Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Steve Bekins, Sandy's Onetime Boyfriend

Recently I got a great press photo of Sandy and Squeaky.  I looked at the caption that was pasted on the back and was a little confused, it was dated 1992 and I knew that Squeaky was still in prison,  Also, it's obviously a picture taken when they were much younger.

I tracked down what article the photo accompanied and found it was in the third of  a three part article about Steve Bekins that appeared in The Portland Oregonian.  Bekins comes from the Bekins moving/van lines family and was a child of privilege. He has now spent most of his life in prison for various felonies. The whole three part article is quite interesting but I am only posting the third part that explains his relationship with Manson Family members.

If you would like to read the first two parts, just email me and I will send them to you.

Series: PROMISES KEPT (Steve Bekins) (3rd of 3 parts)
Author: BRIAN T. MEEHAN - of the Oregonian Staff

Summary: Steve Bekins remains faithful to his dark sense of honor, but finds all too late it's an illusion

In the war on crime, the enemy is anonymous. After a decade of prison-building, we still know little about those who cling to the criminal life. Steve Bekins is one. Bekins veered from a life of affluence to join a society of convicts. For years, he gave little thought to reform. In Part 3, his story returns full circle to Portland. He faces bank robbery charges in federal court and the grim prospect he will live out his days behind bars.

Aunt Loretta seems lost as she totters into Courtroom 11. An FBI agent leads the old woman to the blond wooden gate and points her toward the witness box. Loretta McFetridge looks as harmless as a grandmother. But tucked in her purse is a bomb for defendant Steve Bekins. Her blue-backed diary will turn Bekins' defense into a pumpkin this Halloween evening.

Bekins is in the trial of his life in federal court in Portland. The stakes are high. The government added an armed career criminal charge to the bank robbery count. The prodigal son of a Bekins Northwest executive faces life. What's worse, federal parole has vanished and the prosecutor has a dauntless case.

Bekins was arrested within minutes after the Dec. 14, 1990, robbery of the First Interstate branch at Southeast 39th and Powell. He fled from police and ran over a motorcycle before crashing the old Plymouth. The motorcyclist was not seriously hurt. Bekins' driving was about par. Prison did not hone driving skills.

Police found $1,885 in his shirt -- a dollar more than was stolen. They also found a silver .25-caliber semiautomatic and a sheepskin coat. The gunman wore a mask, but when police put the coat on Bekins, tellers said he was the one.

Bekins unveiled his alibi at a hearing. He said John McFetridge, an ex-con and fellow dope fiend, had robbed the bank. The morning of the robbery, Bekins met McFetridge in Southeast Portland. He would bring the money he owed Bekins later. Bekins said McFetridge showed about 1:30 p.m., gave him the money and the car. Several spectators chuckled when Bekins explained why McFetridge would not testify -- he had died several months after the robbery in a March car wreck. Bekins' chief alibi witness was a dead man.

Nevertheless, the October trial had gone surprisingly well. His lawyer, Mark Kramer, produced two large photos of Bekins and McFetridge. The jury was stunned; there was an uncanny resemblance.
Bekins testified in measured, articulate tones. He seemed miscast as an armed career criminal. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kent Robinson tripped him on cross-examination, but Bekins had sown doubts.

All that was before Aunt Loretta.
Robinson gently questions Mrs. McFetridge. Her nephew lived with her in Salem, she says, and never mentioned Bekins.

And what about Dec. 14, 1990, the day of the robbery? Robinson asks.
John was home with me.
How can you be sure?
My diary, she answers. I keep a diary as a hobby.
Mrs. McFetridge plucks the gold-leafed journal from her bag and reads the entry for Dec. 14. She baby-sat for a neighbor from 10:45 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. Johnny was home watching TV.
A chill courses Bekins' spine. The diary says McFetridge was not in Portland for the morning meeting or the 1:30 p.m. robbery. He folds his big hands on the glass-topped table in the dock. Kramer scribbles furiously on a yellow legal pad. Two FBI agents whisper and smile.

On Halloween evening, Steve Bekins is on the last leg of a lifelong trek through 30 prisons and jails. He has spent 33 of 53 years behind bars. His journey began at MacLaren School for Boys. His father thought reform school would teach discipline; instead, the boy learned hate. His crooked trail led through the Oregon State Penitentiary; San Quentin and Folsom prisons in California; Terminal Island, Lompoc and Phoenix in the federal system.

The path has looped back to Portland, where the long, sad story began when a bright young boy's mother died of cancer. His wealthy father could not control him. After remarrying, the father sent his son away.

Steve Bekins went away to institutions and never returned. He rose in a society that honored loyalty and abhorred cops, weakness, steady employment and the cautious lives of ordinary citizens.
He lied to police but was true to his friends. He lived by the code of the convict.

In jail Halloween night, Bekins brooded. The old woman had ruined him. He saw it in the jury's eyes. He was going away forever. He would suffer like none of his victims had. He'd never harmed a robbery victim. He had never committed an act of violence -- except that one time back in 1973. But that was in prison. The rules were different. And the rat got what he deserved.

 - -
In the spring of 1972, California paroled Steve Bekins. He had served six years of a five-years-to-life tour for armed robbery. The release fit the pattern of his life.

He re-entered society in bizarre fashion. He moved in with the Manson family. A pal introduced him to the followers of Charles Manson. The women lived in Hollywood where the Tate-LaBianca murders had made them notorious. Lynette ``Squeaky'' Fromme and Sandra Good were not implicated in the killings. But they had a nose for trouble. Fromme drew international attention when she pointed a gun at President Ford. Her roommate, Sandra Good, later served 10 years for threatening executives.

The women dabbled in the occult and believed in mind control. They mailed nude photographs of themselves to convicts to curry favor for Manson. Bekins took LSD and smoked marijuana with the women. They worshiped this crazy Manson. When Manson shaved his head, the women cut their hair. When Manson carved an X on his forehead, the women did the same.

A marijuana arrest ended Bekins' counterculture hiatus. Eddie Bunker, a Folsom pal, posted bail and recruited Bekins for a holdup.

Three months after his parole, Bekins walked into Ahmanson Bank & Trust in Beverly Hills. Police had staked out the bank, but Bekins escaped with about $1,300. Police captured Bunker. He admitted driving the getaway car and named Bekins. Bunker later wrote books and became an actor, but Bekins considered him a failure. Bunker had cooperated with police.

Bekins took Good and fled to Portland. He was arrested for robbing a Kienow's store and sentenced to 20 years. With a bank robbery trial looming, the jailhouse rabbit was desperate to escape. He smuggled a meat saw into the county jail at Rocky Butte. An informer told on him. The guards couldn't find the saw. When he was transferred, he smuggled the saw into OSP. He beat the strip search by wrapping the blade in plastic and shoving it up his rectum -- one of the tricks learned in a life behind bars.

Bekins focused his rage on the informer. He would get this guy the way they did in San Quentin: with a knife instead of a fist.

He waited a year for the chance. He was tried in Los Angeles for the bank robbery. The federal judge gave him 15. Then, in the fall of 1973, he returned to OSP. The informer was there.

Bekins obtained a ``sword,'' a 2-foot-long, prison-honed shank, and stalked the informer. He kept his mouth shut. The hit would be sudden and final. Early one morning, he sneaked into the informer's cell and knocked him out with a pipe. The man sprawled on the bed. Bekins aimed for the heart and plunged the blade into the man's chest. The long knife pierced the mattress underneath. Bekins pulled it out and drove the sword again. When he left, he was sure the blood-spattered inmate was dead.

 - -
The Oregon hole was a nuthouse. Iron doors slammed. Guys jabbered day and night. Prisoners taunted guards; some hurled feces and urine on officers. The Segregation and Isolation building became Bekins' home in the 1970s.

