In 1988, People Still Lived in Fear of Charles Manson’s “Satanic Network”

Nearly twenty years after the Manson Murders, Michael Bendrix explored Manson’s place in what seemed to be an expanding web of terror

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.