Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Devil’s in the Slide: Intelligence Design

Hypothesis #7—A joint task force consisting of the FBI, CIA and possibly others within American Intelligence groomed Charles Manson and Charles Watson to embark upon a series of assassinations to discredit both African Americans and the youth of the countercultural left, i.e. the hippies.

Argument for: Mae Brussell, whose research into the Manson case developed into this hypothesis, gave a number of tantalizing details suggesting the involvement of US Intel in the development of both Watson and Manson, and in positioning them to play the roles they were bound to play.

She primarily focused on two aspects of the Helter Skelter murders, namely the political/legal connections and the financial backing. The former included a number of high-profile people extending back to Manson’s brief stint at Boys Town. The latter featured questions regarding the mechanics of the operation itself, and who might have paid for it. (Details about the money issue here.)

Manson’s connection to various financial backers—among them Washington socialite Charlene Cafritz, Sandra Good and Dennis Wilson—gives us a glimpse of Mae’s concerns. The connections’ true importance lay beyond the mere channeling of funds to establishing the dominant narrative that would become the Manson legend. This story arc began with the ex-con hippie guru who had, in the matter of a few years, mastered the art of brainwashing, The tale also entails the epitome of the counterculture, a hippie commune whose hedonism extended far beyond sex, drugs and rock & roll to include orgiastic murder and mayhem.

If the point were to discredit the counterculture, and the New Left (as the FBI and CIA referred to it) that it had attached itself to, then it would be paramount to (a) set Charlie up as the focal point of a stereotypical (at least to the casual observer) commune; and (b) establish some kind of bonafides with youth culture, a more challenging task given Manson’s advanced age (more than double that of slippies Dianne Lake and Ruth Ann Morehouse). Manson’s musicianship coud have solved both problems. In combination with his patented prison spiel laced with Scientology and other occult influences, Manson's looming stardom lured women, and some men, into a growing fold of admirers, who regarded Manson as Christ reincarnate, a savior seasoned by a hard, difficult life, but who still had a tender, sensitive side. Secondly, music became Charlie’s main entryway into the counterculture, in the end solidly connecting his legacy with two of the most iconic bands of their time.

It’s evident in the Beach Boys’ recording of “Cease to Exist” (or “Never Learn not to Love”) that the group put a solid effort into realizing Manson’s work in a mainstream venue. Moreover, they actively promoted the song on television.

Figure 1. The Beach Boys on The Mike Douglas Show



Charlie had not only Dennis Wilson and the other Beach Boys within his stable of contacts, but legitimate and highly esteemed music managers, executives and producers, among them Phil Kaufman, Gregg Jacobson, and Terry Melcher. While these connections are well known and documented, Manson's connections to some celebrities (e.g. Angela Lansbury**) are documented but relatively obscure. Some (e.g. Nancy Sinatra) are claimed by Manson, but denied by others. A number of relationships (e.g. Cass Elliot) are plausible, but rumored from many different sides. But even if only a fraction of the rumored acquaintanceships were true, then one is still left with a dazzling array of stars who somehow made their way into Manson’s orbit.

“Cease to Exist” established Manson as a somewhat legitimate part of the music scene, and his relationship to the Beach Boys came under considerable scrutiny in the years following the murders. But at the time of the trial, Bugliosi, Stephen Kay and the rest of the prosecution team developed a more intimate connection between Manson and the counterculture’s rock & roll soundtrack.

The Beatles song “Helter Skelter,” a metaphorical reference to the playground ride known to Americans as a ‘slide,’ began to dominate discussions of Manson. According to most sources, Charlie used the title of that track to describe what he believed, due to his OTO and Process influences, to be an imminent race war.** But the links between Manson’s beliefs allegedly went far beyond that one song, incorporating as they did virtually the entire White Album, and spilling into the group’s previous work and personal history.

Basing a motive on bizarre interpretations of Beatle lyrics might have been laughable in 1968. But the prosecution caught a tremendous break. During the fall of 1969, after the murders but before the arrests, the international public received a crash course, as it were, in the misinterpretation of Beatles’ lyrics. The Paul-Is-Dead rumor, prominent news at the time, demonstrated how easily intelligent, psychologically normal people could come to the most outlandish understandings based on innuendo and imagination. More to the point, the whole incident depicted rock and roll, the music of the counterculture, as somewhat ghoulish, or unwholesome. By the time the Manson trials commenced, the songs of the Fab Four began to seem even darker, as prosecutors and fans drew their own parallels between the “family” and the White Album.

More generally, the press constantly referred to the Mansonites as hippies, despite the group’s insistence that they weren’t. They despised hippies, and referred to themselves as ‘slippies,’ for they had slipped off the mainstream of society. The press regarded the slippies’ street antics during the trial with a bit of smug humor, as Fromme, Share and others crawled along the sidewalks, carved X’s into their foreheads, and shaved their scalps. Slowly by slowly, contemporary accounts began to define the group as under the thumb of Manson’s hypnotic spell—a comforting conclusion, actually, for it reduced all the id of the group to the evil of a single individual, namely Manson. Eventually, writers started using the term “family” in reference to them (hence the reason why I always spell it in lower case and add quotation marks).

By trial’s end, the false, but dominant narrative had formed: fiends like Manson preyed on the counterculture because of the latter’s naiveté. That made the youth movement not just dangerous to the establishment, but to everyone. As Bugliosi and others noticed years later associations to the counterculture went from innocent to villainous.

While the effect upon public perception of the counterculture might have weighed most heavily in the mind of Mae Brussell, the connections between Manson, Watson, and important people outside of the entertainment industry deserved considerable mention.

