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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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