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The Charlie Conspiracy

Nearly twenty years after the Manson Murders, a string of satanic killings brought fear of the Family back to L.A. In this 1988 feature, Michael Bendrix explores Charles Manson’s place in what seemed to be an expanding web of terror

charlie_h Photograph courtesy Denise Philibert

 

Marina Habe’s body was found on New Year’s Day, 1969, by a dog. The body had been tossed to the bottom of a ravine off Mulholland Drive, and when police arrived, the dog’s owner said he wanted to be sure his name got in the paper.

Every detail of Marina’s murder and the time on either side of it left some sliver of absurdity. She was 17, coming home alone late at night from a date, got to her driveway and then, as her mother watched from a window—awakened by the sound of a racing engine and not knowing whether the man standing beside her daughter’s car was friend or foe—disappeared into another car. The coroner said she was held for a day, fed, raped, and stabbed.

The murder was never solved. A detective on the case believes Marina was the random kidnap victim of a dope dealer-biker nicknamed Spanky, now dead, but the evidence is inconclusive. Others familiar with the case believe it may have been the work of Charles Manson’s “family”; the Tate-LaBianca murders occurred nine months after Marina’s. A newscaster at the time of the Manson trials even suggested that Marina had connections with the Manson Family, but I’ve always thought that extremely unlikely because she had been living out of the state until a week before her death, and anyone who knew her—I’d grown up with her off and on—could tell you that Marina, a devout Catholic, would never willingly have anything to do with the likes of Charles Manson.

She was missing for two and a half days before her body was found, and of all the horror that circulated through the little bungalow off Doheny where her mother lived, certainly the worst was the horror that settled into the eyes of her mother. “Why don’t you take me?” she often shrieked during those two days as she lay on her bed, her hand on the telephone waiting for a ransom call that never came. Sometimes she would cover her face with her hands, and through her fingers you could see her screaming, but she made no sound.

Three years later, Marina’s mother married my father, whom she had known for many years, and together they have recovered. Progress has been gradual and erratic, broken easily by the prisonlike fact that Marina was an only child. Now, 20 years later, Marina’s mother has finally developed the strength to separate herself from that time, not to forget or to accept, but to unlock herself from an obsession. Her one remaining guilt is that she wishes she had done more herself to try to solve the murder.

A murder, and an unsolved one at that, inevitably permeates a family, leaving races of guilt, resentment and, above all, cynicism. The stain never quite comes out of the memory, and memory itself is forever stimulated by pictures on a living-room table, by letters and diaries in a bottom drawer, by odd belongings that from time to time reappear in the back of a closet or hidden in the garage. The memory is also in the survivors, in the faces of my stepmother and my father and, I suppose, to a lesser degree, myself. Ironically, it was in the days just before her murder that Marina and I became closest.

The problem is that the original questions have never been answered, and so, of course, the stain can’t be removed. Can the murderer, or murderers, still be out there? What was the motive? What were the circumstances? What was the story that goes along with the facts?

It was in the hope of finding the story, or at least completing a scene of what might have happened, that I became so fascinated by The Ultimate Evil, a book by an East Coast journalist named Maury Terry. The book shed new light on things; on the Manson murders in particular, and above all on what the people may have been like who murdered Marina. After reading Terry’s book, I reached him and arranged to meet him in Los Angeles, so that we might talk about his book and about what I assumed was his obsession.

 

The Ultimate Evil, published just a year ago (it has sold an impressive 50,000 copies, mostly on the East Coast), presents evidence for an extraordinary assertion: that a single satanic network, existing primarily in California, Texas and New York, has carried out, or has been involved in, numerous murders including among many others, the Roy Radin murder in Copco Canyon in 1983; the Son of Sam serial killings in New York City in ’76 and ’77; the bizarre ritual murder of Arlis Perry, a Stanford University graduate student’s wife, in 1974; and finally, the crime of crimes, the August 9, 1969, so-called Helter Skelter killings of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojiciech Frykowski, followed the next night by the murders of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca.

Terry’s book, which focuses on the Son of Sam shootings and revelations by David Berkowitz himself, is in part a record of Terry’s struggle against the popularly held belief that Berkowitz did all the shootings and that he did them alone.  Moreover, it was an investigation by Terry and a handful of others that established a link between Berkowitz and a satanic cult operating in Westchester County, a link that units of the New York Police Department have been investigating for the last two years.

