Where the eagle flies
We will lie under the sun
Where the eagle flies
We will die…die to be one
The nights are so dark
And the wind’s so cold
Love’s fire is burnin…and you can’t grow old
Livin’ with the poison ones
Sun-in with the Devil’s sons…
-from a song written by Charles Manson
summer of 1969.
The more involved we became in Helter-Skelter, the harder it was to see anything else. Momentum carried us along with Charlie. To say no would have been to violate all that we had worked to achieve. Even when Charlie’s raps became more militant (I shuddered at some of his descriptions), it all seemed to fit with his earlier statements regarding death. We’d been programmed to think of death in a cosmic sense, knowing that the spirit never dies. We’d all experienced countless ego deaths and had watched each other experience them. We knew that life was merely a series of transitions in consciousness. When Charlie got into elaborating on the blood and gore of racial war, we all considered it a kind of therapy he was putting us through. At least I did. Blood and carnage were as much a part of life as anything else; the media were filled with it, seemed to thrive on it in fact. So long as we had no karmic connection with it, so long as we did nothing to cause it, we could view it without judgement. And at that point, there was never a hint that we would have any part in killing.
The emotional impact of living in the center of
Around the first of April we began gradually to move out of
Since we couldn’t move back to Spahn’s en masse, without causing suspicion, we had to do it a little at a time. We started by establishing a campsite in the ravine just below the ranch. Charlie and I purchased several parachutes from a surplus store in
Sometime in mid-April we made a final exit from the
Around May we left the mansion and moved back to Spahn’s, staying in the campsites so as not to disturb George and the wranglers. Charlie kept two girls with George at all times and told the old man we’d be helping out with wrangler chores. George said he was much obliged.
Once at Spahn’s, everything was geared towards Helter-Skelter and moving back to the desert. The acquisition of a huge open-topped semi-trailer bed (which we covered with tarps) gave us additional space to store parts, to work on the motorcycles, and to sleep up to fifteen people. We had mechanics rebuilding Harleys, diesels, and dune buggies round the clock. We paid them, and paid them well—in money, dope, and all the sex they could handle. Meanwhile, the tourists came to ride horseback, look at movie sets, and talk to the wranglers, who went about the business of tending George’s stock.
It was during this period that we met Danny De Carlo, a tough booze-addicted biker, who, at the time, was treasurer for a motorcycle gang known as the Straight Satans. Danny was a fast-talking, earthy little dude (five-eight) with a thick black “waterfall” hairdo, dark, direct eyes, and a passion for “beer and broads.” He invariably wore the full Levi’s garb (with “Straight Satan” embossed across his jacket) and boots, and walked like a Hell’s Kitchen hoodlum. He had a good sense of humor, a quick wit, and while blinded by his own prurient inclinations, he was, as the saying goes, nobody’s fool. He later told authorities that his rapport with Manson was enhanced by the fact that he (Danny) could satisfy Charlie’s girls sexually, thus taking the pressure off Charlie. While this was pretty farfetched (Charlie only allowed Danny access to certain girls), Danny did acquire the nickname “Donkey Dan”-A tribute to his “Size”; it was a sobriquet he was proud of.
We’d met Danny just before leaving the
De Carlo was born in
By the end of May the girls were designing buck-skins – all-purpose, combat-ready clothing which would last indefinitely and be conducive to life in the desert. At the same time,
In the midst of these preparations, Charlie moved about like a seasoned field general, giving orders. We set up camps in the creek bed and explored the mountains around Spahn’s so that we knew every hill and gully. We took dune buggies and Harleys into the canyons and worked on the road. At times Charlie would order us to evacuate one campsite and set up another. It was like commando training. We began to feel like a well trained band of guerrillas. Meanwhile, our mechanic worked on the vehicles, and our girls continued to dance topless and bring home fat paychecks to cover our burgeoning expenses. At night we played music in the saloon and sang the songs of revolution.
