‘Tex’ Watson, Honor Student, Athlete: Accused Mass Killer’s Profile
Sunday, June 13th, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Jun. 13 — He was an honor student. He was an athlete whose high school record is still unbroken in the State of Texas. He was a scion of a pioneer ranching family. He was handsome; he was smart; he was wealthy and he was respected. He had everything going for him.
Yet in two nights of savagery, he butchered seven people and lost it all, according to charges filed against him.
Next month he will take the stand in Los Angeles Superior Court and tell it all. Charles “Tex” Watson, the 24-year-old member of Charles Manson’s hippie family who has been charged but not yet tried for the brutal Tate-LaBianca murders, is expected to tell of his life with the “family.”
And he is expected to describe graphically how he — and he alone — killed five people at the Benedict Canyon’ home of actress Sharon Tate and the next night killed market owner Leno LaBianca and his wife.
He will claim that the girls — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten who have been sentenced to die for their part in the killings — merely held the victims while he did the slaughtering.
But Watson will go further. He is expected to tell how he — and other members of the clan — were “programmed” for the murders by the 35-year-old Manson through constant chants of “We’ve gotta kill…”
Watson’s story may be backed up by other “fallen away” members of the drug-oriented cult who are expected to describe the programming further, telling of “dry-runs” of murders.
Expected to draw crowds of spectators as well as still loyal clan members who will try to dissuade him from testifying, Watson will detail his life. But he will concentrate on his “family” existence — from the time he met Manson after giving hitchhiking beachboy Dennis Wilson a ride home, until he returned to the Spahn Ranch after the second night of murder Aug. 10, 1969, announcing to his hippie chief that he had “carried out the Devil’s work.”
Why did he do it? The question will be answered in Watson’s plea: “Not guilty by reason of insanity,” and will be backed up by psychiatrists, psychologists and neurosurgeons.
They will testify that he has been a dope user, unable to account for his actions under the influence of excessive drugs.
And the most convincing evidence will be Watson’s medical charts. Tests show he has suffered irreparable brain damage.
Attorneys will argue this is directly attributed to drugs. Family and friends from his pre-Manson youth will testify it was not always so.
His high school teachers at Farmersville, his college instructors at North Texas Teachers College, his minister, his friends and his relatives, all agree:
“It’s impossible that Charles could have done it — killed anybody — it’s just impossible.”
Born in Copeville, Tex., into a family described as “the nicest, finest people you’ll ever meet…no better people imaginable…”
“Tex” was the youngest of three children. His brother, four years his senior, is a district supervisor for an automobile agency. His sister, six years older, helps her husband operate a small business.
Young Charles helped his parents run their small grocery store-antique shop across the driveway from their neat white, frame home. The store is one of the six “important” buildings in Copeville. In addition, there’s the church and the schoolhouse, a service station, garage and blacksmith shop.
“There’s a train depot, too,” one native says, “but you can’t catch a train because it doesn’t run anymore.
“And there’s no sign telling the population of Copeville — it’s just eight miles out of Wylie, Tex., you know – because it’s mostly an area of ranches and farms and the houses aren’t close.”
But from the front porch of the Watson home, Tex could see two of the town’s landmarks — the church and the schoolhouse. And in both Charles “Tex” Watson was respected.
He prayed in the church; he got his education in the small schoolhouse; he played in a pasture behind his house which still fences in a half dozen horses and a herd of 100 cattle.
And he worked. “Charles worked in the grocery store with his daddy,” Mrs. Nel Jordan, now of Long Beach, and a longtime family friend recalled Saturday. “You never went into that store and that boy was there that he didn’t carry your groceries out for you. It was always ‘Yes mam’ or ‘No mam.’ He was very polite — always.”
He would carry out home-grown vegetables and bags full of pecans from the nearby orchards for the ladies. He would run errands for his Sunday school teacher mother. He would direct would-be fishermen who frequently stopped by to nearby Lake LaVonne.
But that didn’t turn young Tex into a dud in school. At Farmersville High School — seven or eight miles from his home by school bus – he was an honor student. His record for high hurdles at the school still stand unbroken as the state record. He was named an all-state football player, and was captain of the Farmersville football team.
His feats won him a scholarship to North Texas Teachers College in Denton, Tex. (The city was named after his grandmother’s family.)
Denton is 25 miles from home, so Watson, in hopes of becoming a physical education coach, wandered from Copeville.
