Charles Manson: The Incredible Story of the Most Dangerous Man Alive

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After driving on to Pacific Coast Highway, take a left, and after two miles, take another left. Now you're on Sunset Boulevard, winding through wealthy Pacific Palisades where, for a short time in early 1968, the Manson family lived with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. Wilson doesn't live there anymore, however; he moved shortly after Manson allegedly threatened him with a bullet.

Keep driving east on Sunset for another eight or ten miles past Brentwood Heights, past Mandeville Canyon, over the San Diego Freeway, past UCLA and Bel Air and Beverly Glen. And when you reach the center of Beverly Hills, turn left on Canon and head north into Benedict Canyon.

Now here you may need a more detailed map because the streets get pretty tricky with all the turns and dead ends. But up in Benedict Canyon there's this little dirt road, Cielo Drive, which dead ends at the old, rambling, hillside house where producer Terry Melcher, Doris Day's son, used to live. Manson paid several business calls on him there, but the business was never completed before Melcher moved out early last summer.

Neighbors hardly had had a chance to meet the new residents when, on the bright Saturday morning of last August 9th, Mrs. Winifred Chapman, a maid, ran screaming from the house, across the huge grounds and parking lot, through the iron gate and down the road:

"There's bodies and blood all over the place!"

Not a bad description. Police found Steven Parent just inside the gate, shot five times in his white Rambler, the wheels of the car already turned toward the road in a mad attempt to escape. Wociech Frykowski's body lay in front of the house, shot and stabbed and stabbed again and again. Twenty yards down the rolling lawn, underneath a fir tree, they found Abigail Folger dead and curled up in a bloody nightgown.

Inside the house Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate lay stabbed to death near the living room couch, connected by a single nylon cord wrapped around their necks and thrown over a rafter. Sebring was also shot and his head covered with a pillowcase. On the front door police found the word PIG written in blood with a towel.

If the gate's locked, you won't be able to see the house because it's set back some from the road. But anyway, that's where it is.

Now make a U and head back down to Sunset. Continue east for another 10 miles, along the famous and more and more plastic Sunset Strip, past the tall, swanky office building monuments to Hollywood flackery, past the decaying radio empires of the Forties, clear to Western Avenue, where you take a left.

A mile north, Western turns right and becomes Los Feliz Boulevard, cutting east through the wealthy, residential Los Feliz District that skirts the foothills of Griffith Park. After about three miles, just before Los Feliz crosses the Golden State Freeway, drive into the winding, hillside streets to your right, where you'll find Waverly Drive.

In August, 1968, Manson and his family started visiting Harold True, a UCLA student who lived with some other guys on Waverly. They were all good friends, and the family just liked to go up there and hang around and smoke dope and sing and shoot the shit. True later moved to Van Nuys, where he presently lives with Phil Kaufman, a former member of the family who produced Manson's record.

True's neighbors, incidentally, were Leno and Rosemary La Bianca who, a year later on the morning of August 10th, were found stabbed – or rather carved – to death inside their home. The words DEATH TO PIGS, HELTER SKELTER and RISE were written, again in blood, on the kitchen walls. And someone had etched WAR on Leno La Bianca's stomach with a fork.

Anyway, those are just some of the spots Manson liked to visit on his frequent tours of the big city. Cut back to Los Feliz, head north on the Golden State Freeway for 18 miles, cut west across the north end of the Valley on Devonshire Street – another 10 miles – turn right on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, and you're practically back at the Spahn ranch.

The whole round trip is eighty miles or so. That may seem like a big distance, but actually, the roads are good and it shouldn't take longer than two or three hours, especially if you take it on a Sunday afternoon or, say, late at night.

* * *

Perhaps no two recent events have so revealed the cut-rate value of public morality and private life as the killing of Sharon Tate and the arrest of Charles Manson. Many were quick to criticize The Los Angeles Times for publishing bright and early one Sunday morning the grisly (and since recanted) confession of Susan Atkins. Any doubts about Manson's power to cloud men's minds were buried that morning between Dick Tracy and one of the world's great real estate sections. Sexie Sadie laid it down for all to see.

Critics accused the Times of paying a healthy sum to promoter Larry Schiller, who had obtained the confession from Miss Atkins' attorneys in return for a cut of the profits. The Times responded publicly with silence, privately with a denial. No money was paid, said the editors. Schiller had sold the story to various European Sunday editions, they said, and an eight-hour time difference allowed the Times to pick it up from one of their European correspondents. In other words, "If we hadn't run it here, some other paper would have." (Some paper, in fact many other papers, did run it, of course, with the excuse the Times had done it first.)

The Times response sounded like a hype from the start. For one thing their Sunday edition is put to bed, not a mere eight hours before Sunday morning, but late Friday night so their vast, haircurled, beer-bellied Supermarket weekend readership can get its comics and classified ads a day early. Also, why was Schiller himself seen hanging around the Times offices as the edition rolled off the presses?

Rolling Stone has since learned that the Times explanation was at least partly correct. No money was paid, that's true, or at least not much. Because, dig, the Times people didn't buy the confession, they wrote it. Word for word. Not only the confession but the book that followed, The Killing of Sharon Tate, with "eight pages of photographs," published by New American Library, a Times-Mirror subsidiary.

