Manson: An Oral History

Forty years ago Charles Manson, a psychopath passing himself off as a hippie guru, sent members of his “Family” on one of the bloodiest killing sprees in L.A. history. Those involved in the murders and their aftermath speak out

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Photograph by Lisa Romerein

 

Rugged and eerily beautiful, the property at the High Western end of the San Fernando valley, where the killers launched their bloody attacks, now stands empty and unmarked. The old Spahn movie ranch burned down in the 1970s, and the land remains undeveloped. Gone, too, is the Benedict Canyon house where the first night of slaughter occurred. Those who look for 10050 Cielo Drive—and many do—look in vain. It was demolished in the 1990s, and the Mediterranean villa that replaced it bears a different address. The hillside residence at 3301 Waverly Drive in Los Feliz, where the madness continued on the second night, is intact, but it also has a new street number. As for Barker Ranch, the desert hideaway to which the murderers fled, it burned this spring.

Still, the events that transpired at these places have left an indelible scar on Los Angeles’s psyche. The murders, so bizarre, so arbitrary, could have happened only here. For 40 years the city has been haunted by the names of the victims, usually run together as Tate-LaBianca. It is important, though, to remember them as individuals. On the first night: actress Sharon Tate, 26, who had starred in Valley of the Dolls and was married to director Roman Polanski; hairstylist Jay Sebring, 35; Voytek Frykowski, 32, an old friend of Polanski’s from Poland; and Abigail Folger, 25, Frykowski’s sweetheart and heiress to the coffee fortune. Steven Parent, an 18-year-old delivery boy, simply happened to be there. On the second night: Leno LaBianca, 44, president of Gateway Markets, a small grocery store chain, and his wife, Rosemary, 38, who ran the clothing shop Boutique Carriage.

There is also, of course, another name, one that will likely outlast those of the dead. Charles Manson. There had been mass murderers before, and there have been since, but Manson is an enduring symbol of unfathomable evil. He transformed seemingly peaceful hippies—sons and daughters of the middle class—into heartless killers. Then he set them loose in Los Angeles’s most privileged neighborhoods. 

Even after all this time, mention of Manson frightens many who lived through the months of terror. Attempts to solicit information conclude, as often as not, with slammed-down phones. The senseless and intimate nature of the violation—men and women butchered in their own homes—is still too upsetting. Yet those who would talk (and many ultimately did) give voice to one of the most horrific events in Los Angeles history. The Manson case matters not only because of the magnitude of the crime but because it revealed the violent, predatory side of the 1960s. When Winifred Chapman, who kept house at Cielo, discovered the bodies just after 8 a.m. on August 9, 1969, any hope that the counterculture would be immune was shattered. The 1960s ended by degrees, but it was here that the ending began.

I. TATE

MICHAEL McGANN, Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective. Seventy-three years old, he is retired. I arrived at the Tate property at 1:45 or 1:50 on the afternoon of August 9. There was a large gate that protected the driveway. There was a car parked in the middle of the driveway, and there was a body in the car. That was Steven Parent. He was slumped over to the side on the front seat. He’d been shot. As I approached the house I noticed that the word “PIG” was written in what appeared to be blood on the front door. Then I went inside. Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring were lying on the living room floor, both with multiple stab wounds. A rope was tied around Sharon’s neck and draped over a rafter. The other end of the same rope was affixed to Jay Sebring’s neck. They were probably about four feet apart. Sharon was in a bikini-style nightie. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, and I could tell she had been stabbed 15-plus times. Sebring had been stabbed and beaten over the head. There was blood everywhere. I went through the house and down a long hallway leading out to the back door where the pool was, and I went out into the lawn and found Abigail Folger. She was in a nightgown, and she’d been stabbed numerous times. Her gown was soaked in blood. Then a little bit farther on was Voytek Frykowski. He had numerous head wounds, like he’d been hit with some kind of object. He also had many stab wounds and had been shot several times. He was fully clothed, and he was covered in blood. In the space of ten minutes I saw all five bodies. I’d worked homicide for five years and seen a lot of violence. This was the worst.

DANNY GALINDO, Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective. He is 88 and retired. When I arrived, there was a perimeter all the way around to keep the media out. They had their own camp and so much equipment. It was a circus. Reporters were cluttering the entry to Cielo Drive all the way to the street below.

McGANN The whole crime scene was grotesque, totally weird. Steven Parent, the kid in the car—that made no sense at all. He obviously had nothing to do with the people in the house. But there was some promising evidence, and we tried to collect it immediately. We collected broken pieces of a pistol grip. We found a knife. I collected some phone wire. The killers had cut the line into the house, so I saved the piece they’d cut. We had our people from SID [Scientific Investigation Division] collecting blood. We collected fingerprints. Before we got there, the uniform officers had made an arrest. There was a single-story guest house in the back, and William Garretson was hiding in there.

WILLIAM GARRETSON, caretaker at Cielo Drive. At 59, he is a big-rig truck driver. They were more or less convinced that they had the person who committed the murders: me. They took me across the lawn, and I saw three bodies—Abigail and her boyfriend and then Steve Parent. It wasn’t pleasant. Steve was an acquaintance of mine. Unfortunately, he’d come to visit me the night before to sell a radio. He left, and this happened. They arrested and fingerprinted me. They had me as the prime suspect, and they began playing head games—good cop/bad cop. I escaped death, and now I was going to be tried for something I didn’t do.   

GALINDO As the investigators gathered the evidence, I took charge of it. Among the items for gathering and preserving were a goodly amount of narcotics. Some pot was recovered from Jay Sebring’s vehicle. There was a book printed in Chinese depicting many forms of sexual satisfaction in very explicit terms.

McGANN The deputy coroner took charge of the bodies. He took their liver temperatures to try to determine the time of death. He put the remains in plastic bags. As I recall, we removed Sharon and Sebring’s bodies first. Then we went to Abigail and Voytek. Steven Parent was the last body removed.

GALINDO As everyone left, I was told to stay and guard the interior. I stayed overnight. I couldn’t find a good area to lean against or lie down on or relax against because of all the blood. I tried to find a spot at the front door, but it was too bloody. I tried to find a place inside, but when you opened the door, there was so much blood on the wall. I finally found a place in back and fell asleep.

McGANN The next day, which was Sunday, we started the autopsies. The L.A. County coroner’s office was in the basement of the old Hall of Justice. It was like a dungeon—an awful place to be, like Frankenstein’s lab. But when you have a homicide, you always go to your autopsies. So I was there as Tom Noguchi did Sharon’s autopsy, then her baby’s. I had a temporary partner, Jess Buckles. As I was observing the autopsies, he got a call from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. They had a case in Malibu in which Gary Hinman, a musician, had been murdered. A guy named Bobby Beausoleil had been picked up for the crime. There were similarities between their case and the Tate killings. It was a vicious murder, and the words “POLITICAL PIGGY” had been written on the wall in blood. The sheriff’s detectives told Buckles about this, but Buckles didn’t see any connection. When I asked him what that was all about, he said, “It was nothing.” That was a screwup, a major screwup. Let me tell you, we would have solved the case in a month if I’d known about this.

 

II. LABIANCA

GALINDO The second night after the Tate fiasco, I was at the homicide division of Parker Center downtown typing reports. I got a phone call. It was a reporter from the police beat, and he said, “Danny, listen to this. You’re gonna get a call right now. They got another one of those bloody ones just like the one you’re working on. And there’s a knife stuck in the throat of the victim.” I hung up, and the phone immediately rings. It was the inspector. So I drove to Los Feliz. When I walked in, Leno LaBianca’s body was lying on the floor in front of the couch on the left side, and it was sitting in a huge pool of blood. The couch was full of blood. They bled him dry. I noticed that his head was covered with a pillow slip all the way down over his chest, and I’m thinking about the knife that’s supposed to be stuck in his throat. I couldn’t see it. Somebody on the premises—an ambulance crewman or another policeman—had seen something and leaked it.