Charlie continued to make trips to
Linda was the epitome of the young flower child, on her own since sixteen. She’d traveled from the East Coast to California during the summer of love (’67) in search of spiritual fulfillment; she’s lived in Taos and Seattle; she’d worn flowers in her hair at Haight Ashbury; she’d crashed in cheap hotels and communes and had taken psychedelics in quantity before coming to Spahn’s late that summer with her two-year-old daughter, Tanya. Linda was five-one and petite, with long light brown hair, green eyes, and a soft, clear speaking voice. When she met Charlie, shortly after I met the Family, she was nineteen and certainly no novice to the jargon of the time. Yet, she fell for his rap hook, line, and sinker. One month later, he sent her to kill.
As things became more fragmented, Charlie’s bitterness and frustration surfaced with greater frequency. He began sprouting “death to the piggies” and quoting from the Beatles’ album. He said we had to work faster; once again we took our group to a studio for a recording session in the valley, but things fell apart; Charlie got pissed off at the technicians and we split. One evening, a short time later, we were practicing in the saloon. Charlie was sitting on a stool in front of the mike, with Bobby to his left, playing the drums.
“Anything, just sing.”
“But… what do -?”
“Goddammit, sing!” Charlie walked over and yanked her hair.
“That’s a sound, now try something else.” He jerked her hair again.
“Good, now sing.”
Cleanliness became a real problem; with no access to indoor facilities, we were forced to go for days without bathing. We all rinsed off in the creek regularly, but it was hard to stay clean. People have been led to believe that the Manson Family was “dirty and unkempt,” but this was not the case. Up until the summer of 1969, Charlie demanded good personal hygiene, and that clothes, food, musical instruments – everything – be kept orderly. But living at Spahn’s like commandos made it impossible to maintain these standards. The natural, easygoing rhythm of life we had enjoyed gradually became too diffused and disjointed, and finally, decadent. With bikers and hippies and strangers coming and going at all times, there was little opportunity to put the old scene together. Still, there were moments – those nights when the girls made meals at the campfire and we sang songs and Charlie rapped. Those nights were soothing and I remember lying beside Snake in the tent listening to the crickets and wondering what the future held for us. I made love to Snake a lot during that period. It was one experience that always felt right. With Snake I shared a kind of inner harmony that sustained me even when things started coming apart. It was not that Snake and I spent a lot of time together or that we consciously cultivated a “special” friendship; it was just that when we were together, it was special. It was something neither of us talked about, but it was there from the beginning, from the day I arrived, and Charlie sent her to seduce me by the same creek bed, just one year before.
Months later, lawyers, law-enforcement authorities, and friends would ask me why, when things had degenerated so, I remained with the Family. What needs did the family fulfill? Why didn’t I split? It’s hard for people to understand what deep needs were met by the Family. I can only say that living day in day out with a group of people with whom you’ve shared all manner of experiences, without inhibition, binds you deeply. It wasn’t only Charlie. I was close to everyone. It have me a feeling of security against the impersonality of the world. I felt we shared more than any genetic family; we shared a kind of communication that is rare between people. The Family met many needs: sexual, spiritual, communal, recreational, artistic. We were brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, lovers to each other. We were one. It was a hard thing to let go of, even when it all faltered. Rather than leave it and invalidate all that was good, it seemed easier to ignore or refuse to acknowledge the changing vibes, the degeneration. I had experienced fears before, and they had been dissipated through confrontation. Charlie taught me to submit to these changes. I had endured the choking, the freak-out, and a good deal more. Plus, if Charlie was right and Helter-Skelter was coming down like he said, I needed him and the Family to survive.
But others, too, were feeling the change. One afternoon I was hiking up from the campsite toward the saloon. Charlie had asked me to help the mechanic assemble a new Harley. I’d just researched the saloon when Bo came up and started walking with me. She was a full-length gingham dress and was barefoot. Her face was smudged with dust and she’d lost so much weight that her eyes seemed enormous. All of us had begun eating less; with no place to cook but the campfire, it was difficult to prepare meals for so many, so that we resorted to living off sweet rolls and cakes, which we continued to get in quantity from our bakery connection in
“What’s the matter, Bo?”
“I don’t know. I just feel…”
She stopped when we reached the semitruck, and the mechanic, a guy we call Turk (a friend of Bill Vance’s) stuck his head out the trailer. “What’s happening, Turk?”
