Thursday, October 01, 2009
This Man Could Be Your Father
Last week in a California prison, one of the cult members enraptured with a short, hippie psychotic named Charles Manson died of brain cancer. Her name was Susan Atkins and she was 61-years-old. In recent years, Atkins has become publicly contrite for what she did—she was part of the Helter Skelter bloodbath crew that freaked out much of the nation in August of 1969. After becoming a born-again Christian while incarcerated her last words were, “My God is a great God.” Despite her conversion and attempts at reconciliation with the families of the people that she mutilated, I doubt that there were a lot of tears shed for Atkins—she did repeatedly stab a woman who was eight-months pregnant just to “shut her up” and wrote the word “PIGS” in her blood on a wall—but there is some sort of public feeling towards her.
But I'm not sure what they are.
A few years ago I went through a phase when I was really interested in true crime stories and the more outlandish, the better. I read everything I could about the Maffia and serial killers and strange people who did strange things. There were two subjects that I always came back to: Helter Skelter and the Zodiac killings. I'm not going to talk too much about the Zodiac stuff because there's no need to right now, but there is something about Helter Skelter that I find truly bizarre and even after all of these years, I can't quite put my finger on it.*
* One of the things I find odd is that I have a two degrees of separation with this case as my mother went to high school with one of Manson's girls, Linda Kasabian. She was with the rest of the gang when they pulled up to the house on Cielo Drive, but she didn't kill anyone. Eventually, she testified against them in court. I asked my mom what she was like and she said, “She was sorta weird.” Thanks a lot mom, you're a wealth of knowledge.
I've read Manson prosecutor Victor Bugliosi's book “Helter Skelter” and Ed Saunder's “The Family”* a few times, I've seen a couple of documentaries, so I get what happened. But I guess what I don't understand is why it all went down. And maybe that's the point. It's difficult to find a reason why Manson and his cronies did what they did, maybe it was because he was truly a crazy man with a messiah complex. These people are normally a bit difficult to gauge.
I have no idea, but it got me thinking about the crimes again.
* “The Family” is a very, very good book. If you are interested in any of this stuff—even remotely—I can not recommend this book enough. Some of his writing is a little weird; he writes like a burnt-out hippie—probably because he was—and uses a lot onomatopoeia that takes some getting used to, but it's definitely worth the read. Hippie or not, you have to respect a man who goes camping in the desert with some of the Manson family so that he can gather research for his book.
When I read the books, the things that bothered me the most weren't the killings or even the sheer brutality of the killings, it was the little stuff that made me check my closets and look under my bed at night. In Bugliosi's book, he mentions something called “creepy crawlies” where in the middle of the night some of the Manson clan would dress from head to toe in black, go into the homes of people and rearrange their furniture while the home owners slept. These were essentially dry runs for the Helter Skelter mission and the were told to run if they saw the owners of the house.
Regardless of whether any violent acts were being done that night, how completely freaked out would you be if you woke up one morning, went to the bathroom like any normal day and then went down stairs and all of your stuff was rearranged? I would probably lose my mind. It's the death knell of any sort of any sort of illusion of safety that you may have in your home. When you are in YOUR home and you're asleep, nothing is supposed to get you—your guard is up (locked doors and windows) but at the same time your guard is down (you're asleep).
And what if you stumbled upon these people while getting a late-night snack? Supposedly they were told to scatter, but even still how can you get that thought out of your mind? How many sleepless nights would one have and how far would you jump if a floor board creaked at 2 am?
And these creepy crawlies were supposedly random too, that's what makes these exercises more scary. The home owner obstensively did nothing wrong. Their house was just at the wrong place and looked inviting, I suppose. The murders were supposed to be random or were meant to start a race war (that was foretold by the Beatles), but there's a lot of evidence that states that these weren't true.*
* The only bit of “random” murder that night was of 17-year-old Stephen Parent. He went to visit his an acquaintance who was living in the caretaker's house on the Helter Skelter property, hoping to sell him a clock radio. The guy didn't want it and when Parent hopped in his car and attempted to back out, it was at the same time that Manson's soldiers were beginning their seige. They shot and killed the kid.
These are the things that make one wonder whether life isn't just a set of random coincidences.
Bugliosi hung a conviction on Manson and his woman that said that the race war was the reasoning (he had to connect the words “Healter [sic] Skelter” found at one of the crime scenes to Manson somehow) behind the murders, though it's hard to believe that that was the true motive. Saunders has a few theories on the reasons for the murders including revenge—Terry Melcher was the son of Doris Day and a record producer. He was friends with the Beach Boys who were friends with Manson. Manson hung out with some of the Beach Boys (one of the Wilson brothers, I believe) and he played them some of their songs. They liked the tunes enough to bring them to Melcher, who passed. Melcher once lived at the home where Sharon Tate and her friends were massacred, perhaps Manson was sending a message.