Rosemary LaBianca’s body was in the bedroom. She had fallen over the far side of the bed. There was a pillowcase over her head, too, and around her neck was an electric cord connected to a bed lamp that had toppled over—not, in my opinion, by a struggle but by Mrs. LaBianca pulling herself into a cavity between the wall and the bed. That’s where she died. She was on the floor, partially disrobed, and she had a lot of puncture wounds—turned out there were 40-odd wounds. She bled inwardly. She drowned in her own blood.

On one wall in the living room, written in blood, it said “Death to Pigs.” On another wall, also written in blood, was the word “RISE.” Scraped into Leno’s stomach with a fork—a bifurcated fork—was the word “WAR.” The fork was stuck in his stomach. The word had been written while he was still alive, because he’d bled through the letters. In the kitchen, the words “HEALTER SKELTER”—with helter misspelled—were written in blood on the refrigerator.

When the coroner took the pillow slip off Leno’s head, there was that knife plunged into his throat that the reporter had told me about.

The press knew far more than the police wanted it to, but it didn’t know everything. No one except the investigators and the killers was aware that “Healter Skelter” had been written on the LaBianca refrigerator. 

That night I was interviewed by a television reporter. He pointedly asked me, “Do you think this case is connected to the other one?” He meant Tate. I told him, “I think it’s more of a copycat case.” I introduced that expression, and I’ve lived with it forever. It was a helluva mistake on my part, because it wasn’t until much later that things would begin to fall into place.

III. TERROR

On August 11 the police released William Garretson, who had passed a lie detector test. Garretson hadn’t heard anything, says lawyer Barry Tarlow, who represented him. “The killers had no idea he was in the guest house.” With seven people dead and the lone suspect cleared, fear consumed Los Angeles. A Beverly Hills sporting goods store sold 200 firearms in two days. The price of guard dogs rose from $500 to $1,500.

WARREN BEATTY, actor and director. He helped fund a $25,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the Tate killers. He is 72. This hit the movie community very deeply. On a 10-point scale it disturbed me at around a 27. Jay Sebring, Sharon, Abigail, and Voytek were friends of mine. It was something that happened, and no one knew why. Everybody was trying to come up with a reason. The collective response to these killings was what you might expect if a small nuclear device had gone off.

MARTIN RANSOHOFF, producer. Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski fell in love on the set of The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), which was produced by Ransohoff, directed by Polanski, and starred Tate. He is 82. It was hideous. It was a terrifying experience for everyone who lived here.

McGANN People in Hollywood were petrified. They didn’t know what was going on. Everybody we talked to on the street was just afraid. They’d ask, “Are you making progress?”

News coverage was frenzied, much of it riddled with innuendo and inaccuracies. No one stumbled worse than Time. On August 22 it reported: “Theories of sex, drug and witchcraft cults spread quickly in Hollywood, fed by the fact that Sharon and Polanski circulated in one of the film world’s more offbeat crowds.… Polanski, who was in London at the time of the murders, is noted for his macabre movies.” The magazine also claimed: “Sharon’s body was found nude…Sebring had been sexually mutilated…[and Frykowski’s] trousers were down around his ankles.”

BEATTY In their rush to assess what had happened, some of the mainstream press brought the nature of Roman Polanski’s movies into the nature of the crime and held the movies responsible. Roman was a total innocent. Neither his life nor his movies had anything to do with this. But because he’d made Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby he was made to seem responsible.

ANTHONY DiMARIA, Jay Sebring’s nephew. Forty-three years old, he is an actor. The media were reaching and speculating. There were some really salacious things written about my uncle, Sharon, and Voytek. The press was practically butchering these people even as they were fresh in their graves.

 

IV. THE INVESTIGATIONS

McGANN My initial thought was the drug angle. Sharon didn’t use drugs. Abigail had done a little experimentation but not much. Jay Sebring smoked pot, but everybody in Los Angeles did at that point. Voytek, however, was involved in narcotics. He was a buddy of a Pan American airlines pilot. We thought the Pan Am pilot was flying in dope. In our first report, which I wrote over Labor Day weekend, I proposed several theories. One had a group going to the Cielo house to rob the occupants of drugs. They didn’t intend to kill them, but they were seen either entering or leaving the residence by Steven Parent. They killed him, then they had to kill the others. Another theory was that a dope deal went bad, and a fight ensued. My report went to the chief of detectives, the chief of police, and my captain. On Tuesday we all got together and determined we had to eliminate each of these theories.

We went to Washington, D.C., interviewing people, and then all the way across Massachusetts. We flew to New York. We were eliminating suspects. Finally we told my boss that we needed to go to Jamaica. The Pan Am pilot spent a lot of time there. So we flew to Kingston, where we eliminated the pilot. We were back at square one.

Leno LaBianca was a heavy gambler. Initially detectives explored the possibility that loan sharks had ordered the murders. Then they looked into LaBianca’s brief service on the board of a bank allegedly backed by mob money. They got nowhere. But they noted in one report: “Investigation revealed that the singing group the Beatles’ most recent album, No. SWBO 101, has songs titled ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Piggies’ and ‘Blackbird.’ The words in the song ‘Blackbird’ frequently say ‘Arise, arise,’ which might be the meaning of ‘Rise’ near the front door.”

We had all the help from LAPD that we needed. Organized Crime did interviews for us. Intelligence did interviews for us. SID did interviews for us. There were hundreds of them. We were frustrated.

 

V. MISSED OPPORTUNITY

At 6 a.m. on August 16, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies descended on the 200-acre Spahn movie ranch in Chatsworth and arrested 27 people. For 40 years shoot-’em-ups like The Lone Ranger had been filmed there, though by the mid-’60s, the blind and aging owner, George Spahn, was making his living from city folks who drove up Topanga Canyon Boulevard to ride horses.

JUAN FLYNN, Spahn ranch hand. Sixty-five years old, he is retired after a career as a miner and heavy-equipment operator. I came back from serving in the infantry in Vietnam and in 1968 went to work at Spahn Ranch for $2.50 a week. I loved the place. It had the most beautiful trails. It had horses, ponies, and a goat. There were red foxes, red-tailed hawks, and peregrine falcons. Marvin Gaye, Lou Rawls, and Jerry Garcia came to ride there. And there were beautiful girls. For $1.50 an hour you could climb mountain trails and look out over the San Fernando Valley. I was Mr. Spahn’s right-hand man. I cleaned 16 stalls a day and handled the horses. It was a joy. Then Charles Manson and his people came and trashed the place.

BILL GLEASON, Los Angeles County deputy sheriff assigned to probe auto thefts. He is 77 and retired. Charles Manson and some of his group just showed up at the Spahn Ranch and started living in the movie sets. Most of the buildings were false fronts, but they made them into rooms. I thought they were just a bunch of hippies, but we started getting reports that members of the Straight Satans, a motorcycle gang from Venice, were going to the ranch on weekends and partying. The word was that they were trading drugs for sex with the women there. Some of the women were runaway juveniles who provided Manson with cash and credit cards stolen from their homes. We also had reports that members of the group were shooting a machine gun. The Manson people were also stealing and building dune buggies and driving them onto adjoining properties, creating a nuisance. A couple of nights before the raid, we hiked into the ranch and found a stolen, brand-new 1969 Ford and a stolen Volkswagen. That was the main basis for our search warrant—to recover these vehicles and try to identify who stole them.

I really didn’t pay much attention to Manson. We’d already taken most of the adults out, and everyone was saying, “Where’s Charlie?” He was hiding under one of the buildings. The deputies had to go in and forcibly remove him. I arrested them one week after the Tate murders, but none of them said anything. Everybody just sat there.

Because Gleason couldn’t determine which member of Manson’s group stole the vehicles, the district attorney did not file charges. Within two weeks Manson and most of his followers had departed for a hideout in Death Valley.