The Oregon penitentiary had changed. Hoyt Cupp, the flamboyant new warden, was fearless. Cupp strolled the yard and joked that he was Boss Con. His candor won respect among inmates. He shunned protective custody and landed on gangsters. Unlike California, convicts served time in relative safety. Stabbings were rare and Cupp took pride in nailing the wolves.

Bekins was arrested a week after the knifing. Miraculously, the informer lived. Cupp couldn't make the case stick because the victim never saw Bekins' face. Bekins was released into the mainline where he joined forces with an old friend.

A court had returned Stephen Kessler to OSP. He and Bekins soon built OSP's most powerful tip, or gang. Marijuana was scarce during the previous reign of Warden Clarence T. Gladden, but now the pair had great success smuggling drugs.

``If there really is a mafia, he would be the mafia inside the prison,'' Harol Whitley, who was captain of the guards, said of Bekins. ``He had some class compared to other prisoners. I would say the same thing about Kessler. They had some charisma.''

The Kessler tip was called ``The Family. Cupp was determined to break the group, which traced its roots to MacLaren.

``In my 37 years, that particular group was the most difficult group to deal with,'' Cupp said of the MacLaren clique in an interview before his death in 1990. ``I don't know why. What happened? Something happened in society that developed a real tough group of people.''

Gary Gilmore was among the worst. He assaulted guards. He cut his wrists, mixed blood and water and smeared his cell walls.

Twenty years earlier, Gilmore was a no-name kid at MacLaren. Now, Gary was crazy.
Bekins fell out with Gilmore over Gary's dentures. Gilmore flushed his teeth down the toilet and said the guards stole them. He led the tier in a food strike. They wouldn't eat until Cupp bought Gilmore new teeth. Finally, Cupp agreed. But Gilmore found a way to screw it up. He slugged the dentist. At a hearing, Bekins snapped at Gilmore.

``You know what, Gilmore? Your problem is you never know when to stop, man,'' Bekins barked.
Oregon shipped the disruptive Gilmore to the federal penitentiary at Marion, Ill. Bekins was stunned when Gilmore was paroled in the spring of 1976. How could they let this guy out? he wondered. That July, Gilmore killed a service station attendant and a motel manager in a pair of two-bit robberies in Utah. He ordered his victims to lie down and shot them in the head. The nuttiness of the killings fit Gilmore. On Jan. 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore went before a Utah firing squad, the first American in a decade to be executed.
- -
Cupp turned the heat up on ``the family'' in the fall of 1975. Officials received an anonymous note that warned of a Kessler plot against the warden. Cupp moved to transfer Kessler, and the story hit the newspapers. It was fanned by reports that Squeaky Fromme and Sandra Good had visited Bekins and written to Kessler. A month earlier, Fromme had been charged with trying to assassinate President Ford. Cupp said the Kessler group was scheming to seize the prison.

Cupp tried to trade Bekins for a prisoner at McNeil Island, Wash., but McNeil Island vetoed the trade.

``He was a somebody,'' remembered John Akin, a former prison counselor. ``He would stand with his back to a wall. He would not let people up to where they would take advantage of Steve Bekins. . . . I respected people like Bekins in the big house because you knew where they were coming from. You knew they were rattlesnakes, but you still had to admire them.

``If Steve Bekins would have been born a hundred years ago,'' Akin added, ``he would have been either a hell of gunslinger or the town marshal.''

When the dust settled, Kessler went to Marion. Bekins returned to the hole at OSP. Cupp clamped down. No more personal property. No more contact visits. It was the most miserable 18 months Bekins ever spent in prison.

In the summer of 1976, Bekins' brother, Marshall, visited. The brothers had not seen each other for 20 years. Marshall brought news: Their father, Bruce, was dead.