First off, Manson, a prisoner actively contesting his parole in 1966, received a visit from George Shibley, a noted lawyer with a track record of high-profile cases: from the Zoot Suit Murder to his representation of Sirhan Sirhan. At the time of Manson’s impending release, he had a rather comfortable legal practice in Beverly Hills, representing a host of wealthy clients, among them powerful oil companies. Manson, meanwhile, was simply another ex-con up for parole. Moreover, Manson didn’t even want the parole, and attempted to fight it. Mae posed the question of why would someone that high up the food chain take the time to consult with Manson pro bono, since Manson had neither fame nor infamy in 1966.

Once Manson got out, his parole officers treated him with kid gloves. Charlie missed some of his parole appointments with Samuel Barrett (for most people, a single missed appointment would land them back in the slam for the remainder of their sentence). Barrett hardly held him to task, and instead allowed him to build a small criminal empire out in the desert. And Manson’s previous parole officer (or someone who looks exactly like him and has a similar name) played guardian angel by taking Manson’s son, Michael Valentine Brunner, into foster care after the arrest of his mother for indecent exposure, and then returning the child to his parents upon Brunner’s release.

Manson wasn’t the only person to receive attention from high-powered, well-connected Beverly Hills attorneys. David DeLoach, a powerful man within California GOP circles, and his partner Perry Walshin risked jail time to defend Watson. More interestingly, they claimed at the time of Watson’s arrest that they had had approximately forty consultations with the young Texan. Again, Mae wondered why such prominent attorneys would defend Watson, especially since he had nothing more serious than a single marijuana possession charge against him. Moreover, high-powered attorneys don’t come cheap. Who paid these guys?

Bugliosi adequately documented the extraordinary legal actions that allowed the family to grow and prosper. But while he would attribute these to a series of coincidences, or sloppy law enforcement, Mae would see more a deliberate and systemic attempt to shape a Manson story into one that benefited defense contractors and everyone else threatened by peace and domestic harmony. And there were other events, some involving Manson, some not, that further attacked the reputation of the counterculture in the fall of 1969, some of which had more direct ties to Intel.

A week after authorities charged Manson and his associates for the Tate-LaBianca murders, rioting erupted during the Rolling Stones’ performance at the Altamont Free Concert. Melvin Belli, Jack Ruby’s former attorney, arranged for the Hells Angels to provide security, for reasons unknown. After all, the Angels are noted shitkickers, not peacekeepers. The Angels' unsuitability and bellicosity resulted in the death of four of the concertgoers, one of whom drowned in a puddle of water, and two who got run over by a car. As chronicled in the movie Gimmie Shelter, a number of Hells Angels pummeled Meredith Hunter to death in full view of the band and cameras. Media coverage of the incident left an impression of the counterculture that contradicted the peaceful proceedings at Woodstock four months earlier. And with the sudden thrust of Manson into primetime news, the associations between hippies and wanton, uncontrollable violence became axiomatic to many.

Adding fuel to the fire, Ed Butler, propagated an op-ed piece in August 1969 titled “Did Hate Kill Tate,” in which he blamed the deaths on the Black Panthers for the crimes. Writing for organs owned by right-wing razor magnate and Nixon supporter Patrick Frawley, Butler had previously recorded Lee Oswald’s declaration for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an organization in which he was the only member. Mae saw Butler as an agent provocateur:

Ed Butler worked with Lee Harvey Oswald. So it’s interesting that in 1969, the first person who has an opinion on who murdered these seven people would be Ed Butler....

Now this is what we call provocateurs. Agent provocateurs. Clandestine [unintelligible] where somebody is the first one in, and he’s tied to all these other people and links, and he is taking your brain, now, and your gray matter, in the event they don’t have a suspect....

So you see that Ed Butler has you in the palm of his hand. If they don’t have a suspect, it is—you’re going to think that the blacks come into fancy residential homes, and massacre these lovely white people.
Mae went on to point out that Watson et al deliberately left the LaBiancas’ credit cards in a black section of Los Angeles, so that police would suspect the Panthers of committing these killings. She believed that in the months before the public had a face to go with the murders, speculation such as Butler’s tried to condition the public to accept the arrest and conviction of innocent blacks--just in case the authorities continued to protect Manson. Indeed, this might have been a reality had Susan Atkins not told all to Veronica Howard and Virginia Graham.

Other links between the Tate-LaBianca murders and the JFK assassination abound. Attorney Joseph Ball, who once consulted for the Warren Commission, also consulted with Susan Atkins immediately after police charged her with the Tate-LaBianca murders. Writer Lawrence Schiller also worked with Atkins as a co-author for their 1970 book The Killing of Sharon Tate. Atkins reportedly received a $150,000 advance provided that she turn state’s evidence.  With an introduction by Marshal Singer, The Killing of Sharon Tate honed the Helter Skelter scenario. Three years earlier, Schiller, then working for Capitol Records***, recorded Jack Ruby’s (most likely fraudulent) “confession” two days before the nightclub owner’s death.

Mae found the overlapping of personnel between the JFK case and the Manson case almost bizarre beyond words. Ball, Schiller and Butler, who really seem to have worked some type of PSYOPS angle for the Kennedy assassination, have all the markings of Intel. For her, the fact that these men played critical roles in this case raised red flags ultimately leading to the conclusion that Manson was a creation, a patsy to take the fall for the real killer, Tex Watson, who obviously received some combat training (after all, he instructed the women, and carried out what police would describe as a “paramilitary style ambush” mostly by himself) despite having never served in the armed forces.


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*Lansbury’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Didi, frequently hung out with the family, and had written permission to do so. Didi claimed that she left after witnessing Manson’s rape of a child younger than herself, presumably the daughter of former part-time slippie Dennis Rice, but the particulars of this event are disputed.

**In a 2008 interview with MSNBC, ex-slippie Catherine Share disputed the often-quoted assertion that Manson referred to the cataclysmic race war as “Helter Skelter.” If she is correct, then this provides yet another example of someone dragging the Beatles’ into an association with the Tate-LaBianca murders.

***Both the Beach Boys and the Beatles recorded for Capitol/EMI

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, Pt. II

Hypothesis #6—Manson ordered the deaths of Hinman, the LaBiancas and Sebring et al out of revenge.

Argument for: Manson visited Harold True, the next-door neighbor of the LaBiancas numerous times. According to some sources, Charlie had a couple of run-ins with Leno LaBianca while visiting, and thus wanted to kill him and his wife.

Meanwhile, the sadistic brand of Satanism involving Jay Sebring and important Hollywood friends raised Manson’s ire when it crossed the path of Susan Atkins, a filmed victim of Sebring’s viciousness and rapes for the delight of Tate and Polanski’s orgy crowd. Detailed statements that appear in Ed Sanders’ The Family illustrate a tendency for the Polanskis to walk on the wild left-hand side. Rumors abound that film of these Satanic orgies existed, and that they include just about anything from child participation to a purportedly salacious biracial, bisexual (bi two, get one free) threesome starring Tate herself.

According to Manson, Atkins had previous sexual encounters with Sebring that included servicing a couple of his male paramours. Hal Lipset and unnamed sources within the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed the existence of a number of videotapes depicting the action, among them a recorded tryst between Atkins and Wojiciech Frykowski and a four-way featuring Cass Elliot, Warren Beatty, Yul Brynner and Peter Sellers. The latter three posted a $25,000 reward in order to suppress these tapes.

Argument Against: Once again, we have rumors masquerading as evidence. While it’s certainly plausible that Manson might have had a hostile encounter with Leno LaBianca, no one has ever gone “on the record” to state this as fact, much less given any explanation as to the nature of the dispute.

While Lipsett allowed writer/researcher Paul Krassner to cite him as a source for the alleged tapes of these satanic orgies, the tapes themselves never surfaced. In this day and age of the Internet, one has to wonder how someone could have kept such a tight lid on these. Furthermore, the eyewitness account of Sebring and Tate’s alleged dalliances with satanic sex given by Sanders comes from a second-hand source. Like a game of telephone, the original source might have said something quite different, with the account changing in transition from one speaker to the other. Thus, it’s unreliable.

Most important, direct eyewitness accounts contradict this supposition. In a recent Dateline interview, Sharon’s sister Debra, the only surviving family member, vehemently denied the allegations against Sebring, Tate and Polanski on the basis that she had spent several weeks with her famous sister in the fall of 1969 and witnessed no satanic activity whatsoever:

The rumors were absolutely unbearable, for my parents especially. Because I was in the inner circle with Sharon and her friends, I knew that the rumors of witchcraft and devil-worship and all of that were absolutely unfounded. But the rumors were hitting mom and dad full force. I, at least, had a basis to put them to rest in my own mind.

It made me very angry. Don’t get me wrong. The spin that the press and Hollywood itself put on everything was absolutely horrific. That in itself was a crime. It was absolutely unmerciful what it was doing to my family, which also included Roman. It was brutal. I watched a very strong man break down completely....

It was a three-ring circus being led by the media; being fueled by people in Hollywood that didn’t want their dirty little secrets told. They didn’t want to be investigated, or stand too close to the fire, so to speak....
Figure 1: Debra Tate on Dateline



What X. Dell really thinks of this hypothesis: To start with, there are logical gaps in this account as an explanation of motive. After the arrest of Bobby Beausoleil for the murder of Gary Hinman, parolee Manson had every reason to keep a low profile. The subtlety of his actions on the nights of the Tate-LaBianca murders—telling Atkins, Krenwinkel and Kasabian to follow Watson’s orders instead of telling them they would be going out on a murder spree—demonstrates his desire to stay under the radar of law enforcement. If Watson had a killing jones, Manson didn’t care to stop him, so long as Charlie himself didn’t have to take the rap.

With that said, it would have made far more sense to break into the Polanski home, steal the videotapes, and sell them on the black market—either that, or blackmail the Hollywood stars involved with them—if revenge were truly the motive. First of all, this would have been significant revenge. More important, it would have provided even more cash to the growing slippie crime business. Third, they could have had half of Hollywood holding its collective breath. Most critical, blackmail could have kept the victims from reporting the crime, thus ensuring a low profile.

And even if they decided to kill Tate et al anyway, wouldn’t it make sense to scour the house to look for the tapes, since they apparently knew they existed (after all, according to this hypothesis, Atkins starred in one)? They had no problem at all ransacking Hinman’s place in an attempt to find money. And a pregnant woman pleading for her life would have most likely given anything for a chance to spare her fetus.

This particular hypothesis falls apart pretty quickly as a motive. Yet, some elements are more plausible than they first seem. Despite Debra Tate’s understandable rage and disbelief, I have to say, with all due respect, that siblings can keep secrets from each other quite easily, especially if one sibling is underage (as Debra was in August 1969) and only at her sister or brother’s place for a temporary visit. Anyone can be on their best behavior for three weeks. And a pregnant woman who tired easily might not feel like whooping it up in some kind of wild orgy.

Given the nature of Roman Polanski’s work at this time—e.g. The Fearless Vampire Killers, Rosemary’s Baby, or even his supernatural interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth—it seems rather possible that the renown director might have acquainted himself with the black arts to some degree, if only for research. If so, it’s not much of a stretch that his wife would accompany him in this pursuit, especially since she starred in one of these flicks. Then too, one has to remember that in the 1960s, people experimented with all sorts of stuff. Among other things, good people dabbled in Satanism for reasons not difficult to understand. So I wouldn’t necessarily see Tate and Polanski in a bad light had they looked into this faith to any degree. However, I can understand why surviving family members would feel offended considering the role Satan plays in contemporary Christian thought.