In the volume, Schiller gratefully acknowleges "the invaluable aid of two journalists who worked with the author in preparing this book and the original interviews with Susan Atkins."

Those two journalists, it turns out, were Jerry Cohen and Dial Torgerson, both veteran members of the Times rewrite crew. Torgerson wrote the first chapter to the book, and Cohen, an old friend of Schiller's, wrote the confession and the rest of the book. Both subsequently have reported much of the news related to the case, and Cohen has been assigned to cover Charlie's trial.

According to a freelance Life contributor in the area and since confirmed by several Times staffers, Miss Atkins' attorneys gave Schiller tapes of her confession on the condition that he sell the story to foreign papers only and split the money. But Schiller is a promoter, not a writer, and he needed someone to put the thing together fast. His first stop was The Los Angeles Times where he found Cohen to be a friend indeed.

After conferences with Cohen and various Times editors, it was decided Cohen and Torgerson would write a story and a book, both under Schiller's name. In return, New American would have exclusive rights to the book and the Times would publish the confession simultaneously with the foreign press.

All this was to be top secret, of course. But Schiller got careless. Not only did he awkwardly appear in the Times city room to see his freshly printed byline, he invited people like our Life corresondent over to his house the week before while Cohen was in the next room hacking away.

What possible justification could the Times editors have had in running the confessions? Where were their heads? Can an individual's right to a fair trial, free of damaging pretrial publicity, be so relative? Can it be compromised so easily by the fictitious right of the public to be entertained?

The Times would argue that Susan Atkins' testimony to the County Grand Jury, later made public, had essentially the same impact as her confession. If so, why did the Times print both? Besides, there surely are many readers who trust in the Times who rightfully suspect the Grand Jury, realizing it consists mainly of retired old men and white, upper-middle-class housewives hand-picked by the District Attorney.

If Miss Atkins' confession does not constitute damaging pretrial publicity, what does? What does the phrase mean?

Clearly Charles Manson already stands as the villain of our time, the symbol of animalism and evil. Lee Harvey Oswald? Sirhan Sirhan? Adolph Eichman? Misguided souls, sure, but as far as we know they never took LSD or fucked more than one woman at a time.

Manson is already so hated by the public that all attempts so far to exploit his reputation have failed miserably. Of the 2,000 albums of his music that were pressed, less than 300 have sold.

A skin flick based weakly on popular assumptions about Manson and his family, Love in the Commune, closed after two days in San Francisco, only mustered two old men on a Saturday night in Los Angeles. Normally, one wouldn't expect skin flick buffs to be that discriminating, although certainly the few scenes in the film of a Manson-type balling a headless chicken probably had little mass prurient appeal.

Even Cohen and Torgerson's book is reportedly in financial trouble, although profits to the Times-Mirror Syndicate from sales to other American papers have already been counted.

Are there 12 people in the country, let alone Los Angeles, who can honestly say they have no opinions about Charles Manson? Mention of his name in polite conversation provokes, not words or heated argument, but noises, guttural sound effects, gasps, shrieks, violent physical gestures of repulsion. He is more than a villain, he is a leper.

Shortly after Manson's arrest, the musicians' local in Los Angeles wrote the Times and said flatly that he had checked his union's records and that Manson definitely was not a musician. So there'd be no confusion, he added that most musicians were good clean fellows who believe in hard work and the American way of life.

But all this is really beside the point. Even if the Times could somehow prove that its confession did Manson absolutely no harm, what right did they have to take the risk? The moral decision must be made before, not after, the fact if a man's right to an impartial trial is to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, the most blatant – if less damaging – assault on the concept of pretrial impartiality comes not from the Establishment or the Far Right, but the Far Left, the Weathermen faction of the SDS.

According to an item from the Liberation News Service, the Weathermen have made Manson a revolutionary hero on the assumption that he is guilty. Praising him for having offed some "rich honky pigs," they offer us a prize example of bumper sticker mentality:

"Manson Power – The Year Of The Fork!"

The underground press in general has assumed kind of a paranoid-schizo attitude toward Manson, undoubtedly hypersensitive to the relentless gloating of the cops who, after a five-year search, finally found a longhaired devil you could love to hate.

Starting in mid-January, the Los Angeles Free Press banner headlined Manson stories for three weeks in a row: "Manson Can Go Free!" "M.D. On Manson's Sex Life!" "Manson Interview! Exclusive Exclusive!"

The interview, by the way, ran for two more weeks, consisted mainly of attorney/author Michael Hannon talking to himself. Later, the Free Press began a weekly column by Manson written from jail.

About the same time, a rival underground paper, Tuesday's Child, ran Manson's picture across the entire front page with the headline "MAN OF THE YEAR: CHARLES MANSON." In case you missed the point, in their next issue they covered the front page with a cartoon of Manson on the cross. The plaque nailed above his head read simply "HIPPIE."

When the Manson record was released, both papers agreed to run free ads for it, but the chain of Free Press bookstores, owned by Free Press publisher Art Kunkin, refused to sell it, arguing it was an attempt to make profit of tragedy.

