"Something freaked Manson out in early 1969 enough for him to prepare for the end of Western Civilization." (The Family pp.147)
Brooks Poston (Watson Trial):
“Q: While the rest of the family was at Barker Ranch, that is Manson, you and the others, did Manson ever leave Barker Ranch for Los Angeles and then return to Barkers?
Q: When is the first time he did that?
A: He left in November.
Q: When he returned to Barker Ranch did he say anything about what was happening in Los Angeles?
A: Yes, he said, "The shit's coming down."
Q: Did he say what he meant by that?
A: Yeah, that the revolution, the Black-White war was in the process of happening.
Q: This was in November of 1968?
Q: Did he leave for Los Angeles several more times?
Q: And when he returned, what would he say?
A: He also said the same thing; he said that it was really coming down fast.
Q: On New Year's Eve of 1969 did Manson again return to Barker Ranch from Los Angeles?
Paul Watkins (Watson Trial):
“Q: How did it start out?
A: It started out in about New Year's -- as a matter of fact, it was New Year's Eve between 1968 and 1969, that Charlie was down in the city and the rest of the family was up at the Barker Ranch****
Q: Did it happen at or about the time you met somebody by the name of Mr. Crockett?
A: Yes, it did. I will tell you about it. I was telling you I began to get rather disgusted and disheartened with what was going on at the ranch, because it got to be a revolution type scene where everyone was talking about revolution and we were collecting guns and building dune buggies and things like that --
Q: Let's stop this; let's tell us about collecting guns.
When did you start to do that?
A: It was about the spring of 1969”
It has been said that the shooting of Bernard Crowe was the ‘trigger’ that set Manson off, ‘freaked him out’ but Bernard Crowe was shot on July 1, 1969, seven months after these events and two months after Paul Watkins left the family because of Manson’s violent ideas.
“Q: In late May, was it, 1969, at Spahn Ranch?
Q: Charlie said, "We are going to have to show Blacky how to do it"?
Q: Now, when Manson said this, what effect, if any, did it have on you?
A: Had a heck of an effect because I already knew how he had said it. It was supposed to be done and I didn't want to kill anybody. I didn't want to show him how to do it.
Q: So what did you do?
A: I left, left the family and went to the desert.
Q: How long after Manson told you that "We," apparently referring to the family, were going to have to do it, did you leave?
A: That day.
Q: You went up to Barker Ranch?
Q: You didn't want to have anything to do with helter-skelter?
A: No, I didn't.
Q: Because you knew this would involve killing?
A: I suspected such.
Q: You didn't want to kill anyone?
By the middle of January Manson was obsessed with Helter Skelter. By the time the Family moved to the Gresham Street house (Yellow Submarine) from Barker, it would appear Manson was already over the top.
“In January 1969, Watkins said, “we all moved into the Gresham Street house to get ready for Helter Skelter. So we could watch it coming down and see all of the things going on in the city. He [Charlie] called the Gresham Street house ‘The Yellow Submarine’ from the Beatles’ movie. It was like a submarine in that when you were in it you weren’t allowed to go out. You could only peek out of the windows.” Bugliosi, Vincent; Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
It might be argued that the source of Manson’s ‘freak out’ was the Beatles, White Album. He returned on that New Years Eve, with a copy and made his ‘hep to the Beatles’ comment but on closer examination the Beatles only served to provide a framework for what Manson had already concocted from his Farad (Fard)-Nation of Islam- Book of Revelations-Racist ideas: the black versus white race war. The Beatles only gave it a name: Helter Skelter. They didn’t inspire it.
“Charles Manson was already talking about an imminent black-white war when Gregg Jakobson first met him, in the spring of 1968. There was an underground expression current at the time, “the shit is coming down,” variously interpreted as meaning the day of judgment was at hand or all hell was breaking loose, and Charlie often used it in reference to the coming racial conflict. But he wasn’t rabid about it, Gregg said; it was just one of many subjects they discussed.” Bugliosi, Vincent; Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
“Q: Now, prior to New Year's he used to say the s-h-i-t was coming down fast?
Q: But this particular occasion he came back to Barker and said, "Helter-skelter is coming down fast"?
