Monday, December 28, 2015

A Painting, A Pinocchio, & The Manson Murders - Antiques with Gary Stover

Chris has a painting done in 1968 at the home of one of the victims of the Manson murders, Abigail Folger. He has a wooden pinocchio given to him by Sharon Tate and a book given to his brother by Abigail. You won't believe how these objects and Chris' remembrances of the victims intersect to create an improbable, but true, story set against the backdrop of Hollywood's most notorious crime, the brutal murders perpetrated by the Charles Manson Family at the home of Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate in August 1969. Chris paints an unforgettable portrait of Gibby Folger and Sharon Tate, both of whom he knew as a child. These victims turn out not to be the people you thought you knew from accounts written by the sleeze press of the 1960's. They were loving, compassionate human beings whose lives were tragically cut short. You won't want to miss one of the great untold stories of the year!

Thanks, Chatsworth Charlie!

Tex Watson's Beard

"At the same time I interviewed Linda's husband, Robert Kasabian, I also talked to Charles Melton, the hippie philanthropist from whom Linda had stolen the $5,000. Melton said that in early April 1969 (before Linda ever met the Family) he had gone to Spahn Ranch to see Paul Watkins. While there, Melton had met Tex, who, admiring Melton's beard, commented, "Maybe Charlie will let me grow a beard someday."

"It would be difficult to find a better example of Manson's domination of Watson."

 --  Vincent Bugliosi in Helter Skelter,  page 392

That this is the best example Bugliosi could find of Charles Manson's domination of Charles Watson shows how negligible that supposed domination really was, for the only two photographs taken of Watson during the period he lived at Spahn's Ranch with Manson show him to be bearded.

Charles Watson after his arrest for being under the influence of 
Belladonna (Jimson Weed?) on April 23, 1969

Charles "Tex" Watson at the Spahn Movie Ranch in 1969

Oh, Charlie did tell him to shave, but there was really a more mundane reason for Manson's "demand" that Watson (and, indeed, all the males at Spahn Ranch) remain clean shaven beyond his alleged desire to take control over every aspect of their lives. While it might be hard to believe in a day and age where Grandma is tattooed and pierced and the guy checking your groceries has dinner plates in his ear lobes, in the late 1960s men wearing beards (not to mention long hair!) could actually be considered radical. George Spahn (the owner of Spahn Ranch) was running a business -- horse riding rentals -- that depended to some degree on drop-in customer traffic. Therefore, he wanted his ranch to be as welcoming and friendly -- and normal -- as possible to prospective riders. On top of this, Spahn was also somewhat "old school," and he equated "beards" with "bums." For these two reasons he didn't want a bunch of bearded bums lounging around when Mrs. San Fernando Valley came in to investigate the ranch as a possible place for Sally and her friends to go horseback riding. 

It was George Spahn who instituted the "no beards" rule at Spahn's Ranch, not Charles Manson. Manson's directive to Watson regarding his whiskers was merely a pass down of the orders of George Spahn; it was not part of any mind/ body/soul-control agenda of his own.

Based on my forty-plus years of beard wearing I would categorize Watson's efforts as pretty scraggly. Nevertheless, he looks more bearded than he does clean-shaven, and it's apparent that at some point Manson noticed Watson's facial hair and mentioned it to him. But Watson  was no more "dominated" by having to shave than are the hundreds of thousands of other males who have toned down their preferred appearances for the sake of dress code policies relative to employment opportunities. I did the same thing in 1980 when I cut my hair and shaved off my beard as a condition for working with the Fred Harvey concessionaire at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. (And as much as I enjoyed working there I would not have considered committing mass  murder on the company's behalf.)

Thus, Vincent Bugliosi's "no better example" of Charles Manson's supposed domination of Charles Watson turns out to be just like so much more of the District Attorney's case against the former: It turns out to be nothing. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy X-Mas!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

LA Beat Article: "Stoner Van Houten - Guardian of the Ranch"

Stoner Van Houten: Guardian of the Ranch
Posted on December 18, 2015 by Mike Ritchie

"I want to show the positive side of Spahn Ranch." Says ranch caretaker and history buff Stoner Van Houten.

Local Manson expert Stoner Van Houten dedicates most of his time to preserving the history and upkeep of Spahn Ranch for anyone who wants to come and see the sights for themselves. He's made numerous YouTube videos chronicling his ranch visits. He's also happy to take people on sight-seeing hikes, bestowing his knowledge with little known facts, anecdotes and his own experiences. He'll take you to places, other tours won't or don't know about, surprising even the most educated on Manson history.

He portrays a genuine love of the area, taking pride in care-taking the land. He's cleaned up graffiti in the Manson cave several times. He's even caught a supernatural occurrence on film during one of his older ranch videos with Manson expert, collector and mentor Michael Channels. He's also a history and geology teacher of sorts showing how the land has changed from time, weather and erosion.

Van Houten, George Stimson (Goodbye Helter Skelter), Barker Ranch
 He admits that many people think what he does is morbid and ‘glorifies' that period. He's been to the ranch thousands of times and besides two unexplained events he's never experienced any bad vibes, events, happenings or hauntings. In fact he finds the area peaceful and inspirational. After all "it is a state park" he says and has seen many people in his visits including walkers, hikers and people just coming to see the place on their own.

