Sometimes you never know where an article is going to appear. This appeared two years ago in TIN HOUSE. This will be a two part post. The interview is part two. Not much to say about part one. Lots of Babbling. The photo is a sunset on Mars. Cause it is purty.
THE DICHOTOMY OF EVIL
The Manson Girl Who Got Away
A house on Romero Canyon Road, in the Montecito section of Santa Barbara, California, the evening of Saturday, August 9, 1969. There were five of us present: four of us - myself, Richard, Jan, and Ruth (my girlfriend that summer) - were Junior Fellows at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, and there was Jan's wife, Barbara. We were all in our early to mid-twenties. As dusk fell over the eucalyptus and lemon trees surrounding the house, we dropped acid. As it turned out, this was not the right night for this group of people to do that.
All afternoon the news had been filled with reports of a grisly and bizarre quintuple murder that had take place after midnight in a mansion at 10050 Cielo Drive off Benedict Canyon in Bel-Air, an exclusive residential area of Los Angeles about eighty-five miles southeast of Santa Barbara. The mansion was the residence at that time of director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. When the police arrived that morning they found, in the living room of the mansion, the bodies of Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring, an internationally known hair designer who was Tate's former lover and now friend to her and Polanski, and on the front lawn the bodies of Abigail Folger, a Folger-coffee heiress, and her lover, Wojciech Frykowski, a playboy and friend of Polanski from his filmmaking days in Poland. Two of these victims - Sebring and Frykowski - had been shot. All four of them had been stabbed multiple times. Frykowski had also been struck on the head with a blunt instrument. The police found another victim as well, a young man named Steve parent, who had been visiting the grounds caretaker in his nearby cottage, slumped over the wheel of a car near the gate to the property. He had been shot four times. Someone had climbed the telephone pole, with a pair of wire clippers, and cut all four telephone wires to the house. On the front door the word PIG was written in blood that, after analysis, proved to be Sharon Tate's. Blood was everywhere - throughout the house, on the front porch, on the lawn. Witnesses described the sanguinary scene as a "battlefield" and a "human slaughterhouse."
Since it was the midst of summer, it did not get dark until fairly late that night on August 9. By the time darkness had consumed the house on Romero Canyon Road, Richard, Jan, Barbara, Ruth, and I were fairly well stoned. Suddenly Jan, a philosophy graduate of Reed College with a strong penchant for getting caught up in twisted and protracted flights of fancy, started talking about the murders in Bel-Air. He alluded to some of the details of the murder scene and to the names of some of the victims. Then he said that even as we sat there, the murderers could be in our vicinity; in fact, they could be right outside the house at that very moment. He emphasized the fact that the murders the night before had taken place in a canyon, and we were in a canyon, and the two canyons were not that far from each other; we could easily be reached by car, just as the victims the night before must have been. He also pointed out that the number of people in our house, five, was the exact number as had been murdered at the Polanski residence. He went on about all this at some length, until we finally told him to shut up.
Even had we not been stoned on LSD, this kind of talk, under the psychological conditions prevailing in Southern California that night, would have induced paranoia in the rest of us. We stood up and went to the windows and looked out. Of course, if you look out the window of a brightly lit house into the darkness, you don't see much of anything. Romero Canyon was an extremely quiet area, but there are always noises and, in the night, they tend to be mysterious ones. We drew all the curtains on three sides of the living room and in the dining room. We locked the doors. Then we went around the house and made sure all the windows were closed, and pulled down all the window shades. We turned out as many lights as we could and still find our way around the house, and then huddled around the dining room table for a feeling of solidarity. Every once in a while one of us got up and pulled aside a curtain a fraction and peered out to check on things. I don't think any of us got any sleep that night.
But besides the definite feeling of menace, there was a feeling of being menaced specifically by evil, an almost palpable evil. Of course, we were not the only ones in a state of fear in Southern California that night. And as it happened, that fear was justified. Just after midnight, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were brutally slaughtered in their home at 3301 Waverly Drive in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, near Griffith Park. They too were killed with multiple knife wounds. The police found a fork protruding from Leno's stomach and a knife still piercing his throat. On a wall of the LaBianca's house was written in their blood DEATH TO PIGS and RISE and HEALTER SKELTER (so misspelled). This was the news that Ruth and I woke up to on Monday, after our LSD trip had wound down and we caught up on our sleep.
Years later, in the '80s, when I was studying and writing about the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his aggressive cult in Central Oregon for Oregon Magazine, I had another, more direct encounter with the existence and palpability of real evil. At his ashram in India, before he came to Oregon, Rajneesh had involved his followers in prostitution throughout Asia, international drug smuggling, and violent-encounter groups in which occurred numerous rapes (in the name of sexual liberation) as well as physical abuse resulting in at least one death. Rajneesh forced his women followers into abortions and sterilizations (he didn't countenance childbearing). In Oregon, Rajneesh followers were eventually implicated in the poisoning of restaurant patrons in The Dalles, the seat of Wasco County, with salmonella, and the attempted poisonings of two Wasco County commissioners, in a plot to gain control of the Wasco County Commission so that the incorporation of the city Rajneeshpuram, which Rajneesh megalomaniacally aspired to build, would be approved. Examining the history and behavior of Rajneesh honed my sense that evil and an evil path in life are, at least in key cases, deliberately and consciously chosen.
