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
The women had been instructed by Manson to “leave a sign… something witchy”. Atkins did not forget the instruction, and with the towel she had used to tie Frykowski’s hands she wrote “pig” in Tate’s blood on the front door of the house. On their way back to the ranch, they changed into clean clothes and dumped the bloody ones in the hills together with the weapons of crime.
Atkins had confessed to one of her cellmates that she had killed Tate, but later she maintained that it was Watson who had killed Tate. Her position remained consistent before her attorney, before her prosecutor and also before the grand jury during the trial. Watson wrote in his 1978 autobiography that he had stabbed Tate to death and Atkins had nothing to do with it. However, he further wrote that since he knew that prosecutor Bugliosi was convinced that it was Atkins who had killed Tate, he went by that version testifying incorrectly that he had not stabbed Tate.
Manson did not even want to slow down or lie low, let alone stop, after the Tate killings. The very next night, he got six Family members together, Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan in addition to the four who had been part of the kill team of the previous night. The “Helter Skelter” was going forward, but the prospective victims had not been picked yet. The target would finally turn out to be the family of Leno LaBianca, a supermarket executive, who lived with his wife, Rosemary, the co-owner of a dress shop, at 3301 Waverly Drive, which was next door to a house Manson and the Family had attended a party at, the previous year.
Manson was not happy with the chaotic way in which the killings were handled the previous night. So, he accompanied the team “to show how to do it”. After a drive that lasted about three hours, they arrived at the 3301 Waverly Drive, before which they had already made a few stops looking for victims. Manson settled for the Waverly Drive after considering and rejecting several other victims on the way for one reason or the other.
The first stop was somewhere in Pasadena, after they had driven through several neighbourhoods slowly. Watson and Manson finally walked up to a house, and peeped in through the windows. They saw framed pictures of children, and Manson aborted the attempt because he did not want to start killing children just yet. They checked another house, but Manson rejected it because the neighbouring houses were too close and the possibility of someone hearing the screams was considerably high.
In Pasadena itself, Manson stopped at a church and left the car telling others that he was going to kill the priest, but returned soon after and told that the church was locked up and nobody was answering the bell.
They drove to another neighbourhood and saw a couple driving into their driveway, but Manson, after waiting for a short while, dropped the idea of killing the couple. They drove down to the beach, and an hour or so later they passed a white sports car. Manson asked Linda, who was now driving the car, to pull over beside the car at the next signal. He intended to kill the driver. On the next red light, Linda did as instructed and Manson stepped out of the car, gun in hand. But before he could shoot, the light turned green and the car moved on.
It was then that Manson started giving specific directions to Linda as though he had a specific destination and target in mind. And they arrived at the LaBianca residence in Waverly Drive. Manson stepped out of the car and went up the driveway. He returned after a while and told the rest of the team that he had tied up the occupants of the house, after which he sent Watson, Krenwinkel and Van Houten into the house to finish the job. However, as per Watson’s autobiography, Manson went to the house alone but returned to take Watson along with him, and the two of them entered the house through the backdoor that they found unlocked. Watson says that he went by the version of the women at the trial because he thought it made him “look that much less responsible”.
Watson says that after entering the house Manson woke up Leno LaBianca, who was sleeping on the couch, at gunpoint and instructed Watson to tie his hands up with a leather thong. Rosemary LaBianca was brought in the living room and Manson had Watson cover the heads of the couple with pillowcases secured in place with lamp cords. At this point, Manson went back to the car and instructed Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten to go into the house and kill the couple. Before leaving the house, Manson had instructed Watson to make the girls participate in the killing actively. According to Watson, Manson’s last words, before he left, were: “Make sure the girls get to do some of it, both of them.”
Watson had complained that the weapons they had for the Tate murders were not adequate. So, for the LaBianca killings the kill team had had their weaponry upgraded. Manson had handed over a .45 automatic pistol to Watson before they had left for the hunt and this time they were also carrying a chrome-plated bayonet, which they had bought at the same time when they had bought the Buck knives used at the Tate killings.
When the girls arrived, they informed Watson that they had been instructed to kill them. In his autobiography, Watson writes that he knew from the look on Leslie’s face that she was hesitant in going forward with the killings but perhaps felt she owed it to Manson. However, Katie (Patricia Dianne Krenwinkel), Watson notes, went around rummaging through the kitchen drawers looking for the knives with “positive relish”. So, while Leslie was reluctant, Katie was fully into it.
Leno LaBianca had sensed that they were going to be killed. So, he kept on yelling despite the fact that his face was covered with the pillowcase. When LaBianca did not stop screaming, Watson went to him and drove the chrome-plated blade into this throat, and yet he could scream, “Don’t stab me anymore …I’m dead, I’m dead . . . .” That only made Watson to pull the bayonet out and thrust it back in, and then again and again.
