The Wreck Of A Monstrous ‘Family’
Friday, December 19th, 1969
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 19 – Long-haired, bearded little Charlie Manson so disturbed the American millions last week – when he was charged with sending four docile girls and a hairy male acolyte off to slaughter strangers in two Los Angeles houses last August – that the victims of his blithe and gory crimes seemed suddenly to have played only secondary roles in the final brutal moments of their own lives. The Los Angeles killings struck innumerable Americans as an inexplicable controversion of everything they wanted to believe about the society and their children – and made Charlie Manson seem to be the very encapsulation of truth about revolt and violence by the young.
What failure of the human condition could produce a Charlie Manson? What possible aspects of such a creature’s example could induce sweet-faced young women and a polite Texas college boy to acts of such numbing cruelty – even though they might have abandoned the social and political precepts of their elders like so many other beaded and bell-bottomed mother’s children of 1969? Some of the answers seemed simple enough if one weighed Charlie Manson on the ancient scales of human venality. He attracted and controlled his women through flattery, fear and sexual attention and by loftily granting them a sort of sisterhood of exploitation – methods used by every pimp in history. He sensed something old as tribal blood ritual which most of us deny in ourselves – that humans can feel enormous fulfillment and enormous relief in the act of killing other humans if some medicine man applauds and condones the deed. But Charlie was able to attune his time-encrusted concepts of villainy to the childish yearnings of his hippie converts – to their weaknesses, their catchwords, their fragmentary sense of religion and their enchantment with drugs and idleness – and to immerse them in his own ego and in idiotic visions of apocalypse.
It is hard not to wince while considering Charlie Manson’s childhood. He was born to a teen-age prostitute in Cincinnati on Nov. 12, 1934 and was raised until he was 11 by an aunt and uncle in Charleston, W. Va. His life thereafter was one of rejection and delinquency. His mother farmed him out to homes and schools until he was taken, as a delinquent of 14, to the last and most permanent of them, the Indiana Boys’ School. He “ran” – as juvenile authorities term escape – repeatedly and stole cars and committed burglaries during his periods of freedom. He was released from prison when he was 20 and went back to West Virginia an accomplished car thief. He married a local girl, Rosalie Jean Willis. Rosalie became pregnant and gave birth to a boy. But Manson had already left for Los Angeles in a stolen car and soon found himself behind bars at Terminal Island. He posed as “producer” when he got out again, ingratiated himself with teen-age girls and moonlighted as an occasional procurer. McNeil Island’s federal penitentiary took Charlie in after that because he cashed some stolen U.S. Treasury checks. He had never gone farther than the seventh grade; now he read the Bible and tracts on the quasi-religion Scientology, decided that the Book of Revelation had predicted the Beatles, learned to play the guitar and assumed he could compose music. One of his lyrics consisted solely of the words, “You know, you know, you know” He left prison in March 1967, ready to give new meaning to the old saw: a little learning is a dangerous thing.
Criminals and ex-cons have discovered a new sort of refuge in the last couple of years: they grow hair, assume beads and sandals, and sink – carnivores moving in with the vegetarians – into the life of hippie colonies from the East Village to Big Sur. Charlie Manson went to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and, with an exquisite sort of diplomatic skill, adopted the local coloration as a means of controlling, utilizing and dominating the impulse-ridden, alienated, drug-directed “kids” he discovered there. Most of the kids were female – who had come to escape a cynical society or to see “reality and freedom.” Charlie billed himself as a “roving minstrel” come to fulfill their dreams with magic, strike off the chains of male chauvinism and lead them to the promised land – although in fact he regarded them as squaws, treated them like cattle and excommunicated those who complained. “I was hitchhiking to San Francisco once with Charlie,” says a girl who used to know him, “and we had these two big packs. He wanted me to carry both of them. I refused. I said I’d share, but I wouldn’t carry both. He got more and more angry and finally said I had to carry both bags and walk 10 steps behind him. When I wouldn’t do that, he took my guitar from me and smashed it into little pieces against a post.”
Most of Charlie’s girls, in the opinion of a San Francisco psychiatrist who encountered them, were “hysterics, wishful thinkers, seekers after some absolute” who came to regard Charlie as a high priest, “all-powerful, all-knowing.”