Barker Ranch was just another place out in the desert. It had been nice at one time. It’s stone and stucco, and there’s a fence around it. It sits up on a hill, and you can look down into Death Valley. But by 1969, it was abandoned and pretty run-down. A grandmother of one of the girls in Manson’s group owned the adjoining property, Myers Ranch. The girl told Manson, “There’s this place where we might be able to stay.” That’s why Manson settled there.

 

VI. CAPTURED

JAMES PURSELL, California Highway Patrol officer. In 1969, he was assigned to Death Valley. Seventy-three years old, he is retired. Manson and his “Family” pioneered a road into the Death Valley National Monument. They were driving up in there, and the National Park Service didn’t want that. The park service took an earthmoving machine to the western edge of the valley to remove Manson’s tracks. They left it up there to block the road. That pissed Charlie off. He and his group set fire to the machine.

The park service discovered the burned earthmover in early September. On the 29th, Pursell, accompanied by Ranger Dick Powell, visited Barker Ranch.

We drove down Goler Wash. About halfway we met an old army truck coming uphill. The driver was a miner named Paul Crockett. The passenger was a teenager named Brooks Poston. They indicated that some odd things were going on. They said the leader of this group staying at the ranch would put on a robe and preach. They said there were a large number of females there and that they had orgies and used drugs. They said the group had a fleet of dune buggies and that during the night they traveled the valleys up there as if they were re-creating the days of Rommel and the Afrika Korps.

So we backtracked. I went to the right, Dick to the left. He ran into a group of females. Some were nude. I saw what looked to be a camp. When I inquired as to who these gals were and what they were doing, Lynette Fromme, who was the spokesperson and was buck naked, said, “We’re a Girl Scout troop from the Bay Area. Would you and the ranger like to be our scoutmasters?” We saw a couple of vehicles. One was a rail dune buggy, the other a Toyota Land Cruiser. Each had a gun scabbard holding a rifle. We got the VIN numbers. The vehicles came back stolen.

On October 10 authorities raided the Barker and Myers ranches, taking ten women  and three men into custody. Among those arrested were Susan Atkins (aka Sadie Mae Glutz), Patricia Krenwinkel (aka Katie), Leslie Van Houten (aka Leslie Sankston), Lynette Fromme (aka Squeaky), Catherine Share (aka Gypsy), Sandra Good (aka Sandy), and Steve Grogan (aka Clem). Officers discovered more dune buggies and evidence tying the group to the burning of the park service earthmover.

We piled all the stuff in a wash so we wouldn’t forget to pick it up on the way out—which is exactly what we did. On October 12 Powell and I and another ranger went back to get it. On the way in, we saw a Chevrolet truck loaded with 55-gallon drums of gasoline. We figured more people were there, so we called for backup. I sat on a knoll overlooking Barker Ranch while the rangers went to the other side. It was beginning to get dusk, so I decided we’d better make a move. I went to the back door and shoved it open. There was a group of people. I announced who I was and ordered them to put their hands on their heads. I ordered them out. Then I entered the house. It was totally dark. On the table was a candle in a glass mug.

With the mug in one hand and my Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum in the other, I went into a tiny bathroom. No one was there. But as I lowered my candle to a little cabinet beneath the sink, I saw long hair hanging out of the door. All of a sudden fingers began wiggling and the door began to open and this figure emerged. I said, “If you make one false move, I’ll blow your head off.” So this figure slowly uncoils himself and in a very friendly voice says, “Hi.” I asked who he was, and he identified himself as Charles Manson. He was as polite as he could be. Over the years I’ve had a lot of people, including a judge, ask, “Why didn’t you just shoot him?” But I always answer, “How can you shoot a guy whose first word to you is ‘Hi’?”

We rode down Goler Wash in a pickup. The girls we arrested began whispering and giggling. Charlie just stared at the backs of their heads the way a parent does with unruly kids. The girls felt it. They turned around and all of a sudden were silent.

Charlie told us that his group was out there looking for a place to hide because there was an impending race war. He told us that the blacks were going to win. He told us that because we were number one, cops, and number two, white, we should stop right there, let them loose, and flee for our lives. That, of course, didn’t happen.

VII. SUSAN ATKINS

Pursell and the officers took the prisoners to Independence, the seat of Inyo County. The group was charged with auto theft, possession of stolen property, and arson. Its ringleader was booked as “Manson, Charles M. aka Jesus Christ, God.” During the second week of October, two frightened 17-year-olds emerged from the brush several miles from Barker Ranch. Kitty Lutesinger and Stephanie Schram told Inyo County officers that they were fleeing the Family. Lutesinger was the girlfriend of Bobby Beausoleil, who was being held in connection with the murder of musician Gary Hinman, the crime Jess Buckles had dismissed the day of the Tate autopsies. On learning she was in custody, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies drove to Independence to interview her. She told them that Beausoleil was a member of Charles Manson’s Family and had killed Hinman in a dispute over money. According to Lutesinger, Susan Atkins—one of the girls arrested at Barker Ranch—had participated in the murder. When the deputies interviewed Atkins, she confirmed most of what Lutesinger had said. Atkins was booked on suspicion of murder and transferred to the Sybil Brand Institute for Women in Los Angeles. 

VIRGINIA GRAHAM, Beverly Hills party girl. In 1969, she was jailed for a parole violation after passing a bad check. She is now a 76-year-old grandmother. Susan Atkins slept about five beds up from me. She was always singing. She was happy and joyous. I thought she was just a hippie kid in for possession of marijuana. But when I asked her what she was in for, she said, “187—murder.” She said she was in for killing Gary Hinman. She said the police were too stupid to prove it. A couple of days later, she sat on the side of my cot. She said, “Do you know about those murders up in Benedict Canyon?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Well, you know who did it, don’t you?” I said, “No.” She said, “You’re looking at her.” Which took me aback. But I was curious, and she gave me a blow-by-blow description as to how the crimes were committed.

She told me how they cut the phone wire and shot the young man in the car. She told me how they got onto the property. She told me she went to the bedroom in the rear and that Jay Sebring was sitting on the bed talking to Sharon Tate. She said she got them to come out. They thought it was a robbery. She said they put a rope around their necks and threw it over a beam. That got my attention. I’d been to that house several years before—I knew there were beams in the living room. She told me that Voytek Frykowski ran out on the lawn screaming, “Help, help!” Here she put her hands on her hips and said, “You know, nobody came, and I killed him.” She said Sharon Tate was crying and begging, “Please don’t kill me. I just want to have my baby.” She said, “I looked her straight in the eye and said, ‘Bitch, I don’t care.’ Then I killed her.” She said they were going to pull out the victims’ eyeballs and smash them, but they ran out of time. She said, “We had to love them to kill them.” She said they released these people into the universe. She also told me how wonderful the feeling is when you stab someone and stick the knife in. This was thrilling to her. There was not a shred of sympathy on her part for the victims.

After about an hour, I said I had to take a shower. I couldn’t stand it. Later, as I was walking down the aisle, I saw Ronnie Howard, another inmate. I grabbed her and said, “This dizzy little bitch just told me she killed Sharon Tate. What am I going to do?”

A week or so afterward, I was transferred to the California Institute for Women. I had a terrible dream. I saw Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring covered in blood telling me, “You know what you have to do.” I went and sat outside in the yard and waited for a counselor. I said, “I have to talk to you. I have information regarding who killed Sharon Tate.” A detective came to take my statement.

Atkins also confessed to Ronnie Howard, a convicted prostitute, adding details. She said she had dipped a towel into Sharon Tate’s blood to write “PIG” on the door and that Manson Family members had committed the LaBianca murders—a connection the LAPD still had not made. She said Family members Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, and Linda Kasabian had participated in the murders. She offered evidence known only to the killers and the police: “Healter Skelter” had been written on the LaBianca refrigerator. On November 17 Howard spoke to the authorities.

McGANN Virginia Graham and Ronnie Howard broke the case. We got a call from Sybil Brand, and they said that Susan Atkins had been talking to these two inmates. Another detective and I went there, and there was no question about it. Atkins had laid out the whole story. She knew everything—the position of the bodies, the kinds of stab wounds, the way the rope was thrown over the rafters. Atkins was cooperative. I talked to her for hours. We tape-recorded everything. We got what we wanted. She wrapped it all up for us.

