"Look, here's how that works," he says. "You take a baby and" – here he says something truly awful about what you could do to that baby, worse beyond anything you could imagine – "and it dies," and here he says something equally wretched. Then he goes on, "I know what you're thinking. I can see your brain rattling and running back and forth. But what happens when that baby dies?" He breathes in and he breathes out, he breathes in and he breathes out. "A dog would have done it, kill to take another breath. So, was it wrong to do it to those people?" And it's at moments like these that you realize prison is the only place for him, and hope to hell he never puts his hand on your skin again.
Visits with Charlie are always taxing for Star, and she takes it easy driving the two miles from his door back to her own. It used to be she'd make the trip with a tall, gaunt, spooky-looking guy named Gray Wolf, 64, a Manson believer from the Spahn Ranch days who carved an X into his forehead at the same time Star did, but earlier this year he was arrested for attempting to smuggle a cellphone into prison for Charlie, and there went his visitation rights, leaving Charlie's weekend companionship almost all up to this slight, doily-thin girl.
How she got here is pretty much like how many of the Spahn Ranch girls got to where they were going, too, as a reaction to the world around them and how it made them feel. She grew up on the Mississippi River, near St. Louis, had an early fondness for I Love Lucy, had parents who were deeply religious and disliked all her friends. "They thought I was turning into a hippie," she says. "I was smoking marijuana, eating mushrooms, not wanting to go to church every Sunday, not wanting to marry a preacher. They are Christian Baptist and wanted me to be a preacher's wife." To keep her out of trouble, they would lock her in her room, which is where she spent a good portion of her high school years. And, like Charlie, she found a way to coexist with such solitary confinement. "I've never been lonely since those times when I got used to being alone." Then one day, a friend gave her a sheet of paper with some of Charlie Manson's words on it about the environment. She'd never heard of Manson, but she liked what he had to say – "Air is God, because without air, we do not exist" – and began writing to him. After their correspondence took off, she put her nose to the grindstone, saved up $2,000 while working in a retirement-home kitchen and in 2007, stuffed all the belongings she could into a backpack and took a train to Corcoran. And soon enough, Charlie nicknamed her Star, just as he had once named Squeaky (Red) and Sandy (Blue).
Her pad is not large, not well-lit and inexpensively furnished, with a bedroom too messy for her to let me into. A guitar and a violin case are in a corner. No television. On one wall is the great, evocative black-and-white photograph of Charlie at Spahn Ranch, wearing a beat-up side-tilted fedora with a crow on his arm, the rugged Dust Bowl guy who could tame birds. ("We became road dogs and ran together," he says. "I didn't give it a name. It was just a crow." Others have said its name was Devil.) On a nearby table is the computer where Star spends much of her time trying to rehabilitate Charlie's image in the public eye. She is especially rankled by the long-standing belief that Charlie is only five feet two – she says he is at least three inches taller – and thinks Bugliosi intentionally published that lie in Helter Skelter to further diminish Manson's stature. He's short, just not that short.
Of the original Family girls, only two of the main ones are thought to still believe in Charlie – Sandra Good, now 69, and Squeaky Fromme, 65. Sandy's current whereabouts are unknown, though she was recently photographed smiling and riding a mule in the Grand Canyon. In 1975, Squeaky was convicted of attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford and wasn't released until 2009. She has long been Manson's favorite. "That little girl right there, Lynette," he says, "I've never met a girl as truthful as her. She's never turncoated. She did 34 years in prison and never broke her vow. A man can't even do that." But Star is on the scene now, leading some of those on the Internet Manson beat to wonder if she's replaced Squeaky in Charlie's affections.
"Lynn deserves to be number one," wrote LynyrdSkynyrdBand on the Tate-LaBianca Homicide Research Blog, after a picture of Star and Gray Wolf with Charlie made the rounds. "She's been loyal for decades." Marliese: "I'm guessing the beautiful girl with Charlie hasn't experienced any strip and suck demands from him, or felt his fist smash across her face." A number of them commented on how unsettling it is that Star looks so much like Susan Atkins "when she was all waxed and pretty."
Star, however, pays little attention to these things. She'd rather spend her online time ordering items for Charlie's quarterly-allowed gift box stuffed with, most recently, roasted peanuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, protein bars, vegetable-soup mix, vitamins, crackers, cough drops, teas, tank-top T-shirts, socks, shorts, an electric shaver and guitar strings.
A while later, she sits on a couch talking about a problem she and Gray Wolf are having with a Manson-memorabilia collector named Ben. Every time Manson does something wrong and is sent to solitary, he has to get rid of everything he owns or the state will take it, so he sends the stuff to those who have befriended him, mostly collectors looking for some big future payoff. Currently, Ben has an old pair of Manson's flip-flops for sale, $5,000. With Manson's permission, he's also selling some early Manson recordings, but just today Ben started accusing Star and Gray Wolf of trying to sabotage his sales, as well as with swiping a $4,500 wheelchair he'd sent Charlie. "It's war!" he wrote on his Facebook page. "This is just the beginning! Your [sic] toast!" Star shakes her head. "He's freaking out because Charlie stopped calling him. He doesn't want to let go. And we're the bad guys. Anyway, that's the problem we have. People are so weird."
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus