Charles Milles Manson, the head of a cult group now known as the Manson Family, is among the most notorious mass murderers ever. The members of the Manson Family, which was basically a quasi-commune that arose in California in the late 1960s, committed nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969. Charles Manson was never anything less than a career criminal, and became a cult leader by twist of fate. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the Manson story from the beginning to the end.
Wilson eventually asked Manson to move out with his family, which is when Manson moved to Spahn Movie Ranch near Topanga Canyon in August 1968. They could not pay the rent, but they had an alternative arrangement with the owner. The ranch had once been a television and movie set for Western productions, but with the passage of time, the ranch was no longer a venue for the movie shoots. So, by the late 1960s the ranch was good enough only for horse rides, which is how it earned the money when Manson family approached the ranch owner. The family helped maintain the grounds, and family’s women occasionally had sex with the owner of the ranch, an 80-year-old, blind man called George Spahn, and in return the Manson Family got to live on the ranch without paying a penny.
Charles Watson, a college dropout from Texas, who had met Manson at Wilson’s place when Manson Family was there, soon joined the Family at Spahn ranch. In early November 1968, Manson chose to create an alternative place for the Family in two rarely used ranches, Myers and Barker. While Myers was owned by the grandmother of one of the new women that had joined the Family, Barker belonged to an elderly woman to whom Manson presented himself and the Family as a bunch of musicians in need of a conducive place to continue their work. The elderly owner of Barker agreed on the condition that Manson Family would fix and maintain the place, which Manson agreed to do.
Manson had always been obsessed with Beatles. When he spoke about the Beatles to the Family, he referred to them as “the soul” and “part of ‘the hole in the infinite’,” and went on and on about them.
The other thing that Manson was obsessed over, apart from Beatles, was the impending race war, which he passionately spoke about.
On the New Year’s Eve of 1968-69 at Myers Ranch, Manson spoke to the Family about the social turmoil that was taking shape around them. He said that he was not the only one who had predicted the social change, and that the Beatles had predicted the same much before him. He insisted that the White Album songs were the Beatles speaking to them in a code language. He would later declare that the album had been aimed by the Beatles at the Manson Family itself, and by the songs, the Band had instructed the Family to protect the worthy during the tough times ahead.
In January 1969, Manson Family decided to keep a closer watch on Los Angeles’ supposed racial tension by moving to Canoga Park for the purpose, which was not very far from Spahn’s Ranch. At Canoga, the Family started making preparation for the disaster their leader had predicted. Manson had called it “Helter Skelter” after a 1968 song by the Beatles.
By February 1969, things were all set as Manson had planned, and the Family was all geared up to cut an album with the songs that were to be just as nuanced as the song by the Beatles and the same were expected to trigger the chaos.
Manson met Terry Melcher (Terrence P. Jorden), a musician and record producer, in 1968, during his stay at Wilson’s house at 14400 Sunset Boulevard. Wilson introduced the two. For a short period of time, Melcher found Manson’s music and the Manson Family interesting and showed interest in recording Manson’s music and also in making a film about the Family and their hippie style of living in a commune. So, eventually, both Wilson and Melcher dissociated with Manson, which Manson did not take kindly to.
In connection with the music recording, Manson had met Melcher at 10050 Cielo Drive, where Melcher lived with his girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen, and musician Mark Lindsay.
On March 23, 1969, Manson paid an uninvited visit to the 10050 Cielo Drive, which, by then, was no longer Melcher’s residence, and had been rented to film director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate by the owner of the house, Rudi Altobelli.
By June 1969, Manson had started telling the Family that the blacks might have to be told how to start “Helter Skelter”, but they did not have sufficient money to take the initiative. Manson asked Watson to obtain money to help the Family get ready for the conflict. To that end Watson tried to defraud a drug dealer by the name Bernard “Lotsapoppa” Crowe, who wasn’t pleased with the attempt and threatened to kill everybody at Spahn Ranch. Manson asked Watson to relax and took matters in his own hands.
Watson writes in Will You Die for Me? (Charles “Tex” Watson, Chaplain Ray, 1978) that he got to know what happened the next day from “T.J.” (Tom Walleman). According to T.J.’s account, Manson and T.J. drove down to Crowe’s apartment. Manson had a .22 gun on him, which T.J. was supposed to take from him on his indication and kill Crowe, but T.J. could not bring himself to do it and just stood there next to Manson. Manson pulled the gun, pointed at the Crowe and pulled the trigger. The gun did not fire. Manson pulled the trigger again. Nothing happened. Just another click. Crowe started grinning and his sidekicks started laughing at the hilarity of the situation, which is when Manson pulled the trigger again. This time, as though angered by the humiliation, the gun responded and Crowe went down clutching his chest, bleeding profusely. The duo took off. A news report regarding the discovery of the dumped body of a Black Panther in Los Angeles area was taken by Manson and the Family as confirmation that they had indeed killed Crowe, which was untrue because neither Crowe was a Black Panther, nor was he dead. However, he kept a low profile fearing that if Manson got to know that he was alive, he might return to try again.