Terry himself is now working closely with police in Southern California and New York. His evidence for a nationwide satanic network is based on testimony from a variety of sources, including Berkowitz, prison informants, undercover police and FBI operatives, as well as former Satanists. The portrait Terry paints is that small groups of dedicated devil worshipers in New York, North Dakota, Houston and Los Angeles who willingly put themselves in the service of others—drug lords and power brokers in need of reliable assassins.

The specific connections Terry establishes between the Manson murders and the Son of Sam shootings is this: Although Manson and David Berkowitz never knew each other, they both belonged—at different times and on different coasts—to the same umbrella satanic-cult organization, called the Process. Also known as the Church of the Final Judgment, the Process was begun by Robert deGrimston—a disciple of L.Ron Hubbard, the creator of Scientology, and a student of the late Aleister Crowley, the notorious devil-worshiping Englishman who once described himself as “the wickedest man in the world.”

According to Terry, deGrinston, who now lives on the East Coast, met Manson on at least one occasion, in the spring of 1968 at a residence in Topanga Canyon. Moreover, says Terry, deGrimston traveled in some of the same social circles as Manson—and also, interestingly, Manson’s victims. According to Terry, these circles were all at least tangentially linked. One was the Sharon Tate circle that included Jack Nicholson, Robert Evans, John and Michelle Phillips, Jay Sebring, Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda, Peter Sellers, Wojiciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger. Another circle, the one Charles Manson has most often been associated with, included Doris Day’s son Terry Melcher and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. Still another circle revolved around Mama Cass Elliott and included someone that Terry in his book calls Manson II. According to Terry, Manson II is as terrible a figure as Charles Manson and clearly a satanist.

The link between Charles Manson and satanic cults is not new. In his 1971 book, The Family, Ed Sanders described how in 1968 Manson was involved not only with the Process but with a chapter of another cult known as the OTO (or do Templis Orientis), whose headquarters were in the Blythe. The leader of this particular OTO chapter was Georgina Brayton, a long-time Satanist who believed that a racial war between blacks and whites in Los Angeles would erupt in the summer of 1969. The notion of race war was, of course, one of the key themes in Manson’s vision of Helter Skelter.

But Terry’s assertion goes beyond Helter Skelter and the idea that by framing blacks for the murders of whites, a race war would destroy Southern California. Terry argues that the Tate murders had to do with drugs, one of the original police theories. As for the LaBianca murders, he thinks they may have been either an effort to cover up the true purpose of the Tate killings or, possibly, another hit based on Rosemary LaBianca’s alleged LSD dealings.

In The Ultimate Evil, he quotes an un-named ex-FBI operative as saying: “Frykowski was the motive. He had stung his own suppliers for a fair amount of money, and that didn’t go down well at all with the people at the top of the drug scene here. And to make it worse, he was upsetting the structure of the LSD marketplace by dealing outside the established chain of supply. He was renegade.”

 

According to Terry, while the sale of street drugs was controlled by motorcycle gangs, particularly Hell’s Angels, upscale distribution was handled by a pyramid-shaped chemical-dope organization that included, among other high-ranking members, “a former Israeli who had strong links to the international intelligence community.” It was these people, Terry says, who, knowing Manson’s satanic background and his vision of Helter Skelter, offered Manson some kind of contractual arrangement—not money, but perhaps help in his recording career—in return for which Manson arranged the deaths of Frykowski and Abigail Folger, then living with Sharon Tate while Tate’s husband, Roman Polanski, was in Europe. Folger was a target apparently because she was helping Frykowski finance his drug dealings.

Moreover, according to Terry, there may have been a personal motive for Manson to want to kill Folger. A former undercover FBI operative told Terry that Folger had met Manson in San Francisco and had even given him money. “Manson turned against Folger,” the informant told Terry, “when she refused to lay out any more bucks for him and also because she wouldn’t come across for him sexually. Charlie wanted to make it with her, but she shot him down.”

I asked Vincent Bugliosi, Manson Family prosecutor and author of the bestseller Helter Skelter, what he thought of Terry’s book. Bugliosi said he had not read it; he sticks to his conviction that the motives for the Tate-LaBianca murders were: (1) Manson’s desire to create Helter Skelter; (2) Manson’s feelings of rejection from the social circles his victims traveled in; and (3) Manson’s intense preoccupation with death and murder.

