The Truth Will Set You Free
Leaving the Family that night with Bruce for what I thought to be the last time did not break my ties with Charlie. Even after he was sent to L.A. county jail as a murder suspect. On the contrary, and for a variety of reasons, not the least of which, perhaps, was Charlie’s physical absence, I was drawn back to the Family.
Charlie’s powers, though he was behind bars, did not diminish. For months he would manipulate not only a large segment of the public and mass media but alos law enforcement officials, lawyers, even judges. He also managed to hold the Family together. Unwittingly, I helped him. He had attempted to program me for this long before: “When Helter-Skelter comes down, I’ll be back in the joint, it’ll be up to you.” While my motives were never completely clear, being at times as much subconscious as conscious, my actions did serve, as Crockett put it, “to hold the Family together when you should just let it die.” I continued to work with Crockett and Brooks, but I was divided within myself. I can honestly say that no time in my life was more agonizing than the months between Charlie’s capture and his conviction. I walked a mighty thin line. The view from the middle often gives a panorama of all sides. But my balance was precarious at best, and what I paid for that vantage point in suffering was more than I could afford. That I survived at all appears, in retrospect, something of a miracle.
The hillsides around Shoshone are riddled with manmade caves, dug originally by itinerant miners, prospectors, and other vagabonds, who, over the years, found the town a convenient oasis in the scorching lowlands of the Amargosa Valley. Shoshone was also a water stop on the railroad line and for a time the site of a thriving hobo jungle which centered in and around the tufa caves. Crockett and Poston were broke and living in one of those caves when I arrived on October 9. Don Ward had told them (as he did me) not to leave Shoshone, that the Barker Ranch was about to be busted.
The following day, just before dawn, while the three of us slept off a reunion celebration on the floor of the cave, officers from the highway patrol, the Inyo county sheriff’s office, and the national park rangers assembled near Golar Wash for a raid on the Barker Ranch—a raid that lasted three days and resulted in the capture of Charlie and most of the Family. All were taken to the Inyo county seat in Independence (just four hours north of Shoshone) and booked for auto theft.
I didn’t know then, nor did Brooks or Crockett, that during the raid Stephanie (Schram) and Kitty Lutesinger (Bobby Beausoleil’s girlfriend, who was then five months pregnant with his child) had been trying to escape from the Family. They asked the police for protection and were taken to Independence to be interviewed by detectives. When it was learned that Kitty was Bobby’s girlfriend, she was asked what she knew about the Hinman murder. She said she had heard that Manson sent Bobby and a girl named Susan Atkins to Hinman’s house to collect some money and that when he refused to pay, they had killed him.
On October 13, Brooks, Crockett, and I were escorted to Independence by Don Ward and officers of the highway patrol. Brooks and Paul had already made statements to law enforcement officials (including Ward) as to the nature of “goings-on” at the Barker Ranch. They had talked about Charlie’s philosophy and Helter-Skelter. The law, however, at that point, was little interested in such bizarre and unlikely tales. Their primary concern, it seemed (at least on the surface), was that Manson and the others be identified and linked to the stolen vehicles found at the ranch. We were shown photographs of dune buggies and Harleys and asked to identify them. We did; both privately to Dave Steuber of the highway patrol and later that week during Charlie’s preliminary hearing in the Inyo county courthouse.
But during that hearing, things changed drastically.
One morning flocks of reporters appeared in the courtroom; not only L.A. and local press, but foreign correspondents as well; what had started out as a quiet, routine procedure became suddenly a circus of spectators, reporters, cops, and lawyers. Word was out that this was not a simple case of auto theft. Charles Manson had become a murder suspect.
Independence, though it’s the seat of Inyo County, is a small, immaculate town located in the heart of the Owens Valley at the foot of the eastern Sierras. From the center of the main drag, snowcapped peaks are visible year round. The county itself is the second largest in the state but has fewer than 17,000 inhabitants. During the court proceedings it seemed as though all of them had flocked to Independence. I remember Crockett saying one morning, "Jesus, there just ain’t no place to hide.” Everywhere we went, we were hounded by reporters. Crockett told us to keep quiet and let things blow over a little. But that didn’t happen. It just got more intense.
Finally one morning while we were drinking coffee in a waiting room outside the courthouse, Crockett said it was time we told some of the story to the press.