 

VIII. THE PROSECUTION

VINCENT BUGLIOSI, deputy district attorney. He is 74 and the author of several books, including Helter Skelter (cowritten with Curt Gentry), the definitive account of the case. I was walking out of court when Aaron Stovitz, who was head of the trial division, grabbed me by the arm and brought me into the office of Miller Leavy, who was above Aaron. Two LAPD detectives were there, and I hear the name “Tate.” They used to call it the Tate-LaBianca case before Manson showed up and upstaged the victims. I said to Aaron, “Are we handling this?” He said, “Yeah.”

On December 1 Los Angeles police chief Edward M. Davis called a news conference to announce that the Tate and LaBianca murders had been solved. Three of the alleged killers—Manson, Atkins, and Van Houten—were already in custody in Inyo County. Tex Watson was in custody in Texas and Patricia Krenwinkel in Alabama. Linda Kasabian had disappeared.

BUGLIOSI One of the problems was getting the physical evidence straight. Back in September, a ten-year-old kid, Steven Weiss, found the revolver that had been used in the Tate killings. The murderers had tossed it out the window on Beverly Glen as they were driving away. The boy’s family had turned it in to the Van Nuys division of the LAPD. The police already had the murder weapon, but they didn’t know they had it. They were looking all over the country for it, even in Canada.

McGANN We sent out bulletins, pictures, brochures. Somehow Van Nuys didn’t get the news. This was a screwup.

BUGLIOSI  There were two separate investigations—Tate and LaBianca—and they were going off on their own. They weren’t sharing information.

GALINDO My boss, Lieutenant Paul LePage, who ran the LaBianca team, trusted the people he worked with, and they trusted him. Bob Helder, who ran the Tate team, was feisty. This may not sound like much, but during meetings he’d throw his feet up on the captain’s desk. LePage and Helder bumped heads off the bat. When information came in, they didn’t share unless the captain called them in and said, “You guys have to talk.” Vince very quickly recognized the rift between the two units, and he brought them together.

BUGLIOSI This was considered to be a weak case. It was a circumstantial evidence case. The main guy—Manson—had not participated in the murders. People in my office said, “It’s unfortunate that you’ve been assigned to this case. It’s not a strong case.” But you have to understand something about me. When I get on a case, the first thing I determine is if the person is guilty irrespective of whether I form that opinion based on admissible evidence. If I believe the person is guilty, I know that I can find the evidence—not manufacture it, find it. If I think a person is guilty, something comes over me. When I started looking at the police reports and saw the kind of person Manson was, I realized it was only a matter of time before I’d come up with enough evidence.

 

IX. CHARLES MANSON

In 1969, Charles Manson was 34 years old. He’d arrived in California from Ohio in 1955 at the wheel of a stolen Mercury with his pregnant wife at his side. Over the next 12 years he was convicted of everything from transporting stolen vehicles across state lines to forging government checks. He was in and out of the federal prison at Terminal Island. A modestly talented musician, he adored the Beatles and aspired to become a recording star. He was also a Scientologist and would claim that he had achieved the religion’s highest level. He had spent half his life behind bars.  

BUGLIOSI Manson’s name at birth was “No Name Maddox.” He didn’t know his father. Maddox was his mother’s maiden name. Manson was the surname of one of the men his mother spent time with. He felt his mother didn’t love him. He felt he’d been dealt a bad hand. He was only five foot two—he was hostile about that. He took to crime early. By 13, he’d committed an armed robbery. At 17, he committed a homosexual rape. He committed a lot of federal crimes, which carry long jail terms.

To Manson there was no such thing as good and bad, no such thing as right and wrong. Everyone was acting out their own karma. You’re doing what you’re supposed to do. He admired Hitler. He said, “Hitler is a tuned-in guy who leveled the karma of the Jews.” Manson is someone without regrets or compunctions.

Looking at his records, I found only three instances in which Manson had been examined by a psychiatrist and then only superficially. If he’d been properly examined, maybe—and I italicize the word—this rage seething in him would have been detected, and he’d never have been set free. He didn’t want to be set free. Prison was where he felt at home. I called the authorities at Terminal Island, the last place he was incarcerated, and they told me, “Manson wanted to stay behind bars.” He felt prison was his home, the only one he’d ever had. He liked it. But in March of 1967, they let him go. If he’d only remained in prison, as many as 35 people might not be in their graves. I say 35 because that’s the number the Manson Family tosses around. They didn’t just commit the Tate and LaBianca murders. They say, “We offed 35 people.”

From Terminal Island, Manson went up to San Francisco. The Haight-Ashbury district was paradise for him. It was free sex, love, drugs, and food, and kids began congregating around him. There was something about him. He was bright and had the rap of a street hustler. The kids liked his music. He sang about ending the war in Vietnam. Because he was older, kids thought they could learn something from him. Before you know it, a group of them were following him around. They formed the Family, got a school bus, and started traveling up and down the West Coast. He began to gain control of these kids.

 

X. THE FAMILY

The Family had many hangers-on, but the core group was no larger than 30. They squatted all over Los Angeles, surviving on food scrounged from grocery store Dumpsters. During the summer of 1968, the group lived in the Pacific Palisades home of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, wreaking thousands of dollars in damages. (Wilson had picked up two female Family members hitchhiking one afternoon. The next thing he knew, Manson had moved in.) Spahn Ranch, however, became the Family’s base.

BUGLIOSI Manson was the king of Spahn Ranch, the maharaja.

PURSELL Manson clearly held himself above the others. They dressed in rags. It looked like they’d robbed a Goodwill store. But Manson dressed in a buckskin shirt with fringe down the sleeves and buckskin pants with fringe down the legs. The girls had sewn the outfit for him.

BUGLIOSI In the hierarchy of the Family, the men were on top and the women had only two purposes: to procreate and to serve the men. If Charlie could have done it, he’d have kept women out. But he needed them—to attract more men.

STEVEN V. ROBERTS, Los Angeles bureau chief of The New York Times. He is 66 and a professor at George Washington University. I met the Manson women when I wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine called “Charlie Manson: One Man’s Family.” I spent a lot of time with them. This was early—right after Manson was charged with the murders. I got to know Squeaky Fromme and Sandra Good before they became media freaks, and what I came to understand was how shrewd Charles Manson was as a recruiter and as a seducer. These women were empty vessels. There was a hole in each of their lives—a lack of confidence, a lack of accomplishment, a lack of identity. I remember Sandra Good telling me, “I never thought I could sing. But we were sitting around a campfire at the ranch. Charlie kept saying to me, ‘Sing, sing.’ I said, ‘I can’t sing.’ ” Charlie kept prodding and pushing her. She said, “I burst into tears and started singing.”

BARBARA HOYT, member of the Family. Fifty-seven years old, she is a registered nurse. In April of 1969, I got in a fight with my dad—I don’t even remember what it was about—and stomped off. We lived in Canoga Park, and I started walking toward Spahn Ranch. I was picked up by two of the girls—one was Deirdre Shaw, Angela Lansbury’s daughter. I met Charlie that first night. They had dinner, and everybody sat on the floor. We passed around casseroles and salads. You’d take three or four bites and pass them on. Everybody ate with the same utensils out of the same bowls. After the meal, the group shared a couple of joints. Then Charlie got out his guitar. He sang songs like “Cease to Exist”:

Pretty girl, pretty, pretty girl, cease to exist.

Just come and say you love me.

Give up your world…

I’m your kind. I’m your kind.

He sang that song on my first night. I felt like I was loved and accepted the way I was. It was unconditional. I needed that. I was misunderstood. I was 17.

