Monday, December 13, 2021

Mary Brunner and PTSD

Was PTSD a factor in Mary Brunner's bizarre courtroom behavior? 

Empathy comes a bit easier when I see people as kids. I always search for everyone's youngest photograph online before doing anything else. Wondering wtf happened in Cali and staring at the photo is the next step. For many of these folks, I never move beyond the wondering stage. Everything is just so crazy. And some of the explanations seem crazier. 

The last month or so, I've been working on a Mary Brunner timeline. Mary's performances across courtrooms from trial to retrial to trial etc shocked me to say the least. I wondered if I could follow her personal arc through literature and official documents and arrive at some place that made sense. 

Additionally, my cousin and I made family trees for Mary's Brunner (paternal) and Baker (maternal) families. Mary's DNA profile is consistent with the white European population of the Upper Midwest in the decades surrounding the start of the twentieth century. Wonder Bread before Wonder Bread. I found a black and white photo of Mary's dad doing a handstand. Total research career highlight. The champ is here. 

Anyway. Mary intro via Fromme. 

Babes in the woods. Summer 1967. Burton Katz said Mary was "well on her way to a Master's Degree" but I can't find a confirming source. Mary is twenty-three and the right age to be a grad student but many accounts have her moving to California in 1965 after graduating from Wisconsin. Graduate students aren't typically library assistants either. That is more of an undergrad thing. 

Our traditional introduction to Mary is at the Berkeley gate where Charlie is strumming a guitar and Mary's dog Muffin runs up yip yip blah blah blah, "Woman! I'm gonna kick your dog! 

"You better not!" 

I prefer Emmons for this scene but to each their own. Let's set the dune buggy time machine for mid-April, 1968. Law Enforcement  arrives late night in Ventura County at the scene of a bus wedged into a deep drainage ditch. Beside the bus that is assumed stolen but not yet verified, a group of fifteen-ish hippies are asleep naked on the ground. Among them is Mary Brunner and baby Pooh Bear. 

Charlie stole the bus in San Francisco nine days earlier on April 12th. Kind of romantic in a Hollywood movie way but not when you get locked up for it in real life. And then of course since the gang is the gang, they crashed their stolen bus into a ditch. Somehow, no one was injured. A celebratory bonfire and weird group unclothing followed. 

I pictured the first policeman on the scene, a Vietnam vet or something like that, shining his light on their pale bodies and thinking everyone was dead. The scene likely resembled something straight out of Roswell. If you're unaware of what happens next, Charlie is arrested for the stolen bus and having two driver's licenses. Other nude people also receive false identification charges. Yeller and Brenda are charged with disorderly conduct. I imagined them fighting the police naked in slow motion while Japanese girl group surf rock blasts. 

Mary gets busted for her underdressed and shivering baby sleeping beside her. No charges are filed against Charlie over Pooh Bear even though the infant is half his responsibility. Oh how times have changed. 

Knuckleheads pops into my head a lot when I think about these kids and Charlie in their early days. He was older but at a similar maturity level. Charlie lost his mom for several years at the age of five over the The Great Heinz Bottle Stickup of '39, fell into the care of Glenna, toothless Bill, Uncle Jess Kaboom, and finally the clink at age thirteen. 

Ohio River payback cake from an Easy Bake Oven is the order of the day but not yet. Here is the first time tiny Gen X'er Pooh Bear, later named head of the Manson Family by Clem Grogan, is taken into custody. While a social worker will later tell Mendocino investigators this arrest was little more than police harassment of hippies, Mary is now on paper. She receives a suspended sentence, two years probation, collects her baby, and promises to return to Wisconsin where she belongs. 

Which is slippie code for Mendocino. Here are a few highlights contributed by an anonymous friend. 

(I want to feed that cute baby goat and raise it at my house!)

You remember little Allen's snake legs and all that plus how the other boys tore the place up. Everyone arrested or questioned at the scene except Mary gives a fake name. Mary rented the cabin using her real name and knows she's doomed. The gang admits to the LSD and some pot seeds and help the police find the drugs in either the woods behind the cabin or a shed in the woods behind the cabin. Mary takes the fall. 

Pooh Bear is sheltered and cared for in the home of Dr. Roger Smith upon Charlie's request. My opinions are whispers in the wind of course but I think Smith got a raw deal in O'Neill. 

More germane to this discussion is what was Mary's state of mind at this time? My quest was how does a person go from taking their flute out to California with them to their library job to sitting naked with Kenneth Como or even the machine gun photos. How did she get there? When did the changes occur? 