Q: So he substituted the word "helter-skelter" for "s-h-i-t"; is that correct?
Q: Thereafter it was always "helter-skelter is coming down"?
(Brooks Poston: Watson Trial)
There were, in fact, coincidences in the songs on that record, ‘Sadie’ appeared in ‘Sexy Sadie’, the phrase ‘coming down fast’ appeared, ‘piggies’ were ‘whacked’ and the interesting ‘in’ that appeared in Revolution #1 tantalized. But every one of these can be explained by the common parlance or shared beliefs of the time (except ‘Sadie’).
So what event or events triggered Manson’s freak-out?
Here are some possible ‘suspects’.
1. The Assassination of Alprentice ‘Bunchy’ Carter and John Huggins
On January 17, 1969 US Organization members gunned down Carter and Huggins at the Black Student Union meeting in Campbell Hall on the campus of UCLA.
|Los Angeles Times, Saturday, January 18, 1969|
The Argument For
Both Carter and Huggins were Black Panthers. Carter was the LA chapter head and Huggins was a senior ‘Captain’. Carter, like many Panthers, was a ‘black muslim’ (The term here means Nation of Islam-influenced: 'Fard-ists'.) politicized and converted in Soledad prison.
The UCLA-Panther connection is present. They were gunned down on the UCLA campus, which happens to be the only Panther shooting (or Panther bodies found) on the UCLA campus, although neither were ‘dumped’ there.
It would have been well known. Manson didn’t read newspapers and there was a lot of notoriety about this event. Carter was the leader of the LA Panthers and the former ‘Mayor of the Ghetto’ or ‘Mayor of Watts’ depending on what you read. He was also a former high-ranking member of the Slauson street gang and commander of Renegade Slauson a group who could make the Crips, cower.
They looked like they were ready to start a war. Three hours later, ostensibly to prevent retaliation against US, 150 LAPD descended on Huggin’s home and arrested 17 Panthers confiscating a small arsenal of weapons including military carbines and home made bombs.
The Argument Against
By the time the Family relocated to the Yellow Submarine Manson was already 'freaked'. The murders happened on January 17th. The murders don’t fit Watkins and Poston’s timeline of November-December 1968.
The US Organization carried out the murders. This was one black militant group against another, the Panthers. This doesn’t fit Manson’s Helter Skelter. Blacks should have been killing whites.
2. The Strange Case of Frank ‘Captain Franco’ Diggs
Here is how Elaine Brown, one time head of the Black Panthers, describes Diggs:
“Frank Diggs, Captain Franco, was reputedly leader of the Panther underground. He had spent twelve years in Sing Sing Prison in New York on robbery and murder charges. Now he was Bunchy’s right hand.
Franco was slightly insane, Ericka had told me. Prison had done it. He thought he had been fed peas in prison that contained small microphones, which, remaining in his body, allowed guards and police to monitor his life. That was why, even now, he lived so carefully, outright paranoid about everything, especially dirt. He showered at least twice a day and never wore any item of clothing more than once without it being cleaned or washed. He polished his shoes daily, tops and bottoms. The result was spectacular.
‘You don’t have to be afraid, Sister Elaine [Diggs said]. I would make it so beautiful for you. Other than making love to a Sister, downing a pig is the greatest feeling in the world. Have you ever seen a pig shot with a .45 automatic, Sister Elaine?’”
Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story (Kindle Locations 2636-2638). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
By all accounts Diggs was Bunchy Carter’s ‘enforcer’. His preferred weapon a .45 automatic. He was also the LA Panther with ties to the ‘underground’ which is a nice way of saying he was the one who obtained dope and more importantly difficult to obtain guns like military grade carbines.