But after one semester at the college “something happened.”
“I understand someone slipped him some LSD…anyway he got mixed up with narcotics, so to keep from hurling his family he decided to go to UCLA In California,” a close family friend relates.
“You know, in Texas, it’s different – you just don’t hurt your family — family name and reputation mean a lot, and Charles couldn’t see anything suffer — especially his family. He’d even bring in hurt cats and dogs — anything by the side of the road that needed help.”
He was the same in California. He picked up a hitchhiker at the side of the road which was his introduction to Charles Manson and his “family.”
Watson came to California, enrolled at UCLA, then — with a buddy — began a wig business operating out of a small Hollywood apartment,
“He was a typical college boy — short hair, clean cut, very soft spoken, very polite,” a go-go dancer client of Watson’s recalled.
“All the girls bought wigs from him…he’d see us on the job…spread out the wigs and tell us about them,” the showgirl claimed.
A dancer at Hollywood’s Classic Cat claimed she last remembered Tex saying he was “moving in with some guys at the beach.”
“After that,” the girl claims, “he dropped out of sight.
“But he was never on drugs — he sure didn’t look freaked out to us — anything but.”
His orthopedist in Hollywood agrees. “I didn’t recognize him when I saw his picture in the paper after his arrest,” the doctor said. “When I treated him for a knee problem (an earlier football injury) he had short hair…he was in the wig business…and sure didn’t look like he was on drugs. If he did what they claim, I’m sure glad he didn’t get angry at us.”
Watson’s 1967 – 68 assignment, register — a book usually reserved for college assignments — is filled with names and appointment times of would-be wig clients. The address section is equally crowded with their names and telephone numbers. The only addresses are attached to names of people in Wylie, Garland, Farmersville and Dallas.
A section near the back details the address of a construction company in Peru, with transportation costs, contacts, etc., apparently indicating he was getting restless.
But before his dreams of Lima could come true, he picked up a hitchhiker — wealthy, well-known beachboy Dennis Wilson who had given his Rolls Royce to his friend, Charles Manson, and his girls to go on a “garbage run” for food in the back lots of supermarkets.
Manson was at Wilson’s beach-front home when Watson arrived. The introduction was made and Watson apparently never left.
His letters home stopped. The girl he “went with” in Texas had expected him to return, but his letters to her stopped too.
“Both families thought they’d be married…but she figured he’d found another girl,” a family friend says.
Tex had found a whole ranch full of girls – the Manson girls at the Spahn Ranch.
“Once,” Watson’s mother recalls, “he came home…he was with a long-haired sleepy looking man…I think now it was Manson…the man stayed at the motel, but Charles came home for the night.
“I told him I didn’t want him to associate with a man like that,” Mrs. Watson says softly, “but he wanted to go back with him.”
The next time she saw or heard from her son, the Tate and LaBianca murders had been committed and he returned home to Texas.
“I started taking him to the doctor when he got back but he wouldn’t talk to him…he didn’t
want to go, but rather than worry me he went.
“I knew he was sick — you can’t fool a mother — but I never dreamed of dope,” she recalls, her voice breaking.
“The doctor gave him tranquilizers and vitamins because of nerves — he was so nervous — I knew there had to be something terribly wrong with my boy.
“Charles never gave me any trouble…he was very obedient…never did anything we didn’t want him to do.
Mrs. Watson, whose family at one time owned much of western Texas, writes regularly to Mrs. Jordan in Long Beach.
“With each letter she says how much she loves her son and will stand by him no matter what happens. She’s heartsick. She and her husband say they take each day as it comes…thinking of today and praying that tomorrow will be better.”
Although Mrs. Watson tries to keep busy as the registrar of voters in Copeville and as an officer of the Eastern Star chapter, she has withdrawn somewhat from her friends…and from questions about her son.
“We keep asking ourselves ‘why’…why did it happen…but we don’t come up with an answer.”
Veteran Los Angeles Attorney Sam Bubrick, who has been appointed to defend the six-foot four-inch ex-athlete, hopes he has the answer.
Attorneys in Texas gave him an edge when they successfully fought extradition, preventing Watson from standing trial with Manson and his three girls.
Bubrick is expected to sharpen that edge with his more than 20 years of criminal law.
And, most important of all, armed with a document that says his client is suffering from irreparable brain damage induced by drugs.
By MARY NEISWENDER