Monday, December 7, 2015

The Guns of Helter Skelter

For two months in the summer of 1969 violence rode in the winds over Los Angeles, California. It started with the shooting of Bernard Crowe in a Hollywood apartment in the earliest days of July and ended with the stabbing death of Donald "Shorty" Shea near Spahn's Movie Ranch almost two months later. In between those two events eight other persons would lose their lives in a series of slayings that culminated in the infamous Tate-LaBianca or "Helter Skelter" murders on the nights of August 8-9. In its entirety the Tate-LaBianca case is one of the most complicated in the annals of crime. There were many different victims, killers, locations, dates, motives, methods of mayhem, and weapons involved, including many different kinds of guns. The recent MF Blog about Shorty Shea's guns made me think of all of the firearms connected with TLB, either directly or indirectly, and after some contemplation I came up with the following list. Herewith, then, in order of their chronological appearances that summer, is a catalog of the Guns of Helter Skelter.

The first gun in the series -- a .22 caliber nine-shot Hi Standard Ned Buntline revolver -- was the most important, because it was also the most widely used and deadly. In early July of 1969 Charles Manson shot the drug dealer Bernard Crowe with it in an act if self-defense while attempting to mollify Crowe after he was angered by being ripped off by Charles "Tex" Watson. That presumed fatal shooting set off the violent chain of events which eventually led to the murders on Cielo and Waverly Drives. The same revolver was used to lethal effect at the former address, where Watson used it to shoot and bludgeon three people to death. 

 The .22 caliber Hi Standard Buntline revolver used in the shooting of Bernard Crowe and the murders of Stephen Parent, Jay Sebring, and Voytek Frykowski (Photo courtesy of Cielodrive.com)


A nine-shot Hi Standard Buntline with the cylinder open

The origins of this particular firearm are murky. According to Vincent Bugliosi in Helter Skelter, "The gun, serial number 1902708, had been among a number of weapons taken from the Archery Headquarters in El Monte, California, during a burglary on the night of March 12, 1969. According to [Randy] Starr, he obtained it in trade with a man known only as "Ron." Manson was always borrowing the gun for target practice, and Randy finally gave it to him in trade for a truck that had belonged to Danny DeCarlo." (Manson implied in his 1986 interview with Charlie Rose that the "Ron" who was the source of this gun was then President Ronald Reagan.)

After the murders on Cielo Drive the gun was tossed out of the car window by the fleeing killers. It was found by a boy and turned in to the Los Angeles Police Department on September 1, 1969, but wasn't connected with the Tate murders until later, a cause of much subsequent  hand-wringing by Bugliosi over the Keystone Kops incompetence of LAPD.

In Helter Skelter Vincent Bugliosi used the search for the Buntline as another excuse 
to point out the incompetence of L.A. law enforcement.

If you want a Buntline today, this one should do.

The second firearm relevant to the sometimes savage summer of 1969 was used during an event which was sandwiched between the shooting of Bernard Crowe and the murders at the Polanski residence, namely the assault and murder of Gary Hinman at his home on Old Topanga Canyon Road on July 25-27, 1969. Although Hinman was beaten and stabbed to death, a firearm still figured in the overall occurrence. According to the January 27, 1970 police report of the incident: 

"On January 8, 1970, at the request of Sgt. Whitely, Homicide Bureau, Undersigned conducted an examination at 964 Old Topanga Canyon Road, Malibu, for bullets and bullet holes.

"What appears to be a bullet hole was observed in a wood upright portion of a cabinet under the sink in the kitchen. This piece of wood was removed for possible further examination.

"A bullet was recovered from the inside of the exterior wall immediately behind the sink. The bullet is 9 mm jacketed weighing approximately 126 grams and was fired in a weapon having six lands and grooves with a right twist and a land to groove ratio of approximately one to one.

"Bullets on file in this office with similar characteristics to the recovered bullet include those fired in Astra, Browning, Lugar [sic], Radon [sic], Star, and Walther semi-automatic pistols." (Thank you, Cielodrive.com!)