“We’re in the area of speculation,” Bugliosi says. “It’s like the JFK assassination: No one comes up with hard evidence. There simply is no hard evidence that drugs were the motive. As for the suggestion that Manson killed the LaBiancas to cover up the first night’s murders, don’t forget that he had Susan Atkins put Mr. LaBianca’s wallet in a service station in what he thought was Pacoima—in the heart of the black community in the Valley—but was actually Sylmar, in the hope that a black person would find the wallet, use the credit cards and be blamed for the murders. Everything Manson did supports what he told his followers: that Helter Skelter was about to begin. I don’t know of any other motives he had. Perhaps there were some, or maybe Charlie’s the only one who really knows what his motives were.”

Terry strongly rejects the word speculation: “I have an FBI operative who was at dinner in San Francisco with Charles Manson, Abigail Folger and Manson Family member Shorty Shea in September 1967—two years before the murders. That alone changes the whole case. I’m not saying Helter Skelter was not a motive; I’m only saying that a stronger motive was a drug burn.”

“Terry points to another piece of evidence he has come up with, something that Son of Sam David Berkowitz revealed through a fellow prisoner, something involving the man Terry calls Manson II. In fact, Manson II appears to be the link between major satanic groups in Los Angeles, Houston and New York and the one person who may have played a prominent role in the Son of Sam shootings in New York, the satanic murder in the Stanford University Memorial Chapel and the Roy Radin murder in L.A.

According to Terry, Berkowitz told him that during a meeting of Satanists in New York, Manson II claimed Charles Manson “volunteered” to commit the Tate murders for a specific motive, beyond Helter Skelter. But Berkowitz did not reveal to Terry whether Manson II had explained exactly what the motive was.

Why give this strange man, Manson II, credibility? Terry says that one reason is because in 1968 Manson II hung out in the same social circles as Charles Manson; what’s more, he was a member of the very drug organization that wanted Frykowski and Folger eliminated.

It was one of those heavy, lukewarm lemonade-colored days when Maury Terry and I drove up Benedict Canyon to the house on Cielo Drive that was the scene of the Tate massacre, and then later out to Copco Canyon, where Roy Radin’s body was found. A long drive to see a couple of murder sites and get some pictures for Maury, whose study of cults has left him something of a celebrity. He has talked the talk-show circuit; done Geraldo Rivera; and recently, he spoke before a special conference of law-enforcement officials in Rhode Island. He’s been to the studios to talk about film possibilities from his book, and always when he returns home there are telephone messages from parents, police and prisoners, everyone either requesting help to solve a crime or offering information or telling him still another story about the devil.

 

With all the time he’s spent in Mephistophelian territories, Maury was not what I expected. There was not the residue I would have thought, not the stain of thinking about something for too long, the stain I know so well. No apprehension, no fear, just fatigue.

An anecdote told to me by a private investigator named Judy Hanson best describes the man: “When Maury came out to California in 1987 to investigate the death of Roy Radin, I was helping out and chomping at the bit to get started, but we had to shelve everything until after the Super Bowl. That’s the funny thing about Maury: He’s not obsessed by what he does. He just stumbled into it, and frankly, he’d be the last person to go looking for something like Satanism. It’s too West Coast for him, too weird.”

Maury grew up in Yonkers, New York, played three sports in high school, went to Iona College, got a job as a business writer and later as a journalist with the Gannet newspaper chain and the New York Post and hasn’t missed a New York Giants home game in 14 years. He’s a neighborhood guy, goes to a bar near where he lives called TGIF, plays gold and watches The Golden Girls on Saturday nights. His favorite movies include old John Ford films, particularly The Searchers with John Wayne. It was an interest in the Son of Sam case and a stubborn sense that “things didn’t add up” that sent Maury down the path to the devil.

After spending so much time investigating the dark side of the word, he often sounds more like a cop than a journalist: “I don’t care if they’re Satanists or aliens or longshoremen, “ says Terry. There’s a body, and somebody pulled the trigger. I look upon it as an investigation. I don’t get wrapped up in the religious aspects. I have friends who have gotten too caught up in this. They lost the ability to handle an investigation because they saw it as a crusade, and when you become a zealot make mistakes: You want things to be there that aren’t.”

At 41, Maury likes what he’s doing, but he’d prefer to write novels. In the meantime, he’s committed to writing a pair of books about Satanism. After that maybe fiction, something along the lines of Ludlum.

As Maury knelt for his portrait outside the gates of the Tate house, a neighbor approached. He was angry. “You see what you’re causing?” he said. “You’re encouraging more people to come up here even after all these years. And for what? Not for altruistic reasons. You’re up here writing a story to make a buck. Well, everybody’s fed up with it. I could get awfully nasty if I wanted to.”