He encourages people to seek legit information, look up case files and find out for themselves. Not rely on sensationalistic books and movies. He has his opinions as everyone does. However he admits he's not the first to do what he does and was introduced to the Manson saga by Channels. There are things he probably doesn't know about the cases and history that others within his group and network do. He knows that even though the Helter Skelter motive is widely accepted by many at face value, the real history and motives were much different and he's trying to get that information to the public. He encourages anyone interested to pick up George Stimson's Goodbye Helter Skelter focusing on Tex Watson's involvement.

Van Houten has made numerous on location videos at the ranch along with many Manson related locations in LA and the Haight, Ashbury district in San Francisco where Manson began recruiting women after his prison release and The Russian Embassy. He's also been to the former house of Sandra Good and Lynette Fromme in Sacramento. He's filmed in front of the Hall of Justice at Temple and Broadway where the girls held their trial long vigil, and the tree where Fromme gained infamy for trying to shoot Gerald Ford. He's been to Ballarat near Death Valley and Barker Ranch where Manson and the family were arrested. More recently he received a personally signed note with photos from (Blue) Sandra Good, thanking him for his work at the ranch.

He's led the way to the Zodiac car, the baby caves and recently found the remote area where the outlaw shacks once were. A while back with help from Channels, they uncovered the truck frame laying hillside under the main area, believed to be the truck with the Spahn Ranch sign in vintages photos, later debunked by Pete Porteous.

In January, he did an on location video interview with Porteous, who as a 10-year-old boy was mentored by ranch hand Donald "Shorty" Shea, later murdered by the family. Porteous gave invaluable first-hand knowledge of life on the ranch and personal insight of the happenings and power structure between the ranch hands, bikers and Manson. He also gave insight into experiencing the ranch through the excited, magical eyes of a child, being at the ranch for the first time in over 40 years. His training with Shea turned into a 30 year career as a stuntman.

He talked about riding to the ranch on his minibike wanting to become a stuntman. Ironically, the first person he met on his first trip there was Manson. He and Shea hit it off and Porteous learned the safe way to run a chainsaw, ride a horse and do a saddle fall under his mentorship. Shea christened him "The Kid." He talked about the group barbeques, the live music and the Wild West shows. He described the ranch as a very happy place. It's a shame that no historical landmarks documenting what was there have been placed due to a short period of time at the end.

Porteous said contrary to widespread belief, Manson did not control the ranch. The ranch was a business and Charlie was not the dominating force as media has portrayed. The family was kind of a separate group in a different area occupying the same large space. As far as Manson being a dark powerful figure, he had influence over the family but not the rest of the ranch occupants. Porteous said, besides the girls, the cowboys and ranch hands didn't pay much attention to the family.

Van Houten with, Michael Channels, Pete Porteous.

Though most of the ranch's history has been forgotten and eclipsed under the shadow of the family, their stay only lasted roughly two years. The ranch burned down in September 1970 during the Tate/LaBianca trial. The ranch itself was owned by silent film star William S. Hart and purchased by George Spahn in 1948, giving it its name. In its heyday many westerns, movies and TV shows were filmed there including Duel in the Sun, The Creeping Terror, Bonanza, The Lone Ranger and Zorro along with various cigarette commercials. By the time Manson and Co. got there Spahn was 80 and the ranch was in severe disrepair with horse rentals being the main income source.

Among lesser known local spots, Van Houten has taken people to the Munch Box where Manson ate hot dogs waiting for the girls to get off work. One of the actual ‘garbage run' grocery store back lot dumpsters dived in by the girls. The Candy Cat bar where Susan Atkins (Sadie) danced. Gypy's Waterfall, (a name bestowed years later) a ‘natured' off the path spot and hard to find unless you know exactly where to look. Seeing it up close you can imagine what the lay of the land would have looked like without modern developments as Chatsworth was considered ‘out in the woods' back then. The waterfall usually doesn't run due to the draught but you will see the exact spot where the family stood and bathed under the water from Robert Hendrickson's Inside the Manson Gang DVD.

Van Houten recently made a video standing by the 118 Freeway and De Soto talking about it. He's paid homage at the gravesites of Steven Parent and Sharon Tate. He's also visited the location where the Spiral Staircase (an early Manson haunt) once stood and Dennis Wilson's house. There are other ranch sites to be seen, depending on your love of hiking such as the Zodiac car, the Manson (stoner) caves, and the dune buggy graveyard down the road

Once at the ranch, you'll see the tree riddled with bullet holes that the family and the Straight Satans used as target practice. He'll point out a vintage tree that can be seen in some old shots of the ranch days. You will see the pile of rock, concrete and debris that was dumped over the side by bulldozers after the fire that destroyed the ranch and left to be forgotten.

The first thing seen walking up to the main area is the dirt mound where Spahn's house once stood. He will point out some vintage rocks, a piece of the concrete foundation from where a fuel tank once sat and one of the last remaining manmade remnants of the ranch days, a telephone pole burned in the fire.

Many people from around the world enjoy his videos, hoping to someday walk the trails. He has announced through Facebook that he will be going on to the next chapter of life and moving north soon. Before he leaves he's doing a "31 Days of Spahn Tour," filming a daily video and taking viewer location requests. He will try and return from time to time and hopes people will follow his example and keep the place nice for those who come to see history.

Van Houten's videos can be found on YouTube under spahn ranch worker, Michael Channels' videos under MichaelsBackporch.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Submitted by D. LaCalandra:

The Tate-LaBianca Murders, better known as the "Manson Murders", were not what news reporter Linda Deutsch once called, "the first real cult killings this country has ever seen". They were the first major example of the increasing violence directly related to the illegal drug trade that this country has ever seen, because it was the first time it erupted in a place people didn't think things like that happened in and during a period of time when the last thing the country needed was a scandal that would have exposed corruption, criminality and a host of dirty secrets in a wide range of political and social aspects. All of which were already the target of extreme criticism. They threatened to pull the sheets off the rich and famous and their entanglement with the Mafia and so-called Counter Culture of the time. But more than that, a corrupt legal system working in harmony with the Mafia to prevent a black uprising the underworld of crime and legal system of America.  Helter Skelter was coming down during the summer of 1969. But it wasn't Charles Manson who wanted to ignite it.

"If a Roman Catholic comes over here and gets in your district attorneys office...Rome! Rome, mamma! That's talking all the way back to one cross and they'll do anything in the world to put one cross back in order, because if they don't put one cross back in order, they got Islam right up their ass from Chicago bouncing that god damn fucking basketball" - Charles Manson 1997

What Helter Skelter really was:

Black dope syndicates (with the legal aid from the Nation of Islam ) would rise in power and start fighting back against the Roman Catholic Italian Mafia (with the legal aid of Italian lawyers), police and rich white dope pushers in Hollywood and upper class neighborhoods. That's what Helter Skelter was. The same Italian mafia trying to take control over the drug market, were always operating behind the scenes in the music and entertainment industry that Manson and the gang were apart of as well.

Charles Manson and The Family found themselves on the front line of Helter Skelter after the shooting of Bernard Crowe and rather than get any help or protection, they were purposely left open for an attack by local law enforcement, eager to ignite what looked like a racially motivated attack, despite knowing the drug-related nature of the crime. There is evidence that they might have been under the watch of a much larger intelligence agency too.

After the murder of Gary Hinman, Bobby Beausoleil wrote "Political Piggy" in blood on the wall, knowing fully well that the police and criminals alike were purposely covering up drug crimes to prevent any leads from being made and in some cases, getting off with the aid of mob attorneys. With the intense hatred of blacks felt by the police and knowing it was open season on them, racial motives were the best cover (ironic that after the murders, cults became the new cover). With the cops laying off Manson and his foolish kowtowing to them about his problems with a Black Panther (they knew fully well he shot Crowe and that Crowe was alive and well), he might have thought he was on their good side. Bobby figured the cops would automatically go after the Panthers for the crime, or just consider it yet another bizarre cold case like so many others in California.

For years and years, people have often demanded proof of drug transactions. They were all covered up by those involved, so as to not blow any other covers. To most of the run away kids, it might have appeared they were deadly serious about Bugliosi's fantasy version. I believe it may have been Beausoleil's purpose to get nailed, so he could establish a fake story and get a lawyer with the right connection since he murdered a rogue, small time dealer and tried to cover it, or somebody convinced him of such. Two years earlier, a dope dealer was stabbed multiple times. His killer was found on the highway with his arm in the car, speaking nonsense. His defense: a bad trip. A few months after the arrest of Beausoleil, a strange girl would be wandering around LA County Jail for the same crime, acting outrageous and confessing to have murdered Sharon Tate and drinking her blood... after seeing her two Italian attorneys, Paul Caruso and Richard Caberello.  They would later tell us she was under the influence of LSD and the hypnotic trance of 35 year old petty car thief.

The Tate murders occurred only three days after Bobby Beausoleil was busted. Unable to get any help for a non-white hippie drug dealer from anyone in the system, the girls cooked up the idea that a copy cat murder might get Bobby released. We've been told that part. The rest of this ill-logical plan makes sense when one considers other aspects of research into the case. The rest has been all but hidden, revealed only in hints. Sebring and Frykowski were both dope dealers and were no strangers to Charles "Tex" Watson.

The idea that the killers and victims were strangers is  perhaps the biggest lie told to conceal the truth about what happened.  They did something to get on somebody's bad side, thinking they could get away with it (much like the Italian business manager of The Beach Boys), while the Family were in a state of hysteria fearing an attack from the Black Panthers they knew the cops were anticipating (and perhaps even the Mafia and FBI). A deal involving drugs and $5,000 Linda Kasabian stole had to figure into it some how, since this seemed to be something Bugliosi brushed under the rug in court.

"White man would kill white man. The black man would sort of be there, too, helping him along." - Leslie Van Houten, interview with attorney Marvin Part

Billy Doyle and gang would kill Voytek Frykowski and Jay Sebring. Black dope pushers would get the blame, then start to retaliation against rich white pushers. The idea was to cause "confusion" as to who committed the crime: The Black Panthers or three Canadian drug dealers: Billy Doyle, Tom Harrigan and William Dawson. The ropes on the body, mock hood in the form of towel over the head of Jay Sebring and the fact that Voytek Frykowski was pistol whipped repeatedly and found on the lawn with his pants down is indication this is true. The wave of horror over fear that covers will be blown and a possible wave of Black dope dealers attacking rich white dealers, would prompt the police and right attorney to act fast and link the crime to Hinman and get Bobby released. If the three Canadians weren't busted, they would then become targets in the drug underworld or at least go up the river for their dealing. The murders were to send a shock through the drug/entertainment underworld running underneath the entire state of California. The cops and Panthers would now be busting the heads of white rich dealers, not the small timers like Watson and The Family. Watson then can corner a lot of new markets and rise up, maybe even over the blacks. Parts of it worked. In other ways it backfired in the worst possible way.  The farce of the Spahn Ranch raid was no doubt to save face. The only question remains: What about the LaBianca murders? For that, the possibilities are endless, but somewhere there is a strong link. Isn't interesting that Bugliosi would also write books on the drug war, JFK and OJ?
Recommended Reading:

The Manson File: Myth and Reality of an Outlaw Shaman (Nikolas Schreck)
Goodbye Helter Skelter (George Stimson)
Death to Pigs (Robert Hendrickson)
BBC Interview with Charles Manson (Bill Scanlan Murphy)
Mae Brussell interview with Preston Guillory (arresting officer of Charles Manson during the Spahn Ranch raid)

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Old Russian Embassy

The William Westerfeld Mansion sits across the street from the northwest corner of Alamo Square in San Francisco at 1198 Fulton Street and is known as The Old Russian Embassy. Constructed in 1889 at a cost of $9,985, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is San Francisco Landmark Number 135.


1928 – A group of Czarist Russians bought the home. They turned the ground-floor ballroom into a nightclub called Dark Eyes and used the upper floors for meeting rooms. The house became known informally as the "Russian Embassy".

1965 – The house was mentioned in the book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The Calliope Company, a fifty-member collective, moved in.

1967 – Underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger took up residence. Anger filmed Invocation of My Demon Brother starring Bobby Beausoleil and Anton LaVey, and featuring music by Mick Jagger. According to this blog, "Invocation of My Demon Brother was assembled from scraps left over from Anger’s first version of Lucifer Rising he made in San Francisco. This first production came to a halt after the script was stolen by Bobby Beausoleil. Invocation of My Demon Brother summed up Anger’s feelings about the Vietnam war and is a collection of images intended to invoke a spell and induce a drug-like experience. The film was shot in The Straight Theater and The Russian Embassy in San Francisco. Anger also works in war shots, a cat funeral and footage from a Rolling Stones concert. Mick Jagger improvised a soundtrack for Invocation of My Demon Brother on a Moog Synthesizer." During this time, Stanton LaVey told Marlyn Marynick that he believes that his grandparents, Kenneth, Bobby, Charles Manson and Susan Atkins were all in the same place at the same time.

1968 – Members of the Family Dog occupied the house while promoting acid rock concerts at the Avalon Ballroom. Members of the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company were frequent visitors.

View interiors of the William Westerfeld Mansion here.
 above: friend of the blog Stoner Van Houten recreates Bobby Beausoleil's iconic portrait.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Death Valley’s ‘Sailing Stones’

By Carl Engelking | August 27, 2014

Photo credit: Anatoliy Lukich/Shutterstock

The Racetrack Playa - a barren lakebed in Death Valley National Park - is home to one of the world's natural wonders: "sailing stones" that mysteriously meander across the dried mud, leaving tracks in their wake. Since the 1940s, these rocks have fueled wonder and speculation because no one had seen them in action - until now.

A team of U.S. scientists recorded the first observation of these boulders in motion, using GPS monitors and time-lapse photography. By meticulously tracking weather data, scientists also explained how these rocks slog across the playa. What was one of the world's natural wonders now appears to be the perfect combination of rain, wind, ice and sun.

Unraveling a Mystery

Years ago, researchers traveled to the Racetrack Playa with plenty of instruments in tow. They first installed a weather station and several time-lapse cameras around the playa. They also placed 15 GPS-embedded limestone rocks of various sizes throughout the playa. Then, it was time to wait.

"As one of the other researchers on this project said, 'Probably the most boring experiment ever,'" study co-author Jim Norris said in a video about the experiment.

However, things got interesting in November 2013. In late November, significant amounts of rain and snow created a small pond in the south end of the playa. When December came, the GPS-embedded rocks started moving, with the heaviest weighing in at 35 pounds. The rocks reached blazing speeds of 9-16 feet per minute. Most importantly, the race was caught on camera.

So what caused the rocks to drag themselves across the playa?

Getting the Green Light

Past theories attributed the rocks' movements to high winds, liquid water, or ice. But scientists discovered it's a careful balance of all these factors.

When the small pond formed in the southern portion of the playa, it cyclically froze at night and thawed under the midday sun. When the sun warmed the pond, thin layers of surface ice started breaking apart into massive floating sheets tens of meters in size. Although the ice sheets were large, they were still just a few millimeters thick.

But the freezing and thawing wasn't enough on its own. A steady, light wind of about 7-10 miles per hour was also needed, but before the ice had completely melted. This wind, timed with the midday melt, pushed massive panes of ice into the stones. When the ice accumulated behind the stones, it generated enough force to set the stones into motion. And rather than floating or rolling, the rocks bulldozed their way across the mud, leaving behind their signature tracks. Researchers published their findings Tuesday in the journal PLoS ONE.

The rocks won't move if there's too much water or ice, too much sun, or not enough wind. Everything must act in perfect harmony for the races to ensue. So, in addition to their "sailing stones" moniker, we suggest a new name for these fascinating boulders: the Goldilocks Rocks.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Manson Murders review

The Times Literary Supplement began as a supplement to The Times, a London newspaper, but became a separate publication 100 years ago though they still enjoy a close association with that newspaper today.   It is considered by many writers to be an indispensable source for serious and authoritative reviews.  Forty years ago TLS reviewed Bugliosi's Helter Skelter and I was struck by how insightful the review was of the author at a time when most US reviewers thought Bugliosi could do no wrong.

The book was published under the title of The Manson Murders -  An Investigation Into Motive in the UK.

April 18, 1975
A family and its head
by Charles Rycroft

The Manson Murders is a detailed, day-by-day account of the investigations into the Sharon Tate and La Bianca murders in Los Angeles in August 1969, and of the arrest, trial and conviction of Charles Manson and members of his "Family" in 1970-71.  Its author, Vincent Bugliosi, was prosecutor at the trial.

The English, though not the American edition, is subtitled "An Investigation Into Motive", and it therefore as such that it must presumably be reviewed in this country, even though it is obvious that elucidation of Manson's motives for murdering and inciting to murder, was not Professor Bugliosi's main motive for writing this book.

If it had been, he would presumably not have written it in a narrative form, first sketching in the facts already known to police before he himself became involved in the case and thereafter describing the investigations and the court proceedings entirely in terms of a day-by-day account of his own activities.  For instance, Professor Bugliosi reveals what he considers to have been the motive for the murders in two chapters, "January 1970" and "February 1970", which are the months during which he, already convinced on the circumstantial evidence that Manson must have been the prime mover behind the murders that on commonsense grounds appeared motiveless, began to understand something of the ideology and chiliastic beliefs that inspired Manson and his "Family".  Although this method of presenting the case makes for lively and exciting reading, it is also bewildering, since Professor Bugliosi records events not in the order in which they happened but in the order in which he learnt about them.  It also has the effect of drawing the reader's attention away from Manson and on to Professor Bugliosi, and, although prosecuting attorneys do, I presume, legitimately play star roles during murder trials, I doubt whether they should continue to steal the limelight while writing a book about the murders.

Professor Bugliosi must, I think, really have had two other reasons for writing this book; first to give as full account as possible of the longest, most publicized and most expensive trial in American legal history, and, secondly, to vindicate his own role in it.  He makes it clear that he insisted on establishing a motive for the murders, and a very peculiar motive at that, against the wishes of police, who would have been content with circumstantial proof; and, although it is hard for an English reviewer to be certain about this, the informality of his relations with the accused and with witnesses may well have raised eyebrows in some quarters.

His written account leaves the reader in no doubt as to which of the various besotted females in Manson's "Family" he liked and found attractive and which he found repellant or as to his opinion of individual detectives and defending counsel.  Furthermore he may well have had misgivings arising from the fact that the motive he proposed for the murders is, as we shall see, extremely hard to reconcile with the idea that Manson was sane enough to be charged.  I must confess, however, that both the court procedure and the moral tone of the trial were so unlike what, I hope, happens in English courts, that at times my credulity was strained; it sounds as though it was shambles from beginning to end.

It is clear, too, that Manson and Professor Bugliosi were in frequent communication with one another and each developed a reluctant respect for the other.  This book is, indeed, more easily read as a confrontation between the two men than as an attempt by one to investigate the motives of the other.  But, although Professor Bugliosi succeeds, accidently I suspect, in getting across the extent to which the trial was a duel between him and Manson, with Manson's life certainly at hazard- the death penalty was only abolished in California after his conviction, though before the appeals were heard- and Professor Bugliosi's possibly so, since throughout the trial many of Manson's followers were at large and known to be armed, he lacks the dramatic sense to present the trial as a contest between representatives of two opposed visions of the nature of society and the meaning of life and death.

Professor Bugliosi and Manson were both in their mid-thirties at the time of the trial, but, whereas Professor Bugliosi was a successful professional man, a district attorney and a professor of criminal law who had attended university on a tennis scholarship, Manson was a habitual criminal who had spent seventeen years of his life in reformatories and had convictions for armed robbery, burglary, car-thieving, forgery and pimping.  A not unusual contrast, one might have said, between a successful professional man and an unsuccessful criminal, were it not for the fact that somewhere along the line Manson had acquired some very curious, way-out ideas, which made him, in the eyes of himself and his followers, a legitimized adversary of the established order, exempt from its laws and conventions and no more a criminal than those of his and Professor Bugliosi's contemporaries who were fighting in Vietnam.

Unfortunately Professor Bugliosi's account of Manson's religious and political beliefs is so presented that it is impossible for the reader to decide whether Manson did in fact possess a reasoned, coherent though bizarre philosophy, which could have impelled him to plan and execute political murders, or whether his mind was really a rag-bag of half baked and delusional ideas.  Although he mentions that Manson had connexions with the flower-children, the drug-scene, the pop-scene, numerous groups and Scientology, and that he was an admirer of Nietzsche and Hitler and was believed by his followers to be Jesus Christ, Professor Bugliosi makes no attempt to assess Manson's philosophy seriously or to relate it to either the history of millennial Christianity or the sociology of the drop-out culture, about both of which an extensive literature does in fact exist.  As a result, Manson's ideas are presented as being more confused, inconsistent and autochthonous than they perhaps were, and, it is impossible to evaluate whether he was speaking literally or using religious metaphor when he asserted that he was already dead or implied that he was Jesus Christ- or whether the sexual performances he organized were orgies or rites.

This failure on Professor Bugliosi's part is particularly marked when he discusses the fact that Manson believed in both love and the permissibility of killing.  Professor Bugliosi, and apparently some of the other lawyers involved in the case, were deeply moved by the atmosphere of love that permeated the "Family".  One, indeed, wishes to write "a book about the beauty I've seen in that group- their opposition to war, their truthfulness and their generosity".  But they also believed in the triviality of death, and that killing was an unimportant event in the life of both the killer and the victim.  Now, although no society could conceivably tolerate members who acted on such a belief, any book that really was an investigation into the motives of the Manson murders would have had to explore that thread in Christian thinking which does lead to such a diabolical conclusion, and Professor Bugliosi's does not.  And it would have to explain why Manson thought it was morally justifiable to kill strangers in Los Angeles in order to provoke Armageddon but morally unjustifiable to kill strangers in Vietnam- or to commit soul murder in prisons- in order to preserve the American Way of Life.  As it is, however, Professor Bugliosi's account of Manson's motive- which was, briefly, to set off Armageddon by committing murders of whites which were made to look as though they had been committed by blacks- makes Manson sound terribly mad; even though the trial was based on the assumption that he was sane and fit to plead.

This is, indeed, the central weakness and contradiction of the whole book; it sets out to investigate Manson's motive for murder, but does so in a way that suggests that he should have never been tried.  It should be added that Manson, his followers, the lawyers and the psychiatrists all agreed that Manson was sane, that Manson never endorsed the motive ascribed to him by Professor Bugliosi, but that several of his followers and acquaintances attributed to him the belief that the Book of Revelations was about to be fulfilled, that the Beatles were the first Four Angels and wrote clarion-calls to revolution into their songs, and that the Bottomless Pit is just outside Los Angeles, all of which sounds very psychotic.

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

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,!)

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

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.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Manson Family Vacation - A Closer Look

"A horrible thing happened here, and you want to celebrate that? Haven't you ever lost anybody?"
- actress Suzanne Ford portraying the modern day owner of LaBianca house in Manson Family Vacation
"Their actually better than a real family cause they went out and found each other"
- Linas Phillips (As Conrad) explaining "The Family" to his nephew in Manson Family Vacation

Spoiler Alert:

Much love and gratitude, as always, to Patty for turning me on to this movie. I was so anxious to see it, that I originally watched it as soon as I got home, in the middle of the night, after a long flight back from the West Coast. I was tired, and catching the "Good-nite buzz", so by the time the movie hit its last 45 minutes- I was not in the proper condition to comprehend what ended up happening. So, I then watched it again the next morning to make sure that I had not somehow misunderstood. After realizing I hadn't, I watched it a third time...

This is not a comedy or road-trip buddy movie. I thought that is what it would be, and for the first 40 minutes, it sort of was. It does have elements of both of those types of films throughout. But, ultimately, there is more going on here than that. A lot more. I waited a few weeks to type this review so as to give the people in the community so inclined the chance to see it before revealing the ending. I am going to do that now. So, if you wish to take this trip on your own - now is the time to bail.

For the rest of you...

Before I go into the full review and my commentary, I want to take a minute to make some general comments. First of all, the average score for this movie on Rotten Tomatoes is a 6.9. A good score. It has received some recognition in the form of positive reviews and awards as well. Partly funded by kickstarter- this Duplass Brothers movie has been obviously well received by the general public who have screened it. This wasn't a big budget production, and the marketing is not likely to attract the mass audience awareness to get this movie the type of attention I think it deserves. That is a shame.

Next, there was a movie made not too long ago called "Waiting" starring Ryan Reynolds. It was about one day at a T.G.I. Fridays/Bennigans styled restaurant. It was a semi-funny comedy that most people got a few laughs from and then forgot all about. However, if you have ever worked in the restaurant business- watching that movie was an entirely different experience for you. There is a set of terms, expressions, and phrases that are almost like another language going on inside of a kitchen that most people in the general public would think was from another planet. A sub-culture among the staff exists in those types of restaurants that only people who been part of one will understand. Manson Family Vacation will feel a lot like that to most of you in this community. If the general public gives this move a 6.9- then in our world you can add another point or two for things we understand that the general public will just never get. As a recent visitor to every location they used in this film- I can tell you that they are fairly accurate. They go to the exact street intersections of both the Tate, and LaBianca homes, but when they film the close up scenes in and in front of the actual houses- they are not the actual houses ( I guess that is understandable lol). They have central characters named "Blackbird and Sunshine"    ( Tobin Bell and Davie-Blu) who are clear references to Greywolf and Star. There is mention of going to Death Valley to join an " Environmental group." Most of the general public won't get that means ATWA or understand the real relevance of those two characters. So, I guess my point is that there are probably going to be a few people who might make the same mistake I made of paying too much attention to the trivia and not paying enough attention to the road ahead and bigger picture. This movie takes a serious turn. I had no idea where it was headed and it ended up having an impression on me when it got to its conclusion. A real catharsis takes place at the end of this film. But before we get into that, let me start at the beginning....


The two main characters in this film are brothers. One is a successful corporate attorney named Nick ( Jay Duplass) who is married with one 7 year old child. The other brother, Conrad ( Linas Phillips), was adopted. He is a frustrated artist type who, we learn early on, has just quit his job. Conrad has sold all his possessions, and is heading out to Death Valley to join an "Environmentalist group". On his way to Death Valley, Conrad is going to stop by his brother Nicks' house to visit for a couple of nights.

Sidebar - Nicks wife ( Leonora Pitts) - Either by coincidence or not- reminds me very much of what a modern day "Cosmo" type  Manson girl might look like lol. Maybe its just me?- or this intentional casting? Sort-of-Plain, yet somehow sexy. Vulnerable but strong...  I was smitten with this actress lol

The film begins with some older footage of Charlie giving an interview about the Children. You have seen this one before. He explains why he stays relevant to Children. He does the wild arm-flagging dance for the reporter, He is "Brand new" he tells the interviewer. He is one of them...

 We then get introduced to both of our main characters. Conrad is hitchhiking up towards his brothers house with not much success. Nick is at his office explaining to his secretary, and by extension to us, who Conrad is and what his situation is. Then soon after, Nick is at home having the same discussion, with  a little more detail, with his wife. During this conversation we learn that Conrad was adopted and that he has missed their recent fathers funeral. Conrad has been an edgy, irresponsible child who was always very interested in death and conspiracies, and his art work is very dark. I felt the first time around this scene was written to explain why the two brothers were so obviously different, and to set up why Conrad might have such dark interests. It sort of was- but not for the reasons I thought as we will see later. Anyway around the time they have given up wondering when he would get there...
Conrad finally shows up at Nicks house. He hides under a table and startles him by jumping out and grabbing him with one arm and thrusting a ( anyone?) buck knife at him with the other. After saying hello, and having Conrad explain he has quit his job and is heading out to Death Valley, Conrad and Nick go outside of Nicks beautiful home to talk privately. After requesting to sleep in the back yard in a tent, Conrad reveals to Nick he has a plan for them for the following day. He wants to visit some sites around town related to the Charles Manson murder cases. After showing some initial reluctance, Nick succumbs as Conrad is able to use guilt- a common theme here with Nick- to convince him he only has one day in town before he leaves and it is something they can do together. There a few moments in this film where Nick is forced to make a choice between common sense and doing something questionable out of a feeling of guilt about how he has treated Conrad. Again, with his wife constantly pushing him in Conrads direction, Nick goes through more changes in this movie than any other character. There is a strong indication early and often that Conrad has been treated as an outsider his entire childhood. Nick is constantly agonizing over the role he played in that. This will lead him down a challenging path later when trying to reconcile major revelations. But at this early point- Nick simply agrees to chauffeur his brother to a few local locations. It is important to note that the contrast between the brothers is emphasized strongly early on. Nick was the real child, and the overachiever. Conrad was the outsider, who nobody ever seemed to care much about. At one point in an early conversation Nick points out to Conrad that "Your whole dynamic is this everyone hates me thing." To this Conrad simply asks him back "Well don't they?" The question goes unanswered. It is apparent that Conrad has always been an outsider in his adopted family. Nick acts very condescending towards Conrad frequently in the early part of the film.

The next day is more or less what I thought this whole movie was going to be. They go on a laugh a minute, embarrassment a minute for Nick, furious tour around LA of the major Manson related locations. One noticeable omission was the Spahn Ranch. But again, as a recent visitor, there isn't much there anymore to see. They went to the front of the gate at Cielo, and the front yard at Waverly. They ate at El Coyote. They cruise around the locales, as Nick points out to Conrad at one point, "Your enthusiasm for all of this is frightening." After embarrassing Nick at the Tate house to a neighbor by taking off his sweatshirt to reveal a Manson T shirt and screaming, Conrad calms him down in the car by using guilt again, along with a few hits of weed. By the time they get to Waverly, a buzzing Nick is helping Conrad get into the house by making up a lie to the present owners about being the Labainca's grandkids. This back and forth with Nick is constantly happening. He is primarily repulsed by the subject matter. On the other hand, he is constantly trying to pacify and make things right with his brother who he feels is running away in part due to a life of neglect he in part caused. So he repeatedly helps Conrad get into and around these places, and later people, which repulse him. "People died here. you have to respect that." Nick tells Conrad outside of the Tate house. Yet 30 minutes later, he is lying trying to help him get pics in front of the LaBianca's refrigerator.

It is an interesting question. Where do we draw the line? Where do I draw my own? I am repulsed by what the murderers did, and what happened at these places. But, I too was at that gate....

During the day we see that Conrad knows a lot about the case. He carries around a copy of Helter Skelter, but people in the community will hear Conrad say things which indicate a much more thorough understanding of the events which took place than that particular book offered. Someone did their homework. I will get to more about this shortly. At one point when looking it over Nick comes across a pic of the babies and asks what happened to them. I never paid attention to Conrad's muted answer the first screening around.  A sort of theme starts to develop where Conrad reveals more and more about his actual destination, and his involvement with Charlie as time goes on, and Nick starts to realize that there is more to this situation than meets the eye. At the end of the nite, back at Nicks house, they end up arguing about Conrad's involvement with Nick's young son- who has been having some trouble at school. However, after another heart to heart with the wife and another guilt ridden trip down memory lane, Nick agrees to drive Conrad out to Death Valley so he wont have to hitch. Interesting that later Conrad is able to offer some sage advice to Nick about how to handle his son...