The gun used in that incident was in fact a 9 millimeter Radom automatic pistol loaned to Bobby Beausoleil by Bruce Davis to be used to help persuade Hinman to refund money due to Beausoleil as the result of a failed drug transaction. According to Danny DeCarlo, Davis purchased the gun at a gun store in Canoga Park about a month earlier.

A 9 mm Radom pistol

Radom automatics were military pistols designed and manufactured in Poland starting in 1935. After the German invasion of that country in the fall of 1939 Germany took over production of the weapon and continued to make them until the end of the war. Radom pistols have an excellent reputation and are regarded in firearms circles as one of the finest military sidearms ever made. If you want to buy one today you can, but it will cost you.

A current Internet ad for a Radom 

One gun I can't present here is the gun that was supposedly along on the night that Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were slain. Never accounted for before or since that night, the gun (according to Linda Kasabian during her trial testimony and Charles Watson in his book Will You Die For Me?) was wielded by Charles Manson during an aborted assault on the driver of a sports car on Sunset Boulevard. Manson also supposedly used this gun to cover the LaBiancas while Charles Watson tied them up (or, variously, while he tied them up himself). Linda Kasabian claimed to have seen the gun "on several occasions" that night but she was unable to give any kind of description of it, even as to whether it was a revolver or a pistol. One version of events says that this gun was buried on the beach by Steve Grogan. It has never been recovered.

But the guns that definitely were in the house at 3301 Waverly Drive that night were those belonging to Leno LaBianca himself. An apparent aficionado of the old west, LaBianca had an impressive collection of 19th century firearms that included several varieties of Colt-type Navy revolvers, a nickel plated 1858 model Smith & Wesson revolver, two Colt "Peacemaker" single-action revolvers, and a muzzle-loading dragoon pistol. Probably unnoticed by the killers, these classic guns were discovered in the house by police officers investigating the murders. Their value (and that of a coin collection and other valuables still in the house) was part of the reason that authorities were disinclined to believe that robbery was the motive for the killings.

Leno LaBianca's gun collection (courtesy of Cielodrive.com)

A replica of an 1851 Navy Colt revolver

Internet auction for a genuine Navy Colt

LIke Bruce Davis' Radom, the next gun in this series also arose out of the Second World War. During the raid on Spahn's Movie Ranch on August 16, 1969 authorities recovered the infamous "submachine gun in its violin case" pictured in the book Helter Skelter. This weapon a Maschinenpistole (MP)-40, was discovered during the raid along with several long guns in a room that has been described as a "gun room" but was actually just the room that Danny DeCarlo was temporarily residing in with his guns. 

An assortment of Danny DeCarlo's firearms found during the August 16, 1969 raid on Spahn's Ranch

Danny DeCarlo's MP-40 as presented in Helter Skelter

The same gun during the August 16, 1969 raid 

Sometimes incorrectly referred to as a Schmeisser, the Maschinenpistole (MP)-40 was a workhorse of the German Wehrmacht during World War Two. After the war stockpiles of the weapons were distributed into the international gun world by the victorious Allies and some examples continued to be used in combat situations as late as the Vietnam War.

A beautiful example of a Maschinenpistole-40 submachine gun

If you thought the Radom was expensive, then don't even think about acquiring an MP-40. Even if you could get a license to own one the cost of buying a genuine wartime example is astronomical. 

Check out the price on this offering!

The next guns to be connected in sequence to the events of the summer of 1969 were the matching set of .45 caliber pistols belonging to Donald "Shorty" Shea, the complete story of which you can read here.

Shorty Shea's guns 

Guns figured in the immediate aftermath of the Hinman-Tate-LaBianca-Shea murders as well, most notably when they were used to propaganda effect in the 1973 Robert Hendrickson/Laurence Merrick documentary Manson. That film features several segments where Nancy Pittman, Lynette Fromme, and Sandra Good handle an assortment of long guns. And there is also a famous still photograph from the film of Steve Grogan holding a large caliber revolver of unknown manufacture.