“Look at it this way,” he said. “Old Charlie always wanted his story told…we might as well tell it. It ain’t all pretty, but it needs to be told; people should know what the hell went on…what can happen to the mind. Most people ain’t gonna believe it anyway, but eventually there’s gonna be a lot said about it…hell, there’s gonna be books written about it.”
Another of Crockett’s motives, though he didn’t express it at the time, was money. We were stone broke. We couldn’t go back to the mine; police had made Golar Wash a restricted area. Meanwhile, foreign correspondents were clamoring for information. The more we refused to talk, the more they wanted “to make a deal” for our story. Two days before leaving Independence, we agreed to meet in L.A. and give it to them.
Around the middle of November, at approximately the same time Sadie was at Sybil Brand Penitentiary for Woman telling her story to Ronnie Howard, Juan, Brooks, Crockett, and I met with reporters (Don Dornan, Iver Davis, and Jerry Le Blanc) in Sherman Oaks and told them what we knew about the Manson Family—including the murder of Gary Hinman and what we’d heard regarding Shorty’s death. The interviews lasted five days and resulted in the publication of articles in both Spain and Germany as well as a book (which we did not agree to) that was later released, called Five to Die. We were paid eleven hundred dollars each for our information. Afterward Crockett, Brooks, and I went to Shoshone, while Juan remained in L.A.
It was a scary time for us. Word had it that Charlie had issued more threats; most of the Family, including Clem and Bruce, had been released from Inyo County and were back in L.A. living at Spahn’s. Our own living conditions in the cave were by no means pleasant. Without electricity or water we were forced to use candles and to transport water a mile up the mountain from Shoshone in five-gallon containers. Since Golar Canyon was off limits, we could not go to the mine and we had to find work in Shoshone. I managed to get hired washing dishes in the Shoshone Café and also worked with Brooks and Crockett doing town maintenance for the Charles Brown Company; we worked our asses off; did everything—trimmed trees, painted buildings, laid concrete, dug ditches, pumped cesspools.
In late November we moved out of the cave and rented a house on the main highway across the street from the high-school football field. It was a small place: two bedrooms, a tiny narrow kitchen, and a fair-sized living room. There was also a small fireplace, which became essential as weather turned colder in winter. In front of it, Crockett set up his table, and at night after work, while we practiced our music, he spent hours playing solitaire. Around Christmastime, Juan Flynn moved in with us. By then Charlie, Sadie, and Leslie had been charged with murder and indicted. Katie and Tex were still out of the state. Juan brought us further news; others associated with the Manson Family had reportedly been killed. One of them was Joel Dean Pugh, Sandra Good’s ex-husband; the other, a young man I’d met two months before, John Philip Haught, better known as Zero.
Shoshone was far from mellow for any of us. People didn’t take to ex-Manson Family members living in their midst, particularly after the story in the L.A. Times: SUSAN ATKINS’ STORY OF TWO NIGHTS OF MURDER. Notices were posted advising that people keep their children, particularly their young daughters, under lock and key while we were in town. Petitions were circulated to have us removed; letters were sent tot he district attorney. Being glared at, ignored, and verbally berated became a part of our daily existence, and while, in time, it lessened somewhat, it never stopped completely. The only saving grace was that Don Ward, one of the few people who sought to understand the dynamics of the Manson family, became our friend and to some extent served as a buffer between us and the public at large.
Sometime around Christmas, shortly after Charlie had been granted the right to defend himself, I felt the urge to go to L.A. and see the Family. I don’t know if it was a programmed response, an implant Charlie had made months before—curiosity, guilt, or a perverse sense of my own confusion. I don’t know what it was. But I did miss the Family and still considered many of its members my friends. When I told Crockett, he said it didn’t surprise him. He said it would take a long time to get free of Charlie’s programs and my ties to the Family, and that I wouldn’t ever do it by avoiding the issue. I’d read the newspaper accounts. I’d listened to Juan. I could well imagine the paranoia at Spahn’s. But I wanted to extricate some meaning from all the horror and carnage, to step back into the nightmare and find something worth salvaging.
When I asked Juan if he’d heard anything about Snake, he said he had. “They sent her to mental hospital.”
The first thing I did when I got to L.A. was call Patton State Hospital. They said Dianne Lake was there but that I couldn’t see her. Afterward I went directly to the Los Angeles county jail to see Charlie. The meeting was arranged by Charlie’s lawyer, Daye Shinn, who escorted me to the small glass-enclosed room where we both waited. Moments later, Charlie came in – all smiles – clean-shaven and wearing his blue-jumpsuit prison garb.
