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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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.

Barbara Hoyt after she fled the Family and testified against Manson despite death threats
Barbara Hoyt after she fled the Family and testified against Manson despite death threats

Photograph courtesy Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

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.

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