CATHERINE SHARE, member of the Family. Sixty-six years old, she is a writer. I first met Charlie in the summer of 1968. He drove up to the house where I was staying with Bobby Beausoleil. He was in a beaten-down Chevy. He wore a cowboy hat and had a beard. He wanted us to go swimming with him. Bobby got on his chopper, and I got into the Chevy with the cowboy. Sitting in the front seat with him was a redhead, who turned out to be Squeaky Fromme, and Ruth Ann Moorehouse, called Ouisch. No one spoke—the cowboy’s presence filled the vehicle. We drove to Pacific Palisades and pulled up to the gate of a huge glass-and-log home. It was Dennis Wilson’s house. The cowboy said, “This is your dream, isn’t it, girl?” Then he turned around and looked me in the eyes and said, “Start living it.” He punched in numbers, and we went onto grounds with peacocks and eucalyptus trees and a pool on a cliff where beautiful men and women were swimming, some in suits, some topless. The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” was blaring in the background.

I went into a bathroom to change, and this person walks up to me and he’s no longer a cowboy. He has freshly washed chestnut hair, a tan, and is wearing an open silk kimono and harem pants. He looked like a rock star, and he introduced himself like we’d never met: “Hello, I’m Charlie Manson.” I went to Spahn Ranch that night. On a stage in the western saloon a member of the group was lying on his stomach, crying and thanking Charlie for setting him free. Charlie now wore a cream-colored robe, and his hair was down. He looked like Christ. He was saying, “That’s all right, brother. You can give it all to me. Just let it go and be free.” Charlie’s face was shining. I thought he was the wisest and kindest man I’d ever met. He made me his woman right away. That’s how it happened with all the new girls.

BUGLIOSI He used conventional techniques, and sex was one of them. He tried to subvert their sexuality. When a new girl joined the Family, he’d try to induce her to have sex with another girl. When a new boy joined, he’d try to get him to have sex with another boy. He tried to break down their pride. He tried to break down their egos. He told them all ego was bad.

FLYNN Charles Manson is a pimp.

BUGLIOSI LSD and marijuana were the main drugs. Manson went on LSD trips with the Family two, three, four times a week. Very cleverly he either took no LSD himself or used smaller dosages. That way he could retain control of his mental faculties. While they were on these trips he’d say, “Who says it’s wrong to kill? There’s nothing wrong with death. Death is a very beautiful thing.”

FLYNN I saw people go from 16 to older than I was—24 at the time—in a matter of months. It was devastating.

BUGLIOSI Isolation was important. Spahn Ranch may have been only 25 miles from downtown, but in terms of lifestyle it was light-years away. There were no newspapers, no calendars, and no clocks. And there was Manson, sitting atop a rock with his guitar, preaching and philosophizing. No one spoke without his permission. 

HOYT He was God. He was the devil. Everyone aspired to be like him or be with him. He offered an explanation of why the world is as it is. His sources were Scientology and a few others. He said we would have to die to ourselves and give up all knowledge. Everyone considered Charlie a pure soul. He’d only managed to go through a few years of school, so he wasn’t programmed with society’s rules and laws. He was like a person who’d been raised by wolves. He wanted us to discard our upbringings, our knowledge, and our hang-ups and live in Now.

SHARE He would show us how our parents hadn’t raised us right and had abused us, had tried to shut down the light we had within, the brightness we had within. He talked about how the mind works. He discussed the subliminal messages that society transmitted. Then he would give us his own subliminal messages. We knew he was doing it, and we let him. That’s how good he was. He was a visionary, a newscaster, a prophet, and a lover.  

HOYT  We ate when Charlie wanted to eat, sang and got together when he wanted to sing and get together. He told you what chores to do, what jobs to do.

SHARE I was like everyone else—enslaved to the point I couldn’t put two sentences together. The thing you have to remember about Charlie is that he was a con. Kids don’t know about cons. They don’t know about people who’ve been in prison. People in prison live by their wits. Otherwise they don’t survive. Charlie came out of prison with that skill. He knew what you were thinking before you did. He found himself with all these hippies, and it was easy for him to manipulate them. Real easy.

BUGLIOSI My belief is that all the people who killed for Manson had hostility coursing through their veins. The other Family members were equally subservient, but they weren’t murderers. Manson, of course, was the catalyst. He brought all the hostility—some of it against parents, some of it against society—to the surface. But the murderers would not have killed had they not wanted to do so. One of Manson’s most devoted followers was a guy named Paul Watkins. When he realized Helter Skelter was coming down, he fled.

 

XI. HELTER SKELTER

HOYT When I joined the Family, the first thing they asked me was if I had heard the Beatles’ White Album and knew about Helter Skelter. Susan Atkins—Sadie—was the one who told me about it. She told me Helter Skelter was coming. She said the blacks were going to rise against the whites, but the Family would escape it. They were building dune buggies with fur seats and gun mounts. They were making clothes out of hides. It was like they were all pioneers. I thought, “Wow! This is fun. It’s like camping.”

SHARE Charlie talked about Helter Skelter every night. He said the way it would start is that the blacks, who’d already burned Watts, would start burning white neighborhoods. Then the whites, with the police behind them, would start killing blacks, and that would spark total chaos. Blackie—that’s what he called them—would do this. Whitey would do that. And we’d learn to live off the land. We’d live in the desert and come in on dune buggies and rescue the orphaned white babies. We’d be the saviors.

BUGLIOSI The White Album came out in late November 1968. In Manson’s mind, the song “Helter Skelter”—no matter that it came from the name of a British amusement park ride—was the signal for the last destructive war on the face of the earth. He thought the Beatles were sending him messages. “Piggies” talks about wealthy husbands and wives eating out with forks and knives. It says that they need a “damn good whacking.” He thought another song, “Revolution 9,” was the Beatles’ attempt to invoke the Bible’s Revelation 9, which says that during Armageddon the earth will be invaded by locusts. The Beatles once spelled their name the Beetles. Revelations says the locusts will have iron breastplates—to Manson those were the Beatles’ electric guitars. It says the locusts will have the faces of men but the hair of women, like the Beatles.

FLYNN Charlie decided he would have to teach blacks how to start the revolution. He said, “The black man is nothing but a monkey dressed up in a white man’s suit.”

SHARE I think Charlie really believed his own hype. That’s why the killings happened. That’s why they wrote “PIG” on the door at the Tate house and “HEALTER SKELTER” at the LaBiancas’. All the messages were intended to ignite Helter Skelter. I totally believed Charlie. I believed that the cities were going to burn. I believed my only safety was to stay with the Family. I believed Charlie knew best.

HOYT Once the blacks killed the whites, they wouldn’t know how to run things. They wouldn’t know how to be judges or politicians. The only white people left would be the Family. We’d be hiding in Death Valley in what Charlie called “the bottomless pit.” We’d emerge, and Charlie would take over.

SHARE The Family had been preparing for this. Charlie would take the kids on what he called “creepy crawls.” They’d break into houses and move around the furniture. There were a lot of creepy crawls before the Tate murders. He’d say, “Get your black clothes on, get in the car, and do a creepy crawl.” Tex, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, Clem, Squeaky, and Patricia Krenwinkel—they all went on creepy crawls.

 

XII. CIELO DRIVE

BUGLIOSI Charlie had been at the Cielo house a couple of times before. A record producer named Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, lived there. Dennis Wilson and Manson drove Melcher home one night after a party. A few months later Charlie went back. Melcher had auditioned him at Spahn Ranch, but he didn’t like his music. Manson went there the second time to ask Melcher for another audition. Melcher, however, had moved to Malibu, and Manson got booted off the premises.

McGANN  Manson thought Melcher was going to sign him. Melcher said, “You’re talented. I’m gonna make your record.” But he didn’t do anything. Manson was mad about that. It’s no accident he sent his group to Cielo.

BUGLIOSI On the afternoon of August 8, Manson told the girls, “Now is the time for Helter Skelter.” That evening, he told Tex Watson, “Go to the former home of Terry Melcher and kill everyone on the premises.” Manson didn’t know exactly who lived there, but he indicated to Tex they were “entertainment types.” Charlie then got the girls together and told them to do everything Tex told them. It was Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian. As they were pulling away Manson told the girls, “Leave a sign. You girls know what to write—something witchy.”