What makes Diggs’ murder strange is the fact no one seems to agree where it took place, when it took place or how he was killed. There is also almost a complete lack of information about the murder and only one mention in the press. Given the FBI (COINTELPRO) was at its anti-Panther pinnacle in late 1968 this event should have garnered more publicity, especially given the claims (by some) that Diggs was killed by his own people. Instead, this is the only record of the event I could find.
|Independent Press Telegram, Saturday, December 21, 1968|
Most other mentions of the murder are inaccurate, including Elaine Brown's. Main and 157th is not in Long Beach it’s in West Compton and he was killed on December 19th not the 30th or the first and he was shot twice in the head:
“Franco had been killed. He had been shot in the head three times in an alley in Long Beach. It had happened earlier that evening [December 30].” Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story
“The slaying of Frank Diggs in Los Angeles in December, 1968, suggests the same ruthless discipline at work within the Panther party. His lacerated body, with two bullet holes in the chest, was found in an alley.” Who Will Bell the Panthers, James Kilpatrick, The Fresno Bee, June 20, 1970.
“December 30: Los Angeles Panther Frank Diggs is shot in the head and killed by police agents.” Black Panther Party, Pieces of History: 1966 - 1969
“On Jan. 1, 1969, Captain Franco (Frank Diggs), the reputed leader of the BPP's local underground apparatus, was shot dead in an alley in Long Beach.” The FBI's War on the Black Panther Party's Southern California Chapter
“Franko Diggs, forty, who was a captain in the Black Panther Party, was found fatally shot in the Watts section of Los Angeles on December 19, 1968. No witnesses to the shooting could be found, but the police identified the murder weapon from the bullets as a foreign-made 9-mm. automatic pistol. Almost a year later, when the Los Angeles police crime laboratory was doing routine ballistics tests on eighteen weapons seized in a raid on Black Panther headquarters early in 1969, it was found that one of the confiscated Panther automatics ballistically matched the bullet that had killed Diggs.” The Black Panthers and the Police: A Pattern of Genocide? NEW YORKER, February 13, 1971 by Edward Jay Epstein
Epstein puts an end the discussion by claiming Panthers killed Diggs. His accusation is picked up and repeated by other ‘law and order’ writers at the time. Kilpatrick, above, was the first to make the claim. The problem is no source is cited for this information and there does not appear to be one that I could find. Diggs was Bunchy Carter’s ‘enforcer’. While it is possible US murdered Diggs, a Panther murder, given his connection, seems unlikely.
The claim is precisely the type of information the FBI would have blared like Joshua’s trumpets and yet there is no mention of Diggs in the newspapers of the time or the FBI files. A Panther hit on a Panther is precisely the type of information the FBI was struggling to make up in 1968. They’d have dropped to their knees thanking the Lord above if they had been handed these ballistics. Instead…..crickets.
Then again, since I make my living being paranoid, the absence of any Panther rhetoric in response to Diggs’ death at the time or now is highly unusual. Here is what Elaine Brown (not a particularly trustworthy reporter) says. She is typically ‘all in’ on the ‘FBI plot to exterminate the Panthers’. It fills the pages of her book:
"In December of 1968, one of our comrades, Frank "Franco" Diggs, was killed in an alley in Long Beach. We, to this minute, can't trace how that happened. Franco was one of the key figures in the formation of the chapter and probably one of the people closest to Bunchy Carter."
The Argument For
Unless you are a conspiracy buff (I'm not), there is none.
If you are a conspiracy buff here are a few questions that might make you go 'hmmm': Is this the Panther Manson actually killed? He is essentially a gunrunner and drug dealer. He may have been dumped in an alley (not at UCLA). Why does anyone believe that Manson or anyone else believed Bernard Crowe was a Panther when they knew who he was-a drug dealer? Diggs was killed by a 9mm, isn’t that a Family favorite? Hinman? LaBianca? Where did Manson get his small arsenal, confiscated at Spahn? Wouldn’t killing an actual Panther, especially Diggs give Manson a real reason to be paranoid they were after him?
I was told that because Diggs’ murder is listed as ‘unsolved’ (and given its age, probably closed and destroyed) a request for information to LAPD or LASO will be declined.
The Argument Against
The murder is too obscure. It gained little notoriety. Even Panthers who were close to it at the time (Elaine Brown) get the facts wrong and again it is a Panther being killed so it doesn’t fit Helter Skelter.
