Dancin’ With Manson
By Simon Wells.
As expected, the anticipation in Los Angeles for the first day of the trial was at fever pitch, with over a hundred news crews descending on the Los Angeles Halls of Justice. While the trial predated television coverage inside the courtroom, the press was nonetheless well represented. In keeping with the media’s demands, fifty-five reservations were put aside for the press. In the corridor outside courtroom number 104, a bank of telephones and fax machines was primed to deliver any revelations from Manson and his co-defendants to the outside world.
With space inside the courtroom strictly limited, hordes of reporters and film crews had set up residence outside on the corner of Temple and Broadway. Legions of overseas journalists had also flown in to capture the unfolding drama. With the guarantee of horrific revelations aplenty, the press was determined to catch every sensational sound bite as it occurred. Noted ‘Associated Press’ reporter Linda Deutsch, remarked that had there been cameras inside the courtroom, the whole country would have come to a standstill for the next ten months. Networks were so desperate to maintain a presence that they hired ‘seat sitters’ to ensure they didn’t lose their places in the gallery. Sandi Gibbons, a reporter from ‘City News Service’ in Los Angeles, was witness to the unfolding drama.
‘There was a huge number of spectators who showed up, and tons of media both inside and outside the courtroom,’ recalls Sandi Gibbons today. ‘But being Los Angeles, there were other things going on . . . At the same time as the Manson case there was a woman down the street dressed in mermaid costume protesting against the Federal Government.’
With the press and public galleries bursting at the seams, Manson and the girls were led into court. As decreed by statute, the jurors had not been told which case they were due to rule on. Given the amount of pre-publicity the trial had generated, the five women and seven men sitting on the jurors’ bench were soon aware that this was to be a unique case.
Juror William McBride recalled his utter dismay when he first saw Charles Manson being led into court. ‘The first time I walked into the courtroom and saw there was Charles Manson and the three girls and the courtroom was cram-packed with people I thought, “Oh brother, what am I doing here?”’
From the outset, events inside the courtroom tested everyone’s mettle. Knowing the enormous publicity value of a visual statement, Manson had scored an ‘X’ into his forehead the night before he entered court, a graphic sign of his removal from society. Within days, many of Charlie’s followers copied his bloody statement, all more than happy to declare their social exclusion. In solidarity with those being tried, Manson’s supporters outside on the street corner unanimously declared that they would maintain a presence at the Halls of Justice until Manson and the defendants and, by extension, everyone within the prison system, were set free.
Charlie accompanied his first appearance in court with a press statement, read out by Squeaky to waiting reporters in the hallway outside. ‘I am not of you, from you, nor do I condone your unjust attitude toward things, animals, and people that you do not try to understand . . . I stand opposed to what you do and have done in the past . . . You make fun of God and have murdered the world in the name of Jesus Christ . . . My faith in me is stronger than all of your armies, governments, gas chambers, or anything you may want to do to me. I know what I have done. Your courtroom is man’s game. Love is my judge.’
A hush descended on the courtroom as Vincent Bugliosi took to the floor. Despite an exhausting schedule of eighteen-hour days spent preparing the evidence, he was raring to go; driven by his commitment to winning the case for the state of California. Despite the charges being spread over four defendants, Bugliosi wasted little time in going straight for Manson’s jugular with his opening statement.
‘A question you, ladies and gentlemen, will probably ask yourself at some point during this trial,’ he began, ‘and we expect the evidence to answer that question for you, is this: “What kind of a diabolical mind would contemplate or conceive of these seven murders?” “What kind of mind would want to have seven human beings brutally murdered?” We expect the evidence at this trial to answer that question and show the defendant Charles Manson owned that diabolical mind. Charles Manson, who the evidence will show at times, had the infinite humility, as it were, to refer to himself as Jesus Christ. Evidence at this trial will show defendant Manson to be a vagrant wanderer, a frustrated singer–guitarist pseudo-philosophiser, but, most of all, the evidence will conclusively prove that Charles Manson is a killer, who cleverly masqueraded behind the common image of a hippy.’
