Simon Davis' new book In A Summer Swelter: The Charles Manson Murders is out.
Because I knew that in Swelter Simon goes into some discussion of my own book, Goodbye Helter Skelter (he was courteous enough to contact me before his book was published to ask some clarifying questions about some of the positions I took in my book before he critiqued them), I was eager to see his finished product and see what he thought about GHS.
But unfortunately, even though I thought I had responded thoroughly to Davis' questions, he has still managed to seriously mangle many of the points I was trying to make. So herewith I will offer a rebuttal to his misinterpretations and (thus) misrepresentations of my viewpoint. (And although I disagree with very much else I can see that's in his book -- which, in all honesty, I have not had time to read through cover to cover -- I'm only going to take the time here to respond to the things he wrote about me and my book.)
I first appear on page 59 of Swelter where Davis says that I support the drug burn theory of Gary Hinman's murder. But the drug burn argument as described by Davis in no way matches any drug burn argument that I have ever put forth. Davis has Manson ordering Bobby Beausoleil to kill Gary Hinman because Hinman wouldn't give him money. I argue that Beausoleil killed Hinman to keep him from going to the police over his Manson-slashed ear after he had given Manson his word that he would not. It's a different set of circumstances leading to a totally different set of dynamics. Davis misrepresents my point of view and then goes on to criticize it. But I don't have to defend a position that I do not hold. (I could go on and address most other aspects of Davis' interpretation of the drug burn theory as he understands it, but my fundamental criticism is that he doesn't understand it the way I understand it, and he should not assign positions to me that aren't mine.)
On page 97 Davis brings up Voytek Frykowski's 51 stabs wounds and concludes that they were not indicative of a speed-induced "preservation"-style mechanical assault, as I assert in my book. Davis says that the attack on Frykowski was "static," and that his attempting to flee his killers rendered him too much of a moving target to fit the profile of a preservation attack wherein a stationary person would be stabbed multiple times in a mechanical fashion.
Davis implies that I compared the stabbing of Frykowski to stabbing the arm of a chair, but that is not true. I simply encouraged the reader to "stab" the arm of their chair 51 times to get an idea of just how many times that was (because readers often don't really think about the numbers they read). In any case, Davis says that the stabbing of Voytek Frykowski doesn't fit the circumstances usually associated with preservation because the fatal attack on him did not all occur in one location. Well, as much as I don't like to get into clinical descriptions of how people are murdered (so as not to be considered as peddling gratuitous violence) I would say that it seems that Frykowski was initially attacked by stabbing by Susan Atkins in the living room of the Cielo Drive house. Apparently the accepted number of stab wounds inflicted by Atkins is eight. After those wounds were inflicted Frykowski made a break for the front door, at which point Watson (according to his book) caught up with him and stabbed him several more times and then beat him over the head with the butt of the .22 caliber Buntline revolver thirteen times (another repetitive mechanical motion). Frykowski was still going out the door, so Watson shot him twice in the back. Upon being shot Frykowski collapsed again and then crawled a few feet further onto the front lawn where Watson caught up with him again and stabbed him an additional (allowing for subtracting eight wounds from Atkins and maybe five wounds from himself) 38 times. So maybe the first part of the overall attack on Frykowski was somewhat static, but by the time he had collapsed on the lawn he was a pretty stationary and unresisting target. He was very likely nearly as inanimate as a chair arm when Watson delivered the final 38 blows. And I could say the same for Abigail Folger, who lay a few feet away. Chased out of the house by Patricia Krenwinkel, the coffee heiress was brought to the ground and into a supine and surrendered position ("I'm already dead!") before Watson took over from Krenwinkel and finished her off. How many of Folger's 28 stab wounds did Charles Watson inflict? We don't know. but the evidence indicates that she was likely submissive and relatively still when he did it.
Pages 192 and 194 -- Here Davis tries to poke holes in the copycat motive by claiming that if the killers wanted the crimes linked they would have used the exact same writing at all three crime scenes. He writes, "Even allowing for possibly being stoned and usually pretty vacant, one would expect them to get the copying part of the copycat exercise right."
