Ironically, the story of Charles Manson and his Family does us all a favor. It reveals in no uncertain terms the disease of our own society. It chronicles the transformation of communal love into its opposite. There was nothing simplistic in what happened. And it isn’t something to turn away from. People seem to feign a horror of blood and carnage, yet invariably rush to accident scenes and fistfights, to anything that will put them in touch with their own blood and something that is primal – to something that will wake them up to the fact that they are not robots but living, breathing organisms. The Manson Family did more than this. It tore the lid off suburban complacency with a vengeance, and left us with a lot of questions to answer.
I thought once the headlines and the novelty had worn off that the questions would cease. But as the days went by after the trials, and the months turned into years, the questions continued. Even after the publication of Helter-Skelter, it was clear that people did not understand what had actually transpired in the Manson Family. During the trials, I was approached by producers Robert Hendrickson and Lawrence Merrick, who wanted to make a documentary film on the Manson Family. They had already shot footage around Spahn’s while Charlie was on trial, inducing the remaining Family members to make music and rap about Charlie on film. The group obliged, believing that they were helping to program Helter-Skelter. Later, we shot some footage in
After Helter-Skelter hit the stands I began touring with Vince Bugliosi to promote the book on TV talk shows. I realized then that there was a genuine need to know what caused the phenomenon of the Manson Family. I remember people asking me, “What can we do to protect our kids?” Often, I became the scapegoat for people’s collective outrage. When I appeared on the Tom Snyder Tomorrow show, his first question nearly floored me. “How is it that you are allowed to walk the streets and do this show?” Along with Bugliosi, I wasted no time in setting him straight. But I was astonished and angry, and I asked myself: why go through this? I questioned my own motives, realizing that deep down I did feel a sense of guilt. I had played a part and did have a responsibility to explain what had happened. After the Snyder show I got serious about public speaking and learned to handle myself under fire. I began giving lectures on the effects of drugs. I spoke at district attorneys’ conventions on college campuses. I pondered the idea of writing a book. In my own mind, I knew the Manson story had not really been told.
With the exception of the Vietnam war, the Kennedy assassinations, the slaying of Martin Luther King, Watergate, and perhaps the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, few events in the last twenty years have had more impact on the public at large than the story of Charlie Manson and his Family. People’s fascination with death, violence, abduction, and money, it seems, can never be fully satiated – which says something about the public consciousness. Oddly enough, the Manson Family originated as a rebellion against that very state of consciousness and was a direct outgrowth of the psychedelic revolution of the early sixties, grounded theoretically in principles of love and the freedom “to be.” What happened to those ideals, to me, and to the minds of Charlie’s followers was the story I wanted to tell – the story of mind control and mental programming.
The questions to be answered were crucial – the echoing refrain of a lady from Atlanta who asked me on the Phil Donahue show: “What experiences in your own background would make you susceptible to a man like Manson?” The woman appeared shocked when I told her we had shared many of her own experiences. Like her, we had shuddered through the Cuban missile crisis. We too cried for our country and the Kennedys. We watched in disgust while our natural inheritance turned into plastic and concrete, and bit our lips in rage as our brothers died in Southeast Asia. We saw movies on drugs made by people who knew nothing about drugs. We felt the need to live and to believe that we had inherited a world worth living in. So we hit the road in the mid-sixties; searching for truth, hoping we might recognize it once we saw it. We needed to love and to be loved. One by one we met Charlie and saw in him and his followers the love we were looking for.
It has been too easy to classify the Manson Family as a pack of sick, drug-bludgeoned kids duped by an ex-con. The transformation from a “flower-child” Family whose only revolutionary activity was an alternate lifestyle into a militant, Helter-Skelter-ready band of death-wielding robots was slow, methodical, insidious. Yet, many still cling to the notion that all Charlie had to do to get people to kill was to stuff them full of dope and say “sic ‘em.” Had that been the base, the interest in the Manson story would have waned long ago.