“Hey, brother… hey… where the hell you been?” He gave me a hug and grinned at Daye Shinn. “This is the man I been waiting for,” he said.
“How’s things, Charlie?”
He shrugged. “I’m just here for Christmas.” He winked at Daye Shinn. “I always come home for Christmas.”
Charlie lit a cigarette and pulled the ashtray in front of him. “Lot to do,” he said. “The girls need your help, you know… all this legal shit to attend to. They got a place on Chandler Street in Van Nuys. Got the scene going at Spahn’s too. We’re getting the album out. You got to help them out, keep things together.”
Listening to Charlie rap, you’d have thought he was free. He spoke as though nothing had changed and that being in prison for murder was merely a temporary inconvenience. He was, in fact, excellent in spirits. Overnight, he’d become an internationally known figure; he’d made the cover of Life magazine. There was also a small yet vocal segment of radicals who were calling him a hero. My impulse was to ask him about the Tate-La Bianca murders, but with Daye Shinn sitting beside me I remained silent.
“What you been doing?” he finally asked me.
Before I could reply, he went on. “You still with Crockett?”
“Hey, tell me something… does he try? I mean, psychic energy… You know, does he try, or does it just happen? I mean, I sit in my cell and put all my attention on the bars to make them dissolve… but they won’t do it, you know. They won’t do it because I try.”
I told Charlie that Crockett didn’t try.
I realized even then how dangerous a game I was playing. You can’t be on all sides at once. Yet that’s what I was doing. I was with Crockett. I was also with those who sought to prosecute Charles Manson. Along with Brooks and Juan I had told the D.A. and the other cops all I knew about the Family. Yet when Charlie asked what I’d said to the law, I didn’t lie. “We’re just telling your story, Charlie… you know… just tellin’ it like it is, ‘cause your story has to be told… the true story.”
“Dig it,” Charlie quipped, glancing at Shimm. “The truth will set you free… even Crockett will tell you that.”
What struck me then, and continued to amaze me during subsequent visits with Charlie, was his preoccupation with Crockett. Invariably he would ask about my relationship to him, and if he had taught me anything I might pass along. I told Charlie that if I could think of anything I’d let him know.
After leaving the jail, I drove directly to Spahn’s Ranch in a battered Chevy pickup I’d borrowed from a friend of Juan’s. As I wound my way up Santa Susana Pass in second gear, I’d flashed on all the journeys I’d made on that road with Charlie and the family; of the day Brenda and Snake had first taken me there. All that had transpired since then seemed beyond comprehension. I felt apprehensive as I turned into the driveway. On the surface, things hadn’t changed. George and Pearl were still there; so was Randy. Gypsy and Squeaky continued to minister to George’s needs. The wranglers worked; the tourists came and went. So did the law. The paranoia Juan spoke about was all too apparent. Driving up to the boardwalk was almost eerie.
Squeaky, Brenda, Sandy, and Clem were standing by the saloon when I pulled in. While Clem, as usual, was pretty spaced-out, the girls seemed alert and animated. They greeted me with open arms.
“Charlie said you’d be back,” Brenda said beaming.
I spent the afternoon at Spahn’s. I saw George and Pearl, then took a walk up to the outlaw shacks. I watched the wranglers herding horses toward the corral. I though of the first summer at Spahn’s, when things had been good. I thought of Shorty Shea. That night I went with the Family, or what remained of it – Squeaky, Brenda, Gypsy, Sandy, Clem, and a kid named Kevin – to the Chandler Street house in Van Buys. On the way, Squeaky told me about the trial; about Leslie, Katie, and Sadie. She said things were working out well; that Charlie would handle his own defense and that he would get off. She also said that the album was being but in wax and would soon be released.
The Chandler Street house was a two-bedroom, two-bath structure in the center of an upper-middle-class residential area in Van Nuys. The property was surrounded by a thick hedge on one side and a chain-link fence on the other; there was an outdoor patio in the back, where we convened to discuss legal matters, entertain reporters, and play music. The living room was cluttered with amplifiers, and musical instruments, but was otherwise orderly. At that time the Family had three vehicles, two of which were parked out in front of the house – a late-model Volkswagen van (belonging to another new guy named Mark Ross) and an old Studebaker sedan. There was also a pickup truck, which was kept at Spahn’s.
