By Matthew Wendler
High on LSD, a group of hippies sat in a circle, laughing as shadows danced and their minds wandered. A short, bearded man in dirty denim soon stood before them. The laughter stopped as the man began to speak, warning of the impending apocalypse. A ‘race war’ was coming, and the Whites like Charles Manson and his followers were going to lose. They would survive by relocating to a pit within the vast desert where they would hide until the war’s end. When the dust cleared, Manson and his followers would re-emerge to claim the wastes of the world for themselves. It was “Helter Skelter” from that band, The Beatles. They knew the war was coming and had written that song just to warn Manson and his followers. The group cheered as Manson claimed it was their task to start the war.
This was the religion of the Manson Family, whose members thought of Charles Manson as their savior. It was Manson who had brought them all together and provided them the compassion they have scarcely received in life. His followers, mainly consisting of young women, had pledged themselves to him and would submit to his commands. They took refuge at Spahn Ranch, an abandoned film lot on the outskirts of Los Angeles once used for old western movies and TV shows. The owner had allowed the Manson family to live there in exchange for work and sex. Manson forbade items such as glasses, books and clocks. He preached they were the reincarnations of the original Christians and that he himself was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
One of Manson’s main interests in life was music. He learned to play guitar while in prison years before forming the Manson Family, and dreamed of getting a recording contract. On March 23, 1969, Manson drove to what he believed was the home of record producer Terry Melcher at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. He met Melcher the previous year and wanted to arrange an audition for a record deal.
As he approached the door, Manson was met by an unfamiliar face. He was informed that Melcher no longer lived on the property and that it was being occupied by screen director Roman Polaski and his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate.
Melcher actually visited Spahn Ranch to hear Manson perform May 18, 1969. He wasn’t too impressed with the music and left without giving Manson a contract, leaving him enraged.
Melcher wasn’t the only person the Manson family had ‘beef’ with. One of Manson’s followers, Tex Watson, stole money from a drug dealer named Bernard Crowe. Crowe called the ranch and threatened to murder everyone living there. Manson ended up finding where Crowe lived and shot him in his apartment July 1, 1969. Although Crowe survived, Manson left with the belief he had killed him.
Later that month July 25, 1969, Manson sent three of his followers, Bobby Beausoleil, Mary Brunner, and Susan Atkins, to the home of Gary Allen Hinman, who had made friends with some of the Manson family members. Manson ordered his followers to convince Hinman to join the family and give him all his assets. When Hinman refused, the cult took him hostage. Manson arrived at the house two days later with a sword. After he found there was no money, Manson slashed Hinman’s ear and ordered for him to be killed. Beausoleil took a knife and stabbed Hinman to death.
Using Hinman’s blood, the words “political piggy” were written on the wall. Next to these words was a drawing of a panther paw which was done to frame members of a political group known as the Black Panthers.
Beausoleil was arrested Aug. 6, 1969 after police spotted him driving Hinman’s stolen car. The knife he used to kill Hinman was found stashed in the tire well.
Following Hinman’s murder, Manson told his followers that Helter Skelter was at hand and they needed to act.
Four of Manson’s followers were sent to 10050 Cielo Drive Aug. 8, 1969. The group included Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian. Manson’s instructions were clear: kill everyone inside the house.
An eight-and-a-half month pregnant Sharon Tate was home that night with her friends Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski. Her husband was away in Europe working on a new film.
Watson climbed a telephone pole and used his knife to cut the wires connecting to the property. As they walked towards the house, a car could be seen approaching. Steven Parent, age 18, had been there trying to sell a clock radio to the property caretaker. Parent stopped the car in front of the gate and rolled down the window to push the button that would open it. Watson approached the vehicle holding a gun and knife, shouting for Parent to halt. He shot Parent four times, leaving him dead inside the car.
The cultists then broke a window screen to get in the house and found Frykowski sleeping on the couch. Watson kicked him in the head to wake him and held his gun at him. Frykowski asked who he was and Watson said,
“I’m the devil and I’m here to do the devil’s business.”