I really love it when grounded, smart, educated people look at the actions of people from a druggie netherworld and try to apply their own carefully considered and linear thought processes to people who aren't just "possibly being stoned and usually pretty vacant" but rather have been snorting amphetamines for a couple of weeks and are beyond not thinking clearly. I can't imagine that writers like Davis have ever done any quantity of amphetamines (or whatever you want to call the speed spectrum of drugs) or even spent any amount of time around (i.e., lived with) people who have. I mean, how can you wonder why they're not acting rationally? You can't even compare your minds. It's like wondering why a lion and a deer don't act alike. These were young people whose minds were affected by drug use and intentionally alternative thinking and who had little real criminal experience (at least with nothing approaching mass murder). In many ways they had no idea what they were doing. The Tate-LaBianca murders were not well thought out crimes by any means. Tex Watson was not Professor Moriarity, and it's not reasonable to expect him to be or wonder why he wasn't.
On page 194 Davis points out that I don't mention the cross-examination of the copycat witnesses during the penalty phase of the trial where copycat was "exposed as a lie." The main reason I didn't include mention of the cross examinations in my book was not because of any intention to mislead by omission as Davis implies (or to omit because of my not understanding the significance of cross-examination, as Davis also implies) but because most of Goodbye Helter Skelter was written in 1998 and 1999 before the Internet existed as we know it today and before TLB trial transcripts were as available as they are today. But since reading Swelter I obtained the transcripts of the penalty phase cross-examinations and read them. Sandra Good testified regarding copycat, but she was not cross-examined. Nancy Pitman also testified in favor of copycat, but in her cross-examination she was only asked about previous inconsistent statements that had nothing to do with it. Susan Atkins and Leslie Van Houten also testified in favor of copycat, but Bugliosi's cross didn't exactly expose them or tear their testimony to shreds. Rather, he merely confronted them with prior inconsistent statements and the insistence that they were telling the truth before but not now. (Atkins prior statements were from her December 1969 Grand Jury testimony and in letters to former jail mates Virginia Graham and Ronnie Howard. Atkins claimed that most of the information she testified to before the Grand Jury had in fact been planted in her mind by D.A. Bugliosi the previous day during a conference Atkins had with Bugliosi and her lawyer Richard Cabellero. She also said that the letters to Graham and Howard were simply exaggerations intended to impress them. Van Houten was confronted with her infamous interview with her lawyer Marvin Part. She said she got all of the information for that interview from Susan's Grand Jury testimony and had made the tapes in cooperation with Part, who wanted tapes of crazy testimony in order to submit an insanity plea.)
Page 223 -- Davis says that Manson claims through me that when he told the girls to "get a knife and a change of clothing and go with Tex and do whatever he says to do," he thought that they would be going on a garbage run.
Davis counters by writing, "Knowing what we know about life and conditions at the Ranch, it seems like a joke that anyone thought that they needed "nice" clothes for the supermarket or that sanitation was such a pressing issue." This gratuitous insulting of is born of the myth that "the Manson Family" was a bunch of dirty hippies, a myth promulgated by law enforcement officers who would arrest Manson and the people around him during pre-dawn raids, round them up in the dirt, destroy all of the property in the buildings they were living in, and then take pictures of arrestees and the premises and say, "Look! They were dirty, and this is how they lived!" It's a mindset worthy of George Wallace in 1968 and a malfeasance clearly worthy of LAPD in 1969.
The thought that mostly middle-class (or even upper middle-class) young women would descend into living in filth defies common sense. And anyone who sees pictures of any "Family members" that are not sourced from the police can see that they have an obvious tendency towards cleanliness and style. Davis' use of this idea as a counter to Manson's claim is only evidence of a sneering condescension towards certain people who live, whether by choice or because of circumstances, a lifestyle other than his own.
Manson passing out the glasses is a close call, but it should be noted that it's only a call at all because he said he did it. It fits, however, with the notion of sowing confusion at the scene of any crime that the car's occupants might have ended up committing that night in their efforts to get their brother out of jail (efforts that could have included robbery or burglary or any of a number of other illegal actions designed to do something to free Bobby Beausoleil). But even though the glasses ended up at Cielo Drive they are not evidence of any intent on the part of Manson that murders be committed there.