Of course, not all the stories in the Free Press and Tuesday's Child were pro-Manson. Some were very lukewarm, others were simply anti-cop. The question that seemed to split underground editorial minds more than any other was simply: Is Manson a hippie or isn't he?

It's hard to imagine a better setting for Manson's vision of the Apocalypse, his black revolution, than Los Angeles, a city so large and cumbersome it defies the common senses, defies the absurd. For thousands of amateur prophets it provides a virtual Easter egg hunt of spooky truths.

Its climate and latitude are identical to Jerusalem. It easily leads the country in our race toward ecological doom. It has no sense of the past; the San Andreas Fault separates it from the rest of the continent by a million years.

If Manson's racial views seem incredibly naive, which they are (after preaching against the Black Panthers for two years, he recently asked who Huey Newton was), they are similar to views held by hundreds of thousands of others in that city and that city's Mayor. Citizens there last year returned to office Mayor Sam Yorty whose administration was riddled with conflicts of interest and bribery convictions, rather than elect a thoughtful, soft-spoken, middle-of-the-road ex-cop who happened to be black. Full-page newspaper ads, sponsored by a police organization, pictured the man as a wild African savage and asked voters, "Will Your Home be Safe with Bradley as Mayor?"

The question to ask, therefore, maybe not now but five or ten years from now, is this: Who would the voters prefer, Bradley or Manson? Would Your Home be Safe with Manson as Mayor?

"I am just a mirror," Manson says over and over. "Anything you see in me is you." He says it so often it becomes an evasive action. I'm rubber and you're glue. But there's a truth there nonetheless.

The society may be disgusted and horrified by Charles Manson, but it is the society's perverted system of penal "rehabilitation," its lusts for vengeance and cruelty, that created him.

The Spahn Movie Ranch may seem a miserable place for kids to live, with its filthy, broken-down shacks and stagnant streams filled daily with shoveled horse shit. life there may seem degenerate, a dozen or more people eating garbage, sleeping, balling and raising babies in a 20-foot trailer.

But for more than two years most of those kids have preferred that way of life – life with Charlie – than living in the homes of their parents.

The press likes to put the Manson family in quotation marks – "family." But it's a real family, with real feelings of devotion, loyalty and disappointment. For Manson and all the others it's the only family they've ever had.

One is tempted to say that Manson spent 22 of his 35 years in prison, that he is more a product of the penal system than the Haight-Ashbury.

But it cannot be dismissed that easily. Charles Manson raises some very serious questions about our culture, whether he is entirely part of it or not.

For actually we are not yet a culture at all, but a sort of pre-culture, a gathering of disenchanted seekers, an ovum unfertilized. There is no new morality, as Time and Life would have us believe, but a growing awareness that the old morality has not been practiced for some time.

The right to smoke dope, to pursue different goals, to be free of social and economic oppression, the right to live in peace and equity with our brothers – this is Founding Fathers stuff.

In the meantime we must suffer the void, waiting for the subversives in power to die, waiting for the old, dead, amoral culture to be buried. For many, particularly the younger among us, the wait, the weight, is extremely frustrating, even unbearable. Life becomes absurd beyond enjoyment. Real doubts grow daily whether any of the tools we have to change power work anymore. There are no answers and the questions lose their flavor.

Into this void, this seemingly endless river of shit, on top of it, if you will, rode Charlie Manson in the fall of 1967, full of charm and truth and gentle goodness, like Robert Mitchum's psychopathic preacher in Night of the Hunter with LOVE and HATE inscribed on opposing hands. (A friend of Manson's said recently, "You almost could see the devil and angel in him fighting it out, and I guess the devil finally won.")

This smiling, dancing music man offered a refreshing short cut, a genuine and revolutionary new morality that redefines or rather eliminates the historic boundaries between life and death.

Behind Manson's attitude toward death is the ancient mystical belief that we are all part of one body – an integral tenet of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity as expressed by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians: "For as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ."

But Manson adds a new twist; he wants us to take the idea literally, temporarily. He believes that he – and all human beings – are God and the Devil at the same time, that all human beings are part of each other, that human life has no individual value. If you kill a human being, you're just killing part of yourself; it has no meaning. "Death is psychosomatic," says Manson.

Thus the foundation of all historic moral concepts is neatly discarded. Manson's is a morality. "If God is One, what is bad?" he asks. Manson represents a frightening new phenomenon, the acid-ripped street fighter, erasing the barrier between the two outlaw cultures – the head and the hood – described by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test:

"The Angels were too freaking real. Outlaws? They were outlaws by choice, from the word go, all the way out in Edge City. Further! The hip world, the vast majority of acid heads, were still playing the eternal charade of the middle class intellectuals – Behold my wings! Freedom! Flight! – but you don't actually expect me to jump off that cliff, do you?"

Perhaps it was inevitable for someone like Manson to come along who would jump off that cliff; that a number of lost children seem willing to believe him is indeed a disturbing sign of the times.

"Little children," wrote St. John in a prophetic letter, "it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrists shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know it is the last time."

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