Things May Be Looking Up For Manson, Legal Breaks May Be Coming His Way
Sunday, March 15th, 1970
LOS ANGELES, Mar. 15 – Things are looking up for Charles Manson.
When police first arrested the hairy little guru of a hippie “family,” an impression got around that there was ample evidence he had ordered five members of his family to murder actress Sharon Tate and six others last August.
Now courtroom observers are beginning to wonder just how strong the prosecution’s case really is. Manson has witnesses to testify — when his trial begins — that he was at home on the night of the Tate murders and had already driven from the scene the following night when grocer Leno LaBianca and wife were killed.
Further, it now appears that the grand jury transcript contains no clear assertion by codefendant Susan Atkins that Manson ordered the killings. Indeed, the 19-year-old former protege of the guru seems to be wavering in her decision to testify at all — and none of the other defendants has shown any inclination to implicate their leader.
Those of his followers who have not been accused of complicity in the murders are as loyal as ever, raising money and sympathy for the “martyred” Manson. And his inexplicable power over them remains in force.
“Charlie treated us like butterflies,” says one follower. “His complete love made him a king to us girls but nobody understands that.”
King Charlie is in jail now, his beard shorn, his weight down to 125 after a 40-day fast. Jailed without bail, he has been on LOP (loss of privileges) status and is denied many of the “niceties” of prison life. He gets no cigarettes, no candy and at night he sleeps in “the hole” — solitary confinement.
But his eyes still gleam with mesmeric force and he is anything but a hopeless figure. Indeed, he has become a folk hero to a segment of the country’s far-out youth. Much of the underground press and its readers have wholeheartedly accepted his own lament that he is to be martyred for what he claims are unsolved murders.
“They’ve made up their mind that I’m the one they’re going to send to the gas chamber,” he says. “I’m a political pawn, with my long hair. I’m a perfect scapegoat.”
Manson’s fans have not taken to the streets yet – at least no more than usual – but they now have several ways of expressing their approval. An album of his songs — taped before his present troubles – has been issued. Pop art posters of this drug-age “hero” are on the market. Among some of the farthest out of his admirers a new greeting has been devised: a folded thumb under four raised fingers to signify the four-tined fork that was found sticking in the breast of Leno LaBianea, one of the murder victims.
The legal breaks may be coming Manson’s way, too. Recently he had a one-hour jail reunion with the willowy Miss Atkins, 21, around whose testimony — first to a cellmate, then to a grand jury, then to newsmen — much of the prosecution’s case rests. Manson wants her to recant, or at least not to repeat in court her charges that he ordered the killings as a protest against society and “the rich.” Prosecution sources admit there is a strong possibility that Miss Atkins may once again defer to Manson’s wishes.
For even in absentia Manson’s influence prevails. The family that allegedly slayed together has stayed together.
In the palmy days before the murders, Manson’s family ranged up to 125 at a time. It was a guitar strumming, free loving, drug using group, living on an old Western movie set called Spahn’s Movie Ranch.
The family began to break up last summer, after a series of police raids. When six of their members were charged with the Tate and LaBianca murders in December, the ranch was temporarily deserted. But lately the hard core of the family has come back.
Now six boys and eight girls are living at the ranch again, resuming the old life style. The aroma of spaghetti mingles with that of marijuana.
Most days, the girls sit around the animal cluttered living room and sew and talk. At night, they light candles — there is no electricity in the place — and go off to sleep coed in the dilapidated old trailers and shacks nearby.
The girls are slim; they are tanned and healthy from much outdoor living. These days, they don’t bother much with mystic chants, discussions of philosophy or even astrology. Outside interests are few. “I didn’t even know Nixon was President until two months after he was elected,” says one girl.
There is even a baby resident, 5-month-old Ivan, the son of a wholesome looking University of Oregon alumna named Sandra Good Pugh. Sandy, 26, is the daughter of a stockbroker. At present she serves as official “legal runner” for Manson, bringing him messages in jail. She is also active in fund-raising for the defendants, most of whom now have court appointed legal aides.
“We’re asking everyone we meet for money,” says Sandy as she calmly nurses little Ivan in the ranch compound. “It always comes from somewhere, just when you need it. We needed some shoes to go to court in, and a reporter came to interview us, and then went out and bought us four pairs of shoes.”
The fund raising hasn’t been an unqualified success. The family ran an ad for the “Charles Manson Legal Fund,” an appeal to “help an innocent man find justice in America,” but all the first weekend brought in was one nasty letter and some “Monopoly” money.
Another setback came when Manson’s trial judge reversed an earlier ruling and decided that the defendant, with his fifth-grade education, was “incapable of acting as (his) own attorney.” As a Pasadena criminal lawyer was appointed to represent him, Manson shouted at the judge: “There’s no love in your court.”
The family, though, remains undaunted. “More and more people — beautiful people — are joining us,” says Sandy, rapt with fervor. “They’re hearing the music. The truth is coming out.”
Manson may he coming out, too — unless the prosecution comes up with more than Susan Atkins’ apparently wavering testimony. But the hard evidence against the other five defendants, whose prints and weapons have allegedly incriminated them, is more formidable.
But for the family, only the leader really counts.
“He’ll he a rich leader, too,” says one cynical court-room observer. “If he beats the rap, there’ll be recording money and book money and movie money. The Charlie Manson story will have a real old-fashioned happy ending — Southern California style.”
By MARTIN KASINDORF