Monday, April 30, 2018

MansonBlog Tour 2018: Scott Michaels and his Dearly Departed Tours and Artifact Museum

We stopped in at Dearly Departed Tours & Museum. There wasn't time to take the TLB tour, but owner Scott Michaels was gracious enough to spend a little time with us discussing his business, MansonBlog and possible motives for the crimes. We did spend some time in his museum. It has some artifacts like Jane Mansfield's car, the comforter that Rock Hudson died on and John Dillinger's death mask.

Scott was the one who raised the funds to put a marker on Donald Shea's grave, without which it would be difficult to find. He is also responsible for raising the funds and paying for grave stones for other forgotten celebrities. According to Michaels:
"These people spent their lives yearning to be recognized, and to end up in an unmarked hole in North Hollywood is a shame."
It was bogusly suggested here in the comments section recently that the grave markers are an effort by Michaels "put in a marker so you could have another stop on your F***ing tour". Fact: Dearly Departed Tours makes ZERO stops at cemeteries, so the markers have no effect on DDT's bottom line.

Michaels was complimentary of our efforts on the blog. Next year we will be sure to allot time to take the tour.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

MansonBlog Tour 2018: Cielo Drive Killer Walk

This post was written by George who was unable to attend. We only shot the video and a few pictures:

Academic study of crimes goes by the wayside when you visit the locations where events actually occurred. The physical layouts of crime scenes can often give the interested observer valuable insights into how those crimes went down, often even providing glimpses into the minds of the perpetrators. The walk that the killers took to the Roman Polanski residence on the night of August 8-9, 1969 is a good example of this.

After driving from Spahn's Movie Ranch to Cielo Drive that night the car containing Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian initially drove up the spur roadway up to the cul-de-sac ending at the gate of 10050. There, Watson got out of of  car and shimmied up the utility pole supporting the phone lines into the property and cut those lines before backing the car back down to Cielo Drive proper and parking on the downhill side of the turnoff. Then the group walked back up the gate and around it to enter the property and kill everybody there except caretaker William Garretson.

I've been to Cielo Drive on several occasions, but I've always driven up to the top. Although I was unable to attend this year's MF Blog Tour I suggested to Matt that a reprise of the walk up the hill to the gate at the former 10050 address might make for an interesting post.

The walk video shows how narrow the roadway leading up to Cielo really is. (The last time I visited the gate, on the 2015 MF Blog Tour, I had to back my own vehicle down the hill as there was no room at the top to turn around.) It also shows how dark and isolated the area is still today, even though there are now more lit-up residences on the street and there was a fuller moon on the Tour walk than on the night of the murders. It is dark and lonely, and occasional glimpses of the lights shining down in Los Angeles only serve to accentuate the remoteness and isolation. The repetitive call of a bird emphasizes the indifference of nature to the madness of man.

What was going through the minds of the Tate assailants on the night of their visit as they made that same walk up the hill? Pumped up on adrenaline and (for some) speed, the heat of the night, the paranoia and awareness of violence brought on by the knowledge of the previous weeks' incidents involving the murder of Gary Hinman and the presumed murder of Bernard Crowe, the pandemonium and pressure of getting ready to flee the city and go to the desert -- not to mention the uncertainty of not knowing what they would have to do once they go onto the property -- it must have been an intense experience indeed.

The Tour walk up Cielo could only hint at that experience.

The Tate killers parked at the bottom of the Cielo Drive side cul-de-sac at the location of the arrow at the upper left then walked up the narrow roadway to the gate of the property of their unsuspecting victims, indicated by the arrow on the right.

The moon phases on the night of the Tour walk and the night of the murders.

To views of the current gate on the way up:

The base of Cielo looking up. The car was parked to the left of where I'm (Matt) standing to take the photo:

This is the base of Cielo Dr. Beind the person walking, on the other side of the bush is where the car was parked. The perspective shows how narrow Cielo is:

Friday, April 20, 2018

MansonBlog Tour 2018: Paying Respects

Day one: MansonBlog visited a few of the memorials that we have missed in our previous visits. First would be TLB's first victim, Steven Earl Parent. Parent dies first at Cielo Drive on August 9, 1969. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Parent is interred at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Rowland Heights, CA. It is a blue collar but well maintained memorial park.

We immediately noticed that flowers are not allowed to be placed on Thursday prior to 3:00 PM. The reason being that the park is mowed on Thursdays. We arrived at noon. We paid our respects regardless.

Parent left home at early in the morning for his job at a plumbing supply shop: Valley City Supply. He returned home in the late afternoon to change his shirt and drive to LA to his second job at Jonas Miller Stereo not far from Jay Sebring's hair salon where he worked until about 9:00 p.m.. From there he drove back to El Monte to visit a friend who worked either at Dale's Gas Station or the nearby grocery store named Fry's and asked his friend who worked their if he wanted to go for a drive. His friend asked if he could come back when he got off work at about 11:30 p.m. Steven declined and proceeded to Cielo Drive.

We then travelled the 26 miles to Angeles Abbey Memorial Park in Compton. To set the scene, this is adjacent to Watts and Crenshaw. All are poor neighborhoods. The cemetery is what can best be described as a potters field. The lawns are non existent. Burned and parched at best. As we searched for the grave of Donald Jerome Shea, we saw memorials that were covered in sand from moles and other ground-born critters. Graves of young children long since forgotten. Some of which we brushed off debris with our hands as we paid our respects.

We surmised that these plots, which in Parent's well maintained memorial park differed from Angeles Abbey in that one plot equals six. In the same plot that at Queen of Heaven contains one soul, here contains the remains of six people. The city of Compton, in an effort to bury the indigent has interred six people into a single grave. Six cremated people are buried at the same time in one place. If your family could not afford the plate bolted to the grave marker then you are only recorded in the sexton's office - an entry in a book.

As we understand it, Scott Michaels of Dearly Departed Tours paid to have Shorty Shea's name and dates attached to the marker. Thank you, Scott. A noble gesture to a victim of a horrible crime. There are six people interred here, only two are acknowledged.

Last on our stops was Vincent Bugliosi, prosecutor of the TLB killers. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale CA. It is an immaculately maintained, scenic resting place in what can best be described as a gated community for the dead. The lawns are green, manicured and attractive.

Bugliosi's plot is on a protected, celebrity list - meaning that the sexton's office will not tell you where it is. But, MansonBlog was able to locate it. Here is the marker:

Hi, Col!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Charles Manson's music was a macabre sidenote

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

20 November 2017

Manson's music was not especially well-received
Charles Manson, the cult leader of the Manson Family, who directed his followers to commit a string of brutal murders in 1969, was one of the most reviled figures in American culture.

A grifter who'd spent most of his adult life in jail, he orchestrated a killing spree with the intention of sparking a race war.

But his original intention when he arrived in California was to become a musician.

A macabre fascination with his music has persisted ever since. Bands like Guns N' Roses, The Lemonheads and Marilyn Manson have covered his songs; while bootleg recordings of his demos, which began circulating during his trial, are now widely available.

Manson's psychedelic brand of folk music was not, it has to be said, very good.

His guitar playing was basic, his lyrics disorganised, and his stylistic debt to The Beatles thinly disguised (sitar sounds are strewn across his recordings with wilful disregard).

Still, he made enough of an impression on his contemporaries to come close to securing a recording contract.

Manson, who learned guitar in prison, first arrived in California in 1967 and soon met prominent musicians including Neil Young, Dennis Wilson, and Doris Day's son, the record producer Terry Melcher.

Manson's demos were released during his trial in 1970
Young, in particular, was impressed by what he heard.

"He had this kind of music that nobody else was doing," he told rock writer Bill Flanagan.

"He would sit down with the guitar and start playing and make up stuff, different every time.

"Musically I thought he was very unique. I thought he really had something crazy, something great. He was like a living poet."