He was nasty enough already, I thought, and fortunately we were almost finished shooting. I could well imagine his frustration with the National Enquirer image the place has inherited, yet there is something about what happened in that house and, by extensions, in this city, something to be remembered. It should be a monument to the nature of illusions, I thought to myself. The victims believed they were safe, that their California lifestyles were free. Similarly, the killers assumed they were safe, so long as Charlie wasn’t angry and so long as their drug-enriched dreams were not broken.

After Cielo Drive we drove north to Copco Canyon, 60 miles up Interstate 5 at the top of the Grapevine. It’s the Hungry Valley Road exit. Back up in there is a short, narrow valley marked by a one-lane dirt road and a dry streambed and surrounding hills that from a distance have the texture of mange on a dog’s back. Back up there is where, in June 1983, a beekeeper smelled the remains of Roy Radin and contacted the police. As we drove to the spot, Maury told the tale of Radin, dead at 33.

He was a concert promoter, a millionaire many times over by the time he was 25. He kept old acts alive, acts like Milton Berle, Red Buttons and Tiny Tim. He was also a decadent man whose kinky parties, held at his mansion in Southampton, Long Island, were well known to police. He also dabbled in Satanism, and Terry believes he was the chief sponsor of at least some of the Son of Sam shootings.

Before he died, Radin was trying to get into the movie business and was negotiating a deal with producer Robert Evans, then looking for $35 million to finance The Cotton Club. It was Radin’s old friend Elaine Jacobs, ex-wife of a big-time Miami cocaine dealer, who put Radin and Evans together.

But things went awry. In May 1983 there was a falling out between Evans and Radin over the issue of participation in Cotton Club. Evans apparently suddenly found himself in a minority position in his own project and tried to buy Radin out. But Radin resisted.

On the night of Friday the 13th, Radin got into a limousine with Jacobs outside the Regency Hotel in Hollywood. They were supposed to have dinner at La Scala, but they never made it, and sometime that night Radin disappeared.

Actor Demond Wilson, who played Redd Foxx’s son in the TV series Sanford and Son and whose careeer Radin had managed from time to time, acted as Radin’s armed bodygaurd on this particular night—Radin had wanted somebody to stay with him that night because he had received several recent anonymous threats. Radin’s regular bodyguards were in New York, and it was Wilson’s job to trail the limo with his boss and Jacobs, but Wilson could not keep up in heavy traffic.

What actually happened that night can only be surmised. In The Ultimate Evil, Terry claims that while Jacobs’ lawyer never allowed her to be questioned by police, she told Tadin’s personal secretary at the time that she and Radin had quarreled on the way to the restaurant, and when they stopped for a red light on Sunset Boulevard, she got out. Later in the same conversation, according to Terry, she changed her story and insisted is was not she but Radin who had left the car.

Radin was taken to Copco Canyon, where he fought with his kidnappers, or perhaps was permitted to make a run for it, and was then gunned down. He was found on his back, his body badly decomposed, his hand still holding onto a shrub branch. According to Terry, the police’s main suspect in the Radin murder is Manson II. It was he, they believe, who drove the limo that night.

And who is Manson II? Terry, who has seen his picture, describes him as five-foot-ten, 180 pounds, with dirty blond or brown hair, sometimes with a mustache. He was born in November 1948, has a high-school education, spends time with weights to keep himself in shape and works as a bodyguard, often for celebrities. He lives in Hollywood and uses a store in West Hollywood for a mail drop.

According to Terry, Manson II has been involved with satanism since he joined the Process, probably in 1968, and he once tried to commission an artist to paint pictures of human sacrifices on the walls of a nightclub. (The artist declined the offer.) He has an arrest record and is a top suspect not only in the Radin case but in an organized-crime disappearance/murder that took place in Washington, D.C., in 1977. Terry also says he has evidence that puts Manson II in one of the Son of Sam shootings, also in 1977.

We arrived in Copco Canyon, and Maury found the spot where Radin’s body was discovered. It was here, two months after police had found the body, that Maury made his own amazing discovery—a King James Bible, missed by police because it was so far under the shrubbery.

The Bible was significant for several reasons. First, it confirmed what Terry had been told by informants—to look for a satanic sign at the murder site. But it also suggested something about the police’s main suspect, Manson II, and confirmed Terry’s own suspicions about Manson II’s satanic connections. “It was deliberately folded open,” Terry wrote in his book about finding the Bible, “bent at the spine so that its left-hand pages were beneath those on the right. To ensure that it remained open to the intended passage, the front cover and the first few hundred pages had been torn off.”