Despite Bugliosi’s emotive prologue, Manson and girls remained detached from the rhetoric. Instead, they giggled, laughed and made eyes – both sensual and threatening – at anyone who came into their line of vision.
The first witness on the stand was Paul Tate, father of murdered Sharon. He’d maintained a low profile following his daughter and grandson’s murders. Tate had emerged from his own investigation into Los Angeles’ underworld, and was ready to see justice delivered. Rumours had circulated on the grapevine that the ex-military chief was out to exact revenge for Sharon’s death. As a result, he was thoroughly searched by police on entering the courthouse.
Trained up by years spent in Army Intelligence, Tate calmly picked out daughter Sharon and her friends from the graphic crime-scene photos taken on the morning after the murders. Tate’s appearance as first witness was a skilled piece of scheduling by the prosecution team, focusing the jury on the personal loss suffered by the victims’ families.
It was at 2 pm, on the afternoon of Monday 27 July that star witness, Linda Kasabian, was transported from secure custody to face questions from the prosecution. With her hair bunched in ponytails, and her cheesecloth dress accentuating her innocent appearance, all eyes focused on Kasabian as she entered the courtroom. Linda had barely begun the perfunctory process of being sworn in when Manson’s lawyer Kanarek rose from his seat. ‘Objection,’ Kanarek interrupted, ‘On the grounds that this witness is not competent and she is insane.’
Aghast at the defamatory slur directed at their most valuable asset, the prosecution leapt to their feet. Bugliosi led the charge to Judge Older’s table, shouting, ‘Your Honour, I move to strike that, and I ask the court to find him in contempt for gross misconduct. This is unbelievable!’
Judge Older agreed, and verbally censured Kanarek for the indiscretion. It would be the first of numerous objections and interjections. Focusing on Kasabian’s relatively modest LSD usage (reportedly ‘fifty trips’), Kanarek would utilise every available tool to unseat her composure and query her mental health status. If the result was to test Kasabian’s fragile sensitivities, then Kanarek succeeded in scoring a point when he confronted Linda with photographs from the crime scene, causing her to break down. Pulling herself away from the photo of the butchered Sharon Tate, the heavily pregnant Kasabian looked across at the defendants and asked, ‘How could you do that?’ The girls just laughed. Never one to miss an opportunity, Irving Kanarek stepped in to ask Kasabian whether because of her LSD usage, she might well have been involved in the savagery. Kasabian adamantly refuted his suggestion, insisting, ‘I don’t have that kind of thing in me, to do something so animalistic.’
There were other threats to Linda during the trial, some more obvious than others. At one point during her testimony, Sadie hissed to Linda across the court: ‘You’re killing us!’ Unfazed, Kasabian broke away from her thread to retort, ‘I am not killing you. You have killed yourselves.’
While Kanarek did his best to disrupt Kasabian’s testimony, Manson began his own personal war of attrition towards Linda. On numerous occasions, Charlie loudly poured scorn on Kasabian’s revelations; at others, he’d mimic a knife being drawn across her throat.
Throughout, Bugliosi maintained a steely determination to guide Linda through the evidence. The prosecution knew only too well that Linda’s first-hand experience of both nights of murder was invaluable, and took considerable steps to shield her from any outside interference. Nonetheless, the Family still attempted to make contact with her. In the early stages of the trial, Sandy Good managed to get a letter to Kasabian, much to the chagrin of her defence team. The note was explicit in its content: ‘Are you trying to kill us, Linda? Tens of thousands of pretty young people. The X you see on Charlie’s forehead is now being worn by hundreds of people. Look at the faces of the people you are cooperating with.’ Driving the subtext home further, outside the courtroom placards reading ‘A Snitch in Time’ were starting to appear.
With Bugliosi at the helm, Kasabian constructed a vivid picture of the Family’s lifestyle, underpinned by Charlie’s all-encompassing control. Considerable amounts of Linda’s evidence involved recounting the group’s copious drug use, criminal activity and, most tantalising for media watchers, their licentious and free-range sex life.