While the husband rolled on to the floor, badly wounded, Watson could hear the voice of his wife from the bedroom. “What are you doing to my husband?” The girls were on her, but it seemed they were having some trouble. Watson went inside and saw that Mrs. LaBianca had her head covered with the pillowcase, but had a large lamp in her hands and was swinging it around with full force making it difficult for the girls to get close to her. But she was within the range of Watson’s bayonet. Watson stabbed her with the bayonet and kept on with it even after she was down on the floor, motionless, dead.
While Watson was stabbing Rosemary LaBianca, Katie had stepped into the living room where her husband lay wounded. She returned to the bedroom and told her fellow assailants that he was still alive. Watson went back and put the bayonet to Leno once again, and did not stop until he was dead. He was then reminded of Manson’s instruction to make it as gruesome as they could. So, he carved ‘WAR’ on Leno’s stomach, and while he was washing blood off his hands in the bathroom, Katie stabbed the dead man with an ivory-handled carving fork no less than fourteen times and left the knife stuck in his stomach. She did not stop at that and thrust a small steak knife in his neck. Both the knife and the fork came from their own kitchen.
The women had not done all that much. So, Watson went back to the bedroom and asked Leslie to give Katie a hand in stabbing the woman, who was quite obviously dead. However, Leslie obeyed and stabbed the dead woman in her exposed buttocks. Watson writes that she did not display Katie’s relish in doing it.
Watson went away to clean the bayonet and bathe while Katie went around making the murder scene even more gruesome and sinister. She wrote “Rise” and “Death to pigs” on the walls and wrote “Healter [sic] Skelter” on the door of the refrigerator in the blood of the victims.
Watson got into an old pair of brown khaki pants and wore Leno LaBianca’s shirt. Watson instructed the girls to wipe all surfaces to remove their fingerprints, and after that was done, they took some milk and cheese from the victims’ refrigerator and walked out of the back door.
However, that was not the end of it. Manson had other plans for the night. He did not want to stop at only two murders. He directed Kasabian to drive down to the house of an actor acquaintance of hers, who was to be their next victim. Manson left his team at the house of the actor and drove back to Spahn Ranch. However, Kasabian compromised the attempt at the actor’s life by deliberately knocking at the door of a neighbour, and they had to abort the plan, after which they hitchhiked their way back to the ranch. Watson discarded the bayonet on their way back.
In his autobiography – Will You Die For Me? – Watson discloses that the killings would have gone ahead and Manson would not have stopped at LaBianca murders, had Watson not lied that FBI had paid a visit to his parents in Copeville in connection with a murder investigation. According to Watson, this stopped the killing spree and made the Family lay low. Watson left for home in Copeville, having decided to not kill again.
The Tate murders had already become hot news after Polanskis’ housekeeper, Winifred Chapman, arrived for work the next morning and found the family and their friends massacred. On August 10, 1969, detectives of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who were investigating the Hinman case, told the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detectives probing the Tate killings about the writing in blood found at the Hinman crime scene, but the LAPD detectives were convinced that the Tate murders were drug related, and for that reason they ignored the similarities between the Tate and Hinman crime scenes. Autopsy reports in the Tate murders were awaited, and although by this time LaBianca murders had already taken place, the bodies had not been discovered. So, the detectives were not aware that they had a kill spree on their hands.
It was only at around 10:30 p.m. on August 10, 1969, some 19 hours after the killings, that the LaBianca crime scene was discovered by a fifteen-year-old Frank Struthers, Rosemary’s son from a previous marriage, when he came back from a camping trip. The conditions of the house did not look right from outside. So, Frank called his elder sister. The boyfriend of Frank’s sister, Joe Dorgan, went into the house with Frank and found Leno’s body, after which they informed the police. The police discovered Rosemary’s body later.
However, the police did not see the connection between the Tate and LaBianca murders, and on August 12, 1969, the LAPD declared it to the press that there was no connection between the two.
On August 16, 1969, the police raided Spahn Ranch and apprehended Manson and 25 others as “suspects in a major auto theft ring”. The ranch was searched and weapons were seized, but the warrant had been misdated, which forced the police to eventually drop charges.
When the detectives investigating the LaBianca murders exhausted all the leads and hit a dead end, they turned to the writings in the blood of the victims that the killers had left behind. They started thinking about a possible connection between the killings and the Beatles’ latest album. And things started getting clear.
The LaBianca team got in touch with sheriff’s office and inquired if there had been any other crimes similar to the Tate and LaBianca murders in any respect. The Hinman case came up. They also got to know that the detective investigating the Hinman case had spoken to Beausoleil’s girlfriend, Kitty Lutesinger, who had been recently arrested with “the Manson Family” in connection with an auto theft case.
…to be continued