 When they get out to Death Valley Nick realizes quickly that Conrad is joining up with a group of "Manson People." By now,  Nick is more or less on a rescue mission. It has become apparent that Conrad's entire agenda has been to join a group of people who all have some type of a connection to Charlie. Nick is disgusted, but feels partly responsible, so he sticks around to both help Conrad in his quest to find the leader of the group ( Blackbird), as well as to sort of watch out for him. We start to see now that Nick is feeling responsible for all of this. His own guilt along with the constant reinforcement from his wife ( who constantly refers to Conrad sweetly as "Connie") has manifested. Now add in that Conrad has played his own situation beautifully. Actor Linas Phillips does a perfect job as Conrad of looking menacing and dangerous, but coming across as sweet and gentle. He says just the right things to Nick at the precise moments they will deliver the most impact. He is always playing the sympathy card perfectly, and never aggressive. On the ride up there are a few funny moments. At one point Conrad plays a few tunes from the LIE CD, and lets Nick compliment them, before telling him who is singing. This is a trick I have done myself a few times lol 

 This brings me back to the point about someone doing their homework. The leaders of the group they are trying to find, and ultimately do, are two characters named "Blackbird and Sunshine" who seem to run the environmental group. This, again, is an obvious reference to Greywolf, and Star. The group itself is an obvious reference to ATWA. At one point in Death Valley Blackbird takes Conrad to see the "Black Bus". There are a few mentions in this movie the casual viewer probably would not get like some of the rest of us would.  One wonders who may have helped with this movie, or where they got their information?

Anyway- the final act of this movie takes it in almost a completely different direction. The laughs are over.  It seems that Charlie has been waiting patiently for Conrad to show up, and is asking about him every day. The Sunshine character takes an immediate sexual interest in Conrad and everyone in the environmental group treats him with deference. That nite in Death Valley culminates with a party for Conrad with the whole environmentalist group. As more and more people heap praise and adulation at Conrad, Nick wonders around taking it all in, and trying to figure out a way to get his brother out of there. Then the "Blackbird" character takes Nick aside and delivers the zinger. He shows a picture of the babies from "The Family" similar to the one Nick had seen earlier in H/S and goes into a little more detail about what happened to them. Then he shows Nick another picture of a woman and a baby and tells him that this baby is Conrad. 

Conrad is Charlie's son. 

Now this may sound like it could go off the rails at this point, but somehow it works. Tobin Bell does an amazing job in his role as 'Blackbird", and by now Linas Phillips has reeled you in. You care about Conrad. And now it all makes sense. The adoption, the dark art, the scary eyes blended with the easy manner. Nick, who by now isn't looking nearly as smart or cocky as in the first part of the film, is shocked and appalled. The roles have reversed now. Conrad is confident and in charge of his destiny and Nick seems out of place and lost. All I can say is that this transition happens so slowly in front of you that, to me, it just worked ( At least once I watched it semi-straight lol). Nick tries to convince Conrad that he has a "real" family, and he needs to come back with him. He lays it all on the line and takes full responsibility for the years of pain he has caused Conrad. But, Conrad gets a call from Charlie at that exact moment and has to make a choice. He takes the call. A furious and disappointed Nick is left to go home alone. Nick thinks things through during the long ride home, and then after having one more talk with the wife, Nick knows that there is only one thing that he can do. So, he heads back to Death Valley to rescue Conrad for once and all. This sets up the final confrontation of good versus evil. Right versus wrong. Real Family versus "The Family"...

 He gets to the prison where Conrad is about to meet Charlie for the first time just as Conrad is about to enter. They have one final brilliantly acted conversation, which almost brought a tear to my eye, outside the entrance to the prison. And then.....

Well, lol- if you are still interested- you will have to go watch for yourself!

Final Thoughts:

The Manson Family Vacation starts and ends with audio of Charlie. This movie takes place in a world that some people reading this belong to, and others of us reading this flirt with. It floats from location to location with Charlie looming over the entire story-line, but I believe not at its core. I believe, at its core, this a movie about family. Family and interpersonal relationships. What is a real family? Who are your real brothers and sisters? Is it as simple as blood and biological parents? What happens when you have two groups of people you belong to, or have ties to? What counts more when it comes to loyalty to people- where you come from or where your going? In the case of this movie- what if you dont even feel attached to one group at all, but have been tied to them through no choice of your own? How do you make these choices?  Well, this movie ends with the idea that there might be hope  there is a way one wouldn't have to choose. If we can open our hearts just a little bit to compassion and understanding it may be possible to have it both ways. Conrad ends up teaching Nick a few lessons in this movie, and after the first 30 minutes of it- if you saw that coming- your a lot more perceptive than I. This movie made me laugh, think and even a little sentimental. What else can you ask for from a flic?

Saint Circumstance says: On a scale of 1 to 10 Coors Lites -  8 pack :)

Thanks again Patty :)

                    -Your Favorite Saint