Everyone in the house was rounded up and taken to the living room. Watson tied Tate and Sebring together by their necks and threw the end of the rope over a ceiling beam. Sebring began to protest, asking them to consider Tate’s pregnancy. In response, Watson shot Sebring and he fell to the floor. Watson then repeatedly kicked Sebring’s face and stabbed him until his death.
Folger was taken to a separate room and ordered to hand over her money. Despite doing what they said, she was stabbed seven times. Folger survived and was able to escape out to the pool area. She made it to the front lawn, but Krenwinkel chased after her. Krenwinkel stabbed her again and tackled Folger to the ground. Watson came over and finished her off.
Frykowski attempted to break away. He was stabbed by Atkins in the leg four times during his struggle and beaten over the head by Watson with his gun. He was able to get out to the front lawn and attempted to make a run for it. Unfortunately, Watson caught up with him, shooting him twice and then stabbing him to death.
Tate was left in the living room, pleading to her captors to spare the life of her baby and offered herself as a hostage. Watson and Atkins stabbed Tate 16 times, killing her and her unborn child. On the front door, they used Tate’s blood to write the word “pig.”
Even after all this, “Helter Skelter” wasn’t complete. The following night, Manson accompanied six of his followers to the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca located at 3301 Waverly Drive in Los Feliz. They tied the couple’s hands behind their backs and placed pillow cases over their heads before stabbing them to death with a bayonet. The word “War” was carved into Leno’s abdomen and the cultists used the couple’s blood to write “Rise” and “Death to pigs” on the wall. Written on the refrigerator door were the words “Helter Skelter.”
A week following the murders, police arrived at Spahn Ranch and raided the premises. They arrested Manson and 25 of his followers Aug. 16, 1969. The charges were not related to the killings, but rather automobile theft. Manson and his followers were released days later as the warrants for their arrest were found to be misdated.
Ten days after the raid on the ranch, Manson ordered three of his followers to murder Donald Shea, who was one of their own. Manson suspected him of being the one to report the family to the police. The three followers attacked Shea inside his car, hitting him with a pipe and then stabbing him. Shea was then brought down a hill behind the ranch where he was tortured until his death.
A little more than a month later, a second raid was done by police at a separate location inhabited by the cult called Barker Ranch. Once again, Manson and 25 of his followers were arrested for automobile theft under a new warrant Oct. 10, 1969.
While locked up, Susan Atkins told her cell mates of the events that took place on the night of Tate’s murder. The information was reported to the police, leading to the arrests of those involved in the slayings. Their trial began June 15, 1970.
When the first day of testimony occurred July 24, 1970, Manson appeared in court with an X carved on his forehead. He claimed he was too incompetant to defend himself and had X’d himself from the establishment’s world. Many of his female followers did the same thing.
Manson attempted to attack the judge during trial Oct. 5, 1970, lunging towards him with a pencil. He was restrained before he could try anything and led out of the room. The female defendants began chanting in Latin after he was removed.
Manson and the arrested followers were sentenced to death by electric chair March 29, 1971, but their sentences were reduced to life imprisonment in 1972.
The Manson family had mainly dispersed after the events of the trial; however, it wouldn’t be the end of their chaos. The body of a Vietnam veteran named James Willet was found by a hiker in the woods Nov. 8, 1972. The man was shot and buried with his hand sticking out from the ground. Willet’s car was found at a home where a few members of the Manson family were living. Police raided the property and found Willet’s wife Lauren Chaville dead and buried in the basement. The couple’s infant daughter was found alive in the house and the occupants of the building were arrested.
What was it that made Manson so crazy? While a rough childhood may have played a part, some believe Manson was a victim of Project MK-Ultra. Between the 1950s and the 1970s, a series of secret mind control experiments are believed to have been conducted by the CIA in both the United States and Canada. Much of the experiments involved experimental drugs and psychedelics such as LSD being administered to unknowing individuals, including prisoners. Manson had been in and out of jail numerous times before the formation of his cult. The timeline would match with when the experiments are believed to have taken place and it would explain why Manson became the way he did, but this can’t be proven for sure.
Regardless, Manson was a mad man that manipulated his followers, using both drugs and his charms to brainwash them into doing his bidding. He died of cardiac arrest in prison Nov. 15, 2017 at the age of 83. It is possible a greater number of murders have been committed by the Manson family than what is known.