A 1969 Chevron/Standard road map of greater Los Angeles. Spahn’s Ranch was just off the map, slightly northwest of the intersection of Topanga Canyon Blvd. and Devonshire Street at the upper center/left-hand side of the map.
One of the most horrifying aspects of the Tate-LaBianca case is the randomness of the murders. These murders were not committed because of personal animosity or for any hope of material gain from the victims. They were committed simply out of the need for them to be committed in order to establish a copy-cat pattern that would cause the police to believe that Bobby Beausoleil had not committed the earlier murder of Gary Hinman and thereby release him from jail. The identities of the victims were irrelevant to their fates.
The randomness and scope of the atrociousness of the Tate-LaBianca murders have been reinforced by claims of a city-wide "murder search" that allegedly occurred on the night of August 9 before and after Manson et al. arrived at 3301 Waverly Drive. The importance of establishing the bona fides of this supposed random search for murder victims was important to the prosecution, for, as Vincent Bugliosi later said of the search in his bestselling book Helter Skelter, "Thus far [before the group's arrival at the LaBianca residence], their wanderings appeared totally at random, Manson seemingly having no particular victims in mind. As I’d later argue to the jury, up to this time no one in the vast, sprawling metropolis of seven million people, whether in a home, a church, or even a car, was safe from Manson’s insatiable lust for death, blood, and murder.” (Helter Skelter, page 357)
Since Charles Manson's "insatiable lust for death, blood, and murder" is what this case is all about, it is worth questioning the validity of the story of this city-wide search for random murder victims.
The earliest public account of what happened on the night of August 9-10 that gave any inkling of nefarious doings beyond the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca was given by Susan Atkins during her testimony to the Los Angeles County grand jury on December 5, 1969, just days after news of the arrests in the case broke. In that testimony Atkins recalled stopping in Pasadena at a house with pictures of children on the walls inside, a house that Manson supposedly vetoed as murder target because he didn't want to harm children. But Atkins mentioned nothing else (including the post-Waverley trip to Venice after stopping to get gas and ditch Rosemary LaBianca's wallet in the restroom of the Standard Station at Sylmar. She said she fell asleep and woke up back at the ranch. She also remembered that Charles Manson had a gun when he left the car at Waverly Drive and that he returned to the car and told everybody that he had the LaBiancas tied up inside the house. This alleged gun has never been accounted for before or since the evening of August 9, and Charles "Tex" Watson claims in his book Will You Die For Me? that he tied up the LaBiancas.).
A second and much more extensive account of the murder search came from star prosecution witness Linda Kasabian, beginning with the trips she made around Los Angeles with Bugliosi and other law enforcement officials in March of 1970 when the district attorney's office was preparing her to be a witness at the trial.
Linda Kasabian in a car
On a March 15, 1970 trip around L.A. with Bugliosi and other investigators she told of the following alleged murder attempts. (All in all she was taken out three times to try to find murder attempt locales. This was in March 1970, a full three months after the publication of Susan Atkins' grand jury testimony with its mention of the murder attempt with the kid pics.) In addition to the house with the pictures of children Kasabian also remembered one house that was considered for murder but rejected because it was too close to neighboring houses; a church where Manson supposedly tried the back door in an effort to gain entry and kill the presumed priest or minister inside. (This plan was scuttled only because the church door was locked.); a couple getting out of their car (an idea also abandoned due to the proximity of potential witnesses); and an individual in a white sports car at at stop light on Sunset Boulevard (spared only because he sped away when the light turned green before Manson could get over to his car and shoot him).
Susan Atkins, as we have seen, only recalled the incident at the house with pictures of children on the walls in her grand jury testimony. In her 1977 memoir Child Of Satan, Child Of God, after perhaps having time for her memory to have returned -- or to have become familiar with the "official" account of August 9 as recited by Linda Kasabian into the court record, the record that law enforcement accepts as being "true" -- she remembered the church, the house with pictures of children, and said that Manson asked Kasabian about an actor in Venice as a possible victim and that they then went to Venice in a futile attempt to murder him.
In her final testament, The Myth Of Helter Skelter, Atkins vaguely alludes to the attempt to kill the actor in Venice but mentions no other murder attempts.
In Will You Die For Me? Charles "Tex" Watson not only remembered the stop at the house with the pictures of children, he also remembered going up the house and peering into the window with Manson and seeing the pictures himself. He remembered the house too close to the neighbors, the church, the couple getting out of their car, the incident on Sunset Boulevard with the sports car, and then the group's arrival at Waverly Drive. (Interestingly, Watson's memory coincides almost precisely with Kasabian's testimony at his murder trial, where she recounted the house with the pictures of children, the couple by their car, the "too close" house and the church -- but not the incident with the white sports car.)
Steve Grogan is not talking and has never, to my knowledge, given any account of his or the others’ activities on the night of August 9-10. I would say the same for Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. (If any reader could direct me to any material to the contrary I would appreciate it very much!)