Debra Tate also mentioned the “dirty little secrets” of Hollywood in her Dateline interview. This could possibly describe the purported incentive of Brynner, Beatty and Sellers in offering the reward money. Perhaps all three realized that the home movies were irrelevant to the police investigation, but could still cause them embarrassment. While the tapes have never surfaced, I cannot dismiss the possibility that these existed. Many claimed to have witnessed them. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi stipulated that police found one (and only one). And Elliot, the rumored star of another flick, never steered Krassner away from the assumption that the tapes floated around somewhere in the underground.

Of course, the tapes would prove their own existence. And you really have to question how there could be absolutely no footage that’s surface for all this time, given the nature of telecommunications nowadays.

Regardless of whether or not the tapes existed, they’re still very tangentially connected to motive, and ultimately lead down a dead end, for the most part. The only way they could have some bearing on motive is if (a) we finally do see them, and (b) if we catch Atkins, or Krenwinkel, or anybody else within the Manson circle participating in them. Until then, I would have to view this hypothesis as slightly interesting, but not in the least convincing.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Devil’s in the Slide: Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds

Hypothesis #5—Charlie Manson and company carried out a scheme of the Solar Lodge of the OTO and the Process Church of the Final Judgment after an emergency situation forced these groups to change their plans at the last minute.

Argument for: The Mayfair-based Process Church, a sect that jointly worshiped Yaweh, Christ and Satan, had a pronounced animosity for African Americans, as articulated by prosecution witnesses in unrelated cases. The Crowlyan Solar Lodge of the OTO took racial hatred to a deeper level by predicting a cataclysmic race war, a civil unrest that would result in the final extermination of all African Americans. Moreover, the Solar Lodge expected this ethnic apocalypse to occur very soon. Their leader, Georgina Brayton, held many properties across southern California. But out of all of them, she gathered her flock into the squalid Quonset huts of their compound in the desert town of Blythe, California, in April of 1969. She believed that the racial conflict would first break out in the inner city.

When months rolled by without hide nor hair of any racial Armageddons, the Solar Lodge started to plan the mother of all race wars. But in the middle of their scheming, police arrested the leaders for their torture of Anthony Gibbons, the six-year-old son of Solar Lodge member Beverly Gibbons. Thinking fast, they ordered their henchmen, led by Charles Manson, to begin the race war earlier than expected by murdering Gary Hinman and framing the Black Panthers for the crime.

The Process, who also had hooks into Charlie’s tribe, helped the OTO in this endeavor. They were at the scene handling the situation with Gary Hinman. They orchestrated the cover-up down to the bloody paw print on the wall.

Ed Sanders found two witnesses, whom he only identified by the first names Jay and Dave. These two both say that women outside of the family were at the scene while the slippies tortured and murdered Hinman. One of them spoke with a British accent over the telephone. Obviously, most of the Mayfair-based Processeans would have spoken with a British accent.

Sanders indicates that Manson’s involvement with both groups might have been deeper than many, including Bugliosi, indicate. Sanders, after all, places Manson within a special meeting to determine the fate of a young male sex-slave identified only by the nickname ‘Pussycat.’ Moreover, Sanders’ anonymous source specifically identified two women within Manson’s inner circle as participants of a filmed dog blood sacrifice, a type of ritual associated with the Process Church. And the description of the group's clothing by the unnamed informant matched that typically worn by Process members.

Also, months before the murders, a pack of Alsatians, the breed preferred by the Processeans, chased and threatened to attack Roman Polanski. If anything, this showed that the order hated Polanski, perhaps because such movies as Rosemary’s Baby treated Satanists like them as the villains.

Argument against: Perhaps if Manson or his followers were in cahoots with the Solar Lodge, he could have ordered his followers to begin the race war by committing the Helter Skelter murders. Since the Process might have had a similar goal in mind, maybe they would silently support what amounted to a covert action.

That’s a big ‘perhaps if,’ and a bigger ‘maybe.’

Anyone arguing that Manson completed a blood ritual on behalf of The Process or the OTO would have to presume that Charlie’s involvement was not only deep, but also subservient. While the evidence strongly indicates that Manson had some contact with both groups, there’s nothing to indicate that these contacts were anything more than superficial, other than second-hand accounts that are unreliable for obvious reasons. True, Manson had adopted some of the philosophies and beliefs of these groups, the Helter Skelter scenario arguably the most important. But Manson was an eclectic borrower from a number of belief systems. In addition to the OTO and the Process, Manson also borrowed freely from Scientology, the counterculture (when it suited him), jailhouse wisdom, occultism, and the Bible. And there’s nothing to indicate that Manson followed orders from these two groups.

And anyone, including the Process, could have animosity towards Polanski. That doesn't mean they'd try to kill him. Besides, if the Process really knew enough about Polanski’s schedule, why not wait for him to come back before having Manson kill everyone? After all, they could have either murdered Polanski after he watched his friends and wife get butchered. Or the killers could have left him alive to witness the carnage helplessly. Perhaps they could have even framed him for it.

What X. Dell really thinks of this hypothesis: The Process Church of the Final Judgment and the Solar Lodge of the OTO undoubtedly had some bearing on Manson’s thoughts throughout 1969, especially since he, like Georgina Brayton, believed that cataclysmic race wars loomed on the immediate horizon. There’s also every reason to believe that Manson spoke about this openly, for there were numerous eyewitness accounts of him discussing the topic. Yet it’s one thing to believe something will happen, another to see yourself as a causal factor of it.