John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas was less enthusiastic. Asked on several occasions to record with Manson, the singer recalled: "I'd just shudder every time. I'd say, 'no, I think I'll pass'."

Manson's closest brush with musical fame came after Gary Hinman, a music teacher who would later be one of the family's victims, introduced him to Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys.

Wilson took one of Manson's songs, Cease To Exist, and turned it into the Beach Boys' song Never Learn Not To Love - taking a full writing credit for himself, after changing some of the lyrics and adding the band's famous harmonies.

Manson reportedly received a one-off payment and a motorcycle in exchange for the rights to the song, but he came to resent Wilson's "theft".

In a sinister preface to his later crimes, he left a bullet on the drummer's bed.

"I gave Dennis Wilson a bullet, didn't I? I gave him a bullet because he changed the words to my song," Manson later told US TV presenter Diane Sawyer in an interview.

The Beach Boys released Never Learn Not To Love on their 1969 album 20/20
Manson perhaps restrained himself from taking further action because Wilson, as well as letting the Family stay at his house, had promised to introduce Manson to Melcher, who had assisted The Beach Boys on their Pet Sounds album.

The producer agreed to watch him perform at Spahn Ranch in May 1969 - but left unimpressed, declining to work with him.

After that, things quickly turned dark.

Manson became convinced that Armageddon was coming. He believed that the race riots of 1968 and the Black Panther movement were the start of a race war.

Increasingly paranoid, he gleaned what he believed were clues in the Biblical book of Revelation and the Beatles' White Album, in songs such as Piggies, Blackbirds and Helter Skelter.

He staged his killings to make it look like they had been committed by black militants, naming his plan Helter Skelter after Lennon and McCartney's song.

The first killing took place on 25 July 1969, when Manson sent three members of the Family to Hinman's house. After being held hostage for two days, Hinman was stabbed to death.

On 8 August, Manson sent four people to Melcher's house, with instructions to kill everyone they found. However, the producer had moved out, and film director Roman Polanski now had possession of the property.

The gang burst in and killed four people, including Polanski's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate.

Despite the horror of his crimes, Manson somehow became a celebrity. While on trial, he carved an X on his forehead and relished his role as an anti-hero, ranting for the cameras, making crazy demands and threats.

Marilyn Manson chose his stage name to reflect Charles Manson, while Kasabian are named after a member of the cult
While in custody, he asked Phil Kaufman, who he had met in a previous prison incident, to see that his music was released.

Unsurprisingly, no record label would touch the recordings - but Kaufman raised the money to get an LP pressed up, and it was distributed by Awareness Records, the same label that put out Bob Dylan's The Great White Wonder, widely considered to be rock's first bootleg.

The album was titled Lie: The Love and Terror Cult - a play on the Life Magazine cover of the same title from December 1969. In the 1970s and 80s, it became a collector's item in the punk and metal scenes - and it is now widely available on streaming services.

There's a morbid fascination with the recordings, and people search for clues to Manson's horrific crimes in the lyrics.

Such clues are few and far between - but his language paints an eerily accurate picture of the methods he used to manipulate the members of his cult.

"Think you're loving baby, but all you're doing is crying... Are those feelings real?" he sings on Look At Your Game Girl, which "embodies Manson's fundamental approach to influencing young women by targeting their socially imposed hang-ups and implying that his way is better and more liberating", wrote music critic Theodore Grenier.

The ominously-titled People Say I'm No Good, meanwhile, is little more than a rant about society's double standards, a theme that is echoed on Mechanical Man and Garbage Dump (which criticises food waste and advocates dumpster diving, years before it became a cause celebre).

So in the end, Manson's musical ambitions amounted to nothing more than a footnote.

And while the likes of Marilyn Manson (who named himself after the criminal) sought to associate themselves with his evil acts, others came to regret it.

Axl Rose, who wore a "Charlie Don't Surf" t-shirt featuring Manson's face on Guns N' Roses Use Your Illusion tour, later sought to distance himself from the cult leader, donating profits from a cover of Look at Your Game, Girl to charity.

