The Demon In Death Valley
Friday, December 12th, 1969
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 12 – That man has wronged me. Society has wronged me. We’ll kill whatever pigs are in that house. Go in there and get them.” With those raging orders from their Rasputin-like leader, a band of hippies, clad in black, allegedly broke into a secluded Los Angeles home last August. In the orgy of hacking, stabbing and shooting that followed, Starlet Sharon Tate, 26, and four other people were killed. It was one of the grisliest, bloodiest, and apparently most senseless crimes of the century.
Last week Los Angeles police announced that they had solved the five murders and three others as well. If they are correct, the alleged murderers were even stranger and more bizarre than their crimes. The police case was based on the tale of an accused murderer, Susan Denise Atkins, 21. She sketched out a weird story of a mystical, semi-religious hippie drug-and-murder cult led by a bearded, demonic Mahdi able to dispatch his zombie-like followers, mostly girls wearing hunting knives, to commit at least eight murders and, police say, possibly four others.
Murder Sprees. Three members of the gang were arrested last week: Charles Watson, 23, Patricia Krenwinkel, 22, and Linda Kasabian, 20. The police also were seeking murder indictments against two other “family” members. The suspects, as well as the thin, vacuous Miss Atkins, were all members of a hippie-type gang who styled themselves slaves to their guru-type leader. Miss Atkins, a prosecution witness who hopes to save herself from the gas chamber, claimed that she was present but did not participate in the murders committed by the gang. At least eight members took part in one or another of the murders, say police, although the leader, Charles Manson, 35, did not participate in the killings himself, but confined himself to directing them.
Miss Atkins said that Manson had ordered the Tate murders on Aug. 9, the murder of Musician Gary Hinman on July 25, and those of Mr. And Mrs. Leno LaBianca on Aug. 10. Hinman was allegedly murdered because he would not turn over $20,000 that Manson thought he had. Miss Atkins and another Manson follower are charged in that murder. The LaBiancas were picked at random from among the affluent, she said, the night after the Tate murders, just to prove that the killers had not lost their nerve. The Tate victims did not even know Manson. They died, she said, because Manson, an aspiring songwriter, nursed a grudge against Doris Day’s son, Terry Melcher, who refused to have one of Manson’s songs recorded, Miss Tate had rented the Melcher house, and Manson ordered everyone in it killed, presumably not even knowing who the tenants at the time were – or caring.
According to Miss Atkins, she, Watson, Mrs. Kasabian and Miss Krenwinkel entered Miss Tate’s house and stabbed and shot the occupants; Abigail Folger, the coffee heiress; Voityck Frokowski, her boy friend; Hollywood Hair Stylist Jay Sebring and Miss Tate. The starlet, 8 ½ months pregnant, pleaded: “Please let me have my baby,” but was stabbed 16 times. Steven Parent, 18, who was visiting the caretaker’s cottage, was also killed.
Manson is presently in custody on car theft charges in Independence, Calif. Los Angeles police are seeking conspiracy and murder indictments against him. The case began to break several weeks ago when Miss Atkins, a former acid-dropper and topless dancer, began to blurt out pieces of her gruesome tale in jail, and another prisoner informed police. Also Daniel De Carlo, 25, who heads a motorcycle gang, told police that Manson invited him to join in one of the murder excursions.
Commando Forays. Manson is a drifter with a five-page criminal record stretching back 20 years. Born in 1934, to a teen-age mother, he never saw his father. His prostitute parent was often in jail, and young Manson was shifted around from relatives to foster parents to reformatories. As he grew up, he turned to petty crimes, mainly car theft. His education never went beyond the seventh grade. It was during these years that he apparently developed his hatred of the affluent and a loathing for women. In and out of prison, Manson became interested in music and the occult, and when he was last released in 1967, he headed for San Francisco as a “roving minstrel.”
Manson began to gather followers in Haight-Ashbury in 1966, and in 1968 he moved his retinue by bus to Los Angeles to further his music-writing ambitions. Last winter, Manson moved his clan to the Spahn Ranch in western Los Angeles County, and it was from there that they made their alleged commando forays against their affluent victims. Manson busied himself converting stolen cars into dune buggies, and after the ranch was raided in August, he led his followers to their own hell in the inhospitable depths of Death Valley.
Among the greasewood and rattlesnakes, they holed up in run-down cabins and led an indolent, almost savage existence, singing Manson’s songs, dancing, swimming in a small pool, stealing cars for cash and picking through garbage for food. Miners in the area reported being chased away by amazons wielding knives. Manson reportedly held an almost hypnotic spell over his followers, who called him “God” and “Satan.” His women lolled harem-like around the commune nude or bare-breasted, catering to his every whim. One chagrined ranchhand relates discussing business with Manson while one of Manson’s girls performed a sex act upon the “guru.” But women in the “family” saw him in a different light. “He gave off a lot of magic,” said one, Lynn Fromme. “To me, to us, he was everything,” added another, Sandy Good Pugh.
