What Strange Power Did Manson Hold Over His ‘Family’?
Friday, April 16th, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Apr. 16 — Why did four fresh-faced young girls and a former high school football player from a small Texas town follow the bidding of a skinny, wizened-faced ex-convict to go out in the night and kill seven persons they had never seen before?
Charles Manson, who will be sentenced Monday for the unfathomable Tate-LaBianca murders, has never said why.
In a 50-minute soliloquy outside the jury’s presence, the convicted murder mastermind insisted he had “killed no one and ordered no one killed.”
But the jury thought he did. “Of course Charlie was the instigator, the leader,” juror Marie Mesmer said.
“Without Charlie none of this would have happened.”
Prosecutor Vincent T. Bugliosi claimed Manson ordered the slaughter of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Voityck Frykowski, Stephen Parent, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca because he wanted to touch off “Helter Skelter” a race war from which he believed his own clan would emerge victorious.
The state’s star witness, pigtailed Linda Kasabian, who was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony, said Manson told her to get a knife and go with Charles “Tex” Watson and do as the lanky Texan told her.
She said she didn’t question the orders because “Charlie told us never to ask why.”
Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel insisted Manson knew nothing of the slayings.
Miss Atkins said she and Mrs. Kasabian had dreamed up the slaughters as a way of befuddling the police.
“Manson Family” member Robert Beausoleil had been charged with the earlier murder of musician Gary Hinman. Miss Atkins said it was actually she who fatally stabbed Hinman, and that the women thought that if they committed “copycat murders” the police would decide they had the wrong man and release Beausoleil.
“We did it for our brother,” Miss Atkins said.
If freeing Beausoleil or igniting a race war were the motives for the merciless killings, why did a group of young girls not long out of high school, most of them from normal, middle-class homes, ever conceive of or go along with such a diabolical plan?
What made them forsake regular lives and go to live with a 36-year-old man who had spent more than half his life in prison, at a filthy, fly-infested ranch where they slept on mattresses and rummaged in garbage pails for dinner?
George Bishop, a writer who covered the case from Manson’s arraignment in Independence, Calif., to the guilty verdict, thinks the answer is drugs.
“The frightening thing is not that somebody conditioned these girls’ minds so that they would kill, but that a weak “man did it,” Bishop said.
“Manson was not even a successful criminal.”
A former Canadian newsman, Bishop said he was encouraged to write “Witness to Evil”, a book about the Tate-LaBianca trial, by entertainer Art Linkletter, whose daughter Dianne died after using LSD.
“Art and I became convinced that this trial could be the first great public forum to show the misuse of drugs,” Bishop said.
“We wanted to produce a document that would show parents and teenagers that dropping acid and taking drugs is not that glamorous.” Paul Fitzgerald told him the Tate killings were “the first of the LSD murders.”
He said the attorney compared the effect of LSD to the conditioning the army applies in training 18-year-old boys to kill enemy soldiers.
“What the military system and tradition do for young men, LSD might well do for the young girls of the Family,” Fitzgerald told Bishop.
“First of all they are alienated from their normal social base, there is no family love and understanding, none of the usual safety valves,” he said.
Fitzgerald said the girls lost sight of all they had ever learned after using LSD, and became susceptible to manipulation.
Deputy prosecutor Aaron Stovitz told Bishop the young people Manson chose were already dropouts from society. Manson supplied them with LSD and they became dependent on him, Stovitz said.
“Pretty soon anything Charlie wanted was what they wanted and anything they wanted was all right,” Stovitz said.
By KATHLEEN NEUMEYER