HOYT We were all in the back of Spahn Ranch having dinner. Charlie called Tex into another room, and I saw them talking. Then I got a call on the ranch’s field phone from Sadie, who was up at the front of the ranch. She wanted me to bring three sets of dark clothes. I got the clothes from a big pile we kept and brought them to the front, but they’d already left.

BUGLIOSI They drove directly to the Tate residence. Tex climbed the telephone pole in front and cut the wire to make sure no one could call out. They could have gotten in by climbing the gate, but they didn’t because they thought it might be electrified. Instead they went up a dirt embankment off to the side. Almost as soon as they were in, they saw headlights. It was Steven Parent coming down the driveway. He’d been visiting William Garretson. Tex walked up to the car and shot him four times.

Watson slit the screen of a front window of the house and entered. He went to the door and opened it, letting Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel in. Voytek Frykowski was on the couch. He’d been sleeping. He woke up and said, “Who are you?” Watson said, “I am the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.” They tied Frykowski’s hands, then went to the bedrooms. Abigail Folger was reading a book on the bed in her room. Sharon Tate was lying down in the next room. Jay Sebring was on the edge of the bed. They were talking. They rounded them all up in the living room. They’d brought a rope and put it around Sebring’s neck, Sharon’s neck, and Abigail Folger’s neck and threw it over a beam in the ceiling. One of the victims said, “What are you going to do with us?” And Tex said, “You’re all going to die.” At that point the screaming and stabbing began. Somehow Abigail got loose. She ran outside. Patricia Krenwinkel chased her and stabbed her.

Frykowski got loose. He was fighting. He went outside, and Watson chased him. You talk about brutality—Frykowski suffered 51 stab wounds. He was hit over the head with a blunt instrument 13 times. He was shot 4 times. It was a sea of blood. It’s all so horrendous, it’s hard to even keep in your mind. While the killers were there, they inflicted 102 stab wounds on the victims and shot three of them. Sharon Tate was stabbed 16 times. Sadie told me Sharon begged for her life so she could have her baby. She said she told Sharon, “Bitch, you’re gonna die. I don’t have any mercy on you.” She said that before she wrote “PIG” in Sharon’s blood, she tasted it.

HOYT The next afternoon I was in a trailer watching Hobo Kelly, a kids’ show, on TV. Sadie came in and demanded I turn the channel to the news. She told me to call Tex and Patricia Krenwinkel. The first thing on the news was the story that Sharon Tate had been murdered. I remember thinking I was glad not to be a part of a world where those things happened. The others reacted differently. One of them said, “The Soul sure picked a good one.” They called Charlie that sometimes—the Soul. Then they started laughing. I felt inferior, like I hadn’t evolved as far as they had. I hadn’t expanded my mind like they had. I didn’t think it was funny.

XIII. WAVERLY DRIVE

BUGLIOSI The second night was a little different. Manson decided to go along, and he brought Leslie Van Houten and Steve Grogan. Linda Kasabian, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel also went. They began by looking for victims at random. If you were white and appeared financially well-off, you qualified to be murdered. They started in Pasadena. They stopped at a house, and Manson looked in the window and saw pictures of children. Like Hitler, he loved children. So they couldn’t do that place. They stopped at a church in Pasadena, but it was locked. Then they went into Los Angeles. At one point they were on Sunset Boulevard. They pulled up to a light next to a white sports car. Linda was driving, and Manson told her, “I’m going to get out and shoot that guy.” But the light changed, and the sports car sped off. So they drove to Waverly Drive. The LaBianca residence was next door to a place they had been a year earlier.

Manson left everyone in the car and somehow got into the LaBianca house—he’s never said how. But he got in, and he tied up Leno and Rosemary. He used leather thongs to tie their hands behind their backs. Leno was in the living room, Rosemary in the bedroom. Leno was a big guy. He could have squashed Charlie. Charlie had a gun, but he didn’t use it. My guess is that he convinced Leno that if he cooperated, no harm would come to them. Charlie had a way of using that dulcet voice of his. He could be reassuring. He came back to the car and told them to go in there and kill the victims like the previous night.

The LaBianca murders were, if possible, more gruesome than those of the previous night. Tex killed Leno. He stabbed him 12 times with a knife and 14 times with a fork. The two girls killed Rosemary. They stabbed her 41 times. Rosemary had to listen to Leno being stabbed to death. She asked the girls, “What are you doing to my husband?” They carved the word “WAR” into Leno’s stomach. The knife they left protruding from his throat and the fork from his stomach were probably references to the line about forks and knives in the Beatles’ song “Piggies.” Patricia Krenwinkel did the writing on the walls. Then what did they do? They raided the refrigerator. They ate some watermelon and left the rinds. After that, they took a shower.  

Charlie had gotten ahold of Rosemary’s wallet. He and Steve Grogan and Linda Kasabian took off. They got on the 5 freeway to Pacoima, which used to be the black community in the San Fernando Valley. Manson said, “We’ll drop the wallet at a gas station, and some black man will pick it up, use the credit cards—and that will connect him to the murders.” He thought this would help to ignite the race war. But they went one off-ramp too far and exited at Sylmar. Manson sent Linda into a gas station rest room. She placed the wallet in the toilet tank. No one found it for a couple of months.

 

XIV. HIDING OUT

SHARE We never had newspapers at Spahn Ranch, but Charlie got an L.A. Times with headlines about the Tate-LaBianca killings. He held it up and said, “It’s started.” He said we had to get out of town, because it was now dangerous. We were up day and night putting food into barrels and getting our last clothes together, the leather outfits we’d been working on. We had three dune buggies with roll bars and machine gun mounts. It was apocalyptic. No one spoke of any alternative.

Within days Manson ordered another murder. This time the victim was a ranch hand named Donald “Shorty” Shea. Like other hands loyal to George Spahn, he wanted Manson off the ranch. 

BUGLIOSI Shorty was white, and he had a black wife. Manson did not like that. He said it was “mixing.”

HOYT I was in a trailer on high ground, and below that was a creek bed. Charlie, Tex, Bruce Davis [another Family member], and Steve Grogan chased Shorty down there. It was around ten at night. I heard a scream and got up. The moon was bright, and I could see the imprint of leaves on the window screen. I thought, “Maybe I imagined that.” I lay back down, and the screams started again, and they kept happening and happening and happening. It was Shorty. I recognized his voice. I was scared. I crouched in a ball on the floor. The next day I heard Charlie talking about it. He said, “Shorty died with a little help from us. He was hard to kill, but we brought him to Now.”

Charlie then took all of us girls who were underage to the desert. The next morning I woke up, and we were at the base of Goler Wash. Tex and Charlie were talking about the bottomless pit. I thought they were crazy, because I’d assumed the bottomless pit was something figurative. But Charlie had brought along all these topographical maps. He was going to find it. It was a nine-mile walk up to Barker Ranch. We carried babies and equipment. But Charlie didn’t walk. He waited for Tex to drive back down in a Power Wagon and take him up.

FLYNN  They offered me a case of beer to go up to Barker Ranch, but the reason I went was to find out what happened to Shorty. I stayed and stayed, and I watched those people. It was dangerous. It was like walking in a soap bubble—you’re hoping it doesn’t burst.

BUGLIOSI It was a much more tense situation in the desert. Manson knew people would be looking for him. He posted guards on the roof of Barker Ranch, and he also had sentinels at some distance away so they could alert him as anyone was approaching. They had all kinds of ammunition and weaponry up there.

HOYT In early September I was taking a nap in the bedroom at Myers Ranch, a half mile away. We walked back and forth. I woke up and heard Sadie talking to Ruth Ann Moorehouse. I didn’t pay attention until I heard the name “Tate.” Then I started listening. She said that Sharon Tate was the last to die, that she had to watch the others die first. She said that Sharon had called for her mother. She said that Abigail had called for God, and she said Tex ran over and gutted her.