My return to the Family changed the nature of things immediately. If the girls harbored any suspicions as to my loyalty, they didn’t show it. I was needed. The Manson Family was based on male leadership; Charlie’s absence had created a real void, a void Clem (and later Bruce Davis) would never be able to fill, nor the young recruits like Kevin and Mark, who began hanging around after the arrests. Unconsciously I fell into the role at once.
While Squeaky continued to brief me on all the legal issues – who needed what, which lawyers had to be fired or hired – I began instituting my own programs, a return to the original philosophy of being unified in love and music. It was completely insane. Charlie was on trial for mass murder. Deep down, I was coming to believe he was guilty of those murders. Yet, there I was, working with the girls on Charlie’s behalf in court, while trying to regain some semblance of what the Family had once been. All of which seemed fine with Charlie, since the image he was then trying to project to the public was that of the enlightened hippie guru who had become the victim of a degenerate society. When I called Crockett and told him I was moving in with the Family, there was a long and pregnant silence on his end. Crockett never gave advice. He didn’t then. He merely quoted something from the Bible: “Fools go where angels fear to tread.”
To this day I don’t know just what forces were impelling me. I was later accused of being a spy for the police, but this was never the case. In part, it was the fulfillment of my role in the Family. Charlie had said, “I am you and you are me.” That statement was always more applicable to me than to anyone else. He had also said, “Someday you’ll be taking over.” Too, I may have been motivated by a sense of guilt for having deserted the Family, but just Charlie, but everyone. I wanted to get back to what we once had. Perhaps with Charlie gone there was a chance. But I knew that this was a false hope. Charlie was never gone from the minds of his followers. Though there were times when I realized how much danger I was in, I could not let go. That is the power of programming, and what this book is about.
When I saw Juan in L.A. several days later and told him what was happening, he said I was crazy. “Seem to me like you try and commit suicide.”
By that time, Crockett, Brooks, and I had all made statements to the D.A.’s investigators. This information, I knew, would be turned over to Charlie once a motion for discovery was made by the defense, which means that all evidence of the prosecution – documents, reports, interviews, everything – has to be submitted to the defense for examination. Charlie would see at once that my testimony against him was some of the most damaging, particularly what he had told me about killing Shorty Shea. Even so, there was a part of me which believed that Charlie would realize the wisdom of his own words: “The truth will set you free,” and that by telling the truth I was doing him a favor. Admitting this now is not easy; admitting to being a fool never is. But it was not merely a question of judgement; it was, in large part, the result of a process in which I had been locked up for more than a year and which left me completely fragmented; the power of programming, hypnosis, call it what you will. I was telling the truth. But I was telling it differently to different people; to Crockett; to the police; to the Family. In the face of all the horror – the real truth – I turned my head. It was not a question of personality, character or reason; it was like being a victim to a destiny I had to trust. I did know one thing; it couldn’t go on indefinitely.
For the next few weeks I met with Charlie, discussed strategy, helped the girls secure new lawyers; I spoke to Sadie and Leslie and conveyed Charlie’s messages. Meanwhile, at the Chandler Street house I reinstituted therapy sessions and love therapy and began indoctrinating the new guys in the arts of sex. For a time I did become Charlie in a way that I never had before.
Perhaps unconsciously I was proving that I could do in the Family what Charlie had done in the beginning; and by doing it, that it wasn’t such a great achievement. In some sense this would invalidate Charlie or at least prove to me that the programs I had accepted were not so important. Perhaps I was trying to free myself by walking a tightrope in front of Charlie’s nose, playing his game even better than he had played it. By the end of January 1970 the only thing I hadn’t done was to make love to Squeaky (Charlie’s number-one girl). I sensed that some of the other girls were generating pressure in that direction.
Only at night did my anxieties really surface. I began suffering from acute insomnia. When I did sleep, I’d invariably have nightmares. I fell into a habit (both at Spahn’s and sometimes at the Chandler Street house) of walking all night, alone. Only through total exhaustion could I relieve some of the tension. But I couldn’t go on living like that, and I knew it.
One morning (the day after I’d been told that Charlie had warned the girls to “Watch Paul!”), I returned from Spahn’s following an all-night hike. Though totally thrashed, I borrowed Mark Ross’s camper and drove it out to Topanga Canyon. I felt the need to see the ocean. Near the base of the canyon, just before it enters the coast highway, I stopped to buy a cup of coffee. As I pulled into the parking place, I saw I guy get out of his van and trot across the street toward the gas station. He looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure. I rolled down my window and shouted.
“Hey, Charlie… Black Beard Charlie!”
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD