At the End of the Road, Death
Wednesday, October 13th, 1971
Copeville, Tex., Oct. 13 — It’s about 1,500 miles from this Red River country town to the neon-glutted boulevards of Hollywood.
But, for Charles “Tex” Watson, the road has been considerably longer and a good deal more drama – packed than the one taken by most folks.
Watson was convicted Tuesday night at Los Angeles of seven counts of murder in the Sharon Tate killings — one of the bloodiest and most sensational cases in American crime annals.
His parents, Mr. and Mrs. C. D. Watson, are respected grocers in this small community.
“I have no comment to make,” Mrs. Watson said, just minutes after learning of her son’s conviction. “We have no plans to go out there (Los Angeles) right now.”
According to friends and relatives, Charles Watson was the sort of boy any father would be proud of — Godfearing, clean, congenial, a good pupil in high school. Sound.
He went to high school at Farmersville — home town of the late Audie Murphy, America’s most decorated GI of World War II.
But, when he returned home briefly after having drifted to California, they said he’d changed. He was shaggy, distant, at odds with himself.
He was no longer the cleareyed country boy.
A Los Angeles jury ruled Tuesday night that young Watson was the one — the one that led two young women to the home of movie star Sharon Tate where he used a knife and a gun to gouge and shoot his way into a bloody, unenviable form of historical significance.
His defense churned the young Texan was a victim of drugs and the sinister direction of Charles Manson, a man who has already been sentenced to California’s gas chamber.
At the time, his father said: “I don’t think he done it. I’ve raised a good bunch of boys. My sons’ve never been in any trouble.”
Sheriff Tom Montgomery, Watson’s cousin, said: “ This boy was raised in the church house. Why, his mother and dad are the finest people you’ll ever meet. It’s awfully hard for people around here to think he could ever have done the stuff he’s accused of doing.”
Watson’s parents have operated their general store here since the mid 1930s. They sold the necessary things in life — groceries, gas, farm and garden implements, cough syrup, safety pins — the necessary things.
But that world is a far cry from what young Watson found in his travels to the gray world he found in Southern California — drugs, indiscriminate sex, other drifting young people. Confusion.
It was indeed, a long, long way from the Red River Country.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” the elder Watson said. “You can go all over this country out here and talk about that boy, and they’ll tell you he’s a good kid.
“His mother raised him right, right over there in that church. Ask his teachers up at Farmersville — they’ll tell you. He never even hurt anybody when he was playing football at the high school up there. All this stuff they’re saying about him. I just don’t understand – it’s just a bunch of lies. And he ain’t no hippie.”
Grocer Watson wore bib overalls, a soiled jacket and a felt hat, its brim stained with sweat.
The prosecution put on a parade of expert witnesses during Watson’s relatively brief trial to
counter defense claims that Watson was out of his mind when actress Tale and other members of the international jet set were butchered in her fashionable Hollywood home.
“He put on a Mortimer Snerd act,” said Dr. Alfred Owre, assistant superintendent at Atascadero State Hospital where Watson had been confined.
“He played the perfect fool,” the psychiatrist testified.
Owre said Watson wasn’t crazy — just mentally depressed.
The doctor said he brought Watson out of his depression far enough that Watson once shouted at him : “I could kill you. I could kill now.”
On Aug. 9, 1969, Manson’s followers left their hippie commune in the desert east of Los Angeles and drove to Miss Tate’s home. Juries say it was Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Leslie Van Houten.
There, the four slipped into the Tate home and butchered its occupants in what police said was an unbelievably sadistic ritual of bloody horror.
One of the women testified she had considered opening Miss Tate’s stomach to remove her unborn child. Miss Tate was in her eighth month of pregnancy when she was killed.
Others who died with her were Polish playboy Viotyck Frokowsky, Hollywood hair stylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and Steven Parent, a friend of the Tate’s caretaker.
The defense said Watson was a mindless robot who took Manson’s orders then stumbled through the killings in a drug stupor, unknowing, unseeing and uncaring.
Later, the state claimed, Watson went to the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and committed a bloody encore marked by bloody scrawlings and hooded bodies.
Most likely, a long series of appeals wait still farther down Charles Watson’s road.
The jury has been instructed to return Friday and assess his punishment.