I walked back to Barker Ranch and saw Tex in the kitchen. The only thing I could think about was what he did to Abigail Folger. He said, “Barbara, your face is all the colors of the desert.” I thought that if he or anyone else figured out what I knew I wasn’t going to be alive anymore. I tried to forget what I knew. I got temporary amnesia. But from that point on I started working on trying to get out of the desert.

In early October two of us walked to Ballarat, population four. It took us 15 to 16 hours. And then we got a ride down to Los Angeles. At first I stayed with my grandmother, then I moved back in with my mom. I slept all day and stayed up all night. I kept my mother’s biggest kitchen knife with me. I was guarding the house. I went from one window to another. When I told my mother what I knew, she didn’t want to believe it. Then in December the news came on that Charles Manson had been charged. Right after that I got my first death threat. My mother said I had to call the police, and I did.

XV. PREPARING FOR TRIAL

BUGLIOSI I went to Spahn Ranch with a group of detectives. Danny DeCarlo, a member of the Straight Satans motorcycle gang, was our guide. Old man George Spahn was sitting in this dilapidated shack where he lived. He was wearing sunglasses and a Stetson, and he had a Chihuahua in his lap. He was listening to Sonny James on the radio while one of the hippie girls prepared lunch for him. We kept Danny in handcuffs so none of the Family still there would suspect he was cooperating. He took us to where Charlie and the others did their target practice shooting. We found casings from a .22-caliber revolver. Danny later told us he’d seen the revolver—located by Steven Weiss back in September—in Manson’s hand. When LAPD test fired it, the casings matched those we found at the ranch. Which meant what? The weapon that had been used to shoot three Tate victims— Frykowski, Sebring, and Parent—was at one time at Spahn Ranch.

I also went out to Barker Ranch. It was extremely rough country. I was looking for boots. There were bloody boot prints at the Tate residence. I didn’t find them, but I did find lots of magazines with articles about Hitler. And the detectives found the wire cutters that, it would turn out, had been used to cut the telephone line at the Tate residence. It was also while I was in Inyo County that I first saw Manson. He was in jail in Independence. I watched three or four sheriff’s deputies walk him into the courthouse. I was shocked by how little he was. He was scruffy, with long, scraggly hair, and kind of hunchbacked. I thought, “He doesn’t look imposing.” But I’d already learned enough about him to know that it would be a great error on my part to underestimate him.

McGANN I have nothing but respect for Bugliosi as a lawyer, but his attitude pissed me off. He didn’t solve the case. We solved the case. We brought the case to the district attorney’s office in a pretty good package. He found more evidence, but that’s what he’s supposed to do.

GALINDO Vince Bugliosi was intense. Boy, was he intense. If I interviewed somebody and didn’t get something he wanted, he re-interviewed them. But I didn’t mind. He was strictly for conviction, and conviction meant proving these people guilty. He’s the guy who made the case.

BUGLIOSI I made a deal with Richard Caba-llero, Susan Atkins’s lawyer, that if Susan cooperated I wouldn’t seek the death penalty against her. If she stopped cooperating, I couldn’t use what she’d told me. I hadn’t wanted to do this. As far as I was concerned, she was one of the main killers. But the D.A. overruled me. There was a lot of pressure. There was such a desire to break the case. So we came up with this agreement.

The deal with Atkins soon fell apart. First came a spate of publicity that threatened to pollute the jury pool, undermining her value as a witness. The most damaging article appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Under the headline “Susan Atkins’ Story of 2 Nights of Murder,” the state’s star witness provided a comprehensive first-person account of the killings. Second came Manson’s transfer from Inyo County to Los Angeles.

McGANN Manson and Susan Atkins started communicating, and she completely changed. She became very belligerent. She didn’t want anything more to do with us. She decided she wouldn’t testify.

BUGLIOSI Sadie went back to her god, Charlie.

As Atkins returned to the Family, Linda Kasabian, who had fled to New Mexico, came out of hiding.

GARY FLEISCHMAN, Kasabian’s lawyer. Now 75, he practices in Northern California. Linda had seen them committing mayhem at the Tate house. She had driven the killers to the LaBianca residence, but she hadn’t done anything. Still, she was technically guilty of first-degree murder. I told her that a deal was the only way out. She initially didn’t want to do that. These were her soul mates, no matter what they’d done. But I told her, “You’re broke, you’re pregnant, and you were there. You must become a prosecution witness.”

One day Aaron Stovitz, the head of the trial division, called me. He said, “I want to talk to you.” I said, “I’m going to get my hair cut at the barbershop at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. Come on over.” So he drives out, and he makes me an offer. A very strange confluence of events had occurred. They needed Linda Kasabian, and she needed them. They gave her total immunity.

BUGLIOSI We took Linda to Cielo Drive. I wanted her to point out to me where certain things had occurred. When we approached the gate, a couple of snarling dogs appeared. The owner had bought watchdogs. Linda started sobbing and saying over and over, “Why couldn’t they have been here that night? Why couldn’t they have been here that night?”

 

XVI. THE TRIAL

The People v. Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten began July 24, 1970, on the eighth floor of the Hall of Justice, with Judge Charles Older presiding. The trial would produce 28,354 pages of transcript and cost more than $1 million. Watson, not yet extradited from Texas, would be tried separately.

BUGLIOSI When Manson walked into the courtroom the first morning, people gasped. The night before, he’d gotten ahold of some sharp object and carved a bloody x into his forehead. Outside the Hall of Justice, Family members passed out his statement: “I have x’d myself from your world.… Your courtroom is man’s game. Love is my judge.” That weekend the female defendants heated bobby pins and burned x’s into their foreheads.  It was bizarre, but every day when I walked into the courtroom I exuded confidence. I’d done so much preparation I felt we couldn’t lose.

FLEISCHMAN On the third day, when they brought Linda into court, she looked at the three little girls, the killers—Sadie, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten—and asked them, “How could you?” They were supposed to be hippies. They were supposed to value life.

BUGLIOSI Linda knew on the night of the murders that she’d be the one who’d have to tell the world what happened. She thought they were just going off on another creepy crawl mission. She was an ideal witness. She’d been present both nights, but she hadn’t participated. She said Manson gave the orders to kill everyone at Tate. She described watching Tex Watson stab Voytek Frykowski. She said Manson directed them to the LaBianca house. As she talked about what happened, you’d see these expressions of terrible pain on her face. She was cut out of different cloth than the other Family members. The others were bloodthirsty robots. She was on the stand for 17 days. The defense assaulted her verbally. It was mostly Manson’s lawyer, Irving Kanarek.

FLEISCHMAN Charlie Manson made a huge mistake. He picked the worst lawyer he could have gotten—Irving Kanarek. He was famous around town as an obstructionist. If I’d been cross-examining Linda Kasabian, I’d have shoved that immunity agreement up her nose. I’d have said, “You were promised your freedom, so you made up this story.” Then I’d have gotten her off the stand. But Kanarek kept her up there. He’d ask Linda, “How many times have you taken LSD?” She’d say, “Fifty.” He’d ask, “Do you remember the first time?” She’d say, “Yes.” He’d ask, “Do you remember the last time?” She’d say, “Yes.” Then he’d ask, “Do you remember the 37th time?” Vince would yell, “Objection,” and there’d be a dozen lawyers at the bench. Then Kanarek would spend an hour finding out where Linda had lunch that day and what she’d eaten. The guy could think of more irrelevant questions. He’s meshuga, as we say in Yiddish. Manson sought him out for that reason—to foul up the trial. But it didn’t work. Linda’s testimony stood up.

Bugliosi had more than Kasabian: fingerprints, firearm identification, testimony from a home owner at whose residence Tex Watson and the others had hosed the gore off their hands after the Tate killings, and indirect evidence tying Krenwinkel to the writing at the LaBianca home.

BUGLIOSI One day Manson got ahold of a sharp pencil, and from a standing position jumped over the defense table toward the judge, shouting, “In the name of Christian justice, someone should cut your head off.” It was an amazing feat. I don’t know how he did it. You just don’t see things like that in court. The deputies immediately tackled him and dragged him off. From there on out Judge Older wore a handgun under his robe.