Page 224 -- Davis here has totally misunderstood my point about "means, motive, and opportunity" as being investigative indicators as to whether a suspect could possibly be guilty of a crime. And the key word here is possibly. Where Davis ever got the idea that I would think a person who had the means, motive, and opportunity commit a crime would have to be guilty of that crime is beyond me. Really, this is such a fundamental investigative tool that I can't believe I would actually have to explain to everybody about Billy being the only person in the room when the cookie went missing and how that makes it look like Billy very likely took the cookie since he loves cookies, he has hands and a mouth, and he was the only person in the room. But wait! It turns out that Sally was also in the room! And the dog! So, any one of them could have done it -- not did it; could have done it. We still don't know which one of them did it. We only know that they all could have done it. Is that clear? This is a fundamental evaluation that law enforcement officials make to either clear or set up for further investigation people who are suspected of committing a crime -- not crime on the legal end; crime on the police end. It has nothing to do with the court or any kind of legal requirement, and for Davis to imply that I think it does is really kind of insulting.
Page 225 -- Davis criticizes me for saying that the manner of the murders was not unusual, citing the numerous stab wounds of Voytek Frykowski and writing "It was small by the standards of international war atrocities like Katyn or My Lai, But for civilian killing in the suburbs is was incredible." But I didn't have to go far to easily find information to back my claim, for just in Helter Skelter itself are mentioned the so-called "Scientology murders" of James Sharp and Doreen Gaul (both of whom received over 50 stab wounds on or about November 21, 1969), Marina Habe (whose body was found on Mulholland Drive on New Years Day 1969 with over 150 stab wounds), and Jane Doe # 59 (who was found near the Habe dump site on Mulholland Drive on November 16, 1969 with 157 stab wounds). And those were just murders that occurred in the L.A. area at about the same time as the Tate-LaBianca murders. Extrapolate beyond those dates and locations and I'm sure you will find many more. So while I'm not trying to minimize the vicious violence perpetrated on the victims in all of these crimes I will stand by my assertion that unfortunately the massive violence committed against the Cielo and Waverly Drive victims was not that unusual.
In the next paragraph Davis goes in just a few sentences from saying"most" of the participants in the crimes supported Helter Skelter as the motive to that "all" of the participants supported Helter Skelter as the motive in an interesting sleight of hand that most readers probably won't catch. But Davis fails to mention that all of the participants in the crime have gone back and forth on motive and any person can pick any version that suits their preferred scenario, so perhaps it is time to call it a draw on that point altogether.
As for all the evidence at the trial about Helter Skelter, I think I addressed most of those in my replies to David's post here. (If you don't have time to read them, the witnesses testified to the existence of Helter Skelter, which no one, not Manson, any of his co-defendants, and certainly not me, has ever denied was a reality in the minds of the people at Spahn's Ranch. But only a few of them said they heard Manson saying he would personally jumpstart the war by committing mass murder.) Here my "astounding" failure to acknowledge these supposedly "incontrovertible matters" forces Davis to step outside the bounds of temperate language, "unable, in the interests of fairness and justice to all parties, to shirk from making harsh calls on these types of statements."
He chastises me for presenting my book as a "realistic examination of the murders," but Davis' "incontrovertible matters" are not so incontrovertible that participants on the MF Blog don't spend pages and pages of text disputing them. Davis is a TLB flat-earther, unable to see beyond the horizon of his own experience and beliefs. My book is a realistic examination of the murders. Simon's two books, on the other hand, are dogmatic rehashes of the worst kind of prosecutorial propaganda, lies and distortions, and condescending legal snobbery in such excess that it would be impossible for me to address them all here or probably anywhere. And yet "in the interest of fairness and justice to all parties" Davis has to call me out? Please. Yes, I was cooperative with Davis when he told me he would be critiquing Goodbye Helter Skelter in his book. I only wish he had cooperated back and checked with me to make sure we were clear on everything before he completely misrepresented my points of view in his finished work.
Page 226 -- Here again is a fundamental misunderstanding based on Davis ass-uming to know what I think. So let me explain the premise of my informal investigation into Manson's innocence or guilt. Yes, I assumed that Manson was innocent because I believe in the fundamental American (United States) concept that a person is innocent until proven guilty and I don't automatically believe everything I hear about people (even people who might not share my experience or values) from the police, the D.A.'s office, the "news" media, or in books. Then I looked for evidence of a plausible version of the circumstances surrounding the various crimes that Manson was accused or convicted of and wondered if amongst all of the different versions of those crimes there were scenarios that didn't point to Manson's guilt. Yes I was looking for them, and yes I found them. If "this is terrifically convenient for Manson, because such an analysis can only have one result -- innocence" then I guess I must have proved my point that alternative scenarios surrounding the various crimes could mean that Manson was innocent. That's the only point I was trying to make with my amateur legal analysis -- that there is a possibility that Manson was not guilty. (It's a possibility that I accept, by the way.)
