The Charlie Conspiracy

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

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.

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