I once asked Manson about the city-wide search for murder victims before and after the group arrived at Waverly Drive. He declined to go into any detail but contended that he didn’t think there was enough time to have done all the driving that was alleged to have happened. Kasabian says that the group left Spahn's Ranch after dinner on the 9th. Earlier examinations of "the Family's" eating schedule have concluded that they usually ate "after dark." It has been previously established on this site that on August 9 it got dark just before 9:30 p.m. Kasabian later estimated that the group arrived at the LaBianca residence just after 2:00 a.m., jibing with the testimony of the newspaper vendor who sold the the doomed couple a newspaper shortly before that time. If the carload of people left Spahn's Ranch in Chatsworth at 9:30 p.m. and drove to Pasadena, around Pasadena, and then far enough west to then be heading back up Sunset Boulevard from the ocean (Helter Skelter, page 357), could it have arrived at Waverly Drive at just after 2:00 a.m.? Probably, and especially so since Kasabian's estimated time of arrival is just that -- an estimate. The car could have easily arrived later than two.
Still, what really happened during all of that driving? Aside from Kasabian's trial testimony (and other reminiscences that are possibly based on that testimony) there is no accounting. But if we examine Kasabian's version of events it quickly becomes apparent that there is absolutely no corroborating evidence to support the conclusion that the "murder search" ever even happened.
In an effort to corroborate Kasabian's account Bugliosi had her try to locate the places where the alleged murder attempts occurred. The results of her efforts are telling. According to Bugliosi she could find all of the locations except one. But did she really?
She said she found the house that was supposedly too close to other houses to commit a mass murder. But realistically she could have pointed out any house that matched her vague description. So her "identification" of that house proves nothing.
Ditto for the church.
She couldn't find the house with pictures of children on the wall. This is especially interesting and convenient, for if she had pointed out such a house it would have been a simple matter for a competent defense attorney or investigator to question the residents of the house and determine whether such pictures were ever visible. Unfortunately, she could not locate this house, and thus no one would ever be able to determine whether pictures of children had hung on the walls or not to either prove or disprove her allegation.
As for the incident with the sports car, I don't know whether Kasabian ever pinpointed the exact location on Sunset Boulevard where this is supposed to have occurred, but one wonders why Manson, who allegedly nixed an earlier murder scenario at a house because it was too close to the neighbors, would suddenly decide to stop the car and get out to fire an extremely loud .45 caliber pistol (this according to Charles Watson's description of the weapon) at an intersection on Sunset Boulevard on a Saturday night.
The same goes for the couple getting out of their car. This supposedly occurred just down the street from where the house with the pictures of children was -- another location that Kasabian couldn't find. Were the couple supposed to be murdered right in the street in front of any number of potential witnesses, or were they to be followed to an unknown location (which could have been a residence full of other people) to be dispatched?
Regarding the encounter with the resident of the Venice apartment one floor below that of intended murder victim Saladin Nadar, police investigators were never able to locate anyone in this precisely placed location who had been awakened early in the morning of August 10 by an attractive young blonde who said, "Sorry, I have the wrong apartment." Now I'll grant that if you wake me up at three in the morning for thirty seconds it's very likely that I won't later remember anything that happened. But one could wonder exactly how much of a chore it would have been for someone in the apartment to be awakened and get to the door. Was there a doorbell? Did Linda knock loudly and persistently? How far was the apartment's bedroom from its front door? How much ruckus would have accompanied the brief "Sorry, wrong apartment" encounter at the doorway?
Most puzzling, perhaps, is an alleged encounter described by Kasabian between her and Manson with the two law enforcement officers on the beach in Venice. Despite the fact that it should have been relatively easy to determine which pair of officers was on duty in that area at the time, none could be found to corroborate the encounter. Is this believable? Police officers are especially trained to be observant and recall everything that happens while they are on duty. Is it likely that not one but two police officers would fail to remember questioning a suspicious couple at three-thirty or so during a graveyard shift, especially on such a memorable night as the one after the slaughter on Cielo Drive? To me this is highly unlikely.
Aside from the grand jury testimony of Susan Atkins, given at a time when she was providing other spectacular and attention getting (but since denied) lurid murder details such as drinking Sharon Tate's blood and personally stabbing Tate to death, the only corroboration of Linda Kasabian's testimonial claims of a city-wide "murder search" comes from…. Linda Kasabian herself. (And from a legal point of view it's worth noting that normally testimony from a crime partner against their accomplices in a crime is not admissible without corroboration -- but this inconvenience was eliminated here by having Kasabian granted immunity and removed from the indictment before the trial started, thus eliminating her "accomplice" status and allowing her uncorroborated testimony against her fellow participants in the night of August 9 to be admissible into the trial record as "evidence.")
So, what is the answer to the answer to the question, is Linda Kasabian’s account of the second night credible? Well, I would have to admit that it’s credible if one is determined to believe that what Kasabian says is the truth. On the other hand, if a person takes into account the total lack of corroboration, Kasabian’s character, and the fact that she had been promised immunity for seven counts of first degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder for her “truthful testimony” at the Manson/Girls trial and all future M-related trials, then it wouldn’t be at all unreasonable to suspect that the account could be largely exaggerated or even totally false.
The "murder search" route?