But Jesus said unto him: Judas, betrayest thou
the son of Man with a kiss?
Judas; looking back, I see that my relationship to Charlie was like that of Judas to Christ. Christ needed a Judas; together they made the legend. Someone had to tell the story; someone had to tip off the law. Of all the disciples, only Judas tried to explain what Christ was preaching. But they wouldn’t buy Christ’s blasphemous statements: “I and my father are one.” Christ was seized, tried, and crucified. But Judas never lived to witness the crucifixion; he hanged himself the night before.
I parked my car in front of Black Beard’s place and went inside. Black Beard wasn’t there, but Bob was. I didn’t feel like telling him what had happened, so I remained quiet while he discussed the trial. He said Linda’s testimony would be enough to get Charlie and the others convicted; he said Linda had gotten her head together and was ready to tell everything. He said if I agreed to testify, “Charlie’s goose will be cooked.” I listened for a while, then went out to the van. It was dark by then. I lit a joint and turned on Mark’s stereo and lay down on the bed in the back. I guess that’s when I fell asleep.
Sometime around midnight I woke up gagging; the inside of the van was filled with smoke. Flames were licking up around the front seat. I tried to kick open the rear door, but it wouldn’t budge. The smell of burning plastic and enamel permeated the air. My lungs sputtered; there was no oxygen, only the toxic, white-hot smoke which funneled into my throat. I tried to scream, but the sounds were muted, choked off in guttural groans. I smashed my fist through one of the side windows, but the cold air only fanned the flames, bringing them closer. For what seemed like minutes I remained in a state of panic, continuing to kick at the rear door while my mind lapsed into a slow, reeling, kaleidoscopic rerun of deaths by fire. It was like the freak-out all over again. I felt the hairs on my body being singed. The smell sent me into convulsions, and I vomited, choking on my sickness, feeling as though I was about to die again. Finally an impulse prompted me to dive headlong through the flames onto the front seat. I kicked open the door and rolled out onto the ground, then got up and raced to the house to wake Bob and Black Beard.
By the time the ambulance arrived, I was in shock. Black Beard had wrapped me in a blanket. I stood in the corner of the living room asking for morphine. But they didn’t understand me. They couldn’t; my vocal cords had been burned to a crisp. Black Beard rode with me to the hospital. I remember that. I remember him sitting next to me. “Your’re gonna be okay, Paul… you’re gonna be okay.”
As it turned out, the nightmare of that experience was just beginning. It took over an hour for them to admit me to a bed in the emergency room of the Santa Monica Hospital. Since I couldn’t talk, Black Beard had to interpret. I wrote down my parents’ phone number. But that wasn’t enough. Before the hospital did anything, they wanted to be certain I had medical insurance. By that time, I’d given up on trying to communicate and just lay back, feeling more pain than I could ever remember having felt. The next thing I remember was being given a shot of morphine and being wheeled into a room.
There were two nurses hovering around me when I felt blisters forming on my throat and started choking.
“Pop the bubbles,” I gagged. “Poaap do boabbles!” But the sounds were garbled and they didn’t understand.
“Da baubbles.” I pointed to my throat.
“He’s going into convulsions,” one of them said.
“No… no… pauup da baubbles!”
Then a doctor appeared and ordered them to prepare for a tracheotomy.
“No! No!” I wailed. That’s when I started to vomit again, but it was mainly dry heaves. I tried to swallow hard and make the bubbles pop myself. I tried to force my tongue down on the bubbles, but it wouldn’t reach. I stuck a finger in my mouth, but the nurses jerked my hand away.
“Pauup the babules! Paaup the bauubles!”
A little cart was wheeled in. My eyes were puffy and swollen; all the hair had been singed off my face. I could scarcely see, and it hurt to keep my eyes open. But I saw the scalpel and the hypodermic needle, and I knew they intended to cut my throat.
“No! No!” I kicked and thrashed while one of the nurses held a pan under my chin to catch the puke. “Please try and hit the tray,” she said primly.
I kicked at her, but someone grabbed my legs. Two dudes had been called in to strap me down.
“He’s hysterical… hurry!”
They’d pinned one arm down, but before they could grab the other, I seized one of the surgical instruments, shoved the butt end of it down my throat, and popped the bubbles.
I remained unconscious three days. When I woke up, my mother was sitting beside me cutting what remained of my hair. She said everything was going to be okay and for me to rest. She said too that my brothers and sisters were waiting to see me. So were Paul and Crockett and Brooks Posten. I remember seeing Crockett and Brooks, but I don’t remember what they said to me. The next day, my parents took me home to Thousand Oaks.