HOYT For months before I testified, I was getting death threats. Sometimes I knew who was calling—it was Squeaky or Sandy. The prosecution had to give my depositions to the defense. So they knew what I was going to say, and they knew it wasn’t going to be good for Charlie. I stayed in touch with a few of them, trying to make them think I was still on their side. They asked me to go to Hawaii. So I went. I was at the Honolulu airport with Ruth Ann Moorehouse, and we got a hamburger. After I ate it, she said, “Just imagine if there were ten tabs of acid in that.” I then went into the city. All of a sudden I was feeling really weird, very high, and I realized there were ten tabs of acid in the hamburger. I got to a bathroom and made myself throw up. I don’t know how I did it, but I got to the steps of the Salvation Army building. I sprawled out. A man asked me, “Are you all right?” I said no. I told him to call Mr. Bugliosi. They took me to a hospital and gave me Valium by IV to bring me down. The Valium went up my arm and into my brain and ripped it out. That’s when I lost consciousness.

Even though they tried to kill me, I had to testify. I’d seen Sharon Tate’s mother on TV talking about her grief. That’s what swayed me. I felt so sad for her. What it finally came down to for me was this: Did I want to be able to live with myself when I got old? And I decided that I did.

BUGLIOSI In November Ronald Hughes, Leslie Van Houten’s lawyer, vanished from the face of the earth. The Family had adopted an umbrella defense strategy. The goal was to save Charlie. The girls were going to give themselves up for Charlie. At some point Hughes started to show some independence. He started defending Leslie at Manson’s expense. In March Hughes’s body was found in a decomposed condition at Sespe Hot Springs in Ventura County. The coroner couldn’t determine the cause of death. I don’t know that the Family killed Ronald Hughes, but if I had to guess, I’d say they did.

FLEISCHMAN It freaked us all out when Ronald Hughes got killed. How many times do you hear of a defense lawyer getting killed in the middle of a case? I was living in a two-story apartment in Beverly Hills, and I had a couple of these kids—Linda’s husband, Bob, and a guy named Charlie Melton—sleeping on my doorstep. Bob and Charlie were really just warm bodies. They were just eating my food and smoking my dope. But they lived with me for several months. I wanted someone there if Squeaky Fromme tried to sneak in and slit my throat.

 

XVII. VERDICT

When asked to call its first witness, the defense rested. Manson never testified in front of the jury. Kanarek hoped the jury would decide that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. The jury deliberated for 42 hours and 40 minutes. On January 25, 1971, it found Charles Manson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Leslie Van Houten guilty of murder.

BUGLIOSI I couldn’t conceive of the jury coming back with a not-guilty verdict. But I did fear a hung jury. One juror, out of fear—because they all knew the Manson Family was still on the streets—could have balked. When the jury came in, I watched Manson. His hands were trembling. He’d convinced the Family members that death was beautiful. But that was all BS.

FLEISCHMAN Was there enough proof to convict Manson? Legally, I think it’s pretty questionable. Morally, I have no doubt that he’s guilty. Manson took control of these 22- and 23-year-old kids and turned them into killers. But legally, all Vince had was the testimony of my client, and he gave her immunity for her testimony. Not that it mattered. Vince was trying the devil incarnate, and what jury is not going to convict the devil?

BUGLIOSI You’ve got to realize that Manson was the main focus of the trial. The problem was that he did not physically participate in the murders. How did I connect him to the crime? I brought him in by way of circumstantial evidence. The first piece was his total, complete domination. The other one is that only he had a motive for these murders: Helter Skelter. I told the jury that when those words were found printed in blood at the LaBianca murder scene, it was tantamount to finding Manson’s fingerprints.

The penalty phase of the trial lasted nearly two months. On March 29, 1971, the jury found that Manson, Krenwinkel, Atkins, and Van Houten should be sentenced to death. Virginia Graham, Ronnie Howard, and Steven Weiss, the youngster who found the gun, split the $25,000 reward put up by Warren Beatty and others.

BUGLIOSI I told the jury, “If you’re not willing to come back with a verdict of death in this case, we should abolish the death penalty in the state of California. Why have it on the books? How many people do you have to kill to get the death penalty?”

 

XVIII. AFTERMATH

In October 1971, Tex Watson was convicted in a separate trial. Like the others, he was sentenced to death. Within little more than two years after the Tate-LaBianca murders, all five killers had been brought to justice. Bobby Beausoleil, and later Manson, were convicted of the Hinman murder. In addition, Manson, Davis, and Grogan were convicted of the Shea murder; Watson was not prosecuted in that case.

BUGLIOSI I was driving with the radio on when I heard that the Supreme Court had set aside the death penalty. I immediately recalled a conversation I had with Manson after the verdict. He said, “You know, Bug
liosi, all you’ve done is send me back to where I came from.” I said, “But Charlie, you haven’t been to the green room.” The green room is where they drop the cyanide tablet. So I thought back to that conversation, and I thought, “Now he will never be in the green room. Now he will be where he wants to be.” Sure, he’d rather be back on the outside with a harem of women, driving dune buggies up and down the desert. But he doesn’t mind life behind bars. He’s bisexual. So when I heard the news, I said to myself, “Charlie’s beaten the rap.”

HOYT Manson should have been executed. They all should have been executed. It’s not that I want to see them die. It’s hard to think about. But it’s harder to think about what they did to their victims.

Like many lifers, Manson, now 74, and the others are eligible for parole. (Squeaky Fromme, who was convicted of the attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford in 1975, is also eligible.) 

DiMARIA What strikes me about parole hearings is that they’re always a trek back to hell. Every year, sometimes two or three times a year, we go. I don’t know how many hearings we’ve been to for Leslie Van Houten. We’ve also been to hearings for Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel. Each time I have to watch my mother endure an account of how her brother died. Debra Tate, Sharon’s sister, comes. The LaBiancas come. I feel that the crimes themselves should be enough to keep them in prison for life.

We’re talking about premeditated mass murder.

HOYT I hear these murderers complain about the size of their cells. But the size of their cells is a lot bigger than the size of the coffins their victims are in. They say they have to live with what they’ve done for the rest of their lives. Well, at least they get to live with it. Their victims don’t get to live at all.

FLEISCHMAN It’s a shock that Leslie Van Houten has been kept in jail. Had she done an isolated event of this nature 40 years ago, she’d have long since been released on parole. But because she was in the Manson Family, she’s still in the pokey.

HOYT I think Manson is possessed. I think he has believed his stuff so long, he’s incapable of waking up. And I don’t think he’ll ever own up to what he’s done.

SHARE If you let Charles Manson out, he’d try to kill more people. Even in a physically diminished state, he’d try to manipulate someone into killing for him.

BUGLIOSI One of the reasons people are obsessed with the Manson case is that except for Susan Atkins, who had a tough childhood, the killers were all average American kids from good backgrounds. My God, Tex Watson was a football, basketball, and track star. He had an A average in high school. Leslie Van Houten was a homecoming queen. Patricia Krenwinkel wanted to become a nun. These were normal American kids. But Manson got ahold of them. The case is a reaffirmation of the verity that whenever you turn over your mind to an authoritarian figure, the potential for madness exists. When you lose your will, you can’t turn back.

There is also another reason. People forget that before the Tate-LaBianca killings, hippies had a clear image. They wanted to end the Vietnam War. They wanted to promote love. That these types of people were involved in a murder case that stretched the limits of brutality was a shock to the country.

In prosecuting this case I saw the face of unbelievable evil. That these people could not just stab their victims but enjoy it, that they could ignore their screams and keep stabbing as the victims were begging for their lives—I’d not seen that before. The question is, Where was God? Where was God in the LaBianca home and the Tate residence? Christians believe God is omniscient. So evidently he was there those nights and just decided not to do anything. You know, I’m an agnostic.

 

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