And in the next paragraph we confront yet more examples of Davis' apparent inability to comprehend a point I am trying to get across. He says "as I understand it" that I think if a jury is offered a more rational motive than the one offered by the prosecution they have to accept it and therefore acquit. Well, Davis doesn't "understand it" and that is not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that a jury has to accept a more reasonable version of an event or concept (including motive) than an unreasonable version. And if by accepting the reasonable version of motive the jury rejects the unreasonable version presented by the prosecution that is the only evidence of the necessary-for-conviction criminal intent then the evidence of criminal intent vanishes and the jury must acquit.
Further on he says, "The ultimate inference of guilt depends on proof of the essential elements of intent and killing. If there are rational alternatives to the prosecutions versions of intent and killing, then the jury must acquit the defendant. Motive is different. Presentation of a more rational motive does not mandate an acquittal." (underlines in original)
And here we get to the crux of my legal argument regarding Charles Manson. In order to obtain a murder conviction the state has the obligation to prove intent -- not motive, but intent. But in the case of Charles Manson, the offered motive, Helter Skelter, is the only evidence of that required intent. For if Helter Skelter is not the motive, why would Manson desire that these specific murders be carried out? If not for want of the personal gain of becoming ruler of a post-apocalyptic world (don't wince -- it's not my fantasy) why would he order those killings? There is a more rational and less sensationalistic explanation than Helter Skelter for the crimes of the summer of 1969. That's the explanation I give in my book. Copycat is a more rational motive than Helter Skelter. But copycat isn't a motive (indication of intent) for Charles Manson. And that is why it is unacceptable to the "Manson is guilty" crowd. If there was any evidence that Manson had ordered the Tate-LaBianca murders as copycat crimes to free Bobby Beausoleil I'm sure the prosecution would have been happy to run with it as a motive. But there wasn't, so they had to go with the fantasy concoction of Helter Skelter instead.
On 227 -- Davis expresses "concern" about my apparent lack of legal bona fides. That is certainly a legitimate thing to wonder about, and frankly it's about time that somebody asked. In the original manuscript for my book I included several paragraphs outlining my self-alleged legal experience but I deleted them from the final draft. What I said, however, was that while it's true that I do not have a law degree I do come from a family full of lawyers. My grandfather was a lawyer, my mother was a lawyer (in 1943!), my uncle was a lawyer, my brother is a lawyer, and I can think of at least three cousins who are or were lawyers. So certainly I'm not lacking in lawyerly genes. (I did briefly consider trying to get a pre-law degree in college but when they took us into the auditorium and informed us that pre-law students were in for some serious school work I begged off.) My family lawyers (both sides) were all very intelligent, educated, and bright, but they were also mere mortals. So I'm not one of these people who is impressed with someone simply because they are an attorney (or even a -- gasp! -- prosecuting attorney!), and I don't automatically give their opinion or mind any more validity than I do to my own. Sorry.
During Sandy's three-year pro per visitation lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections I attended paralegal courses at the nearby community college (College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California). Not only did I graduate first in my class, but the professor told me that I was wasting my time there and should be in law school instead. Now I realize that that still doesn't make me a lawyer, but it doesn't make me an idiot either. Plus, one needn't be genius to know how to read a statute or even understand a court case ruling. Statutes are mostly written clearly enough that a couple of read throughs should enable any person of reasonable intelligence to conclude whether they fit their circumstances or not. It's usually not too complicated. In fact, lay people are expected to be able to understand the law. (Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse!)
Plenty of books have been written about trials by non-lawyers who question the outcomes of those trials, and my book is nothing unusual. Is Davis saying that one has to be a lawyer in order to have an opinion on whether something is legal? What about anything else? Can a person who has not experienced a certain period of history write about it? Can a person who has not been in a war have opinions and write about it? Can non-athletes write about sports?
Am I claiming I could function as an attorney in a courtroom in a criminal trial? No. I'd get creamed for sure. But I do know my way around a law library and I think I can draw reasonable amateur conclusions based on what I read in law books. So until someone punctures my "no motive/no intent" theory I'll continue with whatever fantasist legal theorizing that suits my pleasure or purpose.
As for Manson severing his trial from that of his co-defendants, I thought made it clear that that was only my own opinion and nothing that Manson ever brought up on his own. I'm saying what he hypothetically could have done. In my opinion.