"I wore the t-shirt because a lot of people enjoy playing me as the bad guy and the crazy," he said in a statement. "Sorry, I'm not that guy. I'm nothing like him. There's a real difference in morals, values and ethics between Manson and myself ... He's a sick individual."

But perhaps the best response to Manson's musical aspirations came from Bono.

"This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles," he said, while introducing a live version of Helter Skelter on U2's Rattle and Hum.

"We're stealing it back."

Monday, April 2, 2018

Willett Distillery

A while back Patty did a POST on the Willett distillery, complete with a taste test!  Today we will update on what is happening with the distillery today.

The March 2018 issue of Food and Wine magazine featured Drew Kulsveen, the distiller at Willett, in one of their articles.  Drew would be James Willett's nephew, son of James sister Martha.

LINK to our many posts on James and Lauren Willett.

Drew Kulsveen   Master Distiller   Willett Distillery
Bourbon's Boy Genius

At Willett Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, fifth-generation master distiller Drew Kulsveen is making some of the world's most sought-after whiskeys.

Betsy Andrews

Ask Drew Kulsveen whose bourbon, besides his own, he likes to drink, and he'll demur. "I don't want to go on the record," he says, "or people will start chasing after it." Kulsveen's opinion matters that much, because in the world of American whiskey, he's a bona fide celebrity.

Kulsveen grew up playing amid his grandfather's rickhouses in the "Bourbon Capital of the World,"

Bardstown, Kentucky. Today, Willett is among Kentucky's last significant family-owned distilleries, and Kulsveen, 36, is its master distiller. It's a huge responsibility because Willett is legendary, yet for 30 years, during a long downturn in the bourbon market, the family distilled nothing. Now, the stills are operative again, expectations among whiskey lovers are fierce, and demand couldn't be higher. "We're running 24 hours a day, making as much bourbon as we physically can," Kulsveen says during a recent visit. For operations like Jim Beam, which distills nearly 40 times as much, Willett's 1,000 barrels a month is "a drop in the bucket," says Kulsveen, "but it's a lot for us."

Kulsveen strikes a different profile than other Kentucky distillers. He is so charismatic, says Fred Minnick, author of Bourbon: The Rise, Fall and and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, that "when he started making public appearances, he ruined it for everybody else."

Still, Kulsveen stays humble. "Distilling's not rocket science," he says. "As long as you use the right ingredients and pay attention, you can have a good product."

We are in Willett's limestone-columned distillery watching the contents of a 10,000-gallon fermenter roil. Gorging on the sugars in a soup of grains and water, yeast sends foaming ripples across the oatmeal-colored liquid. It is transforming the mash into beer that later will be rendered into alcohol in two huge stills: a gnome-shaped copper pot still, antique-looking but new; and a stainless-steel column still with a colorful past. Manufactured for the old Kentucky brand Waterfill and Frazier, the still wound up in Mexico during Prohibition, where it was used to make contraband. Drew's father, Even Kulsveen, bought it for a steal.

The column-still purchase is one chapter in a storied history that has led Drew Kulsveen to this moment. It starts in the 17th century with Cognac-producing ancestors. The Willetts were French Protestants who escaped persecution from the Catholic church by moving to America. They settled in Kentucky, where they got into bourbon making in the late 19th century. Prohibition was a temporary setback. More significant was the blow dealt by vodka when James Bond's "shaken, not stirred" martini helped vodka top spirits sales by the 1970s. Seen as old-fashioned, bourbon lost popularity. By 1981, Kulsveen's grandfather had leased his stills to an ethanol producer that then went bankrupt, leaving only ruined equipment behind.

Drew's father Even took over a few years later. His son joined him in 2004. But it took them until 2012 to start distilling again. In the lull, Willett became a cult NDP, or Non-Distilling Producer.

