Slack Chat: Filmy, Blank Eyes at Eleven

T: Hey J, Charlie Manson is supposedly on his deathbed, and Granola Brown is the only thing keeping Leslie Van Houten in prison. Sadie is dead, Clem is painting houses somewhere in the Valley, and Katie is the longest-running female inmate in California. Maybe the country, I dunno. Is this a good time to slack the Manson family?

J: Sure, let’s get it done before Charlie kicks off. Did the 1960s, as we know them, end with the Manson murders?

T: I think the Manson murders ended several activities that were 60’s-ish, like hitchhiking, feeding drifters, loitering on private property … the Manson family took advantage of our society’s version of hospitality, or being neighborly. They stamped all drifters and vagrants with the tag “psychos,” and caused Americans, for the first time ever, to start locking the door.

J:  The Manson murders certainly stained the “hippie” stereotype. They were very much in that mold, and we saw what one charismatic nutjob could do to a bunch of peace/love/dope types.

T: What’s funny is that we see the Manson kids as peace/love/dope types, as you characterize them, and I think in many ways that’s what they were – that’s what the youth of that time was – but I don’t see the Manson clan as hippies.

To me, the delineating term might be “dropouts,” more than hippies. To me, hippies were searching for acceptance from the existing society. Manson’s kids were rejects from that part of the culture; they were rejected hippies. When they dropped out of the culture, Charlie was there to catch them.

Today we have meth heads, crackheads and those dickless wonders who take automatic weapons into their old schools, spraying bullets like sperm all over the face of the society that turned them down. To me, that’s who the Manson kids were. They were the wretched, desperate kids whose parents, teachers and parole officers gave up on, or never cared about in the first place. They could run freely through the back alleys of society, unencumbered by the law, because nobody was looking for them.

J: A lot of the family members either rejected or got rejected by mainstream society, and Manson offered them a place to belong, a place to be accepted. And he was a master manipulator; he had a keen knack for identifying whatever your particular psychological issue was and playing on it. If you were a woman and had daddy issues, he would use that. If you were a man and felt rejected or inadequate, he would use that, too.

T: Plus he built them up as a group. Manson’s family was supposed to take over after the race war, because they were the only whites left and blackie would need them to run things. He convinced them that they were the chosen ones. Left with few other options, they were happy to believe him.

Sound familiar?

J: Yeah, “Make the Bottomless Pit Great Again.” And the thing is, in that racially charged time right after Dr. King and Malcolm X were assassinated, with the Black Panthers on the march… it’s not inconceivable that he could have started a race war. Looking at the dissatisfaction of the lower classes with their lot today, and the polarization and tension in the streets … there are certainly some parallels between now and then.

T: Imagine someone trying to start a war, and having social media to work with. How would he do it?

J: You mean like a Manson in 2017? He’d probably look a lot like Trump; he’d sell himself as the Messiah:”I alone can fix it.” He’d give hope to the downtrodden and the forgotten of society and, of course, anyone who acts to take that away from them becomes the enemy, and it gets easier and easier to paint anyone who opposes your chosen Messiah as the enemy

T: A feature common to both guys – Trump and Manson – was that they had to be in complete charge. They could delegate, but they could not work WITH anyone else. They had to run everything. As a result, I think both gravitate toward people who can be easily led.

J: Their adherents do seem to share that lack of critical thinking, lack on analytical ability… they accepted what they were told as the gospel, and anyone who contradicted them was a heretic.

T: The “sold” mentality.

J: Trump’s followers didn’t have the religious devotion that Manson’s did, but they were just as “sold” in their way as Manson’s were

T: You know what heretic means; right? It means “independent thinker.”

J: Yeah … but for our purposes it means, “Anyone who says anything that disputes our orthodoxy.”

T: How sold were Manson’s followers? You know the main characters; can you tell me how much they actually bought into Manson’s Helter Skelter vision, balanced against their own confirmation bias?

J: Just to be clear, I’m not implying that any of Trump’s followers are going to go out and stab pregnant actresses.

T: In other words, were they in it for the Bottomless Pit, or the free sex, drugs and ranch living? Did they believe in the Pit (Helter Skelter) or the Pendulum (getting back at society)?

J: That’s our title: Slack Chat: The Manson Family – Pit, or Pendulum? Filmy, blank eyes at 11.

T: Done and done. We’ll start lower, and work our way up. First, Paul Watkins.

J: He was in it for the ranch living and the sex. He might’ve paid lip service to Manson, but only to get laid and have a place to crash.

T: He wrote a book.

J: Do you have it?

T: Yeah, in kindle form. It’s not all that insightful, though. He mostly talks about the ranch living and the sex.

J: I’d read it; ranch living and sex – what’s not to like?

T: Next on the docket: Mary Brunner, Charlie’s first conquest.

J: She seemed to me to be a little more committed than Watkins… but still not one of the hard core.

T: She was Charlie’s first family-wife, the only one who had Charlie to herself. I think she was the closest to being in love with Charlie in the traditional sense. She was definitely “pit” over pendulum, in that she would have followed Charlie anywhere, and she wasn’t a dropout like most of the others. She was just a shy, mousy girl who Charlie swept off her feet. A couple of others were far more pit, but Mary may have been the least pendulum of the bunch, the least angry at the world.

T: Next on your hit parade: Bobby Beausoleil.

J: He’s a little harder case. I think he was one of the more committed of the men, if not the most; I know he did a lot of stuff for Manson, ran errands and such. I’d call him more pit than pendulum, but maybe 60/40.

T: He committed the murder that got it all rolling, killing Gary Hinman and getting caught with the bloody knife several days later. Not exactly a rocket scientist, that Bobby.

Beausoleil was part of the underground culture around the movie industry in Los Angeles when he met Charlie, and he had designs on being a musician. I think he might have taken up with Charlie for the music as much as anything else. He wanted to be a rock star, and Charlie knew famous people.

Plus the girls. They committed the murders for Bobby as much as for Charlie, creating the copycat signals – writing pig and all that stuff on the walls – in an attempt to get him out of jail. He loved them, and they loved him back. They called him “Cupid.” I think Van Houten got involved because she was in love with him.

I don’t think Beausoleil was totally pendulum, but he wasn’t totally pit, either. Of the group, he might have been the least dedicated to Charlie the Christ figure, and the least dedicated to getting even with the world. He was just a hedonist who wound up killing somebody because he was too stupid and fucked up to not kill him.

There’s a good chance Bobby would be where he is now, serving life for murder, even if he had never met Manson. He was just dumber than Helen Keller, wearing ear muffs with duct tape over her mouth. He was duh-umb.

J: Ba-dump. Psssht.

T: I’ll be here all week. Next: Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, the tiny, redheaded Spahn Ranch housekeeper who ultimately spent half her life in prison for her failed attempt to kill President Gerald Ford.

J: Squeaky was probably the most devoted follower; as far as I know she’s still keeping the faith. She was definitely pit; she was all about Manson and Helter Skelter.

T: I agree; she was a 10/10 on the pit side and a 10/10 on the stayed-dedicated side. I might as well have placed Sandy Good in the mix with Squeaky; they spent most of their time together, even after the trials were over and all the convicted killers were locked away.

I think Sandy might have been the angriest of the bunch, and even more pit than Squeaky, if that was possible.

J: Yeah, Good was the same way.

T: Sandy was probably the smartest of the girls – either her or Gypsy – and the most educated. If she had gone to the Cielo house, I am pretty sure Garretson would have been dead, too, and there would not have been any prints on the front door.

J: She did seem to have the most on the ball, in the little bit I’ve seen of her.

T: She was super herking pit, pit, pit. She was like an old Japanese pilot, stranded on a desert island for years, still trying to fight WWII while Gilligan and the professor tried to get his plane running. As far as I know, she’s still keeping the faith.

J: Good eventually got busted for conspiracy and making terroristic threats.

T: Yes; she served several years. I always thought she did it out of guilt for not getting caught committing murder. I’m pretty sure she helped commit at least a couple of murders, if not several.

J: They could probably have made a case for her as an accessory in all the murders

T: She was in the house where the Willets were killed, in 1974. The Willets took Ronald Hughes, the attorney representing Leslie Van Houten at the end of the trial phase, to the mountains just before closing arguments. Hikers found his body in a mountain stream, several months later.

She was probably part of the Shorty murder too, plus several others. One particularly brutal murder, Jane Doe 59, was most likely all the girls who were in the house with Zero when he was killed. She was stabbed over a hundred times and bludgeoned with rocks a few days after Zero’s death.

J: Well, I wouldn’t buy Girl Scout cookies from her.

T: Squeaky was Charlie’s second wife, I think, in a sort of Mormon or Old Testament way. Mary was his first, but Squeaky was his Gal Friday. Remember Charlie was supposed to have cancer and Squeaky escaped from prison in an attempt to go see him?

J: Yeah… Squeaky is still carrying the torch

T: They released her a few years ago, and I haven’t heard anything since. How about Clem? Steve Grogan?

J: I think the guys, as a group, were more pendulum than the girls. Grogan kinda struck me as a Beausoleil wannabe, but he didn’t have the balls to do the bad stuff.

T: As far as I can tell, Grogan was always so hopped up on whatever they had around – I think he drank a lot, too, which Charlie hated – that he was functionally insane.

I think Clem was Patty Hearsted. Brainwashed. Culted. Moonied.

J: Maybe so.

T: Rachneeshhied. I don’t know how to spell Rashneeshied.

J: I had forgotten about that guy. Rajneesh, I think.

T: Ok, let’s get to the main characters: First, Linda Kasabian.

J: I think she was pit… she might have gotten shocked out of it, or maybe she got straight on her own when she realized that they were going to put her in the gas chamber, but turning state’s evidence kinda tells you that the bloom is off the rose

T: She was complicated by this axis, to me … she was pit in that she thought she was in love with Charlie, and she was a very pliable, cooperative person by nature. A perfect little flower girl, in a putrid garden.

But she was also going through a divorce, and she did steal money from someone in her past. That’s at least a little bit pendulumish.

T: How about Tex Watson?

J: I think he was pit. He bought into Helter Skelter probably the most of any of the men, I’d say, more even than Beausoleil.

T: Oh definitely. I’d say he was the pittest of the pit men. He bought in fully, and – unlike most of these kids – he wasn’t a dropout when he met Charlie.

Leslie Van Houten?

J: I think she was pendulum. She didn’t really seem to be wrapped all that tight anyway, and Manson just played on her sense of alienation and paranoia. I think the Family to her was acceptance, and an escape from her family

T: Well said; right. She was an angry little wannabe princess who hated her parents and every girl who had bigger boobs than she did. She didn’t immerse herself in the family; she mostly took advantage of the drugs and the sex that was around, like a little urchin sex and drugs forager.

The only reason Charlie even let her go on the second night, let alone chose her to go, I think was because she had the hot pants for Bobby. She wanted him out of jail so he could come and pay more attention to her.

Next, Katie Krenwinkle, the family’s Chewbacca.

Is that mean? She stabbed Abigail Folger so many times they couldn’t tell what color her nightgown was, but I shouldn’t make fun of her hairy exterior. Right?

J: Well, don’t let her hear you. She could get out, and you’d have to join Witness Protection.

I think she was pit. She bought the Helter Skelter thing hook, line and sinker. She later said that she was battered by Charlie during that time, but I think that was a ploy for sympathy. She was in it for Charlie, and all for Charlie.

T: Yeah, she was pit … but not evangelically pit, like Tex, Squeaky and Sandy were. She had some Mary Brunner in her, too. She was hot for Charlie, but I think she was into the girl-girl sex too, and generally just happy to be part of a group that more or less accepted her.

I think she might have been an outcast within the family – the one who tried too hard, wanted it too badly, and was willing to do the most, to prove herself worthy. How much of that stabbing energy came from her desperate need to belong? You know the old saying … the family that stabs together, grabs abs together. Especially hairy ones.

J: Really?

T: Hey, they ain’t all diamonds. Get off me. Ok, it’s time: let’s talk about Sadie.

Susan Adkins died in 2009, a prison lifer of nearly 40 years. She was 61 years old. She was the only family member present at all three murder scenes.

And she was nuts. Most of the Manson girls ultimately renounced Charlie and went back to normal, or stuck with Charlie and stayed crazy. Adkins renounced Charlie, but she stayed crazy.

Of the whole group, Adkins was probably the most likely to have become a homicidal maniac without Charlie’s help. She was also, according to Bugliosi several times in the book, just about the only family member with sex appeal. Which might tell you a little bit about Bugliosi, but – given Bugliosi’s keen observational skills – a lot about Sadie’s effect on the men exposed to her crazed, frenzied personality.

J: She probably had the weakest grip on reality of any of them, even less than Van Houten. There was something just broken in her, and whatever it was happened long before she met Manson. He gave her an outlet. I don’t know that she would have ended up as a homicidal maniac without Manson’s influence, but I have little doubt that she would have ended up in prison at some point. Her anger issues might even have been deeper than Sandy Good’s.

T: Sadie was diagnosed with hysterical abandonment syndrome before she met Charlie; I think that explains her pretty well. Did you ever sense, while reading about all the venereal disease and the filthy hygiene and the rudeness of the girls, that most of that was about Sadie?

J: I got the sense that she was the alpha female, the rest of them were subordinate to her. She might have been rude because of that, she might have felt entitled somehow.

T: She was the second girl Charlie picked up, behind only Mary, and Mary was pretty timid. The two make for quite the contrast, along with girl number three, Squeaky. They wound up being Charlie’s first wife (Mary), housekeeper/gal Friday (Squeaky) and chief berserker assassin/orgy leader as well as Charlie’s object of affection, lust, and ultimately scorn (Sadie).

J: That speaks to Charlie’s persuasive abilities. How many women would stand for having their husbands basically starting a harem, even in the ’60s?

T: Well, it was the times. His family was a cult, and cults have been around forever. It takes a strong leader, but mostly it takes a whole bunch of weak, willing, pliable, gullible followers.

J: That’s true. And frightening.

T: Mary Brunner was the first, a demur, mousy woman who loved Charlie more in the traditional sense, though she was also attracted to the free love environment. She was with Bobby Beausoleil when he murdered Gary Hinman so she was a murderer in the eyes of the law, but I doubt Charlie changed her as much as most of the girls. Once Mary was free of Charlie’s influence, she returned to her old life.

Squeaky Fromme was a beaten, bloodied and abandoned little street urchin who, had she not met Charlie, might well have been dead within a year. She was heroically devoted to Charlie, in a sort of twisted version of Oliver Twist (no pun intended), and she only turned to violence and murder when it became the final solution. Once she turned, though, she went after it. In addition to trying to shoot President Ford, Squeaky most likely helped murder the Willets, Ronald Hughes, Zero, and several others.

J: Squeaky was really subservient to Manson… whatever he said or did, she just acquiesced, or went along.

T: By the time she met Charlie, Sadie was already the hysterical dervish that we know and love that we are glad got her crazy ass locked up for life. Had she never met Charlie, her most likely future was to wind up an old biker bitch, dead in a ditch by the time she was 40, with an asshole you could store watermelons in.

Had she lived past 40, I think Sadie would have become enormously fat from having about nine kids, all of them taken away from her to go train to be pedophiles, spree killers and gang members, and getting addicted to reality television and boxed wine.

Most likely, though, she would have wound up in prison for murder, or been a murder victim. There was almost no path to a normal life she could have taken. The life she lived in prison, ironically, was far better than any life she would have lived on the outside.

J: Yeah, she wasn’t white-picket-fence material.

T: Was she nuts? To the degree that we are all a little bit sane, even Gollum and whoever they were painting when they came up with the Scream, she might have been that little bit of sane. But she was about as batshit crazy as you can be and still complete your sentences.

In many ways, she out-charlied Charlie, didn’t she?

He gave her a crazy vision, but she embellished it so much that even Charlie was backing away, saying, “whoa, cool your roll, you crazy bitch.”

J: Yeah, she was the zealot of the bunch… and you know there’s no zealot like a convert

T: I have a question, J – if there had never been a Sadie, does the family get as murdery? Do they fall so completely into the batshit cult stage?

J: Probably, though it might not have been so violent. It seemed like Charlie and Sadie fed off of each other’s rage, egging each other on to more violence.

T: How long would it have taken to get them if Sadie never talked?

J: It would have taken longer, but probably not much longer. They weren’t very good at covering their tracks, and they were already on the LAPD’s radar by the time Sadie started talking. The cops would have been able to make the case eventually.

But Sadie sped things up drastically.

T: I agree. Sadie might have kept a few people alive, though, especially the guys in the desert and a couple of the girls – the Jane Does.

J: Yeah, people were dying left and right by then.

T: Ok, how about if she had threatened to talk in front of the family, say all that shit, but to Squeaky instead of the girls in Sybil Brand? Would they have killed her?

J: Oh yeah – they’d have killed the shit out of her. We’d still be finding body parts in the desert.

T: Yeah, she strikes me as the type who the other girls, once they started stabbing her, would have never stopped until she was a pile of meat.

J: Ew. But yeah, that scans.

T: Yaknow, I’m not sure we would have ever heard of the Manson family, absent Sadie’s contribution.

I don’t think the Hinman murder would have happened without Sadie, goading Bobby on. Without the Hinman murder, none of the copycat murders had to happen. It’s possible that Sadie, in and of herself, drove the family to mass murder. Charlie, as we both know, never killed anyone in the infamous spree.

J: Wasn’t Charlie going to kill someone at a stoplight or something, but the light changed and the would-be victim drove off before Charlie could get to him?

T: Charlie was all about big talk, threatening to kill this guy or that guy, but did he follow through? Ever? Charlie always had an excuse. “I saw a baby picture,” he’d say, or “He drove off before I could get this knife out,” or “I tied them up; you need to go do your part.”

That second night seemed to be all about Charlie showing everyone that he could do it, too – go kill somebody for no reason, just for kicks – but he never did. In hindsight, it’s obvious that the outing was all about getting even with those assholes next door to Harold True from the start. He brought along a posse, to murder Leno and Rosie LaBianca. The other stuff – the traffic guy, the actor he sent Linda and Sadie to kill – were just random diversions, spun from his fingers to distract from the fact that he was leaving all the murder and mayhem to others.

I’m not sure Charlie had murderous rage in him. He was capable of killing somebody – ask Lotsapoppa Crowe – but I doubt he had enough psychopathic rage to go all Charlie Starkweather. To kill for kicks. I think Sadie took him to the precipice of spree-killer nirvana, but he wouldn’t jump. So she took the leap without him.

I forgot to ask … Sadie: pit, or pendulum?

J: Sadie was pit. Sadie might have been the pit.

T: Yes, 100 percent pit. And also 100 percent pendulum.

Was Sadie the inspiration for all of it? Charlie was mostly about orgies and playing guitar until the Beach Boys thing fizzled … but Sadie was there all along, goading him, talking her insane shit, as unbalanced as a 5-gallon bag of jello on a roller coaster.

J: I think Sadie was the perfect foil for Manson… screwed up enough to think up stuff like writing “pigs” on the walls in blood, but still subordinate enough to him to gratify his need for control.

T: Are we through? I need to shower.

J: With a wire brush.

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