However, Manson thought he was way short of money to initiate ‘Helter Skelter’. On July 25, 1969, Manson sent Family members Bobby Beausoleil together with Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins to Gary Hinman’s house. Hinman was an acquaintance and had recently inherited substantial amount of money and Manson wanted the three members of the Family to persuade Hinman to give some money to Manson. They held an unrelenting Hinman hostage for two days in his own house. There are different accounts regarding the money. Beausoleil told in his interviews to a few magazines in 1981 and in 1998–99 that he had gone to Hinman to get the money paid to him for drugs, which were found to be wanting in quality. He further said that Brunner and Atkins had just accompanied him on the trip, but were not fully aware of the nature of their visit to Hinman. However, Atkins, in her autobiography (1977), says that all three of them were instructed by Manson to visit Hinman and get $21,000, which Hinman had landed by way of inheritance.
While Hinman was held captive in his own house, Manson paid him a visit armed with a sword and used it to slice his ear, and got back to Ranch leaving the trio behind to put some more pressure on Hinman to part with the money. Watson says in his book Will You Die for Me? that on Sunday noon Beausoleil made the final call to Manson, and Manson said, “You know what to do.” Beausoleil stabbed Hinman to death apparently at the instructions of Manson. On a wall, they left “Political piggy” written and a panther paw drawn alongside, both in Hinman’s blood. Panther paw was a symbol used by the members of the Black Panther group. Hinman did not really have any money to give to Manson Family, but they could not let go of him for the fear of his going to the police. So, they had to kill him. All they got from the misadventure was Hinman’s Volkswagen bus and a Fiat, which got Beausoleil arrested on August 6, 1969, when he was found driving Hinman’s car by the police. The police also recovered the murder weapon.
On August 8, 1969, two days after Beausoleil’s arrest, Manson declared to the Family at Spahn Ranch, “Now is the time for Helter Skelter.” At night the same day, he instructed Watson to take Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel to go to Melcher’s former residence and “totally destroy everyone in [it], as gruesome as you can.” On the other hand, the women were instructed by Manson to do as directed by Watson. When the killer team arrived at Melcher’s former residence, it was occupied by Sharon Tate, wife of widely acclaimed film director Roman Polanski. She was eight and a half months pregnant. Jay Sebring, Tate’s friend and former boyfriend, who was also a noted hairstylist, was also in the house along with Polanski’s friend and aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski and her companion, Abigail Folger. Polanski, however, was not in the house. He was in London working on a film, and Tate had returned from London after visiting her husband three weeks before the attack.
It was now August 9, 1969. They stationed their car at the bottom of the hill leading to the house and walked back. Since the gate could be electrified or could have an alarm system, they climbed over a brushy embankment by the property and landed on the ground inside, which is when they got the headlights of an approaching car on them. Watson instructed the women to stay low in the bushes and stepped out. He pulled the gun on the approaching car and ordered the driver, an 18-year-old student Steven Parent, who was visiting the caretaker of the house. A scared Parent pleaded with Watson to let him go, but Watson slashed at him and made deep defensive gash on the palm of his hand, after which he shot Parent four times in the chest and abdomen.
Watson ordered the women out and they pushed the car further up the driveway, after which they looked for open windows to enter the property through. Watson then cut the screen of a window, entered the house and opened the front door to let Atkins and Krenwinkel in.
While Watson was whispering instructions to Atkins, Frykowski, who was sleeping on the couch in the living room, woke up and asked Watson who he was and what was he doing on the property, to which Watson replied, “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.” The killer team found three other occupants and brought all of them to the living room.
Watson started tying Tate and Sebring by their necks together with a rope he had brought along and slung it over a beam. When Sebring protested the rough treatment meted out to a pregnant Tate, Watson responded by shooting him. Folger was taken back to her bedroom to retrieve her purse so as to give $70 to the killer team. Watson went ahead and stabbed a wounded Sebring seven times.
In the meanwhile, Frykowski managed to free himself from the knots of the towel with which his hands had been tied, and tried to get away taking on Atkins in the process, who used the knife she was brandishing on Frykowski. She stabbed him in the legs, but he could fight his way through to the front door on the porch, where Watson joined Atkins against him. Watson struck him on the head with the gun several times, stabbed him repeatedly and also shot him twice. The commotion attracted Kasabian’s attention, who stepped out of the front and tried to stop the attack by falsely announcing that someone was coming. That did not work very well.
The scenario inside the house was also changing. Folger escaped from Krenwinkel and made it through the bedroom door to the pool area with Krenwinkel in pursuit. Krenwinkel blocked Folger’s run and stabbed her, and was soon joined by Watson, and the two attackers landed 28 stab wounds on Folger. A badly wounded Frykowski had struggled across the lawn, which is when Watson went back to him and finished him off with another spell of stabs raising the count of total stab wounds to 51.
Tate pleaded with Atkins to let her live long enough to give birth to her baby. She was prepared to be taken in as a hostage so as to save her baby. But her killers were in no mood to be merciful. She was stabbed 16 times. The killers were not done yet.
…to be continued