Charlie was a fast talker with a glittering eye. He initiated new girls by taking them to bed for day-long sexual marathons. He broke down their “inhibitions” by directing them in erotic group carnivals or ordering them to carnal activity with other men – and commanding them to do so in the same tones in which he sent them into the streets to panhandle. Charlie was no hippie; the very name made him angry. He was an entrepreneur. He gave people things – drugs, his own shirt – to get things back. He gave girls – often a naked, giggling, caressing gaggle of four or five of them – to men from the “straight” world. He shaved and cut his hair – even, at times, after retreating to the desert – to facilitate dealing with “the Establishment.” He boasted of 3,000 friends. One gave him a grand piano which he traded for a camper truck which he then traded for a bus with which he transported his harem to southern California and their eventual rendezvous with the fruits and fallacies of his delusions.
The delusions do not seem to have blossomed in his mind before the trip in the spring of 1968 – a leisurely trek during which he met, sponged on and grew to resent Los Angeles Musician Gary Hinman, and was rejected, in a plea for help with his own musical aspiration, by Doris Day’s son Terry Melcher, then the occupant of the big house in which Sharon Tate and her friends were to die. Charlie preached a confused but vehement philosophy. Everything in the world belonged to all its people – thus there could be redivision of valuables, but no theft; all humans were part of some homogeneous and mystic whole – thus there could be no real death. The varying mob of long-haired girls and ragged young studs who clung around him in southern California were indoctrinated with Charlie’s views after they settled at the first of their two outposts, a Western movie location once owned by silent star Bill Hart but now operated as a riding stable called the Spahn Movie Ranch.
But one can wonder how those who were to be indicted for murder got there in the first place:
Photographs of Charles Denton (“Tex”) Watson at high school in Farmersville (pop. 2,021). Texas reflect an all-American boy: a big, good-looking kid who starred in football, basketball and track, got only A’s and B’s and went to the Methodist church near his father’s little grocery and gas station. Watson went on to North Texas State University, 55 miles from home, turned away from sports, sank scholastically and, after three years, dropped out. But his old college sweetheart, airline stewardess Terry Flynn, reveals far more about the value judgments of Texas girls than about any emotional trauma he may have endured. “He treated me like a queen and he shaved three times a day – there was never a hint of 5 o’clock shadow – but he became too possessive.” When she saw him in Los Angeles last December after an unexpected flight to California “I just couldn’t believe his long hair. But he still opened car doors for me.”
Maine-born Linda Darleen Kasabian, 20, grew to “sweet and pretty” adolescence in her divorced mother’s white clapboard house in Milford, N.H. She quit school as a sophomore to marry a local boy but was divorced a year later. Last July she was in Los Angeles with another husband, Bob Kasabian, and her baby daughter Tanya; a young friend who had inherited some money was going to take them on a trip to South America. Gypsy, oldest of the girls in Charlie’s family, spotted her in a Topanga Canyon restaurant and took her to the ranch. She came back the next day and then only to steal $5,000 in $100 bills form the friend’s camper truck. When the boy followed her to the ranch to protest, Charlie “showed me this big knife and said, ‘Maybe I should kill you just to show you there’s no such thing as dying,’ and I felt fear and split.” Linda did a lot of cooking for the family: she is now five months pregnant, and crochets.
Brunette and busty Susan Atkins, 21, had “a very disorganized relationship with her family in San Jose,” worked as a topless dancer and fell in with Charlie in San Francisco. Charlie renamed her “Sadie Mae Glutz.” Susan is the girl who spilled the story of the Tate murders to a cellmate while being held in the Santa Monica jail on charges of having helped one Bob Beausoleil kill Musician Gary Hinman for Charlie. Susan told the grand jury that Charlie was a “beautiful guy.”
