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Charles Manson Today: The Final Confessions of a Psychopath

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And then, grudgingly, he'll talk about the murders, not a lot, not all at once, but enough that over time, as the months tick by and one year turns to the next, you can piece together some kind of rudimentary narrative.

More or less, here's Manson's version of what happened, and it's far different from Bugliosi's: Tex Watson was having problems with a drug dealer named Bernard "Lotsapoppa" Crowe, so he called Charlie to come help him out, which Charlie did, by shooting Lotsapoppa. He didn't kill him, but he thought he did. Now Tex was in his debt, man to man. Then a musician pal, his "brother" Bobby Beausoleil, also known as Cupid, got into a beef with a drug dealer named Gary Hinman, and he too called on Manson for help, which Manson gave, by coming over and slashing the side of Hinman's face with the sword he used to carry. He took off after that, leaving Beausoleil with an even greater problem than before – what to do with Hinman, who was now wounded and probably ready to go to the police, which would bring the law right to Spahn Ranch. Beausoleil couldn't let that happen, so he killed Hinman. Then he got arrested. Then someone at the ranch, Manson won't say who ("I don't snitch"), had the bright idea to commit some murders that had the same signature elements as the Hinman murder, the idea being that, since Beausoleil couldn't be in two places at the same time, he would be freed.

Robert Kenneth Beausoleil
Bettmann/CORBIS

"See, I'd saved Tex from the fate he was suffering under, so when the brother has a problem, I pass it on to Tex. He said, 'Let's get the brother out of jail. What do I do?' I said, 'Don't ask me. I don't want to know, man. I know the law. I walk the line all my life. Do whatever the fuck you want to do.' I knew what Tex was doing. I also knew it was none of my business. He says, 'I'll kill everybody!' I say, 'Don't tell me that shit. I don't want to know!' They say, 'Well, we're going to go murder these people.' I say, 'Well, lots of luck.'"

And so off Tex and the girls went, ending up at the house on Cielo Drive that had once been rented to record producer Melcher, who'd come out to the ranch a few times, heard Manson's music, and apparently decided Manson wasn't a talent worth pursuing. Although Manson himself told everyone that a recording contract was imminent.

"Yeah, it was Terry Melcher's house, and he lied to everybody at the ranch, said he was gonna do stuff he didn't do. He got their hopes up, you dig? Terry was a spoiled brat that had seven automobiles and didn't have nothing to worry about. I'd cheated him in a card game and won a house. It was part card game, part con, all devil, heh heh. But I won it. He owed me. So, Terry Melcher was part of it. He did a lot of things that wasn't right. But no one was mad at Terry Melcher. Not really. He was just in somebody's mind, and when they went by there, it was a familiar place, and they went into a familiar place. Sharon Tate just happened to be there, that's all. Tex did what he had to do. Good boy. Good soldier. Should have given him a Silver Star."

Did you go over and try to clean up the mess they made, which some books say you did, but never with proof, and, if true, would put you at the scene of the crime?

"Well, yeah, I had to look out for my horses. I look out for what looks out for me," he says, although later on he will say he misspoke, that he never went to the Tate house that night.

And the next night, at the LaBiancas'?

"Yeah, I went to the LaBiancas'. I went in there and seen an old man on the couch, and I said, 'Hey, man, I didn't know you was in here, sorry. There was nobody here the last time I came.' I used to go there whenever they had big parties at Harold True's house next door. It'd be empty. It was the crash camp where everyone would go to fall on girls. I'd live in there for a couple of hours at time, that's all. Anyway, I turned around to get out. Tex was right behind me. It was his play, not mine."

Terry Melcher
George Brich/AP Photo

What did you do before you left? Did you tie the LaBiancas up and leave them for Tex and the girls to deal with, which is what Tex claims?

"No," he says, quietly. "Hell, no."

So much death, so much violence.

"What violence?" he says, speaking louder. Then the subject turns from knives to guns. "What's violent about pulling your finger across the trigger? There's no violence. It's just a person there and you move your finger and they're gone. What's violent about that? But let me ask you this. Will you ever forgive me for what you think I did? Think about it. Don't let your brain be lame. I didn't kill nobody. So will you ever forgive me for what you think I did?"

Forty-four years on, the facts in the Manson case aren't really facts anymore – they're beliefs and conclusions fashioned out of bits and pieces of bent and redirected light, or, as Charlie likes to call them, they're "perspectives." "Helter Skelter wasn't a lie," he says. "It was just Bugliosi's perspective. Everybody's saying it the way they want to remember it. Sooner or later, we all got to submit to each other's point of view. Sure, it was going on. But it was just part of the part. The reasons was all kinds of different things that were happening in Tex's mind and all of our minds together, and there's lots of different discrepancies in there that don't correlate to be straight. There was a lot of motives, man. You got a motive for every person there. It was a collective idea. It was an episode. A psychotic episode, and you want to blame me for that?"

In a sense, Bugliosi had no choice. You can't prosecute a collective psychotic episode. You've got to boil it down to a single dominant face and a single dominant motive. But, according to Manson and others associated with the Family, lots of crazy things were happening right then in the summer of 1969: big possible paranoia after Charlie killed Lotsapoppa (or so he thought), big possible paranoia over brother Bobby in jail, LSD in the air, guns in the ground, nasty drug deals, dire money needs, Strategic Air Command flying atomic bombs overhead, the Weathermen flying to Cuba to learn how to revolution, the thrumming background noise of the Black Panthers, stolen cars in the weeds, underage girls in the swimming hole, big acid-happy dinners with everyone gathered round, Charlie speaking in metaphors, riddles and paradoxes, unreal figments perhaps being taken too literally, Charlie scared someone's going to rat him out about Lotsapoppa, brains going round and round, big ideas coming out of the big collective mind, mass psychosis, and a different motive for every person there. And to the degree that this is true, Manson might fairly be considered an innocent man, just as he says he is, or, if guilty, then only as guilty as everyone else there; or, if guilty, then maybe absolutely guilty, his fear of someone snitching on him about the Lotsapoppa shooting perhaps leading him to want to bind everyone to him, by turning them into killers, too; or maybe Charlie had nothing to do with anything and it was all Watson's doing, revolving around a drug deal, which is what some people believe.

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