
“I am willing to kill to get a brother out of jail,” she said. “We all are. I would have killed if I had gone along that night (of the Tate murders).”
Out of the millions of words that came from witnesses at the trial there was no answer to the why?
A psychiatrist, one of the country’s leading authorities on the effects of LSD, said that the defendants’ consumption of “acid” literally hundreds of times changed their personalities. But he said it was not the answer to cold-blooded slaughter and that he had never read of a case of murder being ascribed to use of LSD.
Another doctor said all three were suffering from mental illness, particularly Patricia Krenwinkel. But he said none of them was insane and that all could differentiate between right and wrong and understand the nature and consequences of their actions.
Manson is easier to understand.
There is a hatred boiling inside him that has festered during the 23 of his 36 years he has spent in jails and every once in a while it suddenly erupts to the surface. He has the cunning of a jailhouse lawyer and the instinct for survival which brought him to let the girls confess while he remained silent.
He hates the establishment. But the girls, for the most part, are from the establishment.
A woman reporter at the trial was commenting on a pattern in the background not only of Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten but of all the other females – Snake, Gypsy, Ouisch and all the others in the weird coven.
All are white, most of them Anglo-Saxon. They are articulate although many dropped out of school in junior high. Almost, all of them came from broken homes or homes in which their parents were constantly fighting.
Defense lawyer Paul Fitzgerald says it is his opinion that they have a “father hang-up.” He says they felt rejected by their own father and found a father image in Manson mixed with a sexual attraction and were gratified by his exhortation that nothing was wrong.
The defendants all insisted that Manson was not their leader but one incredible incident at the trial demonstrated how false their protestations were.
Patricia Krenwinkel was on the witness stand when Manson, sitting at the counsel table, suddenly extended his left arm straight in the air and pointed the index finger upward. He kept his arm stationary in the air for more than half an hour.
Miss Krenwinkel looked at him and then slowly she raised her left arm and finger as if she were powerless to resist. Also seated at the counsel table, Susan Atkins and Leslie Van Houten raised their arms like robots and sat in that position although occasionally they had to lower their arms momentarily when the strain became too much.
They all share the trait of becoming evasive when the question is brought up of whether they feel any sorrow for what they did.
The jury was obviously flabbergasted at the responses they gave when Bugliosi questioned them about that. He had this exchange with Miss Krenwinkel:
“Have you any remorse for these murders?”
“I don’t even know what the word means.”
“Do you have any sorrow?”
“You still feel it was right?”
Susan Atkins testified she killed Sharon Tate and felt no compassion for her.
“I didn’t relate to Sharon Tate as being anything but a store mannequin. She sounded like an IBM machine. She kept begging and pleading and begging and pleading and I got sick of listening to it, so I stabbed her.”
Leslie Van Houten told psychiatrist:
“I didn’t feel any hatred for that woman (Mrs. Rosemary LaBianca.) A shark doesn’t feel any hatred when it kills a fish. It was like I was an animal.”
Sandra Good, 26, a petite blonde, said Manson attracted people because he was the “happiest — always singing and making love.” She said he once disciplined her.
“Once he yelled at me and pulled me by the hair and I sure deserved it,” she said.
“We were in the bus and they were making love and I felt all frigid and I got very mad and took a hatchet and went out in my nightgown and attacked a woodpile.
“Then I looked up and Charlie and the others were looking out the windows of the bus and laughing at me. Then Charlie came out and picked me up by the hair and put me down and then did it again. He carried me toward a swimming pool and asked if I wanted to cool off. And then I laughed and he hugged me.”
Lynette Fromme, 21, the very first female to join Manson’s “family” five years ago, said that “Charlie’s in love with love and I’m in love with love so I’m in love with Charlie – all of us are.”
“When he would go into the bathroom to comb his hair and beard we would follow him and watch him make faces at himself in the mirror. It’s hard to conceive a man being that much of a child and yet being that much of a man.”
The girls to a large extent ignored the advice of their attorneys and Manson went even further. At one point he began pummeling Irving Kanarek in the chest to try to make the lawyer shut up.
Manson did take the witness stand once outside the presence of the jury and he went into a rambling philosophical discourse which included his own thoughts of why the girls followed him.
“These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them.
“Most of the people at the ranch that you did not want, people that were alongside the road, their parents had kicked them out so I did the best I could and I took them on my garbage dump and I told them this — that in love there is no wrong.”
But Manson in the long run was confounded by another of his girls – Linda Kasabian. Perhaps he did not have enough time to work on her. She was at the Spahn ranch for only about five weeks and then she fled after the Tate-LaBianca murders.
Her testimony was the keystone to Manson’s conviction. She admitted she had gone to the Tate home the night of the murders and told of everything she saw there. She broke into sobs when shown a picture of the mutilated body of the actress and she turned to the other girls and said:
“How could you do that?”
There was no answer. There still isn’t.
By JACK V. FOX