‘There was this particular girl – I don’t remember her name, ‘said Kasabian under oath. ‘She was fairly young, I’d say maybe sixteen, and she was very shy and very withdrawn, and I remember she was lying in the middle of the room, and Charlie took her clothes off and started making love to her and kissing her and, you know, she was trying to push him off, and he just sort of pushed her back down and kissed her. And at one point she bit him on the shoulder, and he hit her in the face, and then she just sort of let go and got behind it or whatever. Then he told Bobby Beausoleil to make love to her, and he told everybody to touch her and to kiss her and to make love to her, and everybody did.’
Despite the constant barbs, Kasabian endured eighteen days of testimony. Bugliosi then steered the likes of Danny DeCarlo, Juan Flynn and Paul Watkins through the mire, drawing a grubby picture of Manson’s ethos. Watkins, at that point teetering between both camps, was instrumental in confirming the prosecution’s belief that Charlie’s Helter Skelter theory was the prime motivator for the crimes. He’d recently survived a fire in the camper van he’d been living in and, although the arson was never proved to be the work of the Family, under questioning he was in uncompromising mood.
Vincent Bugliosi: ‘During your association with Charles Manson, did he frequently discuss “Helter Skelter” with you?’
Paul Watkins: ‘Constantly.’
Vincent Bugliosi: ‘He used the word “Helter Skelter” constantly?’
Paul Watkins: ‘I wouldn’t go so far as to say constantly. He did not say, “Helter Skelter, Helter Skelter, Helter Skelter.” But he did quite a bit, yes, it seemed to be the main topic.’
With Beatles’ lyrics adding an enigmatic backdrop to the proceedings, it transpired that Manson wanted to call John Lennon to court to support his reading of ‘Helter Skelter’. In fact, Charlie was wrong to credit Lennon with the song, as it was actually Paul McCartney’s sole composition. Nonetheless, someone from the Family obtained the London number of Apple Corps, The Beatles’ London headquarters. As chief messenger, Squeaky made a series of calls with a view to talking to one of the group.
‘One of the Family, Squeaky, called the Apple press office,’ remembers Apple press office assistant, Richard Di Lello. ‘Not wanting to get involved, I do remember that we passed that call on to Peter Brown [Apple Corporation head].The call from Squeaky did not get very far. We wanted nothing to do with them.’
But the Family didn’t give up on The Beatles so easily, not after they’d help kick-start their bloody rampaging. Gypsy, one of Manson’s most loyal supporters, collared reporters during the trial, armed with a message to be passed on to the Fab Four. ‘What can I say to the damn Beatles?’ Gypsy begged journalist David Felton visiting Spahn’s Ranch. ‘Just get in touch, man. This is their trial. And all the things they’ve been hearing – there’s something happening here; they should see it by now. It’s hard to see through the negative, but just tell them to call. Give them our number.’
While the members of the Family tried to contact The Beatles through the world’s press, it seems that defence lawyers were attempting to officially subpoena John Lennon, who was currently in LA.
‘We want John Lennon to testify,’ a defence spokesperson revealed at the time. ‘We feel he may want to explain his lyrics . . . He’s the most articulate and philosophical of the Beatles, and he understands his social and political effect on the world.’
Lennon understandably went to strenuous efforts not to be embroiled in the case, and, as defence counsel noted, ‘there is an unbelievable wall surrounding him.’
Whilst the defence had little luck in snaring England’s rock royalty, events of 3 August 1970, would see the Manson trial reaching the highest echelon of America’s government. As the case had become a nightly fixture on the news stations, there was a queasy sense that Manson was garnering a dangerous amount of publicity. Manson himself was pleased that he and his followers’ struggle had succeeded in winning support from unexpected quarters. While events like the US Army’s massacre at My Lai in southern Vietnam divided public opinion, Manson’s flimsy plight was momentarily championed by the counterculture. Famed hippie and a notorious thorn in the side of the Establishment, Jerry Rubin, gained an audience with Manson in custody, where they chattered happily for hours.