Rajneesh mesmerized his followers with a stupefying amalgam of Eastern mystical mumbo jumbo (Rajneesh, like Charles Manson, talked frequently about the need to "lose" or "give up" the ego) and the language and techniques of the then-prevalent humanistic psychologist of the era, after reading some of Rajneesh's literature in 1978, noted that Rajneesh "explains and justifies the slaughter of Jews throughout history," and wrote that "almost from the beginning I have had the feeling that this is a man who is deeply, deeply evil - evil on a scale almost outside the limits of the human imagination." Rajneesh adherent Shannon Jo Ryan, whose father, Congressman Leo Ryan, was gunned down at Jonestown, once stated: "I've heard other people say that if [Rajneesh] asked them to kill themselves, they would do it. If [Rajneesh] asked them to kill someone else, they would do it… I don't know if my trust in him is that total. I would like it to be." Rajneesh himself said the following: "When you surrender, you have surrendered all possibility of saying no. Whatsoever the situation, you will not say no."
My sense of evil as a consciously chosen path had originated, however, in my familiarity with the Center for Feeling Therapy, a purported "therapeutic community" that flourished in Los Angeles in the '70s. Center "therapists," led by head "therapist" and leader Richard "Riggs" Corriere (who did not countenance childbearing among his followers either), employed a combination of abreactive/regressive psychological techniques, which they had learned from Primal Therapy guru Arthur Janov, and coercive social techniques of group therapy to gain control of their patients psyches and lives. (Some three hundred "patients" lived together near the therapists' "compound" in the area of West Hollywood.) The Center for Feeling Therapy broke up in two days in late 1980 amid revelations about what had been going on behind the scenes there, including sexual and financial exploitation of patients. Afterward, while researching transcripts at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. I discovered that three Center therapists, in 1972, not long after the Center's founding, had held something called the "Esalen Seminar on Feeling Therapy." During this "seminar" one of the therapists, describing the abreactive techniques they used to regress patients back to the helplessness of childhood, said that these techniques "were so powerful" that they could use them to manipulate and control their patients, "if we wanted to." This therapist added: "Hitler did that, you know."
One of the revelations during the Center's breakup was that Richard Corriere had been lecturing his therapy group on the virtues of Adolph Hitler. Among other statements Corriere had made was this: "If Hitler had won World War II, he would have eventually done good for the world, because all human beings, deep down, want to do good." Rajneesh had also alluded to Hitler (in the book The Mustard Seed, which Brandon referenced), claiming, "Jews are always in search of their Adolph Hitlers, someone who can kill them - then they feel at ease." And Charles Manson, the evil mind behind what came to be called the "Tate-LaBianca killings," according to his prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, told his followers that "Hitler had the best answer to everything" and that he was "a tuned-in guy who leveled the karma of the Jews." The reason for such cult leaders' fascination with Hitler seems clear enough. In his turn, Charles Manson himself has become something of a symbol and magnet for those drawn to the phenomenological power of evil. He still receives a volume of mail from admirers. One neo-Nazi wrote Manson that his discovery of Manson "could only be compared" to his earlier discovery of Adolph Hitler and the National Socialist Party.
When I was a senior in high school, my history teacher assigned us to watch a series of films about Hitler's Nuremburg rallies. Sitting there in a small darkened room with a few other students, watching images of Hitler flicker on the small screen, not being present in that immense stadium with thousands of chanting people, listening to the magnetic timbre of Hitler's voice without understanding a word of the language other than Die Juden and Judenfrei, I still found Hitler a preternaturally compelling figure, even at that distance in time. It was spooky, and not a little scary. What if you had actually been there? What if you had actually been German, and understood what he was saying? What if you felt resentment at the treatment of Germany by the Allies after World War I? What if you didn't know any Jews personally and were suspicious of them? In any case, it might have been hard in the context of those rallies to emotionally resist Hitler's hysterical entreaties and propaganda, especially juxtaposed with the hysterically passionate responses of the crowds. And that, I think, is what our history teacher sent us to learn about and contemplate. Which brings me to my next, and final, topic.
I choose to call it "The Dichotomy of Evil" (as opposed to "The Banality of Evil"). On the one side of my dichotomy are those, like the subject of the interview below, who manifestly did not ever consciously set out to follow the path of evil, but who were skillfully guided and manipulated in that direction by those on the other side of the dichotomy, those who combine intense charisma with a keen sense of how to find and gain control of followers, with diabolical purpose and intent. Adolph Hitler, Jim Jones, Rajneesh, Riggs Corriere, David Koresh, Charles Manson. What is the responsibility of the people on the first side of the dichotomy for the actions they have been manipulated and duped into? What is the responsibility of the German people as a whole for what happened in Germany in the '30s and during World War II, a question that has been probed and debated endlessly? At the Esalen Institute, I once observed a Gestalt therapy session in which a grown woman was, through a painstaking - and painful - therapeutic process, reduced to a quivering, lost, lonely, sobbing child. The therapist, if he had "wanted to," if he had possessed malign intent, could probably have taken this woman over completely at that moment and made her agree to almost anything he desired