During the week I spent at my folks’, reporters and police continued to call and come by in droves. My parents kept them away. I couldn’t talk anyway. Fate works with the psyche in mysterious ways – at the very time I am asked to testify in court, in front of Charlie, before the world, I am rendered voiceless. Perhaps I had programmed myself, driven myself unconsciously to the outer limits of several realities at once. The questions were obvious ones: did the Family try to kill me? Were my actions and impulses, as Juan suggested, suicidal? Or was it an accident? Clem later boasted that it was he who tried to kill me. In light of other murders and murder attempts, it would appear a very good possibility. But I don’t believe it. Even if it were true, the responsibility was mine. I drove myself into that situation as a means of coming to grips with a game I knew could not go on. Perhaps it was inevitable. I took myself to a place where there was no voice. The voice I burned was not mine; it was Charlie’s, the Family’s; it was Crockett’s, the Man’s; it was the voice of society. Those voices had to go up in flames. The voice I needed if I were ever to survive was my own voice.
After a week, I left Thousand Oaks and flew to Monterey, then headed down the coast to Big Sur. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to sit on the edge of the cosmos and watch the sea in silence. For several days I hiked through mountains around Esalen, stopping once to visit my sister, who was preparing to go to Chile with a group she helped organize, called Arica. I hiked along the same trails Black Beard and I had once traveled, and I stopped at Garapata Canyon long enough to take a peek at Kevin’s house. But I didn’t go in. I didn’t want to. By the middle of March I’d decided to go back to Shoshone.
The day I got there, Crockett, Juan, and Brooks took me to Las Vegas and bought me a steak dinner with all the trimmings. They didn’t talk much about the fire, but I sensed what they were thinking. They talked about the music scene they were putting together, plans to do gigs in towns throughout the desert. We laughed and told stories, and they showed me the depth of their friendship. Crockett found it amusing that I couldn’t talk, insisting when I did manage to rasp out a jibberish of inarticulate utterings that my singing had improved immensely. They didn’t tell me that night that the D.A.’s office had been calling them regularly, asking them to exert pressures on me to testify in the Tate-La Bianca trials. At that point I didn’t want to testify. I had a perfect excuse. I couldn’t talk.
By that time the retrial of Bobby Beausoleil for the murder of Hinman was in progress. Mary Brunner, in exchange for complete immunity, became the chief prosecution witness, testifying that she had seen Bobby stab Hinman to death. Bobby, meanwhile, put the finger on Charlie. But the jury believed Mary. While this was happening, Charlie was busy juggling lawyers, not just his but Sadie’s and Leslie’s as well. In May he acquired the services of Irving Kanarek. Judge William Keene, meanwhile, who had presided over the preliminary trials, was replaced by Judge Charles W. Older. By the middle of June they began the long process of selecting a jury for the Tate-La Bianca trials.
My feelings during that period fluctuated. The trauma of the fire stayed with me. At times I woke up at night in a cold sweat, in a state of utter panic. I was high-strung and subject to fits of convulsive crying, torrential outpourings which carried away the sludge of repression which had locked me away from my feelings and from seeing the stark horror of an evil I had been part of. The fire had burned away the façade. I was left face to face with myself. The pain of that has never left me entirely.
While Juan had talked about testifying, he was undecided. None of us gave advice one way or the other. Meanwhile, we worked on our music. Though I couldn’t talk, much less sing, I could play the flute. Brooks had become something of a virtuoso on the guitar; Juan was dynamite on the conga drums. In early June we did a gig in Lone Pine, calling ourselves the Minstrel’s Magic. A week later we were hired to play at a dance in Tecopa. For the first time in months I began writing songs – songs for the new voice I didn’t yet possess.
One night we were lounging in the living room by the fire. We’d worked all day laying a pipeline for the gas company. Crockett as usual was dealing cards to himself. Juan was writing a letter. Brooks had gone to Tecopa to pick up the amplifiers we’d left there the weekend before. I’d begun groaning about the fact that I still had no voice, that it looked like I’d have to be content to just play music, not sing it.
Crockett glanced up from his cards.
“You ever decide to get your voice back?”
“Well, if ya ain’t decided, are ya sure ya even want your voice back?” He scooped up the cards and shuffled them. “Maybe ya want to just leave that voice behind… get ya a new voice. Or did ya like the old one?”
I gawked at Crockett.
“If ya want a different voice – might as well, ya ain’t got one now – why not decide on that… decide on the kind ya want… one for singing and talking. Figure out what style ya want… ya know… low, high… once ya decide and picture it in your mind, just relax and it’ll come.”
“Way it is now,” Crockett intoned, “yer holdin’ up the show. We got a singin’ group here, like to have it complete… see what I mean?”
That night I decided to get a new voice. I pictured and felt the voice I wanted in my mind’s eye. A few days later, while trying to sing in the shower, my wheezy, disjointed raspings began to give way to sound – the first fledgling tones of my new voice. Moments later I was belting out a song I’d written called “Is It That You Recall.” I was exultant as I dried off, wrapped a towel around my waist, and strutted into the living room, where Crockett and Brooks were seated on the floor, rewiring the amplifier.
“Well,” Crockett said, glancing up at me, then at Brooks. “It ain’t Caruso, but what the hell.”
