Monday, February 20, 2017

Manson Family Connections to San Luis Obispo (CA) County

My bucolic home county of 13 years, San Luis Obispo, CA, is, strangely, an area of much Manson related activity.  The city of SLO (population 45,000) and SLO County (population 276,000) is located just about half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, about a 3 ½ drive to either city.  It’s an area of gently rolling hills, beautiful beaches, and wineries.

The Manson connections are numerous.  Taking them somewhat chronologically:

While on his way to SF, Beausoleil was arrested on 8/6/69.  He was driving Gary Hinman’s car, and the murder weapon was contained in the car.  Not too bright, our Bobby.  He was parked, probably napping, on the northbound side of the 101 freeway, about 100 yards from the “Cuesta Motel.”  Finding the exact location of the arrest has been challenging, because the Cuesta Motel is no longer extant.  The Chamber of Commerce has been able to provide me with the former location of the motel.  It’s now a real estate office, about half way up the Cuesta Grade, the hill that separates SLO from its north county bedroom communities of Atascadero, Paso Robles, etc. There is indeed a turnout about 100 yards south of the former motel.

The former Cuesta Motel

After his arrest, Beausoleil was taken to the SLO County Jail.  The location is the same now as it was then.  The building has been remodeled in the intervening years (no surprise), but I’m told that it looks nearly identical from the outside.

SLO County Jail today

When he was finally extradited to California, Watson refused to eat or communicate much, and they took him to ASH (one mile from my house) for observation and to force feed him.  ASH is a maximum-security facility that houses mentally ill criminals.  Security is at the highest level.  No one escapes, though staff members and inmates are injured with some regularity.  Notable inmates include Edward Allaway, who killed a bunch of people in the library at Cal State Fullerton in the 70s (while I was in the building), and Jim Gordon.  Gordon was a session drummer in L.A. and famously was the drummer in Derek and the Dominos, Eric Clapton’s band that recorded “Layla.”  He played both drums and piano on that track.  He was also on Joe Cocker’s famous Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, played on Pet Sounds, and many more records.  In 1983, after hearing voices, attacked his mother with a hammer and a butcher knife, killing her.  People around town see Clapton every now and then, and the rumor is that he is here to visit Gordon.  In 2012, it was reported that Manson’s attorney, DeJon R. Lewis, wants Manson moved to ASH, because he needs treatment, not punishment.

Atascadero State Hospital

Beausoleil, Watson, and Bruce Davis spent varying lengths of time at this all-male facility.  Davis is still there.  Located on Hwy 1 between Cal Poly University and Cuesta College (where I teach), the prison opened in 1954.  Maximum capacity is 3800, but it presently houses 5100 inmates (all of California’s prisons are overcrowded.)  Security level is presently listed as “minimum to medium.”  Beausoleil was there for a time in the ‘90s.  Watson arrived in the 70s.  They moved him in ’93.  As I understand it, all three Manonites were working together in the chapel, and this was seen as a no-no, so they moved BB and CW, leaving Davis there.  Watson was married there and had his conjugal visits there.  BB’s wife lived near the prison while he was there.  Other well-known past inmates of CMC include Timothy Leary (who escaped), Charles Keating of banking scandal fame, Ike Turner for drug offenses, “Hollywood” Henderson, and the Black Panther Huey Newton.  Jim Gordon (see above) was at CMC for a time, until they figured out that he is insane and he was then sent to ASH.    Personal stories:  One of my retired colleagues took the Cuesta Jazz Ensemble to CMC in the 80s.  On arrival, my colleague was met by a prison representative, who introduced him to his “inmate escort” who would stay with the band, answer questions, etc.  The inmate offered his hand and said, “Hello, I’m Charles Watson.”  My colleague reports that a huge chill when down his spine, and he’s sure that both of the other men had to notice his reaction.  A few years ago, I had a CMC guard in a night class that I taught.  Of course, near the end of the semester, I asked her about Davis.  She said that she can’t say much about inmates (for obvious reasons), but she said that she could tell me that “Bruce is just a nice little old guy, a deep thinker, fun to talk to one-on-one but quiet in groups, good to everyone he encounters.”

California Men's Colony today

Doris Tate at CMC for a Watson parole hearing.  photo:  SLO Tribune

Watson parole hearing at CMC   photo: SLO Tribune

Watson preaching at the CMC chapel.  photo:  SLO Tribune

If any of you find yourself in our little corner of the world, please do make contact through this blog's administrators, and I’ll be happy to show you around.