Brown-haired Patricia Krenwinkel, 22, is the daughter of a hard-working Los Angeles insurance agent and lived in a cream-colored stucco house new Loyola University. She was chubby and shy but “quite a little daddy’s girl” and devoted to stamp collecting. Her father left wife and daughter when she was in her teens, however, and Patty began to go with “guys who hung out at Bob’s Big Boy Drive-In at Canoga Park.” Patty’s mother took her to Fort Lauderdale. She had a half year of college in Mobile, Ala., came back to Los Angeles, got a job in an insurance agency – and then, suddenly, ceased being ordinary. She abandoned her car in a Manhattan Beach parking lot in September 1967, quit her job without picking up her paycheck and went off with Charlie Manson. Charlie changed her name to Katie. Her job at the ranch was the “garbage run,” picking through refuse cans behind nearby stores to salvage food for the family. The pickings, one witness recalls, could be good: “They got a whole Volks full of apples, plums, lettuce, avocados and candy out of two or three bins of trash.”
The family stayed at the movie ranch for 12 months. Charlie gave its blind old owner, George Spahn, $5,000 – perhaps the same bills donated by Linda Kasabian. He also terrorized George and got a good deal of it back. One night, Spahn says, Charlie forced him to sit in a chair for three hours, held lighted matches before his eyes and swung punches within an inch of his face to discover whether he lied about his sightlessness. (After it was all over Spahn heard the door open and close and sat there in the dark for an hour. He couldn’t hear a breath. Then he reached around – and put his hand right on Manson’s head. “That’s right, George, I’m still here.”)
Ranch hands remember Charlie provided for everyone, sometimes by instructing girls to work their families for money. He passed out marijuana – if he felt like it. He had a plastic Baggie full of LSD tablets; these were for visitors form whom he wanted gifts of favors or recruits he wanted “to capture.” There were seldom more than six or seven male members and usually four times as many girls. The boys got girls – as gifts from Charlie. Charlie had any girl he wanted. The family slept on communal mattresses, but Charlie and his choice of the evening slept in a room of their own. Charlie’s word was law: he carried and fondled a Bowie knife, his scepter. “He really love knives,” recalls an acquaintance. “He used to say, ‘Man, everybody in this world is afraid of getting cut.'”
He also collected guns and ammunition. The family, he prophesied, was one day going into Los Angeles to set off the apocalypse foreordained from them in Revelation, Chapter 9: “They were given the power of scorpions the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots and they have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit.” There was no doubt who was king. Charlie Manson talked about it to visitors: “He was going to shoot all the white people he saw, all the established people; then the black people would get enthralled and destroy everybody while he would retreat into the desert.” Charlie did not just talk. He took incredible pains, with the aid of the family’s males, to prepare for the day.
They stole Volkswagens, stripped them and turned them into reinforced dune buggies, some with machine gun mounts. The Spahn Movie Ranch lies only a few miles north and west of Burbank, but beyond it are sere, rugged and unpopulated hills and beyond the, eventually, the Mojave Desert. Charlie cut the padlocks off fire road gates and substituted locks of his own. He and his dune buggy drivers snarled, skidded and ground their way up the roadless draws and gulches and laid out caches of food, gasoline, tires and sleeping bags across an astonishing area. One youth who was almost but not quite “captured” was told – and believes – that Charlie got two Army half-tracks and burned them out establishing a roadless route, 300 miles long, across the Mojave and into hills edging Death Valley. This was the site of the so-called Barker Ranch, a huddle of abandoned shacks, a last, remote hole-up which Charlie had gotten on a sort of loan from a rich Burbank widow.
The apocalypse did not occur last August despite the fact that the newspapers were black with news of the Tate murders. There is no knowing yet just what part Charlie played in trying to set off his Armageddon. Susan Atkins told the grand jury that he planned the attack on the house in which he had been slighted by Terry Melcher, but took no part in murdering Actress Tate and the others who died as a result. Linda Kasabian, on the other hand, told a friend, and may well have told the jury, that he actually led the raid. Either way, however, Charlie and his helpers spent the next 48 hours with a welding machine, “popping bennies” to get on with the job of conditioning the desert buggies. Even though the blacks did not arise to begin the destruction of Los Angeles – he loaded up trucks, cars and the bus and took the family on a roundabout trip to the mesquite-dotted hideout above Death Valley.