Bekins didn't grieve. He and Bruce hadn't spoken in 16 years. But he loved his father still.
*``Even though we had this strange relationship, yes, I loved him very much,'' he said. ``I think I loved him even when he died. I always did. But I didn't talk to him from 1960 until he died. I never talked to him again. It was just a series of things in my relationship with him that just showed to me, just proved to me that he really didn't care."
- -
Bekins spent all but 18 weeks of the next 13 years in four prisons. The Oregon Board of Parole goofed in 1978 and paroled him, even though he owed the feds 15 years for bank robbery. He was burned out on crime. For the first time in his life, he wanted a decent job. It was way too late. He was almost 40 and had never held a job.

He retreated to heroin and was arrested for robbing a drugstore.
His friends teased him back at OSP. His 60 days of freedom had been pathetic. He couldn't make 20 bucks without getting caught.

The penitentiary was wide open when he returned. Kessler was gone, but marijuana smuggling boomed. In one incredible week, Bekins made $1,000 three days in a row.

But Cupp wasn't finished with him. In 1981, Bekins was accused of stabbing an inmate. He was down the hall when the assailant chased the victim before dozens of witnesses. But someone said Bekins did it. He denied it. Cupp asked him to take a lie-detector test. He took the test twice; the results were inconclusive. Finally, Cupp banished Bekins to federal prison.

He traveled through Lompoc, Phoenix, and Terminal Island, Calif. Boats floated tourists past the island prison in Long Beach Bay. Tour guides droned about prison history as women in bikinis waved to the convicts. Bekins enjoyed the view and waited for his release. The rabbit had lost his legs.

In November 1989, Bekins returned to Portland a free man. He knew nothing of the normal life. Jetliners and seat belts, the civil rights and women's movements, VCRs and microwave ovens, color TV, disco and rap, suburbia, baby boomers, hippies and yuppies all arrived while he was locked away.

Steve Bekins saw the public milestones whizz past from behind bars. Harry Truman was president when he went to MacLaren. Eight presidents later, Bekins was in the Justice Center jail for bank robbery.

He spent the Cold War in the cooler. He was in OSP when the Berlin Wall went up, in the Justice Center jail when it came down.

He was in OSP when John Kennedy was killed; in San Quentin when Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were slain; at Lompoc when President Reagan was wounded. He was in Phoenix when the Challenger exploded and the stock market crashed. He spent the Gulf War in the Justice Center jail.

Convicts, cops, wardens and guards came and went. Convict Bekins remained loyal to the code. In a strange way, his life was a success. He became the hard con he so admired as a youngster.

``Nearly all convicts will tell if you put the squeeze on them, but Bekins would never tell on anybody,'' said Whitley, the captain, who became a warden in Nevada and Utah. ``Of the 34 years I've spent in corrections, he's the only convict I know of who really lived by the code.''
But the life never made him happy.

``I tried to be this thing all these years. Why now that it's happening to me am I so disappointed?'' Bekins said. ``I wanted people to say, `Man, that's a serious guy.' Now I say, `Jesus, hey, I'm not that guy.' . . . Whether we are what we try to be, I don't know.''

His spirits bottomed after the 1990 arrest. He considered suicide. A friend said he could always do that. He shut his mouth; the days passed.

The younger inmates dumbfounded him. The convict code was dead for sure. Guys openly courted guards and snitched without shame. Over the years, he had seen standup cons weaken and turn. Others had died. At 53, Bekins felt like a prison dinosaur. And he was.

He thought of death. He didn't believe in God but couldn't fathom the end of himself. There has to be something else, like the odor that lingers after the match is out. When he thought of his life, his mind raced back to MacLaren. The keys were there. He had jumped on the path and never stepped off. For years, he had blamed his father, but time had worn the blaming thin.

``More than anybody else, I blame myself,'' he said in an interview after his bank robbery conviction.
``At the beginning, I blamed my father, but that was so many years ago. That wore out 30 years ago. Now I don't blame anybody but myself.''