No, Charlie Manson was intelligent, and so were most of his followers. Hippies who wanted only to get laid or stoned were neither susceptible nor acceptable to Charlie. In conversation, he would lose the average “lodle” as soon as he opened his mouth. People are still surprised when reminded that Sandy and Mary both had college degrees; that Leslie Van Houten was a homecoming queen and one of the most popular girls at Monrovia High School; that Katie was a Sunday-school teacher… and so the list goes. And how could it be that Tex Watson, who took part in so much killing, was not only an A student and a top athlete but was voted the most likely to succeed by his classmates in high school. No, Tex was programmed to kill, just as young soldiers are programmed to kill in the name of democracy or the flag or whatever. But in that case, it’s just an all-American boy performing a heroic act. It’s possible that had Tex gotten into that kind of program, he’d have been one hell of a marine – a hero with decorations instead of a murderer in jail for life. It may be stretching a point, but it’s one that should be made nevertheless.
What drew us to Charlie initially was a real love we helped put there. So we submitted to his trip; we burned our bridges and left our past far behind, to become lost in Charlie’s nightmare with nowhere to go. But Charlie always had the “joint” to go back to. The Family didn’t realize that he had a home and that the bridge to it could not be burned.
Still, there are questions that remained unanswered. Just how and why did Charlie change? Did he have Helter-Skelter planned from the start, or was it only a bud in his subconscious awaiting its time to flower? Only Charlie knows the answers to all the questions. But ultimately he must be seen for what he was: the worst kind of criminal, a man who subverted the power of love, turning it into the most despicable evil imaginable – the domination of souls.
Charlie did more than give hitchhikers and hippies a bad name. He manifested and expressed not only the mechanism of his own twisted psyche, but the latent evils existing within our own society. You cannot divorce Manson from the culture that spawned him. That too is an easy way out and would be a grave error. I know that his incarceration has not put an end to my own struggles. It has taken years for me to untangle and come to grips with all that I experienced in the Family. But more than anything, in the wake of all the destruction, the killing, the inner crippling of those who survived, I wanted to salvage something, if only the knowledge that what happened to the Family could well have happened to others; that mind control and programming are a part of our daily lives and that the results, unless people develop an awareness, can be, in the long run, no less insidious and destructive. Clearly, in a world where the majority of the populace speeds around in varied states of hypnosis, bombarded into stupor around in varied states of hypnosis, bombarded into stupor by the media, it is necessary to understand the fundamentals of programming.
Perhaps, if there is one lesson I have learned, it is to listen to myself. To be what I am. This is the bottom line of awareness, and paradoxically the greatest link to humanity after all. Had I been so grounded in March 1968, on the day I met Charles Manson, I would probably find it hard now to remember who he was.
But the Manson saga is not over. In June 1977 and again in May 1978 I testified in Leslie Van Houten’s retrials, each of which resulted in her reconviction. Whether or not she will appeal that conviction is not certain. I don’t know what happened to all the others. I do know that Susan Atkins and Charles Watson, both born-again Charistians, have written books about their experiences and are serving life sentences for their crimes, as are convicted murderers Bruce Davis, Mary Brunner, and Bobby Beausoleil. Lynette Fromme is also in prison following her attempted assassination of former President Gerald Ford. Diane Lake (Snake) has been completely rehabilitated and the last I heard was working as a teller in a bank in northern California. As for Brooks, Juanita, Juan Flynn, and Crockett, all are doing well: Brooks is a full-time musician, while Juan lives in Panama, where he works on a ranch.
Charles Manson, meanwhile, now forty-four, is serving a life sentence in California, awaiting his eligibility for parole.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Watkins was the class president of all his high school classes in a suburb of Los Angeles and student body president in his senior year when he dropped out and took to the road. A series of circumstances led to his being picked up by two girls of the Manson Family and he soon became one of Manson’s most devoted followers. Later, however, he became concerned about Manson’s predilection for violence and left the family before the Tate murders. He now lives in the desert town of Tecopa, California, and earns his living in construction and by lecturing on the subject of drug prevention and rehabilitation.
Guillermo Soledad is the pen name of a member of the faculty of the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has written a number of magazine articles for publications such as Ms., Playboy and Playgirl.
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD
We hope you enjoyed reading this special presentation of the only Official Tate-LaBianca Murders Blog. August is a new month so it is fitting we end as it begins. If you read the book, you learned a hell of a lot. If you read intelligently, you could see the lies as Paul wrote them. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks to the elves who typed it. Will we do this again? Maybe. But the Blog wants you to learn- so come and learn!