Monday, July 29, 2019

Charles Manson Murders 50 Years Later

Pretty fascinating reading.

At LAT, "Charles Manson’s murderous imprint on L.A. endures as other killers have come and gone":

Hearing the retired prosecutor recount the bloody crimes that scarred Los Angeles, it is easy to forget that the savage murders happened half a century ago.

Stephen Kay runs one hand slowly down his cheek, describing the mark a thick rope scraped along actress Sharon Tate’s face. The rope was tied around her neck and looped over a living room beam in her rented Benedict Canyon home. She was 8 ½ months pregnant. Clad in just a white bra and panties. Still alive, though not for long.

He recounts, as if it were yesterday, how Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were tied up and dragged into separate rooms in their Los Feliz home, where they too died at the hands of Charles Manson’s brutal “family.”

“When Rosemary heard Leno getting stabbed, she cried out,” Kay says. He leans forward, hands splayed on knees, his voice rising like a terrified woman’s. “ ‘Leno! Leno!’ ”

Kay is slender, avid and 76. His white hair fluffs out above his tanned face. He helped put Manson family members behind bars for the 1969 slayings of nine people and has since attended 60 parole hearings to make sure they stayed there. He still recalls every awful detail of the murders, at times closing his eyes as if to block the images.

The slaughter and its aftermath “left the biggest imprint on Los Angeles, [on] all of Southern California,” Kay says. And also, it seems, on the prosecutor himself. “It’s the case that just never goes away.”

The Tate-LaBianca murders rocked California, drew international attention and came to symbolize the city of Los Angeles. And they continue to fascinate to this day, as their 50th anniversary nears.

“Helter Skelter” tours that follow the family’s bloody footsteps regularly sell out. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” — fiction wound around Manson family fact — opened Thursday night. Chief prosecutor Vincent T. Bugliosi’s 1974 book, “Helter Skelter,” has never gone out of print; it is joined on a regular basis by new entries into the Manson canon, at least two this summer alone.

Other killers have come and gone. Other crimes since have accounted for more deaths. People more famous than Tate, hairdresser-to-the-stars Jay Sebring and coffee heiress Abigail Folger have been slain. Still, the memory of Manson and the men and women he persuaded his followers to murder has not faded.

The question, which persists to this day, is why?

“It’s a story that still baffles,” says Linda Deutsch, who covered the Manson case for the Associated Press. “Manson had a streak of pure evil…. It persists now that he’s dead — finally. It’s as if the curse has not disappeared; it hangs over everyone who was ever involved with him.”

L.A. in the 1960s

Pamela Des Barres’ San Fernando Valley home is a shrine to the 1950s and ’60s — to rock ’n’ roll, spiritual quests and her life as a proud and prolific groupie. An oil painting of Walt Whitman (“my God,” she calls him) shares wall space with a portrait of Elvis. There’s a picture of James Dean, all leather jacket and motorcycle, on the hearth behind a bust of Jesus.

“Sixty-nine was my year,” says the author of “I’m With the Band” and member of the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously). “That’s when the GTOs’ album came out. I was dating Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Waylon Jennings.… It was like anything could happen, and it was all good.”

The “greatest music was being made” in Los Angeles, says the onetime flower child from Reseda, who sports blond braids and an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse that shows off her tattoos — Elvis’ signature snuggling up against Jesus’ face. She is 70. “Pre-Altamont and pre-Manson, it really felt like the most magical place to live.”

That was before the Tate-LaBianca murders began grabbing headlines that August. Before a member of the Hells Angels stabbed a man to death at a free concert headlined by the Rolling Stones at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California in December. Before everything changed.

Los Angeles in the late 1960s was a place where someone like Manson could share a table at the Whisky a Go Go with someone like record producer Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son. Where members of the Beach Boys could hang with members of the “family,” who, in turn, rubbed shoulders with the Straight Satans biker gang. Where beautiful people could throw parties and have no idea who was taking LSD by the pool. Where everyone was looking for a guru, no background checks required.

Hollywood gossip queen Rona Barrett says the entertainment industry and those in its orbit operated under “a caste system” — until they didn’t. In the late ’60s, the change was swift and equalizing.

That’s when Manson showed up.

Designs on musical fame

Charles Milles Maddox, who would later take his stepfather’s last name, was born in 1934 to a desperately poor single mother in Ohio who cycled in and out of prison. She dragged her son around the Midwest and sent him off to reform school because he was out of control and her new husband didn’t like him. He was 12 years old and would go on to spend most of his life in one institution or another.

Prison was where Manson learned to play guitar. He was obsessed with the Beatles and their emerging fame, which prompted him to try songwriting so he too could become an international star. Prison was also where he learned the art of pimping and where he took a four-month Dale Carnegie course, with “How to Win Friends and Influence People” as required reading.

And it was where he met a fellow prisoner named Phil Kaufman, who had contacts in Hollywood. Kaufman told the aspiring musician that, when he was released from federal prison on Terminal Island, he should polish up some songs and go play for a guy he knew at Universal Studios.

That meeting, in late 1967, did not go well, but Manson was not deterred.

Soon he was seeking a musical sponsor to help him get a recording contract. The “girls” of Manson’s family were deputized to aid in the search, scouring the Sunset Strip and Topanga Canyon. They came through with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who picked a pair of them up while hitchhiking.

Wilson introduced Manson to his songwriting partner Gregg Jakobson and Melcher, who lived for a time with girlfriend Candice Bergen at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, a house that was later rented to a prominent movie director and his actress wife.

It helped that Manson had a certain strange charm and at least a little musical talent. Jakobson says he could strum his guitar and make up a song on the spot about the flies that happened to land on his arm. He could talk for hours about his odd philosophies. And he had drugs and girls to spare.

Manson saw Wilson, Jakobson and Melcher as his tickets to fame and fortune. He auditioned for Melcher. He made several demos. The Beach Boys recorded his song “Cease to Exist,” but they changed the title and the words and didn’t give him a writing credit. Melcher eventually told Manson, “I don’t know what to do with you in the studio.”

Manson did not respond well. He had told the family that a contract was imminent. His future and his pride were riding on it.

Morbid curiosity

The voices are spectral and chilling, broadcast from speakers inside the white van with the black funeral wreath on its grille. On a recent summer morning, Scott Michaels, founder of Hollywood-based Dearly Departed Tours, prepares his passengers as he heads toward Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon.

“This is the story of the Tate murders told by the killers.”

But it is still unsettling to hear the disembodied voices of Charles “Tex” Watson, Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins describe that awful night 50 years ago — Aug. 9, 1969. They were Manson family stalwarts, 20 to 23 years old at the time. The recordings were taken from parole hearings and old media interviews.

Watson, with a slight twang, describing Manson’s instructions: “ ‘I want you all to go together and go up to Terry Melcher’s old house. And I want you to kill everyone in there.’ Terry Melcher was Doris Day’s son. And we had previously met him and had been in that house before.”

Kasabian: “I was told to get a change of clothing and a knife and my driver’s license.”

Atkins, sounding like a breathy little girl: “We drove to the house with instructions to kill everyone in the house, and not just that, but we were instructed to go all the way down, every house, hit every street and kill all the people.”
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