Tate Massacre By The Book?
Friday, January 9th, 1970
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 9 – There is compelling evidence that the murder of actress Sharon Tate and at least six others were part of a grotesque, psychotic drama improvised by Charles Manson from a novel he read over and over.
The central character and the sequence of events in the science fiction novel are hauntingly similar to the personality and the style of life that Manson cultivated while he lived in San Francisco and Death Valley.
His gathering of a nomadic harem, his “hypnotic” domination over his “family,” their communal marriage and free sexual sharing with visitors, their attitudes toward human death, and the Los Angeles killings — all are mirrored in the book “Stranger in a Strange Land,” by Robert A. Heinlein.
In the opinion of a close acquaintance of Manson’s, these and numerous other parallels between the book and reality are not coincidental for it appears that Charles Manson has spent the past two years acting the key elements of the plot.
The acquaintance, who asked not to be identified, is a respected drug researcher who came to know Manson when the accused killer lived in the Haight-Ashbury district in 1967-68. His theory about Manson and the book is echoed by a young Mill Valley man who lived with the Manson family in Death Valley last year, gathering data for a study of communal living.
‘Stranger in a Strange Land” has been widely read by the under-30 set, and a paperback version has gone through five printings since early 1968.
It is one of a half dozen novels that young people in the Haight often say influenced their thinking and style of life, according to Dr. Stephen Pittel, a Mount Zion Hospital psychiatrist.
“The book is often taken as a model for communal living,” Pittel notes. But few young readers appear to have taken it as seriously as Charles Manson did.
The drug researcher who knew Manson well says he read the book “over and over”and seemingly integrated his life with that of the book’s main character—a young man named Valentine Michael Smith whose description is strikingly Mansonesque: Small, notable for his sexual prowess, a gleam in his eye, and a hypnotic collector of women.
Manson identified with the book closely enough to pluck at least one character from the plot to nickname an acquaintance. And when it came to naming a child born to him in mid-1967 by a peninsula girl, Charlie Manson turned to the book again and called the infant “Valentine Michael Smith.”
Stranger in a Strange Land” is an imaginative, anti-establishment commentary on a decadent America of the not-so-distant future.
Religion is seen as a cynical sham. Government freely abrogates civil liberties with its heavy-banded “SS Bureau.” Police are sometimes referred to as “long pigs.”
In the book, Valetine Michael Smith is a young man born of human parents on the planet Mars but trained and educated by native Martians. He is brought to Earth by returning colonists and advised to keep his superior intelligence and telepathic powers under wraps. Earthlings who claim such talents are called psychotic.
It is easy enough to see how the novel might have caught Manson’s attention, if not his sympathy.
V. Michael Smith is held at first as a prisoner of the federal government. Manson first read the book during, or shortly after his stay at McNeil Island’s federal penitentiary.
And during his prison stay, Manson began to dabble in scientology, an occult theology of expanded mental powers. Traces of scientology are sprinkled throughout the book.
V. Michael Smith soon escapes from the government and enters the custody of one Jubal Harshaw, an aging but hip lawyer and doctor who helps familiarize Smith with earthly ways and eases his transition to freedom.
In effect, Jubal acts as a parole officer for Smith. Manson saw the similarity and nicknamed his own amiable parole officer in San Francisco “Jubal.”
As the story progresses, V. Michael Smith leaves Harshaw in the East and heads for San Francisco, where he begins to mold his own brand of reformist religion. He spruces it up with carnival mysticism and appoints himself as a Christ figure — at the same time asserting that all creatures are collectively God.
Essentially the same view is attributed to Manson, who steeped himself, like Smith, in divine writings from the Bible to the Karma Sutra. Manson variously called himself Christ, Jesus, Satan and God.
By the time he reaches San Francisco, Smith has gathered the first of his girls in a communal marriage, or family as Manson and the book each call their communes.
Later, Smith moves south, apparently ending up in Florida, although author Heinlein gives a clearer impression that the setting is Los Angeles.
Manson’s family is closely parallel to the fictional version:
– Both reached a peak membership of about 20, with girls in the great majority.
– Domestic nudity was the rule in both, and uninhibited sexual sharing a common bond.
– Conventional love or romance is notably absent between Smith and his girls, as it was between Manson and his family.
In the book, V. Michael Smith develops a suave and cocky mien and “accepts homage from the girls as if a natural right…”
Similarly, observers say, Manson showed little tenderness but kept his girls in tow with the slick diplomacy of a “damned good used car salesman” — a phrase coincidentally used in the book to describe Smith.
(If salesmanship came naturally to Smith, it was learned by Manson. He scored near the top of his class while in prison in a Dale Carnegie course by correspondence.)
— In both the real and fantasy families, one girl serves as second-in-command. Susan Atkins fits that description, an observer recalls. “She was his right hand man — and I mean man the way she ran the place when Charlie wasn’t around.”
— And this passage might have been culled from early news reports of Manson’s family, but comes instead from page 342 of “Stranger In a Strange Land”:
“…Whatever Mike says is gospel to Duke (a family member.) Mike’s got him hypnotized. Hell, he’s got ’em all hypnotized.”
By comparison, a San Francisco doctor who knew Charlie and his girls recalls that “Charlie could do no wrong. If he’d walked over a cliff, the girls would have followed him.”
Besides styling his family after the book, Manson appears to have borrowed heavily from its philosophy and adopted Smith’s intent of world reform.
His attitude toward death — that individual lives have little value — and his self-alloted dispensations from common moral controls are mirrored In the book:
“Mike preaches that all living things are collectively God which makes Mike and his disciples the only self-aware Gods on this planet…
“One must allow Mike any dispensation allowed other gods…Once Mike entered into the godding business, orgies were as predictable as sunrise…share-by-all sexual congress is basic to this creed.”
V. Michael Smith seeks to expand his family and teach his special mental talents, to carry out his reform. But things move too slowly, and in desperation he turns to the expedient of mass execution.
In a climactic episode reminiscent of the Tate and Labianca killings the fictional Smith tells how he dispatched some 450 persons the night before — with the help and “hearty approval” of one of his girls.
“It’s no trouble, now that Jill is over her misconceptions about wrongness in discorporating (killing) persons who have wrongness in them…
“Last night she helped me with a hatchet job — nor was it her first time…I have been waiting, making a list, making sure of accuracy in each case they were discorporated and sent back to the foot of the line to try again.”
Onetime friends of Charlie Manson say about eight months ago he began to talk about inciting a revolution.
The Manson family, according to one of Susan Atkins’ attorneys, had prepared a list of persons to he slain.
And Charlie Manson is alleged to have given this command to his black-clad disciples just before striking the Tate residence (owned by a young song publisher who had declined to use Manson’s songs):
“That man has wronged me. Society has wronged me. We’ll kill whatever pigs are in that house. Go in there and get them.”
By ROBERT GILLETTE