Nancy, Lyn, and Sandy with shotgun and rifles

Steve Grogan and revolver

Other weapons later associated with persons and events connected to the so-called "Manson Family" include the .22 caliber Iver & Johnson revolver with which John Philip "Zero" Haught either intentionally or accidentally killed himself in Venice, California on November 5, 1969, and those used in the shootout at the Hawthorne Western Surplus store on August 21, 1971 (over one hundred firearms were ultimately involved in that incident!). But both of those events were separate incidents that occurred after the murderous Helter Skelter summer of 1969, and they did not directly reflect on the Tate-LaBianca murders and the acts of violence related to them (Crowe, HInman, and Shea) as did the girls' propagandistic posturing in Manson, and therefore they are beyond the scope of this post.






34 comments:

Farflung said...

I've been baffled by the guns obtained during the Spahn raid, and the lack of using the freshly passed 1968 Gun Control Law. With at least Manson being a former felon, and living near guns and ammo (regardless the ownership chain), would have allowed for a return to prison for 10 years.

Plus the continual misidentification of Shorty's guns as Colts. The pawn ticket, and evidence sheet both say Colt. I can't imagine a gun expert being so careless about the pedigree. Or allowing for some sort of technicality during an appeal review.

orwhut said...

There are a couple of things that intrigue me about the guns that Nancy, Squeaky, and Sandy handled in Robert's movie:

Weren't all the guns confiscated during the Spahn raid? Did the family get them back after the search warant was declared invalid or how did the girls get them?

I think Squeaky's rifle is a war surplus Mauser. Does anyone know for sure?

George Stimson said...

I think that the long guns used in the Manson documentary were supplied by the film makers for those scenes. Maybe Robert could clarify?

DebS said...

Farf, the .45 Colt designation for Shorty's guns refers to the cartridge that the guns used. There are two main types of cartridges for a .45, the .45 Colt also called .45LC (Long Colt) and the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol). The .45 Colt (LC) is a smidge longer than the .45 ACP.

Apparently in gun culture it is not incorrect to refer to a gun by the type of cartridge it uses. It is also quite common to say 9mm Luger when the gun was not manufactured by Luger but uses 9mm Luger cartridges. Both Colt and Luger designed cartridges for use in their guns and those cartridges can be used in guns made by other manufacturers.

Robert Hendrickson said...

OMG !! The MANSON Girls have GUNS in their hands. Maybe IF the world understood back then just how "bra-burning" could one day lead to "Machine Gun Massacres" in California, some perceptive law-makers could have pushed legislation to "BAN the BRA." Maybe we get a second chance with Hillary OR, at least a chance to read HER new book "What's a bra?"

Cielodrive.com said...

Farflung, Manson was returning to prison. The ATF investigated Manson and had a warrant issued for him. The ATF also informed the United States Board of Parole about their investigation and they were issuing a violators warrant on Manson. This was in September of 1969.

AustinAnn74 said...

Manson shot Crowe in self defense?

Robert Hendrickson said...

George - this is a great POST and Merrick supplied the GUNS, but I can't help but wonder, because this GUN scene with the 3 Girls is so significant to the very MANSON film and it's "propoganda" effect - didn't YOU ever ASK Sandy what the whole scene was about. I think we ALL can figure-out what Merrick was THINKING and I was thinking, at the time, "What the fuck Chuck"

BUT what was SANDY thinking ? What was SHE trying to "propogandize." ? 'Islam is Rising" ?
The truthful answer to that question(s) could be very revealing, like worth thousands of words.

George Stimson said...

According to both of them, yes.

George Stimson said...

Robert, Sandy said that Charlie told them to go to where the guns were and "be mean." They did. (Top answer for Austin Ann)

Manson Family Archives said...

I would say self defense. I don't know if people realize how nasty things were back then. Manson wasn't the first, nor the last to shoot somebody over a dope deal in 1969 California and who knows what Crowe had planned for him if he didn't shoot. There were crime scenes in California that were just as gruesome as the murders, but they were a blip on the radar (because they happened downtown). I believe one of many reasons the murders happened, is because somebody knew the cops were purposely standing off Manson and was anticipating some kind of violent confrontation, not giving two shits that kids were on the ranch. Whereas in Hollywood, cops were on invisable payrolls to allow those people to get away with the same things they were busting Charles Manson over his head for and they could get away with drug burns, threats, etc. and when things did go down, they had good lawyers.

