Friday, September 7, 2012
Charles Manson and his "Family"
On the morning of August 9, 1969 a maid entered the home of her employer in California and noticed that a few things did not seem right and even more things did not feel right. Upon a short look around she saw the bodies of two people laying on the back lawn and ran away from the residence screaming to a neighbor home.
When police arrived at 10050 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles California they found five bodies, one in a vehicle, two in the back yard and two in the home. The home was being rented by the director, Roman Polanski. Polanski was in another country directing a movie but his wife, actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant was at home. Also at the home were Abigail Folger, her boyfriend, Voytek Frykowski, stylist Jay Sebring and a young man who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, Steven Parent. Some of the victims had been shot; some had been stabbed and there even appeared that there had been attempt to hang at least two of the victims. The following day the bodies of Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were found in their home. They had both been tied up and stabbed to death.
Initially the crimes were not considered to be related in any way. Part of the reasoning for this was that two different departments were working on the cases as well as the fact that they were different types of detectives according to prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. Bugliosi believes that the connection took longer than it should have because the investigators on the Tate murders were "old school" detectives and less open to new ideas or thoughts and those on the LaBianca case were younger "gung ho" detectives who were willing to go extra miles. In fact, Bugliosi recounted several times in his book "Helter Skelter" that when he would ask the Tate detectives to investigate something he had to ask several times and often it still would not be done, yet when he asked the LaBianca detectives to investigate there were not those issues. It seems however the LaBianca detectives were the first to believe there at least could have been a connection but seemed to be blocked at every move to prove it.
The ball really did not get rolling on the connection until it was revealed that Susan Atkins, a Manson follower, in jail for grand theft auto and arson, had confessed to fellow inmates that she and others were responsible for the Tate-LaBianca murders. The story that emerged seemed so unbelievable that it shocked a nation and to this day, over 40 years later, still captivates the curious.
As with all cases there are certain things that were clear and convincing facts and there are things involved that were speculated. Aside from confessions (and then oftentimes later recantations) that connected the two murder scenes but also the Manson "Family" to the crimes there were many other things that proved who was responsible. However, one of the hardest things to prove was that Manson himself was responsible or involved. One witness (and "Family" member), Linda Kasabian, placed Mason in the LaBianca home just prior to the murders. Aside from her testimony that he had tied the victims up and the fact that they were tied with leather tongs that were similar to what Manson used there really was no other evidence of this. She also stated that after tying them up he returned to the car where everyone else waited and sent them in to murder the couple. The prosecution always maintained that all the murders were committed on Manson's command. They built their case around him based on the fact that the "Family" members did only as they were told and that Manson was the only one to give orders. Looking at that from the surface it may seem ridiculous. However, the other defendants, and even the other family members that were not on trial seemed to strengthened that idea for the prosecution by their actions. If Mason did something (carved an X in his forehead; shaved his head) they would do it; if Manson said something they would either repeat it or nearly bow down as if they were worshiping him.
Manson often asked throughout his trial the opportunity to represent himself. For a short period this was allowed but then later the judge recanted it. Just recently I saw an article discussing the fact that a "new" album has been released of Charles Manson's music and the man distributing it was maintaining that he was not necessarily stating that Manson was innocent but that he felt it was blatantly obvious that he had not received a new trial. Either the man did not elaborate (mind you the man interviewed was not even born when the trials occurred) or it was not stated but I can only assume this was based on the refusal to allow him to represent himself in his trial. However, he did at one point, outside the presence of the jury allowed to take the stand and rather than answer direct questions from an attorney he proceeded to "preach" from the stand. Some could argue it was an unfair trial due to the fact that none of the defense attorney's put on a defense of their own, however, others argue that this was due to the fact that Manson directed them (his lawyer and the other defendants who directed their lawyers) not to.
Prosecutors were able to maintain that while Manson had directed the other defendants to murder the victims that they would have already possessed the psychological ability to follow through with them. Through prosecution witnesses as well as at the sentencing phase Manson's attorney attempted to make a deal of the fact that no-one could necessarily make someone else murder another human and pointed out to others who had supposedly been told to participate in the act of murder and had refused. To this day Manson maintains he never killed anyone. Reality is that there was no forensic proof that he was ever at the Polanski/Tate home and the only thing that really could be at least partially tied to Manson in the LaBianca home were the leather ties used to tie the couple up. They were similar in nature to those in which Manson was known to use. Coupled with the fact that more than one family member placed Manson at the home of the LaBianca's just prior to the murders is really the only real evidence they had against him.
Other things could be tied not only to the other defendants but also to "Spahn Ranch" where the family had lived. It was an old movie set where basically the family had become squatters. There was evidence there that tied the family to other crimes involving auto theft but also had items such as rope that it felt could be tied to the Polanski/Tate home.
Five members of the family were ultimately convicted for the Tate/LaBianca murders and were all sentenced to death at the end of their trials. However, the United States Supreme Court soon ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional and all were re-sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. Today in 2012 Charles Manson and three other family members remain in jail (Susan Atkins died in 2009 from a brain tumor) as well as Charles Watson who was also convicted in a separate trial. These were the members involved in the Tate/LaBianca murders. A few other family members have spent periodical time in prison for other crimes, including Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme who spent time for attempting to kill President Gerald Ford.