Pages 228 - 229 -- Davis lays out his whole premise of Manson as a diabolical dirtbag who was willing to engineer the executions of his co-defendants in order to save his own skin. He writes, "Stimson's claim of Manson sticking by his friends is incorrect. There is no doubt that the girls were 100% loyal to Manson, but it was a one-way street. Charlie was the epitome of disloyalty to the extent of positively engineering the plan for the girls to falsely testify to his innocence, so they would face execution and he would survive….
"Ultimately there were no debts owed to Charlie, nor were an favours granted by Charlie. The crimes cannot be explained by codes of brotherhood or loyalty within the Manson Family. Charlie's "IOU's" were fictions created by Charlie and propagated by Stimson, in attempt to mitigate the crimes which were in fact calculated and cold-blooded executions, almost all based upon the Helter Skelter prophecy. The code of honour was, and still is, a deception perpetrated by Manson. He used it to get his acolytes to be willing to kill or be killed (will you die for me?"). But there was no way he was ever going to kill, or be killed, for them."
But everything that Davis says isn't there is actually all there. Because Davis is overlooking the fact that on July 1, 1969 Charles Manson shot Bernard Crowe, fatally he thought, to keep Crowe from coming up to Spahn's Ranch seeking revenge for Charles Watson's marijuana burn. In other words, it's not a question of whether Manson would have killed for his friends -- in their minds he already had. And that level of love that he showed them, they showed him right back. And they all -- Manson included -- believed in that love enough that they were willing to go to the gas chamber together.
Page 237 -- I'm really glad that Davis picked up on the ultimate non-conclusion in my Shea chapter! That was the hardest one for me to write, because I have never had or expressed any doubt that Shea was murdered or that at least Charles Manson, Bruce Davis, and Steve Grogan were involved with his death. So I really didn't know what to think about it. That's why I didn't come to any conclusions there. I felt it was best just to let Manson give his version of the murder ("mumbo jumbo" as Davis put it, but actually perfectly clear) and let the readers decide for themselves what they think.
Regarding whether there was some doubt that Shea had been murdered, I didn't make up that idea out of thin air. In The Family (1989 updated edition, pages 458-459) Ed Sanders wrote, "In addition to the thrill of having a case finally closed, the officers were very glad to find Mr. Shea for a very practical reason: There had always been the faint dread of Shorty Shea showing up. Attorney Paul Fitzgerald: 'They really did want to find this body. And they were subject to to a lot of kidding and a lot of some good natured and not so good natured ribbing about the fact that they railroaded these Manson people to jail, that this was all fictitious, it was all bullshit; that this Shorty Shea, the flake, would turn up one of these days to the embarrassment of all concerned.'"
Bruce Davis and Steve Grogan's confessions to the crime were made years later at parole hearings after they had been convicted, Barbara Hoyt is a totally unreliable and discredited witness, and Ruby Pearl's nighttime observations regarding Shea and "the Manson boys" are only important in that they set up the fantasy testimony of Barbara Hoyt. and are evidence only of a possible encounter that was likely nine or ten hours before Shea was actually killed (albeit by those same individuals!).
It is also telling that the jurors in the Shea trials were not sure enough of the certainty of Shea's murder that they applied the death penalty to any of the defendants, especially in a supposed decapitation-dismemberment murder wherein one of the defendants (Manson) had already been convicted and sentenced to death for seven of the most atrocious homicides in U.S. criminal history.
"No body" homicides are always difficult to prosecute because there is no corpse to prove that the alleged decedent is actually dead. Doubt is always a factor in such cases. But it's not accurate for Davis to say that I'm a doubter when it comes to whether Shea was murdered or that Charles Manson didn't have some involvement with that murder, because I never doubted that. How could I? Manson and I talked about it.
That's about it. I don't have a problem with anything on page 242.
So, to sum up, I have always held that students of any murder case should get their hands on all of the case material they can, even including books. When it comes to Tate-LaBianca, In A Summer Swelter is no exception. You should definitely get it. It is a classic of its kind, a collection of stereotyped and hackneyed caricatures woven together in a fantasy fairy tale of misrepresentations and lies that only a complete naif could believe. Nevertheless it contains much food for thought, and I think everybody should read it. But just remember that although some of the food for thought you consume helps you to grow, a lot of it just ends up as shit.