The Helter Skelter motive emerges after Manson’s arrest, and comes first from sources at the fringes of the “family." People outside the group later hone this hypothesis. These sources asserted Manson’s belief in the Helter Skelter scenario. The prosecution subsequently touted this as the motive behind the Tate-LaBianca murders. Those who would later have something to gain by fingering Manson as the man who forced them to do what they did could readily support this as a conclusion. But they have a compelling reason to support this conclusion, for it minimizes their guilt in both a legal and moral sense.

At the same time, no one has offered any evidence that either the Solar Lodge or the Process had any plans to ignite a racial holocaust. So, if this were truly Manson’s motive, then one still cannot connect it to these quasi-Satanic organizations. True, the two strange women at the Hinman house, and the proximity of Hinman’s death to the sheriff’s raid on the Blythe complex raise a legitimate eye. But there’s nothing to keep Susan Atkins from speaking in a faux-English dialect. Furthermore, the cult had people coming and going into it all the time. So the stranger who met door visitors during Hinman’s torture and murder could have been either a new member, or an older member who had recently come back to the group after a prolonged absence. In short, the mystery women could have simply been Charlie’s girls disguised in plain sight.

And here, one can easily chalk up the proximity of events as a coincidence. Unless something more substantial surfaces, my feeling is that the Process and Solar Lodge’s influence over these events was evident, but quite minimal.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Devil’s in the Slide: Another Hypothesis

Hypothesis #4: Charles Watson, with the help of Suzan Struthers and Joseph Dorgan, attempted to take over the lucrative Hollywood drug franchise by murdering their chief rivals in that market: Gary Hinman, Wojiciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Struthers’ own mom, Rosemary LaBianca.

Argument for: The lives of Tex Watson and Rosemary LaBianca intersected at two very critical points. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi mentions both in Helter Skelter, but glosses over them.

First of all, Watson and Rosemary (along with Jay Sebring) at one time or another earned money in wig-making businesses that catered to clientele in the same general geographic area. You would have expected them to have at least known of each other. Rumors abounded with respect to LaBianca’s drug dealing. More substantial sources indicate that Sebring and Frykowski trafficked drugs as well. Watson’s burn of Bernard Crowe, a well-known drug dealer in the Hollywood area, is substantially documented, and indicates that Tex had a desire to take over at least Crowe’s interests in that part of LA.

Watson’s incident with Crowe aptly illustrates the nature of Watson’s relationship to Manson. In this instance, Watson clearly used Manson to get out of trouble, hopefully by talking his way of it; if not, by killing Crowe. As part of his spiel, Manson often told his “followers” that he would die for them and kill for them, and he expected they be willing to do the same for him. Watson, apparently, took Manson up on the offer, perhaps not realizing that although Manson talked a big game, little Charlie couldn’t bring himself to kill anyone. Manson, perhaps to his own surprise, managed to get off a shot, wounding Crowe (not all that seriously) and felling him. But instead of finishing him off with another shot to the head—as any competent killer would have done—Manson leaned over Crowe and apologized.

Simply put, Watson had the initiative, drive and ruthlessness to attempt a takeover of LA’s most profitable narco route. Still, the former All-American boy needed a lieutenant; someone who knew how the criminal underground worked; and, preferably, someone who could help him control his criminal henchmen. Manson’s ability to mesmerize a bevy of good-looking, nubile women--some of them (e.g. Mary Brunner) highly intelligent and well educated—and his experience with a wide assortment of petty crime (from forgery to pimping) made him a perfect sidekick for Watson.

In addition to the wig industry, Watson and Rosemary LaBianca had another point of contact. Bugliosi gave a rather detailed account of how Joe Dorgan found the bodies of Leno and Rosemary, and rightfully mentioned that he was the boyfriend of Rosemary’s daughter, Suzan Struthers. Bugliosi failed to mention, however, Dorgan’s membership in the Straight Satans motorcycle gang—the same Straight Satans with whom Manson attempted to curry favor; the same Straight Satans who frequented Spahn Ranch.

Many sources say that the Straight Satans drug concerns also played a role in the Gary Hinman murder. According to some, they demanded that the slippies pressure the music teacher into refunding money the gang had given him for what turned out to be a bad batch of designer dope. The Straight Satans could have sold at least some quantities of drugs.

Watson should have known Dorgan. Quite likely he knew Struthers simply because of their mutual association with the biker. Her support of Watson and his parole attempts over the decades has augmented this perception over the years.

Adding more fuel to the fire, Alice LaBianca, Leno’s first wife, received a number of threatening phone calls immediately after the murders. The calls told her not to look into any family business, despite the fact that Alice charitably cleaned up the murder scene after the police investigation. According to reporter Bill Nelson, Alice believed that the calls came from Suzan Struthers.

Believe it or not, Lt. Paul LePage, who headed the LaBianca investigative team, considered the idea that Dorgan and Struthers played a role in the LaBianca’s death back in 1969. Bugliosi writes:

The Tate report listed five suspects—[caretaker William] Garretson, [Herb] Wilson, [Larry] Madigan, [Jeffery] Pickett [aka Pic], and [Gerald] Jones—all of whom had been eliminated.