Put it to you this way. If Beausoleil was a rich dope dealer who killed a hippie and tried to pin it on blacks, with the right lawyer who knows the right people, he would have walked.

St Circumstance said...

I'm not a Lawyer. I know a couple who read this are so maybe one of them can clarify..

If Charlie went into the apartment armed knowing there was a threat without being coerced or forced inside...

Can it still be considered self defense legally?

He was armed and had the choice not to engage Crowe.

I don't see how that can be self defense? Charlie wasn't backed into a corner or attacked. Charlie wasn't put in a life or death situation - he initiated the confrontation- and again was armed...

Crowe showing up armed at the ranch would be justified as self defense but..

Is Charlie going over to meet Crowe with a gun,and a pre-meditated plan to use it, self defense when He does actually shoot him?

Hmmmmm again a lawyer would have to answer but I am not sure you can go shoot someone and say you did it because felt you had to beat them to the punch and have that stand as a justification for self defense.

Farflung said...

Good info yet again Cielo. I've not heard so much as a whisper about Manson being held or sought regarding the 1968 law. I probably projected my bias after seeing OJ Simpson found not guilty for murder. OK, bring on the 9000 traffic violations which would have any of us paying fines, going to jail, and or community service. Not to be.

DebS,

I'm probably a snob about Colts since I own two (1911 & Diamondback 38 spl), plus I may be overcompesating for some unidentified shortcoming. Who knows? But calling a Tiger Paw a Colt seems like calling a transvestite a woman. Probably close enough on both counts. I don't judge.

orwhut said...

George and Robert,
Thanks for clearing up the origin of the guns.

DebS said...

Farflung, part of the deal is with Shorty's guns is that they were used in the trial to establish a connection between Manson, Davis and Grogan and the murder of Shorty. Members of the of the Manson Family were found to have been in possession of the guns for a time after Shorty was last seen and those guns were a prized possession of Shorty's, who a variety of people testified that Shorty would not have given or lent them to anyone, least of all members of the Family.

The guns themselves were not used to murder Shorty, in fact they were in a pawn shop at the time of his murder. So, perhaps, greater leeway was given to the description of the guns at trial as to their manufacture. Had they been the murder weapon I'm sure we would have been treated to a much more precise description complete with lands and grooves etc.

I have not been able to figure out the manufacture of the guns even though I have researched extensively. Uberti, an Italian manufacturer, made Colt knock-offs at the right time but according to what I've found they did not stamp the guns with their name but instead stamped Made in Italy with a logo type icon. So maybe the guns themselves were not stamped with a manufacturer's name so no one knew what to call them except to describe them by the ammo they took????

Colt actually made a Dakota Territory revolver as a commemorative issue but not until 1968, after it was established that Arch Hall purchased the guns. Plus, Colt made only 1000 of the guns and the serial numbers of Shorty's guns are in the 2000's.

The pawn shop described guns as "Colt Dakota .45 cal" I was trying to work with that description to try to identify them. I'm not at all sure where the Dakota designator comes from.

r shep said...

I read somewhere that Shorty's guns were reproduction colt's. The metal was so cheap that they weren't safe to shoot. Maybe just used for movie stunts with blanks. To break into the Labianca's home and not take the guns and coin collection, Just goes to show you what type of mentality these people had or lack of.

St Circumstance said...

Joseph...

The girl wasn't being raped, and Crowe didn't show up anywhere threatening anyone.

Someone showed up where he was- and shot him...

I am just asking if it is possible that this could be in any way construed as self defense?

maybe... I dont know. But I have doubts lol

St Circumstance said...

I really dont know lol

If someone calls me right now and says they are going to kill me-

so I go over to where they are and kill them first...

can I tell the cops it was self defense?

Manson Family Archives said...

With the looks of things today, if the world is still here in 100 years, The Family might be considered prophets who once were considered heretics and criminals for trying to wake people up to what is going on. It's interesting Manson feels he was largely used by the Italians (Rome) who had some fear of the racial elements of the case and fear of the term black muslim.