Shortly after that episode, on a windy afternoon when Crockett and I were in Shoshone buying groceries, we ran into Clem, Gypsy, and Mark Ross riding around in a jeep. We had just crossed the street when they pulled up alongside us.
“Got a message for you piggies,” Clem barked. “Charlie says when he gets out, you better not be around the desert.”
I glanced at Gypsy, and she stared back with all the vehemence she could muster. She looked pathetic. Clem, his hair scrambled and windblown around his ghoulish face, looked even more ridiculous. Suddenly the pent-up rage and resistance I had felt for so long fell away into a kind of clarity. I knew then that I’d testify in front of a jury, in front of Charles Manson, in front of the Devil himself, and that I’d tell the truth.
The same afternoon I wrote a letter to the D.A.’s office, to Stovitz and Bugliosi, telling them I would testify for the prosecution.
Later that night I took a walk downtown with Juan. I told him about the letter, but he didn’t say anything. Oddly enough, in all the time we’d known each other, Juan and I had never shared the information we had on the Family. I mentioned that to Juan, saying, “Let’s not discuss it now, either… let’s just go down there and tell the truth. There’s just been too much dying… Charlie’s trip is nothing but death.”
Juan agreed to testify, and so did Brooks; it was an agreement that would commit us to an odyssey of trials that lasted more than nine years.
“Best thing for ya,” Crockett said when we told him. “Them trials will be like a deprogramming process. Yer gonna have to remember specific incidents and tell them to lawyers who’d like nothin’ better than to make you look dumb, crazy, or drugified. And ya can’t fake it, ‘cause they got it all on them transcripts. Ya can’t remember what ya told one guy… ya just remember the incident and tell the truth, and that will serve to bring your mind through all those things again and get ya free of them… and with Charlie sittin’ right there lookin’ at ya… it will finally cut you loose.”
“The truth will set you free,” I muttered distractedly.
“Exactly,” Crockett said.
We weren’t called to testify that summer, but we followed the progress of the trial and all of Charlie’s antics and manipulations. We saw photos of Ouisch, Sandy, Cappy, Squeaky, and Gypsy sitting on the sidewalks, their heads shaved, their foreheads carved with Charlie’s stamp, just as their souls had been. From time to time we received telephone threats, but it did nothing to alter our decision to testify. Linda Kasabian’s testimony alone was devastating for Charlie. But he continued to operate; manipulating lawyers, judges, the jury. Meanwhile, people continued to disappear and to die, people like Ronald Hughes, Leslie’s lawyer. But those stories have been told – the story of a murder attempt on Barbara Hoyt, the story of Charlie lunging at Judge Older with a sharpened pencil in his hand. Whether in or out of jail, Charles Manson was dangerous. The prospect of facing him in court was not pleasant. But in a strange ironic way, I was looking forward to it. To me it was a part of the destiny of my relationship with Charlie and the only way to really sever that relationship once and for all.
In September, when Text was finally extradited to California, I told Crockett and Posten that I wanted to see him. We drove to L.A. the next day and met with him for over an hour. If I had any doubts whatsoever about testifying, seeing Tex removed them.
Sitting before us, he looked emaciated, skin and bone, like a torture victim at Dachau. His eyes were lifeless. The prosecution would later claim that Tex was faking it, that he was trying to cop an insanity plea. But I knew Tex Watson and he wasn’t faking anything. He was paying for the crimes he had committed. If I’ve ever seen a specimen of living death, it was Tex. When we asked him what really happened at the murder scenes, he told us. He didn’t explain, he just narrated the events in monotone as they happened. The bodies of the Tate and La Biance victims had received a total of 159 stab wounds; most of them had been inflicted by him. “I just killed them… that was what I had to do. I heard Sadie cry, ‘Help me,’ and I helped her. It seemed like there was a lot of time between events… then Katie needed help and I helped her. It seemed like I had to do everything… And then it was over.”
As we were walking out to the jeep, Brooks remarked to Crockett that Tex might just as well die, ‘cause he’d never be able to get that horror out of his head.
Crockett just grunted. It was clear that seeing Tex Watson had disturbed him too.
“I don’t know,” Brooks said, looking at me. “I remember just after Charlie came up to Barker’s after the murders. I was sitting in the bunkhouse and he come in, said he’d been looking for me and that the only time he could talk any sense to me was when Big Paul wasn’t around. He takes out his knife and says to me, ‘You know, it might be a good idea for you to take this knife, go to Shoshone, and kill that motherfuckin’ Sheriff Ward.’”
“What’d ya say?”
“Somethin’ like, ‘Yeah, far-out.’ But I was thinking in there, looking at Tex, what if he had stayed at Barker’s and met Crockett ‘stead of me.” Brooks glanced at Crockett, who climbed into the jeep and fired up the engine. I sat in the back while Brooks, seated on the passenger side, faced me, his eyes squinting. “I mean, shit, if I’d never met Crockett or come to the desert, I’d still be like a junkie hooked on Charlie. Who knows, I might have taken that knife… I might have wound up where Tex is now.”
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD