With this in mind it seems it is a good time to lay the crimes out the way I saw them back in 1969, and how I understand them now.
People are intrigued by what they don’t understand and I think the “fantastic” nature of some of the reasons given for the crimes over the years have had the effect of making them a point of obsession. I believe if I can lay these crimes out so they are perfectly understandable, even boorishly so, maybe they will be seen as the horrific acts of brutality they were, and not as a tasteful point of interest or conversation among intelligent people.
With this in mind and as my impetus, I feel it is time to produce the book you are about to read with me.
Chapter 1; The Slow, Easy Road To Disaster
At the age of thirteen my mother was diagnosed with inoperative cancer and I “inherited” a family of five. I would come home from junior high school and begin cooking, cleaning, and washing for my father, two brothers, myself and my bed-ridden mother. I was also the one who had to give my mother the morphine shots as she slowly passed away over the next twelve months. Upon her death my father increased his drinking until eventually, around my sixteenth birthday, he ran away from home leaving me and my younger brother to fend for ourselves.
By the age of nineteen I’d survived a series of nightmarish episodes to finally find a moment of stability among a group of people living in San Francisco in the counter-culture environment. At the time this was not a terrible place to be. Janis Joplin lived next-door. Mama Cass of The Mamas And The Papas taught me how to make BLT’s. We were not “deviants,” we were part of the artist subculture of the era.
That brief moment of stability ended when my friend Ella-Jo and I came home one day to find my place empty – my boyfriend had been arrested and once again I found myself completely broke and on my own. After three long years of fighting to survive and find some stability I was right back where I’d started. I didn’t even have a place to sleep.
But Ella-Jo said it was okay, I could stay with her. And that’s when I met a group of her friends who were all going down to Los Angeles for the summer. Ella-Jo said it ought to be great. One of the guys had an old school bus and they were going to just pack it full of people and head off.
It sounded good. It was the summer of 1967. Young people were moving around and hitchhiking about the country. I’d been in San Francisco for a year or two and the prospect and starting over from nothing again didn’t sound very compelling. How bad could a summer trip to L.A. be?
Hindsight is always perfect " I should have stayed in San Francisco.
The “guy with the old school bus” was, of course, Charles Manson. The story of how I got from the empty house in San Francisco to Death Row four years later is the single most personally painful story I know. I do not like remembering it, reflecting on it, or discussing it. Every year I receive numerous requests from media organizations, college students, law enforcement agencies, and inquisitive people asking for my story, or for explanations or reflections. Most these requests are tasteful. Most are sincere. Some are not. And every couple years the California Parole Board “invites” me to relive in detail the most horrible three days of my life.
It is only my firm conviction that talking about this now will serve the community that I am undertaking this painful and distasteful subject.
I think it is also important to show that big disasters do not start with a decision to create a disaster, but with a series of small poor decisions. No one wakes up one morning and decides they are going to run-amuck. One poor decision leads to a situation where you are forced to choose between two bad alternatives, and that decision in turn leads you deeper and deeper into a hole.
C.S. Lewis once said that the surest path to hell is the slow, easy decent with no sign-posts, no quick turns, no indication that anything is wrong.
This is as important a lesson out of this story as anything.
And so Ella-Jo and I set out on a light-hearted summer trip to L.A. with a group of young people.
Chapter 2; The Bus Ride
The bus ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles took several months, moving through the trendy, counter-culture enclaves along the California coast. Communes and gurus were not uncommon in 1967. Religious sects and metaphysics were accepted and applauded. Teenagers were hitch-hiking across the country looking to “find” themselves, or to find some sort of spiritual enlightenment. One more bus load of truth-seekers was not even noticed.
Once we arrived in Los Angeles the journey to Spahn’s Movie Ranch in Topanga took about another year, as we bounced from one open house to another.
This period of time was relatively unimportant in the context of what was to follow except in a few notable ways.
First, this was the period when I got to know most of the people who ended up associated with the crimes. Bobby Beasusoliel and his friends, including Leslie Van Houten and Catherine Share, joined the group. Patricia Krenwinkel was on the bus even before I arrived, as was Lenette Fromme. Sandra Good joined shortly afterwards.
And second, once we got to Spahn’s Ranch we were pretty well isolated from the rest of the world. Though it was just an hour’s drive north of downtown Los Angeles this was an insurmountable distance if you didn’t have a car. In the end this isolation made it much harder to avoid the insanity, or to run even if one had the courage.
This is also the time when I got a better idea of who Charles Manson really was. Unfortunately I did not understand him well enough. I did not understand him the way I do today.
Making a Super Villain out of Charles Manson is a mistake. Claiming he is a criminal mastermind would actually be amusing if it wasn’t at the price of so many lives.
Most of the attention the crimes have been given over the years has been generated by how “inexplicable” they were. Most people who show an interest do so merely because they seem so hard to understand – people tend to attribute depth and intelligence to anything they can’t understand.
In truth, the crimes were an incredible bungle – an incredible series of mistakes which, once tied together, started a chain reaction which sped on and on, faster and faster, unstoppably to a terrible conclusion.