Another of Saunders' theories was that Manson had some non-hippie associates (whom he met in jail) that were known to socialize with the mob as well as some highly powerful Hollywood executives. The reason why the LaBiancas were killed was because of alleged mob ties and the reason why Tate and her Hollywood friends were killed were because of some bizarro sex tapes and secrets that these high-powered people were worried about getting out in the public. Supposedly one movie starred Telly Savalas and someone else (I can't remember who—I don't have my book here) having a three-way with Mama Cass. That last sentence, BTW, is no joke. And to be honest, if someone taped me having sex with Mama Cass, I'd want them dead too. Who loves ya, baby indeed?
The third theory was that Manson was part of some larger Los Angeles devil/death cult and they simply told him to do it for an unknown reason. Supposedly this devil/death cult is one that the Zodiac killer belonged too and they told him to strike terror in Northern California during the same time. There is a book that says that the Zodiac Killer was a member of Manson's family, but I haven't read it. It's out of print and copies on Amazon and eBay are going for hundreds of dollars.
Do any of these motivations make any more sense than the other? No and I think that's why people are absolutely fascinated about these cases and these people 40 years later. I can think of no other crime, other than those of Jack the Ripper, that has people so interested almost a half-century later.
The other thing that I find intriguing, and was the title inspiration for the title of this entry, is that there were a couple of babies born on Spahn Ranch. Quick background: back in the late 60s people that didn't want to conform to society lived together in what is known as a commune. Basically, they threw away all of their possessions and tried to live the simple life. Most of the time, that didn't stick because “the simple life” is really code for “I'm lazy and don't feel like doing shit”, so with a bunch of lazy people lying around doing nothing; nothing got done. Communes folded.
Manson's commune was like that but since Charlie was the king and he saw women as subhuman, he made them do all of the work and their commune thrived for a while (until the cops came and busted them for dune buggy theft and then murder). This commune was also a bit different than the others in that drugs and sex held it together very tightly. Manson gave out LSD like candy and would often pair people up to have sex during orgy time. And accidents happen.
According to her obituary Susan Atkins gave birth to a baby named Zezozoze Zadfrack. He (I guess it's a he, though I wonder if it's a boy's or a girl's name – it's so pretty, it could be either) was born and lived on the commune until it was busted up by the cops and he and a few other kids were taken in as wards of the state. Not surprisingly, the New York Times Obit states that his whereabouts are unknown.
What would it be like to be this person? I assume that you already have a chip on your shoulder because you're in an orphanage and don't know who your real parents are, but to one day do a little research and find that your parents are Charles Manson (or one of his disciples) and Susan Atkins and that you were born in a glorified garbage dump? That has to do a number on you and there is not enough Newcastle Ale in the world to make those self-doubting crazy thoughts go away.
Is this information that you would even want to know?
As the cliché goes, the day that the cops fingered Manson and his hippie crew as the prime suspects for the killings of Tate and LaBianca “were the day the 60s died”. But that's horseshit, I didn't live during that era, but I've watched enough and read enough about it to know that the whole “Free Love” feeling was a crock. For three months during the summer of 1967, people tried to get together and love each other, but it didn't work. Thousands of kids were flooding into San Francisco weekly hoping to find some sort of new consciousness* and utopian way of living.
But the predators realized this too and they moved in with harder drugs, prostituiton and crime—taking advantage of these naive kids and screwing them up royally. Of course, the word didn't spread for awhile and more kids came out and tried to live these ideals and they were taken advantage of too leaving even more broken people.
* If I grew up in the 50s and 60s, had a war raging on that I was going to have to fight and was completely miserable, I'd try to find some way to change my view point too. But the problem with ex-hippies isn't that they tried and failed; it's that they tried and believe that they succeeded. They didn't succeed, they made everything worse.
Manson was one of these predators. He had been locked away in various reformatories since he was 12-years-old and went away for a couple of years during the early 1960s. When he was released, it must have been like walking into a paradise of fools for him. He was obviously charming and quick witted, so lots of women got with him. Where ever there are lots of women, that means that there's going to be some dudes trying to get some action, so Manson had them too. And he had plenty of drugs and had complete control of every aspect of their lives, which turned these middle-class, white bread kids into mini Manchurian Candidates.
For his whole life he had been beaten down and destroyed, now was his chance to lead with the children of the people who put him away. What is surprising is not that it happened, what's surprising is that it only happened once.