The LaBianca report listed fifteen—but included Frank and Suzan Struthers, Joe Dorgan, and numerous others who were never serious suspects.
Earlier in Helter Skelter, Bugliosi explained the names Wilson, Madigan and Pickett were pseudonyms of suspected drug dealers who frequently “crashed” the lavish parties given by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. Subsequent authors, however, weren’t nearly so shy in identifying them. Bugliosi gives a clue with respect to one of the dealers’ identity by giving him the nickname “Pic.” His real name was Harrison “Pic” Dawson, a friend of Billy Doyle (undoubtedly one of the other pseudonyms). Doyle knew Frykowski through their mutual association with Cass Elliot. Like Doyle, Dawson was another drug runner operating out of Canada, a fellow criminal whose sour mood could seriously kill a party buzz. As an example of Dawson’s thuggish behavior, Adam Gorightly wrote:

One noteworthy incident that occurred at this [housewarming] party [for 10050 Cielo Dr.] was a minor brawl involving univited friends of Voityck Frykowski and Abigail ‘Gibby’ Folger.Evidently, a twenty year old man named Harrison ‘Pic’ Dawson—the son of a prominent State Department Official—stepped on the foot of Sharon’s agent, William Tennant, which precipitated a shoving match. Others soon joined the skirmish, including two men also in their twenties, both siding with the aforementioned Mr. Dawson. Polanski got pissed-off and threw Dawson and his friends out of the party.
Gorightly further asserted that this Canadian connection planned to use Frykowski as a front man to introduce into LA a drug called Methylenedioxyamphetamine, or MDA, a crude and archaic poison that mimics some of the effects of present-day ecstacy (hence its street name, “the love drug”). Thus, if Watson and Manson took out Sebring and Frykowski (and perhaps other potential competitors such as LaBianca and Hinman), they could horn in on the MDA action, having thus an exclusive product for a clientele who could afford any price. That’s a powerful motive for murder.

Argument against: The most fundamental flaw in this hypothesis is that it requires a validation of the rumors against Rosemary LaBianca. Gossip is often malicious and defamatory. And threatening behavior by Suzan Struthers, as attested to by journalist Bill Nelson and Leno’s first wife, Alice LaBianca, doesn’t necessarily indicate that Struthers had any involvement. For all we know, Alice could have misunderstood Suzan’s grief-stricken actions, and then reinterpreted them in hindsight.

Without evidence of Rosemary LaBianca’s complicity in drugs sales, this entire thesis falls apart. According to this story, Suzan Struthers participated in the murder of her mom and stepfather in order to help her boyfriend and his friends, Watson and Manson, expand their business, while eliminating the competition from Rosemary. But if Rosemary didn’t traffic drugs, then Sturthers would have had no reason at all to help anyone murder her mom, and thus no motive to murder her dad.

Without the drug angle, there’s really nothing much to link the LaBiancas to Sharon Tate and her friends, other than Rosemary’s and Sebring’s mutual interest in wigs. Because of the similarities in their modus operandi, one would expect that the motive for one round of murders was at least close to that of the second round. If you can’t prove drug sales as a motive for one, then it’s difficult to prove this as an underlying motive.

A minor point, but one to bring up: if there were an obscenely lucrative drug turf fought over solely by a hairdresser, a wannabe filmmaker, a waitress-turned businesswoman and an incompetent wigmaker, wouldn’t the Mafia have already had that market sewn up? Wouldn’t it be just that easy for them to control with no middlepersons?

What X. Dell really thinks of this hypothesis: I don’t put much faith in this explanation, but I do find it intriguing for a couple of reasons. First of all, it addresses issues concerning who the victims possibly were, which can go a long way in helping to determine motive. The official story looks solely at the killers, and subsequently projects a motive. There’s no discussion of connections between the killers and their victims, and in this case there were many—the mutual social associations to Cass Elliot, Charlene Cafritz and Joseph Dorgan; the proximity of Harold True’s house to the LaBiancas’; the use of the properties at 10050 Cielo Drive by Dean Morehouse, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins and others; the business associations Manson had with Rudy Altobelli and Terry Melcher, respectively the owner and previous tenant of the murder site. Although less probable and far more speculative, purported connections via such quasi-satanic groups as The Process Church of the Final Judgment, declared sexual dalliances between the killers and victims (some rumored to be on the videotapes mentioned by Hal Lipset, Paul Krassner, and other unnamed police sources), and highly dubious reports of fraternization at such venues as the Spiral Staircase might someday provide further evidence if proven valid.

Secondly, this hypothesis recasts the internal decision-making apparatus within the “family” into something more plausible. Watson seems to act solely on his will. And as Struthers’ defense of him suggests, he has the necessary charisma to entice others—especially women attracted to the good-looking All-American type—to do his bidding. Far from following Manson’s “orders,” Watson, a poster boy for alpha maleness, seemed like he always followed his own criminal muse, and relied on Manson to smooth things over when his plans went awry.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Devil’s in the Slide: More Hypotheses

Hypothesis #2: Peter Folger put out a hit on his daughter, Abigail. The contract wound up going to Manson et al, who had to kill the others because they were witnesses.

Argument for: Peter Folger was a virulent racist, something one could readily see in his coffee commercials. He hated Abigail, because she worked feverishly for African American civil rights, and during her final days volunteered for Tom Bradley’s 1969 mayoral campaign.

Gibby’s lack of bigotry totally humiliated dad. Manson already knew Abigail from the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, where the young heiress also volunteered, and where Manson and his girls frequently received treatment for STDs. Plus she and Wojiciech Frykowski had already watched Susan Atkins and another slippie skinny dip in the pool at 10050 Cielo Drive.

Folger chose the Manson people because they knew her slightly, and could get close to her without raising suspicion. This would explain why Abigail smiled at Atkins the night of the murders. The women obviously recognized each other.

Argument against: Although it’s true that Folger donated her time to a number of noble causes, among them the civil rights movement, the Bradley mayoral campaign and the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, there’s nothing to show that her father, Peter, was especially racist. Regarding the alleged bigotry that came out of the advertising, one has difficulty coming across a really inflammatory ethnic stereotype, unless you count Mrs. Olson, a spokesperson of undetermined Scandinavian origin:



Even if Peter Folger were a raging racist loon, one would have to suspect that he would have tried other tactics to get his daughter to do what he wanted. He could have disinherited her, for starters. Then too, there’s no evidence at all that he had contact with Manson, either directly or through an intermediary. In fact, there’s really no evidence for this hypothesis at all. Worse yet, this hypothesis doesn’t address the murder of Gary Hinman, or explain why the group killed the LaBiancas the following night.