Those convicted for the Tate/LaBianca murder who remain in prison are:
Charles Manson: In 2012 he was denied parole for the 12th time. It seems that neither Charles Manson nor the crimes he were involved in have ever really been forgotten. It seems like every few years something is in the media. Sometimes it involves a parole hearing for one of the followers or another of many documentaries about the case that often involve new interviews with Manson. However, with in the last few days Manson has inadvertently been in the news. It was always pretty commonly well known that Manson considered himself a songwriter (a few of his songs have in fact been recorded by leading artists). In the 1980's Manson recorded some music supposedly while at a prison hospital. A 26 year old store owner in Hollywood obtained that music and released it on vinyl through his label and selling it in his store. The store owner Manuel Vasquez, has claimed that he has researched the case and believes this was one of the "most bogus cases in recent history" proclaiming Manson's innocence. To be clear, Manson is forbidden from making a profit from this album (however, one has to wonder if his prison account is not added to by Vasquez). Vasquez is not alone necessarily in his thinking. There are apparently still some family members (although none that are incarcerated) who still believe in Manson, his beliefs and his innocence, but there are those in the general public who often express the same. It is speculated that since Manson is now 77 years old and his next parole hearing will not be until 2027 that he will never be released and to the majority of the public that is just fine.
Patricia Krenwinkel: In January of 2011 Patricia was denied parole for the 13th time. She has done many interviews over the years and has denounced Charles Mason and her actions from 1968. It has been said that she has maintained a "perfect" prison record. She appears to have shown total, and true, remorse. However, that did take her time. Many will argue that she, along with the other defendants, were "brainwashed" by Manson and that it took time and deprogramming to get her to where she is today, which is still in prison but at a totally different place mentally. In 2004 when they denied her parole, the parole board stated they felt she was still a risk to public safety. When she was denied in 2011 they admitted that letters from people from all over the world and the memory of the crime was largely considered in their decision.
Leslie Van Houten: In July 2010 Leslie was denied parole for the 19th time. She is eligible for parole again in 2013. Leslie's original trial took place at the same time as the trial for Manson, Krenwinkel and Atkins. As stated before she was initially sentenced to death but was re-sentenced to life in prison after the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional. However, in 1977, Leslie was granted a new trial based on the fact of ineffective counsel in the first trial. Her lawyer, Ronald Hughes, disappeared during the trial and was later found dead. It was and has been always largely speculated that the "family" was involved in his murder, however, no one has ever been charged. After Hughes' disappearance and a new lawyer appointed there was a request for a retrial that was denied. Hughes had been present nearly until closing arguments so the new attorney's knowledge of the case was based on transcripts from the trial. Leslie's next trial ended in a hung jury, however, in her third trial she was once again convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Throughout her original trial she was often referred to as the one member that did not to seem to be as much of a follower of Manson as the others, but she was also considered to be the most psychopathic and dangerous of the women. By most accounts, like Krenwinkel, Leslie has also denounced Manson and shown remorse for her actions. Both she and Patricia have been active in prison in community issues as well as with the education and therapy of other inmates.
Charles "Tex" Watson: He is the only member who was not tried with the three women and Charles Manson due to the fact that he had fled to his native state of Texas and was fighting extradition. He finally was returned to California but not until after the trial for the others had already started. Like many of the other followers during the time before his trial, during his trial and for a time being after the trial Tex displayed odd behaviors. At one point before his trial he stopped talking and eating and displayed unstable behaviors. He was observed and then deemed sane for trial. He was convicted and like the others initially sentenced to death. As of 2011 he has been denied parole 14 times and eligible again in 2016. During his prison time he seems to have been not only the first but the most outspoken in his denouncing of Manson and his ways. He has claimed to be a "born again Christian." He married while in prison and before conjugal visits were revoked he fathered four children. They were married for 24 years but divorced in 2003. He co-authored his autobiography in 1978 entitled "Will you die for me: The man who killed for Charles Manson."
While I obviously agree that the Tate/LaBianca were senseless and vicious, I also believe that those "under" Charles Manson were impressionable and brainwashed as has been portrayed? I have seen archive footage from the trials; I have read many articles, books and information on the crimes and the participants; and I have seen many interviews from those involved over the years. Throughout the years I have never seen an interview with Charles Manson in which I believe he has changed in any way what so ever. He has never taken responsibility for anything. He denies ever having control over people or their actions as well as he denies any responsibility in things that it was clearly obvious he was involved in. It has been said that he has taken responsibility for what he thought was a murder (the man lived but Manson did not know that for a very long time) but yet in the next breath it was not him, or he attempts to justify actions. Within his denials he also always seems to ramble about things that are "out there" when it comes to religion, politics and anything in general and often tends not to make sense. I cannot claim to know a lot about Tex Watson other than what I have read as I do not recall seeing any interviews with him so do I believe he should have been released? I cannot say.
Before Susan Atkins passed away in 2009 I had seen a few things with her but I also cannot say I have an opinion as to if I feel she should have remained in prison the rest of her life. I do know that she attempted to get released due to her medical issues but I cannot say that I ever saw an interview where I got the impression that her remorse was genuine or that she had changed.
I cannot say the same when it comes to Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel. I have seen many interviews given by the two of them, have researched things and have heard of the things they have done in prison. Of course they could be telling people what they think they want to hear but I just do not get that impression from either of them. I realize that at her 2004 parole hearing when asked who she would put at the top of her list of who she had harmed that when she said "myself" that was inappropriate. However, I cannot argue that she was not harmed. Was she the number one person? Absolutely not. However, one could argue that had she not "harmed" herself and allowed herself to be controlled as she did than she would have never harmed the others. Then again there is or would be the issue that I call "Shawshank'ed" if either were ever released. They have been imprisoned since 1969 since they were both in their early 20's. They are now both in their 60's. Re-entering society would be extremely difficult for them after 40 years because it seems prison life is all they know now. One has to wonder if honestly they would not be more comfortable staying just where they are. Some of the account I have read indicate that the prison in which they are inmates is not exactly the worse prison to be in.
Probably one of the saddest parts of this story is that it's likely that people do not remember the names of the victims very well or know much about them. They were 7 human beings whose lives were cut short for no reason and yet the perpetrators of the crime became more famous than they did.