The Barker Ranch is all but inaccessible except for a route in from Nevada, but the family’s encampment in its abandoned shacks, the naked girls’ sunbaths by its crude swimming pool, lasted hardly more than a month. They camouflaged the buggies, set up a defense perimeter with two field telephones and put lookouts on watch, but two raids by state police and Death Valley National Monument rangers – instigated by complaints of local car thefts – scoped up 26 of them. The police took them to Independence, the seat of Inyo County, and put them all in jail on charges of theft. The girls, many of whom were later released, did not lose faith in Charlie Manson. They demanded that their jailer supply them with peanut butter and honey for a “purification ceremony” and insisted on going naked. Forced to wear dresses, they took to raising them over their heads when exercising outside. Charlie did not forget them, either: he yipped like a coyote in his cell – and they yipped back in chorus. But last week as authorities considered the Los Angeles crimes, and police investigated other deaths – a boy killed last July near the movie ranch, a girl’s slashed body found in the Death Valley hills – there seemed to be scent chance that Charlie Manson would ever again put the family beneath his spell.
A DOCTOR AND A PAROLE OFFICER REMEMBER MANSON
During the year that Manson and his “family” lived in or near San Francisco, they regularly visited the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic which was founded by Dr. David Smith. Dr. Smith’s views are based not on a patient-doctor relationship with Manson, but on his personal observations.
Charlie’s group was unlike any other commune I’ve know. They called themselves a family, but most family communes are monogamous sexually. The members pair off and don’t indiscriminately change partners. A new girl in Charlie’s family would bring with her a certain middle-class morality. The first thing that Charlie did was to see that all this was torn down. The major way he broke through was sex. Charlie’s girls were expected to have sex with any men around, anytime. If they had hang-ups about it, then they should feel guilty. That way he was able to eliminate the controls that normally govern our live. Sex, not drugs, was the common denominator.
The violence was not the kind of sociopathic “escape” violence we see in the Haight but a psychotic, Rasputin-type violence. If you believe God is on you side, anything is justified. The communal thing is very spiritual. Belief in magic, astrology, cosmic consciousness – that explains everything. One of the characteristics is to have a spiritual leader and, violence aside, Charlie Manson as a spiritual leader is probably more typical than we care to believe. Charlie appealed to too many people to say that just a few nuts were attracted to him. He would probably be diagnosed as a schizophrenic, but ambulatory schizophrenics were very much looked up to in Haight-Ashbury because they could hallucinate – without drugs. If we’re going to pin a psychiatric label on Charlie’s girls, then we’d have to say there are hundreds of thousands of kids in this country who are also mentally disturbed.
Manson’s parole officer, after his release from prison in 1967, was Dr. Roger Smith, a research criminologist who had launched the drug treatment program at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. He speaks of Manson here out of his extensive unofficial contact with him.
Charlie was the most hostile parolee I’ve ever come across. He was totally up front about it. He told me right off there was no way he could keep the terms of his parole. He was headed back to the joint [prison] and there was no way out of it. In another era, I think Charlie would have been back in prison in short order. But now the patterns have changed. You have a very transient, mobile delinquent population, and many of them end up in scenes like this. They pick up the rhetoric and sort of blend in and exploit and manipulate the scene. I think that’s where Charlie fit in.
In a sense I think Charlie was really sort of shaken by it all – by the fact that people were friendly, open and willing to do things with him. The first night he was in the Haight, the chicks were willing to go to bed with him. They didn’t care whether he had just gotten out of the joint. That was a real shocker for him.
Drugs give you something but they also take. In the case of Charlie, he redefined what reality was. He began to drift farther and farther away. He certainly wasn’t operating on anything vaguely related to reality. He did become more articulate, began to develop a distinctive kind of philosophy. He no longer seemed angry or hostile, only more intense.
They talk about the hypnotic kind of state he was able to produce. Always in the back of my mind I felt he was a con man. Charlie’s rap was always a little bit too heavy, a little bit too polished. Tenderness toward girls? Not a damn bit. I never sensed he had any real warmth toward the girls. They were his possessions.
There are a lot of Charlies running around, believe me. He’s just one of several hundred thousand people who are released from prison after a shattering, soul-rending experience, not prepared for anything except to go back on the streets and do more of the same – but bigger. You get them back in the community and there’s no place for them to stay. I couldn’t get Charlie into a halfway house because the only one was too small. I couldn’t get him training because somehow he didn’t meet the state requirements. The only place he was accepted was Haight-Ashbury, and doesn’t that say a hell of a lot about the system.
By PAUL O’NEIL