The Justice Center jail population turned over several times. Bekins was a stranger in his hometown tank. He would recognize a name and cringe when he learned the inmate was the son of a guy he'd done time with a generation ago. His record impressed some. Their admiration made him nervous.
``The only thing I do know something about is jail. And now I see I don't know very much about that, either, because it's changing,'' he said.

``Nobody I know is in jail anymore,'' he added. ``They are all gone. Even though I've spent my whole life here, I don't know hardly anybody here. I know 50 guys in the state prison, maybe 100. But that's because they've been there forever. . . . There's 10 or 15 guys I grew up with and they are still around. And they have maintained the same kind of life that I have. And I still respect and like them. I call them my good friends, my lifetime friends. And everybody else is gone.

``To give advice to somebody is pretty presumptuous of me. Because I don't know, it's an illusion. I guess all the things that I thought were true were actually just what I thought. .
 . .
``Especially the convict code. It's an illusion. Although I understood it and believed it, it really wasn't there. It was only in my own mind.''
- -
At 10:16 a.m. on a blue March Monday, Steve Bekins rises before U.S. District Judge Malcolm F. Marsh for the last time. He declines when the judge asks if he has anything to say. He never liked making smart remarks to judges.

The lawyers had wrestled for months over a confused point of law. The argument about the sentencing guidelines and whether he should get life or 20 years seems moot. Unless he wins on appeal, he believes he will die in prison.

He stands ramrod straight in his jailhouse blues as the judge gives him 30 years. He doesn't flinch. At this late date, he doesn't want to crack. He will play the convict role to the end. It is all he has left.
Bekins will resume his familiar post in a country that jails more people than any other nation on Earth. His room and board will come from the $20 billion a year America spends to jail more than a million criminals. The war on drugs has filled new prisons. The number of inmates has doubled since 1980, tripled since 1973. Bekins wonders where it will end. Despite the crackdown, he knows it's easier than ever to buy dope in Portland. Something is coming down the line, he thinks. Something ugly.

Through his long criminal odyssey, a piece of his original self survived. The part that fueled his spark as a child, his perseverance as a youth, his loyalty as an adult. Burglar, pimp, drug addict and bank robber, he has been them all. But he also has been intelligent, charismatic and faithful to a dark sense of honor.

Hate drove him after MacLaren. Hate twisted him to embrace a code at war with society. He was doomed by his own tenacity. He had his chances. He made his choices. He never turned his talents to the good life. That is the riddle of Steve Bekins. He himself cannot answer why.

He kept the promise he swore at MacLaren. He spent his life getting even. He kept the promise and it cost him. He paid in lost views of the blue Sumpter sky, in the laughter of the children he never had, in the death that awaits in a drab prison infirmary.

``I'm thinking a lot about dying even though I don't plan to die in the next 20 years,'' he said. ``But I know it's coming and it's a pretty normal event. I guess prison is as good a place to die as anyplace else.''

Fifteen months in the Justice Center jail has him eager to move on. He looks forward to the penitentiary. He asked for Sheridan but doesn't expect to go to the medium-security prison. They probably will send him to Lompoc. It could be worse. He's been there before. The California weather is great. Plenty of handball when the afternoon wind doesn't blow you off the yard. He has friends there, too. After 30 years, he knows it's the people who make the penitentiary.

He feels an awful sense of relief. He won't have to worry about a job or money or where his next meal is coming from. His past embarrasses him; he won't have to worry about his future.

``The only thing that is important is now,'' he said. ``I've always known that. But it's becoming easier for me now to deal with just now. Why get anxious about tomorrow? Why worry about yesterday? Because now is all that I have.''

At 10:21 a.m. on March 9, two marshals handcuff Steve Bekins' big hands behind him and march the career criminal out of Courtroom 11. If he defies the odds and survives this sentence, he will be 79 when released. The year will be 2018. And Steve Bekins will have passed 59 of his 79 years behind bars.

Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme - Sandra Good Photo by DANA OLSEN of The Oregonian