All of this is from Thank you, Mr. Bo. 

Mary could be playing the game because she wants her baby returned but she's not displaying any red flags. 

Professional references are provided including Dr. Smith. 

The final paperwork.

This far into it, do you think Mary is cracking under the pressure or displaying any overt revolutionary tendencies? She seems like she's holding up okay to me. The gang is still getting arrested for stupid things and maybe nothing feels real but Mary is playing a game with inescapable consequences. 

George and Elsie Brunner surely begged Mary with genuine fear in their voices to return home. But Mary loved her baby's father like many girls love their baby's father and ignored her parents. Everyone always talks about cult this and mind-controlled that and while they might be right, I just don't know for sure. What if it was a simple perfect storm type of situation and the train came off the tracks in the worst ways? 

Viewing Mary as a girl who wanted to live with her friends and child's father more than returning to her parents and their I-told-you-so's resonates with me. And if neither option was ideal, Mary was stuck somewhat like the stolen bus in the ditch with nowhere else to go and that's a different issue. 

Which brings us to Gary's. 

That photo triggers me every time and I wasn't there. How many times do you think Bobby viewed it online over the years and wished he'd never taken that ride? I wonder if Mary ever looked into all of this? I bet she'd do anything to go back in time and keep everyone from walking up those stairs. 

Bobby, do you read these? 

It's impossible to gloss over what happened at Gary's or write an apologetic piece. Gary's life became a nightmare until he ceased to exist over the course of a gruesome weekend in July 1969. Bobby lured Mary into going to Gary's because they were friends and Mary would put Gary at ease. Mary to her great detriment is unable to keep from admitting to things she's done wrong. Because of that, we know she told Guenther and Whitely that Bobby informed her of the robbery about to take place at Gary's during the drive there. 

Her first version of events places the amount they sought at Gary's at three grand btw. 

Mary said she thought nothing of Bobby's comments because she knew Gary had no money. Evil Bruce McGregor Davis dropped them off and scurried away into the darkness like a rat. Sadie gave the signal once the coast was clear. Mary stood inside like a foolish girl from Wisconsin until there was no chance to leave. 

Guenther and Whitely also found out from Mary that Bobby shared with her his decision to kill Gary. Put yourself in Mary's shoes. What could she have done? Die with Gary? She must've been terrified. I'd never recover from that hellish scene. 

We all know Gary's ending. Mary and Sadie took turns smothering his death rattle after Bobby told them to do it. There's no escaping what they did. Awful isn't a strong enough word. 

Over the next week and some as July works into August, we don't hear much from Mary until what Dreath dubbed The Sears Caper. 

Mary looks scared. She's thinking her goose is cooked. And has a thousand yard stare. Here's a scholarly article on the relationship between witnesses to violent crimes and PTSD. Google is filled with many others. Mary fits the profile every time.  

Eventually, Kitty from the sidewalk tries to nuke Mary in court by saying she witnessed Mary driving Gary's vehicle after his death but she is too late. Guenther and Whitely have already talked Mary into cutting a deal. Texas high hurdles state record holder (4A) Tex Watson later writes that Mary would have been at Cielo if she wasn't in jail. 

When I'd see that Tex quote in the past I always thought yeah right whatever weirdo man. Anymore, I'm not so sure. If the story about Tex retrieving Pooh Bear from Dr. Smith's house in Melcher's car is true, maybe Tex and Mary were close. Whatever the case, Mary and Sandy were unavailable the night of Cielo after bungling a simple retail hustle. And I'm happy about it. 

Somewhere between Gary's murder and the Twinkie truck accident, Mary's brain changes. Clear evidence exists. She becomes agitated and emotional every time we see her in the public record afterward. The first Wisconsin interview. Her affidavit. Court. 

Mary should be forever grateful to Judge Keene. I wonder if she ever watched him on Divorce Court? Boring program but on right after school in my day. Countless peanut butter sandwiches were consumed while actors in their forties who looked old to me pretended to divorce one another. 

In the coming year, I'd like begin a discussion on Mary's court appearances after the Hinman murder. At one point, Mary tries to die for or alongside Bobby before Judge Keene steps in and saves her life. She is safe for awhile but more astonishing blunders are coming. 

Something is wrong with Mary. No one gives a shit because she suffocated Gary and has a baby with the boogeyman but by Christmas of 1969 the time bomb is activated and ticking. An appointment on the wrong side of these bullet holes awaits Mary at the semi-conclusion of her antics out west. +ggw


orwhut said...

Mary looks so pure in her white blouse.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Hi whut. I was out hiking today and kept thinking about her holding that flower.

orwhut said...

That picture has to be among the most flattering five I've ever seen of Mary.

Hippiedoll said...

It says in the 8-8-69 mug shot booking info that Mary is 5'7". I always thought she was on the smaller side, like 5'2"?

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Whut - She looks cute in her short dress in the set of court photos too I think.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Hippiedoll - I think she was lanky and lean. Her background is Viking and German pretty much.

Torque said...

I enjoyed the read, G&W. Like you, I too have always wondered what attracted so many of the Family to Charlie, especially after studying their backgrounds and seeing their earliest photos.

The thought of Charlie encountering Mary at Berkeley and turning her on is surreal.
The same can be said of Tex, certainly.

The attraction to the Family in 1967 was probably one of a peaceful and free-spirited vibe, so common in the 1960's. But of course we know how at some point it all became murderous, and even this was after a lengthy string of various crimes were committed. The thought of PTSD may indeed loom large, but attendant to this is arguably poly drug use, disease, and possibly a certain level of malnutrition.

Concerning this metamorphosis, I am reminded of the formation and progression of the Peoples Temple, depicted in the movie in which Jim Jones was played by Powers Boothe. At the end of the film, his most dedicated followers, who were trained medical professionals, very merrily and quickly prepared the lethal vat of flavored punch and poison. This of course was given to hundreds of people to drink. Those refusing the drink were forcibly injected with the lethal concoction.

The point here is: at what time does a group of people, who appeared on the surface to be a peaceful group, become able to commit mass murder, and agree to mass suicide?

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Torque said...

"The thought of PTSD may indeed loom large, but attendant to this is arguably poly drug use, disease, and possibly a certain level of malnutrition."

Great point about their diets. I also wondered if the summer heat and no a/c played into some of the gang's crazier thoughts becoming actions. The crimes of '69 take place during the Dog Days. However, when I checked LAX temps for 8/8 and 8/9, the weather was gorgeous with highs of 82 and 79. So who knows.

Thank you for the nice compliment :)

Peter said...

"go to work, go home, go shopping, go to work, go home, go to the movies, go to bed, go to work ..."

orwhut said...

Are there two other girls in the picture of Mary in a short, white dress? I sometimes wonder why they're dressed like that?

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Peter - I've kinda made a career out of avoiding people and public places. But Mary didn't have the Internet and the friends who come with it I suppose. Still not hard to meet people on a campus idk. Muffin is the real victim here.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Whut - I don't remember a larger version of the photo that was cropped but you're probably correct. Could it have been a homecoming freshman year photo before the dance?

orwhut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
orwhut said...

That thought neever occurred to me. The 3 girl photo could well be from some campus event. Forgetting that Mary had a life before Charlie I sometimes think one of the other two is Sadie with short hair or Catherine Share looking thin. The photo usually turns up when I'm looking for something else and I can't find it today.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Whut - I think Dreath mentioned this too in his Sears Caper article but when I searched for local stories about Mary, her hometown was kind to her and her family members and didn't publish many articles. People would be making YouTube live videos in George Brunner's sporting goods shop today I think.

ColScott said...

You seem to have done significant research into this and I applaud you. But where is the PTSD? Mary was heavily on the ugly end of the spectrum. She had a strong submissive streak with her very strict working Class Wisconsin parents. Now she has a man telling her she is special. She's an easy mark- she has to allow Squeaky or there's no Family. She was weak willed, she was a druggie, she was a big zero. But I fail to track the ptsd- sorry. She had some good lawyers but look at her in the Hendrickson film- she is a devout believer!

ColScott said...

I am not sure about her home town love. I mean this is a state where people still love Steven Avery the killer/rapist/body burner. I do recall a two part article in a music magazine around the time of Natural Born Killers, think 93, which was an interview with Pooh Bear. He was raised by his grandparents and has no relationship with Mary iirc

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Col - I don't understand why Mary would attempt to give up her immunity. I get what they thought was going to happen when she recanted her testimony but wonder if they talked to a lawyer before reaching that conclusion.

The courtroom scene in Katz's book is bananas. She almost walked straight off the cliff. Why?

Doug said...

The food situation at Barker was lacking at first and, became dire as time went on...

The "Einstein Plan" of burying food, gas and supplies didn't help much during the dire times when the paranoia, hate, violence and doubt crept in...eventually consuming what few collective brain cells remained as they couldn't remember where their shit was buried...

Remember...these people were not super together...or, organized...