3. The Murder of Bryan Clay
On December 9, 1968 at 9:40 p.m. three black youths approached 18 year old Bryan Clay on fraternity row on the USC campus and for no apparent reason stabbed him to death. At least that is what Manson likely heard.
|Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, December 11, 1968|
Trivia: Paul Fitzgerald represented the murderer.
USC is a ‘private’ institution. Tuition was high. The student body was drawn primarily from affluent, white families. One fraternity brother described USC like this: ‘We are a white island in a black sea and you have to face it.”
The Argument For
The murder of Clay fits Helter Skelter. Blacks leave the ghetto and kill whitey. Its timing is right, early December 1969. It is a seemingly random murder (unless you read). It is a black murdering an affluent white young man in a ‘rich’ (Fraternity Row) neighborhood. Because it involved a black man killing a white man it received a good deal of press at the time so it likely was common knowledge.
It also eerily foreshadows the murders to come eight months later: a knife-wielding killer(s) invades a ‘white bastion’ and murders a wealthy white young man.
Did this influence Manson? Is that why, despite the multiple guns at Spahn, Manson sent knives? Certainly he should have realized the Panthers were about guns, not knives. Didn’t he know about the Panthers appearing armed at the state legislature? That act, incidentally, spawned the most restrictive anti-Second Amendment (right to bear arms) law in history- a law signed by Governor Ronald Reagan- because openly armed black men showed up at the capital. Guns were the whole point of the Panthers. It stirred memories of ‘armed slaves’ and scared white people. Was he trying to tie the later murders back to Clay?
The Argument Against
I’ll leave the arguments for you.
4. The Times
Of course it could have been the times. Until January 1968 there were no Black Panthers in LA and likely they didn’t even make an impression until a month or so later. Then they were there and a big, scary presence.
The membership of the LA Panthers was drawn from the Slausons a street gang (the 1968 equivalent of the Crips or Bloods) and went on to demonstrate a willingness to further the revolution ‘by any means necessary’.
On August 5, 1968 during the Watts Festival commemorating the Watts riots police followed a carload of Panthers to Ham's Mobil Service Station (The Crenshaw Shootout) supposedly because they turned suspiciously into a driveway and then backed out. When three of the four Panthers refused to respond to police commands a shootout followed. By all accounts the Panthers fired first. Three Panthers were killed and two police officers were wounded.
“If anything, the fact that these Panthers stood their ground and fought the police to the death strengthened the Party’s revolutionary credentials and drew new recruits, including alienated Vietnam War hero Geronimo Pratt.” Bloom, Joshua; Martin, Waldo E., Jr.. Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (p. 216). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
|The Redlands Daily Facts, Tuesday, August 6, 1968|
Look who was also involved: our friend Frank Diggs.
After this event LA Panther rhetoric became increasingly threatening. The feud also developed between the Panthers and the US Organization that culminated in the deaths of ‘Bunchy’ Carter and John Huggins (and others).
The Argument For
It certainly looked like a black revolution was imminent. Even the Panthers believed it was occurring.
“Readers today may have difficulty imagining a revolution in the United States. But in the late 1960s, many thousands of young black people, despite the potentially fatal outcome of their actions, joined the Black Panther Party and dedicated their lives to revolutionary struggle”. Bloom, Joshua; Martin, Waldo E., Jr.. Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (p. 2). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
The Argument Against
This was a ‘slow burn’ and nothing of any significance happened in November-December 1968 on this timeline. Manson may have seen this all happening and viewed it from the perspective of his apocalyptic hallucination but nothing on the timeline stands out as a catalyst after August 5th.
I do wonder if Manson used the anniversary of the Watts Riots (August 11-15, 1965) as his focal point for the murders but like many of his schemes screwed up the details, getting the precise date wrong.
“While at the Gresham Street house, Manson had told Watkins that the atrocious murders would occur that summer. It was almost summer now and the blacks were showing no signs of rising up to fulfill their karma.” Bugliosi, Vincent; Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Something, did, indeed, freak Manson out in late 1968 or early 1969.
“We didn't know when it was happening -- like I'd look out the window and wonder if it was going to happen today, you know -- think what was the quickest way to get to shelter if it was to happen right now.” Paul Watkins.