Thursday, July 30, 2015

In Touch with Rudi Altobelli and Terrie Spahn

The July 1974 issue of In Touch magazine featured an article on great American tragedies of the late 60s and early 70s written by Barry Glassner.  The Manson murders were included in the article.  Glassner managed to depart from the usual recitation of the crimes by speaking with Rudi Altobelli and Terrie Spahn,  a granddaughter of George Spahn.

Altobelli comes off as if the murders were a personal affront to him depriving him of the full value of his home and he sure doesn't like Roman Polanski.  Included mid-article is an interview with Altobelli when he finally sold the home years later.  I guess he had to sit on that home for quite a while before realizing it's full financial potential.

Terrie Spahn, on the other hand, comes off as a reasonable, non-judgmental person, who attempts to see the brighter side of life.

Barry Glassner is the author of several books on social issues including of The Culture of Fear, a bestselling book that has recently been updated.    http://www.barryglassner.com/
Bel-Air, a suburb of the supreme suburb of Beverly Hills, is where the elite hip pose for Newsweek while talking of grass, group therapy and gayness.  I drive up Benedict Canyon and Chevy Chase Roads, trying to find a house on a street called Cielo Drive.

The street number of "The Tate House," where Sharon Tate Polanski and four others were brutally murdered on August 8, 1969, does not appear even after a half-hours search.  I finally decide to interview neighbors about the effect of the murders on their lives.

The answer comes from the loud barking dogs in every hallway and the alarm-system warning signs on each front door.  Nobody answers doorbells, even at those houses where piano playing and walking noises can be heard as I approach.  At last, a woman agrees to come to her window and point out the way to The House.  I trudge up a private road hidden by a corner, but once there can't figure out how to inform the inhabitants of my arrival.  A tall electric barbed-wire fence separates me from the building; for several minutes only the birds and the trees know that I'm there.

Then I find a telephone on a post behind some trees, pick up the receiver, and hear a loud male voice say "Well..."

I explain.

"So you're doing a story on this house," he replies.  "Why do you want to drum up old memories?  I have a lot of money invested in this home.  I've lost a lot.  I used to rent it out, but now I can't."

Another phone rings in the background and he's asking me to hold on.  When he returns, he says that he will not let me in, even though I sound like a songwriter friend of his.

The man never gives his name, but he does say that he has taken no additional security precautions since the day Manson's minions allegedly preformed their acts on Sharon Tate and her companions.
"What you see is what we've always had.  If you hadn't picked up the phone, I'd never had known you were there.  We did buy a dog, though.  If he attacks you, run into the car."
He takes a sip of something, thanks someone by kissing him or her, and continues:
"Yeah, I've owned this place all along.  This is a fucking private home, see, and I don't want it to be a museum.  They call it 'the house on the hill' now, don't they?  That's because of asshole Roman Polanski, you can quote me on that."
I ask him what he means , but he doesn't explain.  I try a question about how the neighbors have taken it all.
"Listen I don't even know my neighbors.  Try talking to them," he says.  Our conversation is obviously ending, and again I ask to see the house.  This time I am refused with a somewhat intriguing signoff:
"I have to go.  Just say that this is a house of love... In fact, if you want to make love, jump the fence."
I demur.  Driving away, I notice that the fence is 20 to 25 feet high and extends all the way up the steep hill.

Sunset Strip- the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, Dick Clark Productions, dozens of poster shops.  I visit a real estate agency, where a stately lady at the front desk tells me that I probably spoke to a talent agent, who she says owns the house with a fellow agent.


Near an out-of-business hot-dog stand once called "The Watergate," I find a phone booth and set out to reach somebody connected with the Spahn Movie Ranch, where Manson and his clan had lived.  The ranch, located in nearby Chatsworth, had burned two years ago, but my first dime gets me Terrie Spahn, the 20-year old granddaughter of former ranch owner George Spahn. 
Terrie Spahn says that her grandfather is now 87, blind, and not thinking too clearly.  When the fire hit the ranch- and several nearby miles of Chatsworth- her grandfather disappeared to someplace in Oregon.  "He was almost dead because no one was feeding him there, and he had lost 12 of his best horses in that fire. 
"Some of the girls still call him here sometimes, trying to reach him.  You know, almost 30 people lived there at the time, and most of them weren't involved.  Mostly the girls would take care of grandpa, and he liked that because he couldn't take care of himself and he's a dirty old man.  Of course he couldn't see what was going on because he's blind.
"I used to go up there and give them clothes I didn't want any more.  They were always real nice to me."  Terrie herself was just married at the time of the murders, working as a hairdresser.  When her husband died a while ago, she started using her maiden name again.
I ask if she thinks Manson's people committed the murders.  "I guess they were the ones," she says.