“Did De Carlo ever bring them plugs?”
“I don’t know.”
“Shit.” Turk wiped his forehead with a greasy rag, then stuffed it in his back pocket. “Where’s Charlie?”
“Down at the corral, talking to Tex.”
Turk jumped out of the semi and trotted toward the corral.
When he was out of earshot, Bo told me Charlie had scared the shit out of her. “Charlie said when Helter-Skelter comes down they’ll come looking for me, and if they find me, they’ll chop me up. He said blackie’s gonna terrorize everyone. He said they’re gonna smear the piggies’ eyeballs on the ceilings and paint the walls and floors with blood.”
I knew what Bo was feeling. I had experienced Charlie’s demonic side. Yet, I did not want to acknowledge it. I wanted to move beyond Helter-Skelter; to go back to the desert. But things only got worse. And my own fears and uncertainties became apparent to Charlie.
One night, not too long after my conversation with Bo, Charlie asked me to go with him to Canoga Park to pick up some girls. He said we needed to relax and have a good time. I’d worked all day with Turk and Tex, helping pack and assemble parts so we could transport them to Barker’s. I’d crashed out in the semitrailer in my sleeping bag and had just dozed off when Charlie woke me.
We took the milk truck and drove down to Topanga Canyon Boulevard, then turned left on Chatsworth. Charlie was talkative, but I sensed that some of it was put on, that he was trying too hard to be his “old self.” Somewhere near the Topanga Plaza, near Gresham Street, we pulled up alongside some girls in an MG and started rapping with them, but they weren’t interested, and when Charlie got belligerent, they flipped us off. Minutes later, it seemed, we drove by the Gresham Street house and turned left on one of the cross streets. About halfway down the block Charlie spotted a truck parked in someone’s driveway, a big heavy-duty Dodge ambulance-weapons-carrier. He stopped the milk truck and turned off the ignition.
“Hey brother… we could use that truck, you know. Why don’t you hotwire it and take it back to the ranch?” Charlie’s eyes drilled mine, and he kept right on talking. “Just drive it directly to the campsite, load up with supplies – food for Juanita and Brooks, some tools, and a little dope – then take a few girls and head for the desert. Don’t wait for nothin’… just load it and get on down the road. After you check on things at Barker’s, come back in the pickup.”
All that went through my mind as Charlie spoke is difficult to recount. It lasted just a split second, but during that time I experienced an involved process of assessment. I’d known troubles with the law, but always for minor offenses. I’d never stolen a vehicle. Yet it wasn’t the stealing that made me hesitate; it was a composite of feeling brought on by the changing vibes. Though Charlie had not indicated directly that we would have anything to do with perpetrating violence, it was clear that we were preparing for it. I was divided in myself; part of me had begun to doubt Helter-Skelter. Yet, I wanted to survive, and to do so, I needed Charlie. On another level, I saw his request as another personal challenge; he had sensed my wavering state of mind and perhaps thought it time to test me again.
“You’re not gonna say no, are you?”
I grabbed a piece of wire and a flashlight from under the seat. While Charlie waited, I trotted up the road to the driveway. The front end of the truck was less than ten feet away from what looked like an open bedroom window. Moving quietly, I found the hood latch and slowly raised the hood. The truck had a starter button in the cab, so all I had to do was hot-wire the ignition. It took just seconds for the motor to fire. As the engine turned over, a bedroom light came on. I leaped into the cab, slammed it into reverse, and backed into the street before ramming it into first; I burned rubber for about fifteen feet and then I was in second and flying by Charlie, who was still parked. He gave me the okay sign and a big grin as I roared by, turned right, and headed for home.
At the intersection of Devonshire and Topanga Canyon I tromped the break to avoid running a light. As it was, I overshot the crosswalk and had to back up. As I did so, a squad car eased up alongside me. I looked straight ahead , my heart pounding. Then I took a deep breath and glanced down at the cops.
“In a hurry, are ya?”
“Well, slow down, partner, you’ll live a whole lot longer.”
When the cops turned left, I headed north on Topanga, then hauled balls up Santa Susana Pass to where the road ended. I parked on the shoulder, then clambered down the hill to the campsite and woke up the Family.