What X-Dell really thinks of this explanation: Um, whenever I see something like this, the word ‘slack’ automatically comes to mind. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Church of the SubGenius, lemme explain: I think this hypothesis represents someone’s sardonic attempt at satire. In other words, it's a cruel joke.

Hypothesis #3: Through contacts he made in prison, Manson took up a Mafia hit contract in order to expand his criminal empire. The Mob wanted Jay Sebring, Wojiciech Frykowski and Rosemary LaBianca out of the way because the three had sewed up the lucrative Hollywood/Beverly Hills drug market for themselves, and the Mafia wanted to take over their action. The Mob, through Manson, also rubbed out Leno LaBianca because of bad gambling debts he couldn’t pay back.

Argument for: If nothing else, Manson could talk a good game. So if he pitched his services to incarcerated Mafiosi, or did some favors for such major players as Frank Costello and Frankie Carbo in the joint, he might have gotten some consideration for work done on the outside. Then too, some professional hits serve the joint purposes of getting rid of an annoying party, and communicating messages (usually threats) to other parties. That could explain why Manson told them to “leave a sign, something witchy.”

Frykowski’s involvement in the drug trade, through Ontario thug Billy Doyle, his associates, and Sebring (who also handled large amounts of drugs, according to his secretary), completed a pipeline that stretched from Canada into the heart of the US film industry, bypassing Mafia coffers and control along the way. Neighbors of the LaBiancas also said that Rosemary had used her wig-making business as a front for drug running to the same market. And Leno LaBianca’s ties to the mob, and his indebtedness to gambling were sufficiently documented. The prolonged contact between Paul Watkins and a noted Mob lawyer, at least indicates that the Mafia had an interest in the case.

Argument against: The evidence for this hypothesis consists of Manson’s incarceration, in conjunction with that of Costello and Clark, Manson’s criminal enterprises from 1967-1969, the word of Paul Krassner (along with the second-hand word of Cass Elliot) that Billy Doyle was the Canadian drug connection, the word of Sebring’s secretary, Leno LaBianca’s money problems, and neighborhood gossip about how Rosemary LaBianca did business.

In cases where the word of mouth seems more credible, these facts do not necessarily point to this conclusion. Even if Doyle were “video buggered” by Frykowski and Sebring, for example, that still doesn’t show he had anything to do with the mob. And supposing the Mob wanted control of the Hollywood drug scene, who’s to say that Frykowski and Sebring weren’t already their guys?

Of course, if Sebring and Frykowski burned the Mob on a dope deal, especially if Doyle caused it by ripping them off, then the Mob might have issued a hit. But if they did, there’s no reason to hire neophyte outsiders like the slippies to do it.

What X Dell really thinks about this hypothesis: The Mafia has an army of professional killers at their disposal. They would have nothing to gain and everything to lose by trusting a bunch of unproven amateurs, especially those not connected to them by blood or necessity. And if for some bizarre reason the Mob had contracted the slippies for the Tate massacre, why would they then let them carry out a putative LaBianca hit after the first night flew out of the killers’ control?

I find this thesis highly dubious at best.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Devil’s in the Slide: Explanations of Motive

I hope you can forgive my flakiness as of late, but the holidays were more intense than anticipated, and I will eventually get into the swing of things in DC. I might be slow in turnaround for this and the next few months, and make fewer visits to your site, but rest assured that I am not gone, and will visit you all as soon as I can.

But for now, back to our story.....


Various researchers have given their best guess over the years as to the true motive behind the deaths of Gary Hinman, Steve Earl Parent, Jay Sebring, Wojiciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Sharon Tate, Leno LaBianca, Rosemary LaBianca and Donald Shea; murders for which juries convicted Charles Manson and/or his “followers.”

With all the information we have about the case, in combination with some of the scuttlebutt and speculation, the strengths and weaknesses of these explanations become clear. Of course, hearsay, supposition, and even facts are often at odds with actualities. One cannot draw many definite conclusions, here. But some of the speculation gains validity upon closer inspection, while a lot of it simply strains our credulity. Even if we cannot draw a clear picture of what happened, we can perhaps know more about what didn’t, and perhaps see this case in a new light.

Thus, we will finish the Helter Skelter series by examining the various motives given for the murders, starting with the official one.


Hypothesis #1: Charles Manson, acting on a tip from the Beatles, brainwashed his followers into murdering nine people in order to ignite a cataclysmic race war that would ultimately result in him and his followers ruling the world.

Argument for: No less than five juries came to this opinion, which serves as our official story. The primary evidence for this version of events consists of witness testimony given by Charles Watson, Linda Kasabian and Barbara Hoyt. In later years, a number of other former slippies (e.g. Catherine Share, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, Paul Watkins, etc.) have affirmed that Manson had unusual control over his flock, and thus merely needed to order his people to kill.

Former Straight Satan and part-time slippie Juan Flynn would also provide information to LA prosecutors regarding Manson’s belief in a cataclysmic race war called Helter Skelter, as would many of the aforementioned slippies. Same sources would also confirm Manson’s belief that the Beatles spoke directly to Charlie through their song lyrics, particularly those on the recording colloquially referred to as The White Album.

Logic aside, the most visceral feelings confirming Manson’s Rasputin-like hold over his followers consisted of the slippies’ physical appearance and their conduct during the trials. Armed only with a sharp pencil, Manson’s attack on Judge Older cemented in perhaps everyone’s mind the danger he posed to society. His barely coherent, rambling diatribes against mainstream American society resonated with what older, perhaps more conservative people saw at the time as a hippie assault on national values. The pranks played during the trial (e.g., shaving their scalps, or carving an ‘X’ in their foreheads on the same day) gave the appearance of a guru who could communicate with his followers through barriers and make them do anything he willed.