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Doug - The best laid tweaker plans...

And I do mean laid...heyo. That joke might fall flat. Tough room.

AustinAnn74 said...

I think Mary had very low self esteem, and you're right: she was in love with her "baby daddy," but as soon as Lynn came on the scene, she took a back seat and right there & then, should've left with her parents when they flew out to California to try getting their daughter back. They were worried about her, and as I read in Lynette Fromme's book, they desperately tried getting her away from Charlie and even Lynn. They knew something wasn't right, but, alas, at the end of the day, her self esteem issues are pretty much pointless. She lost all of her humanity, not to mention any kind of empathy from people, including me when she chose to help hold an injured & very frightened man (a friend who had helped her with her child) hostage before participating in his gruesome murder. Man, she KNEW Bobby was going to kill Gary and didn't warn him or let him go when the other two were asleep. Didn't they take turns "guarding" him? I can totally understand Susan Atkins doing something like that, because she was an extremely damaged girl with one or more personality disorders, but Mary, on the other hand didn't seem impulsive or outwardly cruel. Something obviously changed in her, though but PTSD? Na, I don't think so.

Unknown said...

happy 78th birthday mary brunner (12/17/1943)

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Unk - Thanks. I didn't know if I should mention Mary's bday but it's the reason I posted about her this week.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

AustinAnn74 - Thanks for commenting. I don't necessarily agree with you but I've read your words over the years and even keep perspectives like yours in mind when writing about this stuff. At least I try to. A lot depends on how much I've had to eat during the day before sitting down to write here. I dunno.

TabOrFresca said...


If I’m not mistaken, your “Mary B having PTSD” is just a hunch you have, and you have not applied the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD.

Wizardpool said...

Michael Brunner most definitely has a relationship with his mother.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Hi ToF- I hope you're doing well. I'm nowhere close to qualified to have a hunch but you're right regardless. I might be grasping at straws. But Mary's behavior out there was so shocking to me that I can't help but wonder if there's some sort of medical explanation. The first of the DSM-5 criteria in Criterion A is "Direct Exposure." Mary was definitely exposed lol.

I just added a little eggnog to my coffee. Such a treat. You a fan?

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Wizard - I'd get over it as much as I could and talk to my mom too if given the chance. I believe he was almost ten or right around there before Mary came back from prison.

Buntline said...

Mary lives in an old people apartment now.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Hi, Buntline! How ya been?

Terrapin said...

In her mugshot she looks like she's taken a ton of amphetamines. Maybe thats what they were taking at the time when committing crimes. We know Tex and Sadie did it before Cielo. Just a thought

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Terrapin - Could be why they got caught if you're correct. Maybe they were acting all tweaked out and whatnot.

grimtraveller said...

GreenWhite said:

I don't understand why Mary would attempt to give up her immunity

"Snitches and other enemies will be taken care of...."
Who wants to remain in the same category as Linda ? Or Paul Watkins ?
Even during the main trial, Sadie was regarded as shit by Leslie and Pat behind closed doors, even though she, in effect, put herself in the shadow of death's door by recanting. She was not thought of highly by the Family, so imagine the continuous pressure that would have put on Mary.

Mary's behavior out there was so shocking to me that I can't help but wonder if there's some sort of medical explanation

We often look for some kind of explanation. They may all have some validity. For me, it's a simple sinful human nature one. Every one of us has the capacity {and, dare I say it, controversially, the leaning} to go any one of many different ways during the course of our lives. We have no real way of knowing what combination of elements will bring about any of the reactions we may go through. Neither can we say for sure what we'd do in any particular scenario.
I think we're sometimes surprised at people like Mary because we assume there to be ways that "people like her" ought to behave. It is also true, that Mary Brunner wasn't lacking in self-control. She could have opted out at any given moment.

OldWorldOrder said...

Sorry but I could not disagree more regarding the comment that Roger Smith got a raw deal from Tom O'Neil. Especially After Reading the book Chaos again & hearing all the Roger Smith snippetts that O'Neil recorded of him and posted on his social media.. IMO Roger look totally CULPABLE. I suggest people read the book and listen to these snippets .Roger basically says Jolly West " connected him to the Curcuit " after Roger did his dissertation on Jolly's work & he goes on to boast about how Jolly's story about over dosing an Elephant with too much LSD was " WONDERFULL " .. sorry but i think this is a peek behind the mask and you begin to see the psychopothy of these DR's who basically got a license to play God from the covert Government as well as all kinds of acaademic sucess and prestigue . You dont have to be a genius to connect the dots .