Thirty years ago, proud to be a hippie and wearing my new yellow leather fringe jacket for the first time, I was on my way to Woodstock along with half a million others on that musical pilgrimage. At the same time, newspapers were headlining the murder in Beverly Hills of director Roman Polanski’s actress wife, Sharon Tate, their unborn baby, and a few friends.
The killers turned out to be members of the Charles Manson family, the ultimate perversion of a hippie commune. Manson was portrayed by the media as a hippie cult leader, and the counterculture became a dangerous enemy. Hitchhikers were shunned. Communes were raided. In the public’s mind, flower children had grown poisonous thorns.
Manson grew up behind bars. His real family included con artists, pimps, drug dealers, thieves, muggers, rapists and murderers. He had known only power relationships in an army of control junkies. Charlie Manson was America’s own Frankenstein monster, a logical product of the prison system — racist, paranoid and violent — even if hippie astrologers thought his fate had been predetermined because he was a triple Scorpio.
In August 1969, he sent his brainwashed family off to slay whoever was at the Tate home: the pregnant Sharon; hair stylist and drug dealer to the stars Jay Sebring; would-be screenwriter Voytek Frykowski; and his girlfriend, coffee heiress Abigail Folger. The next night, Manson accompanied the killers to supermarket mogul Leon La Bianca and his wife.
And what a well-programmed family they were. A prison psychiatrist at San Quentin told me of an incident he had observed during Manson’s trial. An inmate had said to Manson, “Look, I don’t wanna know about your theories on race. I don’t wanna hear anything about religion, I just wanna know one thing. How’d you get them girls to obey you like that?”
“I got a knack,” Charlie replied.
His “knack” was combining LSD and mescaline with singalongs and games accompanying his perversion of techniques he’d learned in prison — encounter sessions, Scientology, auditing, post-hypnotic suggestion, geographical isolation, subliminal motivation, transactional analysis, a verbal probing and the sexual longevity that he had practiced upon himself for all those years in the privacy of his cell.
Hal Lipset, San Francisco’s renowned private investigator, informed me that not only did the LA Police Department seize pornographic films and videotapes they found in Roman Polanski’s loft, but also that certain LAPD officers were selling them. Lipset had talked with one police source who told him exactly which porno flicks were available, a total of seven hours’ worth for a quarter-million dollars.
Lipset began reciting a litany of those private porn flicks. There was Greg Bautzer, an attorney for Howard Hughes, with Jane Wyman, the ex-wife of Ronald Reagan, who was governor of California at the time of the murders. There was Cass Elliott in an orgy with Yul Byrnner, Peter Sellers and Warren Beatty, the same trio who, with John Phillips, had offered a $25,000 reward for the capture of the killers. There was Sharon Tate with Dean Martin. There was Sharon with Steve McQueen. And there she was with two black bisexual men.
“The cops weren’t too happy about that one,” Lipset recalled.
The murders were meant to look as though the victims had been selected at random, but I had always felt that Manson and his killers had some connection with their victims before the murders took place. I finally tracked down a reporter who told me that when she was hanging around with LA police, they showed her a porn video of Susan Atkins, one of Charlie’s devils, with Voytek Frykowski, one of the victims, even though, according to myth, the executioners and the victims had never met until the night of the massacre.
But apparently the reporter mentioned the wrong victim, because when I wrote to Manson and asked directly, “Did Susan sleep with Frykowski?,” he answered, “You are ill-advised and misled. Sebring done Susan’s hair and I think he sucked one or two of her dicks. I’m not sure who she was walking out from her stars and cages, that girl loves dick, you know what I mean, hon? Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers.”
I continued to correspond with Charlie. He has become a cultural icon, the personification of evil. There are songs about him. In surfer jargon, Manson means a crazy, reckless surfer. For comedians, Manson is a generic joke reference. In 1992, I asked him how he felt about that? He replied, “I don’t know what a generic joke is. I think I know what that means. That means you talk bad about Reagan or Bush. I’ve always ran poker games and whores and crime. I’m a crook. You make the reality in court and the press. I just ride and play the cards that were pushed on me to play. Mass killer. It’s a job. What can I say?”
I interviewed Preston Guillory, a former deputy sheriff in Los Angeles. “A few weeks prior to the arrests at the Spahn Ranch raid,” he said, “we were told that we weren’t to arrest Manson or any of his followers. The reason he was left on the street was because our department thought he was going to launch an attack on the Black Panthers.” And so it was that racism in the Sheriff’s Department inadvertently turned them into collaborators in a mass murder. But Charlie Manson is the only face you’ll see glaring at you from some rebellious teenager’s t-shirt.
Because the killers left clues to imply that the victims had been slain by black militants, the media continue to imply that Manson’s only motive was to start a race war. However, on the evening of Friday, August 9, 1969, just a few hours before the slaughter took place, Joel Rostau, the boyfriend of Jay Sebring’s receptionist and an intermediary in a cocaine ring, visited Sebring and Frykowski at the Tate house, to deliver mescaline and cocaine. During the Manson trial, several associates of Sebring were murdered, including Rostau, whose body was found in the trunk of a car in New York.
The Manson family had actually served as a hit squad for organized crime families he’d met in prison. Three decades later, although Manson continues to serve as a symbol for the end of the 60s, one thing remains certain: Charlie never was a hippie.