I just read about a blind Bulgarian women who predicted 9/11 and made predictions about the melting of polar caps and Muslim take over of Rome. It brought to mind Manson's interview in which he discussed the polar caps and a holy war. Not that others haven't, but most of what they stressed in 1969 is going on right now. Things aren't look good at all.

Shorty's pistols said...

Another great job, Deb. The list and pictures of the weapons really helps. I had seen a picture of the purported Radom which looked nothing like the one you show here, thanks for putting this together.

Robert Hendrickson said...

Manson National Archives: You are getting dangerously close to some sort of TRUTH (reality) - so why does it seem like YOU are, to some degree, "radicalized" ?

For ME, I look at the photos of the 3 girls and think: WOW, George is a great "colorist" (knows how to tweek the color tones just right). BUT that was likely incidental to HIS real purpose.

An objective "historian" would look at the 3 girls and say: WOW, I am getting a peek BACK to the beginning of TODAY.

A "progressive" would say: WOW, there it is - proof WE need "Gun Control." A "conservative" would say: Lock em ALL up.

AND the people with very little to say, would SEE the "styrafoam" cup next to that crazy lady with a gun and THINK; Where is that CUP going to end up, only to pollute our land, and trigger the "Last Great Climate Change" ?

Actually, that "cup," to a certain extent, is symbolic of the great "Radical" Muslim - "Conservative" American CONFLICT of TODAY.

richko62 said...

And sometimes a cup is just a cup an a gun is just a gun.

DebS said...

Shorty's pistols, this is George Stimson's post, he was the one who put it together! George did do a nice job putting the guns related to the saga into perspective.

Manson Family Archives said...

Radicalized? I don't know if I'm radical about anything. But if the "truth" is even close to what I think happened now, then it's a lot uglier than people think.

I can't help but to wonder if Helter Skelter was coming down on The Family and it was being directed towards them by law enforcement who were willing to sacrifice their own lambs (white hippies) with the intention of igniting a hippie vs. blacks war that would serve the benefit of both them and the mafia who were trying to take control over the drug market. Now when that war appeared to misfire on the "other" battle ground the same police are paid to protect and turn a blind eye too?

Italians who were terrified of blacks "rising" up in the criminal world with the legal aid of the Nation of Islam. Then they would have their own Paul Carusos. Is this something that would make Bugliosi sweat at night?

Manson Family Archives said...

I wonder if Black Panthers was used as a code for "black dope syndicates" and "rich affluent whites" didn't mean the kind of dope dealers who carry their stuff in briefcases and deliver it in nice cars.

Farflung said...

I must betray that I thought this post was made by DebS since it is exacting, coherent, and painfully complete.

Way to go George Stimson, you stand tall among giants.

Matt said...

All of George's contributions have been coherent, and painfully complete. We struck gold, Farf...



Robert Hendrickson said...

A cup is just a "cup" UNTIL someone puts some coffee in it.

AND a gun is just a "gun" UNTIL someone USES it.

A tree is just a tree UNTIL a carpenter makes a "cross" out of it.

AND a carpenter is just another man UNTIL someone NEEDS a "messiah."

An ex-con is just an ex-con UNTIL a society NEEDS a "bad" guy.

In the 1960s, a radical was just a "radical" UNTIL he became a REAL threat to the status-quo and its MONEY.

BUT what is MORE dangerous - a "radical" with a GUN or a "radical" with a brain, WHO uses it ?

Fiddy 8 said...

A ranch is just a "ranch" UNTIL someone FILMS it.

Great post again George. I was more than a little amazed to see George contribute here at first, but soon very happy to see the same intelligence, integrity, and directness that George's posts had brought to the old *Turn of the Century* web site.

Robert Hendrickson said...

IF only that ranch and those guns could TALK.

We wouldn't NEED a Manson-blog.

MHN said...

You're right about George's coherence. He really doesn't belong here ;)

MHN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
StarRider said...


I identified Shorty's guns in the earlier post...open the link.


http://www.sackpeterson.com/models/dakota.html

orwhut said...

StarRider,

Very informative. Thanks for the link.