"We were taking odd lots from Four Roses, Jim Beam"—forgotten casks and ones with flavors that couldn't be blended into standard labels. "Anything under a few hundred barrels, we'd scoop it up," Kulsveen recalls. Willett used the whiskey to make its own brands, including woodsy, spicy Johnny Drum; Rowan's Creek, named for a rivulet that runs through the property; and Noah's Mill, named after the gristmill that stands over it. To yield their lauded flavors, says Kulsveen, 
"We got really good at blending."

Minnick confirms it: "They purchased well-aged stocks, let them mature, and would mingle them in small batches, so for the past 10 or 15 years, they put out some of the best product on the market." The whiskeys were coveted by aficionados partly because the operation was so tiny. For a long time, says Minnick, it remained "kind of a secret."

That's changed. With the comeback of classic cocktails, demand for bourbon reignited. Today, American whiskey sales top $3 billion annually. But distillers can't just bottle on demand; whiskey must age. And the overstocks that Willett relied on had dwindled by the time they were able to reboot the stills. "We would have been in a world of hurt if we had not started back up," says Kulsveen.

Rickhouse where the barrels of bourbon age
He leads me to one of the Willett rickhouses. With six stories of thick, wooden beams illuminated by southern sunlight seeping through small windows, the building holds 6,000 barrels of slowly aging bourbon and rye. Though Kulsveen intends to keep most of it for a decade or more, Willett has already released some of its own distillate in its cask-strength Family Estate bottlings as well as in the affordable Old Bardstown series. They're also slowly introducing it into their seven or so other brands.

Kulsveen takes a drill to a cask, capturing the stream in tulip-shaped glasses before stanching the flow with a wooden plug. "It's all about figuring out the different profiles of the barrels and how they meld together," says Kulsveen. "I want character. I want it to stand out."

We sniff, then sip. This is a five-year-old wheated bourbon and a new mash bill for Willett: 65 percent corn—the main grain in bourbon—plus 15 percent malted barley and 20 percent wheat. It is still young, the grain flavor not yet balanced by the wood, but it already tastes deliciously like orange marmalade on brioche toast.

Though the old family recipes are still in use, wheated bourbon, which is smoother and sweeter, drives Willett's distilling nowadays. There are more updates, too. In terms of distilling, Kulsveen is experimenting with stave curing and different barrel woods. At the new visitor center, overseen by Kulsveen's wife, Janelle, a bar will open this spring for cocktails, library pours, and small plates. And the gristmill and some cabins have been transformed into guesthouses.

New recipes, new hospitality—Kulsveen is balancing his heritage with innovation to create a Willett for the 21st century. I can already taste it in the glass: bourbon that's more approachable than in the past, yet deeply nuanced—handcrafted by a fifth-generation Kentucky distiller with the stomach to let each barrel sit until it hits its sweet spot. "Time is really the magical ingredient," he says, taking a sip. "You just have to wait, wait, wait."

Lambert Willett, far right, James father, 1960
The Willett Whiskeys

The new distillery at Willett is already yielding some great bottles. Go to for where to find them.

Willett Family Estate Bottled 3-Year Small Batch Rye ($45) The scent of this rye mixes maple with aromatic wood. Orangey and spicy with a touch of charcoal, it brings complexity to cocktails.

Willett Family Estate Bottled 5-Year Single Barrel Bourbon ($60) A crème brûlée palate mingles with mushroomy notes. It blooms with salted-caramel flavor when you add water.

Old Bardstown 90 Proof Bourbon ($20) Honey-roasted nuts on the nose yield to buttery flavor and notes of dried citrus in this smooth, easy (and affordable) sipper, ending in a lip-smacking finish.

Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond 100 Proof Bourbon ($22) A complex orange peel and ginger scent resolves into a caramel-corn sweetness here, with a balancing bitterness on the finish.

Old Bardstown Estate Bottled 101 Proof Bourbon ($28) A rich vanilla nose and an herbaceous midpalate—think of fresh-cut grass and soil—with bright endnotes of citrus zest in this potent drink.

James Willett is first, on the left, in the bottom row in this photo from 1965 when James was a student at the University of Kentucky/Lexington.