A fellow ex-convict from the McNeil Island penitentiary in Washington State said that Manson was a strangely passive person who would sulk if attacked rather than strike back. He tried with considerable success to get others to do his bidding: “He had a certain smile that would always get to people. He tried to hypnotize them. He always got other people to supply him with the necessities.”
A man who knew Manson at the Spahn Ranch said that Manson had lured Mrs. Kasabian away from her husband, got her to steal $5,000 from him and other men at the ranch. When the men caught Manson, “he showed us his big buck knife, with about a twelve inch blade, and he asked us if we would like to kill him, just to prove he couldn’t die.” Manson, said the ranchman, read deeply in Oriental theology, and believed in reincarnation and the insignificance of individual lives. Manson, who is white, “felt the Establishment was the white mans, and his karma was to catch up with everybody and shoot all the pigs he saw for, like, enslaving the Negro. It wasn’t wrong to kill the pigs, to slash them down with a knife, because they were destroying the earth.” Manson, according to this acquaintance, hoped that his killings would touch off racial war in the U.S. After the carnage was completed, he and his followers would take over the ruins of the U.S. – or at least of Los Angeles.
Star Student. Bizarre as such notions are, Manson’s behavior, given his background, is at least less inconsistent than that of his followers. Charles Watson attended Methodist Sunday school in tiny Copeville, Texas, and grew to be a big, handsome star-student and athlete, voted outstanding member of his junior class. Yet when he went away to college in 1964, his grades fell and he gave up athletics. He dropped out of school, was arrested for stealing typewriters from his old high school. He headed west, enrolled in another college, and dropped out again. When he returned from California a few months ago, he was bearded and emaciated. Says his lawyer and old family friend Bill Boyd: “He’s a totally different guy. He acts completely detached and unconcerned. I seriously question his mental state.”
Miss Krenwinkel was a shy and chubby adolescent growing up in a respectable section of Los Angeles. A friend recalled her as “a quiet and very sensitive girl who kept all her feelings to herself. She didn’t like to see anybody get hurt. I remember once we were talking about one of the guys we know who enjoyed killing cats. She broke into tears.” Her parents separated when she was in high school. In 1967, after meeting Manson, she rejected the “straight” world so suddenly that she left her car in a parking lot, quit her job without picking up her paycheck and went away with him. Now she, with others like her, is charged with murder.
HIPPIES AND VIOLENCE
Part of the mystique and the attraction of the hippie movement has always been its invitation to freedom. It beckons young people out of the tense, structured workaday world to a life where each can do “his own thing.” The movement has flowered and spread across the U.S. and to many parts of the world. It has drawn all sorts of people: the rebellious, the lonely, the poets, the disaffected, and worse. Some two years ago, says Dr. Lewis Yablonsky, a close student of the phenomenon, criminals and psychotics began infiltrating the scene. They were readily accepted, as anyone can be who is willing to let his hair grow and don a few beads; they found, just as do runaway teenagers, that it is a good world in which they can disappear from law and society. “Hippiedom became a magnet for severely emotionally disturbed people,” Yablonsky says.
A few of them, like Manson, also found other advantages to being a hippie. The true gentle folk were relatively defenseless. Leaderless, they responded readily to strong leaders. But how could children who had dropped out for the sake of kindness and sharing, love and beauty, be enjoined to kill? Yablonsky thinks that the answer may lie in the fact that so many hippies are actually “lonely, alienated people.” Hey says: “They have had so few love models that even when they act as if they love, they can be totally devoid of true compassion. That is the reason why they can kill so matter-of-factly.”
Yablonsky believes that there has been far more violence among the hippies than most people realize. “There has always been a potential for murder,” he says. “Many hippies are socially almost dead inside. Some require massive emotions to feel anything at all. They need bizarre, intensive acts to feel alive – sexual acts, acts of violence, nudity, every kind of Dionysian thrill.”
Charles Manson unintentionally put some clues into his particular psychological makeup on a piece of paper last week, as he sat in court for arraignment on car-theft charges. The insights came in the form of doodles on a legal pad – disoriented scribblings that suggest to two experts a psyche torn asunder by powerful thrusts of aggression, guilt and hostility. According to Dr. Emanuel F. Hammer, a psychoanalyst who studied the doodles without knowing who drew them, they point to “an inner tension that is jampacked with jarring elements. The drawings hit you like chaos on the part of the mind that drew them.” He notes the phrase “Howmuchcanonegive,” and says such stringing together of words “shows a lack of respect for the integrity of things” and people. The starlike figures, covered over or enclosed in circles, represent “guilt or attempts at control over aggression.” The drawings of armless beings “are goonish and ludicrous, which may show a demeaning and devalued view of people.”
Dr. Harry O. Teltscher, a psychologist and handwriting expert who knew the doodles were Manson’s, finds cosmic implications in the sketches. “This whole drawing looks like part of the universe. Often times, paranoid-schizophrenics identify themselves with cosmic situations.” In the squiggles. Telescher also sees “a tremendous amount of repressed anger and hostility against all mankind.” If Manson is guilty of commanding the Tate murders, as police suspect, then, “telling these girls to act out these killings was his way to express his anger.”