The intended passage was Isaiah, Chapter 22, which reads, in part, “toss thee like a ball into a country and there thou shalt die … And behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.”

Terry believes that this particular passage was deliberately left as proof that the people who did the killing were satanists—ironic because Radin himself had dabbled in satanism.

The most frightened part of what Terry is suggesting, of course, is that most of the satanic groups that were actively involved in crime in the ‘70s are still in place and still active. Furthermore, he says, they have become increasingly involved in child pornography and cocaine distribution. He insists that police are aware of the organizations and often swap information with him, but they are slow to pick up on the vast threat posed by satanists.

“If you’ve got an organization that can boast David Berkowitz and Charlie Manson among their members,” Maury told me when we left Copco Canyon, “then you’ve got a fairly dangerous organization. And there’s no indication they’re stopping.”

In fact, he added, David Berkowitz—whose information Terry insists has turned out to be extremely accurate—has told him that the headquarters of the many disparate satanic organizations involved in crime is in Venice, California, and that the most active of all these groups includes approximately 50 people, some of whom are locally well-known art gallery owners.

 

A few days later, Maury and I talked about Marina. I even introduced him to the detective who had worked on the case the longest, the one who believes Marina’s murderer was the biker named Spanky. Maury thought the evidence against Spanky tenuous at best and was skeptical of the way the police had handled the investigation.

In an unsolved murder, the police are often made to be the scapegoats by the victim’s family: In a curious way, that’s somehow more reassuring than the thought that all the available expertise and technology still couldn’t solve the crime. What kind of criminal could carry out so perfect a crime? Maury’s doubts about the police’s handling of Marina’s case coincided with everything my stepmother felt, though my father was less convinced. In any event, he had little desire to awaken his old nightmares.

As for Maury, he has promised to look into Marina’s murder. He’s in touch with people on both sides of the prison walls. Perhaps someone remembers an old story that always stuck in the mind.

Ironically, his efforts have rejuvenated my stepmother, brought her a miraculous energy and a new belief that even if Maury finds nothing, she may be nearing an end to this stage of her grief. She can now say that she has made an effort, even after all these years, and that for better or for worse, now may be the time to put the past away. Whether she can actually do that, particularly if Maury can’t provide any new details, is difficult to say.

As for myself, reading Maury’s book has opened a strange door. I’ve reread the two classic Manson books, Helter Skelter, and The Family. There are still parts of those books I can hardly manage, scenes that generate an extraordinary physical reaction, and overwhelming urge for revenge and the fantasy to be back at that time, warn people, to change history.

After Maury, the detective, my father and I had lunch to discuss Marina, my father and I drove up to Mulholland Drive to see the place where Marina’s body had been dumped. There was a real April shower that day. A good view had gone gray. The hillsides were a rusted-hull color. No people, no cars. No dog.

My father shivered in the cold as he pointed down the ravine. There was a shelf of ground with trash on it, and beyond the shelf a long, steep drop to the bottom. “Down there,” he said.

We stood and looked, and there was nothing to see. I tried to imagine the tumbling of her body and the  moment before that, the toss itself, and then back further into the hands that held her and then up into the mind that controlled the hands. I tried to fight my way through all the years since it had happened and through all that I didn’t know, struggling to penetrate the heart of someone I could only crudely imagine. I tried for an instant, but that seemed like a dead end.

Then this occurred to me: I don’t think Marina’s killer acted from an intellectual need to prove he could kill someone. Undoubtedly, he acted on impulse. Sometime during the 14 minutes police estimate it took Marina to drive home from her date’s house, someone saw her, followed her, grabbed her. But what was it about her that so caught him? Did she remind him of someone else? Was it her beauty? Or her manner? Whatever it was, the killer took a bold step—to follow her into her own driveway. The act suggests someone not thinking, just acting. A man, most likely, whose killer instinct was triggered by something in Marina, who, whatever her worst faults may have been, was not an evil person.

Maury believes that evil is simply an absence of good, but I think evil feeds on good, that you can never have one without the other, that something in the one ignites the other. It’s not much to go on, but if I have nothing else from Maury Terry, then at least now I have a theory about the forces that caused Marina Habe’s murder.

“C’mon,” my father said. “Let’s get out of here.” And we did.