And if that weren’t enough, just look into those eyes and tell me they’re not those of a deranged killer.

Figure 1. Manson’s most famous photo



Argument against: The only existing evidence that Manson ordered a bunch of brainwashed followers to kill at his command because of some misguided spiritual belief comes from witness testimony. That wouldn’t be so bad in and of itself it weren’t for the fact that all of the witness testimony here is self-serving, or limited in its scope.

Barbara Hoyt’s story seems quite credible, for example. I therefore have no reason to believe that she’s lying about anything. But one has to realize that she was, by her own admission, on the periphery of the group because of her newness. Her companions obviously didn’t share everything with her. And truth be told, it’s easy to interpolate facts in hindsight, especially if you have an animosity towards the accused. After the slippies tried to murder her, I would expect Hoyt to have animosity towards them.

Otherwise the proponents of this idea have something at stake. Vincent Bugliosi, Steven Kay and others of the prosecution team risked their professional reputations by offering this outrageous motive into evidence of a highly publicized trial. Kasabian, the state’s star witness, had accompanied the murderers on both nights as the driver. If we give Kasabian the benefit of a huge doubt and say that she didn’t realize what would transpire on that first night, then we have to wonder what she thought would occur on the second consecutive night. Unless she’s a real dolt, Kasabian would have had to expect bloody murder. If she did, and drove them to the murder scene, then she’s guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, which in California (at that time, at least) carried the exact same penalty as first-degree murder: death or life-imprisonment. She escaped this fate, however, by turning state’s evidence and confirming the prosecution’s case on the stand. Here, Kasabian has a very clear motivation to articulate the official story: breathing—preferably air that’s not behind prison bars.

Krenwinkel, van Houten and Atkins denied at the time that they were brainwashed (of course, if they were, they’d be the last to know). Yet this scenario became mighty appealing to them by the time parole hearings came around. Obviously, any hope the killers might have of one day getting out of prison rests upon their scapegoating of Manson as the master manipulator, the man who coerced them to commit these crimes.

The person most responsible for the murders, Watson, personally administered the combat training used on those nights, and gave all the orders on site. He said in his 1978 autobiography, Will You Die for Me?, that Manson had ordered the hits on Tate-LaBianca. Yet, we only have his word for that. And when you look at it at any length, Watson’s word doesn’t seem worth much. After all, he effortlessly lied to Bernard Crowe, thus resulting in a drug burn and shooting (not to mention the reckless endangerment of his own girlfriend). He played sick to avoid extradition from Texas to California. Watson says that his religious epiphany has changed him, but as Doris Tate (and presumably others) seemed to insinuate, this was one more insincerity piled high upon others.

What X-Dell really thinks of this explanation: The official story is no doubt true as stated in many regards. It succinctly and accurately sums up the who, what, where, and when. It even gives us most of the how.

Manson unquestionably assaulted Gary Hinman with a sword, and later learned of his murder, yet said nothing to authorities. This makes him guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, and of being an accessory after the fact. In Shorty Shea’s death, he’s merely an accessory, as far as what I can see. Regarding the Tate murders, his knowledge of Watson’s plans makes him an accessory before, during and after the fact (he’s also aiding and abetting fugitives from justice). The LaBianca case, however, is totally different. Here, Charlie took his most active role. Tying up Leno and Rosemary, while assuring them of their safety--even though he knew full well that Watson and his pretties would butcher them to death--made Manson a conspirator in the LaBianca murders. Bugliosi duly won convictions on these charges, and Manson serves a life sentence in part because of them.

The official version, however, doesn’t adequately explain the why. Let’s face it. The Helter Skelter scenario is laughably farfetched from the get-go. So in order to consider it seriously, we have to have something more compelling than the statements of interested parties, especially those who took an active role in the killings. Since Watson is doing all of the training, and all of the ordering, and is apparently an equal participant in the sexual initiation of the female members, we have to wonder how Manson actually fits into this narrative. Even the women who participated in the killing said that Manson didn’t order them to kill. Instead, he told them to follow Watson’s orders.

The accusation that Manson masterminded the killings flies in the face of the hard, provable reality that Watson planned (through training) and executed (no pun intended) the Tate-LaBianca murders. That’s not to say that some of the weird stuff is false. After all, Manson could very well have believed that the Beatles were talking to him in song. Manson could have also believed that Helter Skelter loomed in the near future. Nevertheless, it’s one thing to say Manson believed something. It’s quite another to say that he acted upon these beliefs.

As the prosecution pointed out, Manson didn’t act on his own behalf. Instead, Bugliosi and Kay asserted that others acted on his behalf. But it’s more likely that everyone acted on their own behalf. Hell, even the prosecution seems to believe this. After all, if they really accepted their own premise that Manson had brainwashed his followers, then Watson, Krenwinkel, van Houten and Atkins (and possibly Grogan, Beausoleil and Davis) should have been tried on lesser charges, since they were not culpable to the same extent. A brainwashed person cannot control her actions, but is rather, by definition, controlled by others. The Tate family has maintained over the years that the killers were responsible for their actions. And last year (2008), former-prosecutor Kay, opposed the compassionate release of a terminally ill Susan Atkins.

Bugliosi, on the other hand, had no problem with Atkins’ early release, so perhaps he feels that her culpability is less than Manson’s. (After all, I doubt Bugliosi would ever be okay with him receiving compassionate release.)

But in the end, I believe that the killers weren’t subordinate to Manson, and that they got a tremendous kick out of murder. This gives me grave doubts about the brainwash/Helter Skelter scenario history has handed down to us.

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