Far-left agitprop publications like ‘Tuesday’s Child’ named Charlie as ‘Person of the Year’. ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine was so convinced that Charlie and the girls had been set up, they planned to emblazon a cover of the magazine with ‘Charles Manson Is Innocent’. Even the radical Black Panthers, themselves targets of Manson’s unashamed racism, declared 1969 as ‘the year of the pig’ in honour of Tex and the girls’ creative stabbings. With Charlie’s profile in the ascendancy, there was a sense that – despite an inevitable guilty verdict – the momentum from the case would continue to make him a celebrity.
Indeed, such was the coverage that was afforded to Charlie and the girls during the trial that voices from the highest levels of society began to echo down in discontent. One such voice belonged to none other than the President of the United States himself- Richard Nixon. Unanimously seen by the counterculture as the most despised individual in the country, Richard Nixon offered his own slant on the Manson phenomena. The President had been visiting a government building in Denver, Colorado on 3 August, where he’d convened a press conference. Evidently working without notes or prior consultation, Nixon made an enormous gaffe in front of the assembled media.
‘Now, as we look at the situation I think the main concern that I have is attitudes that are created among our younger people and also people as well, in which they tend to glorify and to make heroes out of those who engage in criminal activities,’ he began. ‘This is not done intentionally by the press. It is not done intentionally by radio and television, I know. It is done perhaps because people want to read or see that kind of story. I noted, for example, the coverage of the Charles Manson case when I was in Los Angeles, front page every day in the papers. It usually got a couple of minutes in the evening news. Here is a man who was guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason. Here is a man, yet, who, as far as the coverage was concerned, appeared to be rather a glamorous figure, a glamorous figure to the young people whom he had brought into his operations.’
Declaring Manson ‘guilty’ just a few weeks into his trial was an astonishing error, especially for someone like Nixon, who had himself trained as a lawyer. Nixon’s words were swiftly relayed across the world. Closest to the action, ‘The Los Angeles Times’ had a headline four-inches deep across their late evening edition proclaiming, ‘MANSON GUILTY, NIXON DECLARES’.
As Nixon and his aides battled with a retraction on their flight back to Washington, it was clear that the President’s blunder could have serious ramifications for the trial. Paul Fitzgerald, then representing Patricia Krenwinkel, led the charge for the defence: ‘If the President of the United States says you’re guilty, what recourse do you have?’
That night, Nixon put out the following statement: ‘I have been informed that my comment in Denver regarding the Tate murder trial in Los Angeles may continue to be misunderstood . . . The last thing I would do is prejudice the legal rights of any person in any circumstances. I do not know and did not intend to speculate as to whether or not the Tate defendants are guilty, in fact, or not.’
Despite the apology, Nixon had caused severe problems for the LA court. There was a very real belief that if the jury became aware of the President’s verdict, grounds for a mistrial could be levied. To prevent this, Judge Older went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the jury didn’t catch sight of Nixon’s remarks. Kept in secure hotel accommodation for the duration of the trial, the jury had to have the windows of their court shuttle bus whited out, so that no one could catch a glimpse of a newsstand. But the judge hadn’t counted on Manson’s anarchic influence.
More than anyone, Manson knew that the slip-up could seriously derail the prosecution’s case. With Nixon’s words dangling tantalisingly in the atmosphere, the courtroom was in a state of high anticipation the following day. While Irving Kanarek continued his finicky cross-examining of Linda Kasabian, Manson waited until after the lunchtime recess to make his move. With the prosecution lawyers in a huddle by the judge’s desk, Manson shuffled a pile of legal papers and books at his side, to reveal the day-old copy of ‘The Los Angeles Times’, its headline screaming Nixon’s blunder. In an instant, Charlie was brandishing it to the members of the jury.
Although Manson only held the paper towards the jury for a few seconds before court officials snatched it away, the damage was done. Incensed, Judge Older called the lawyers together and effectively put the trial on hold. While the jury was buzzing at what they had just seen, the assembled press corps was ignited into fevered action, sensing a crisis approaching.
While Irving Kanarek pleaded his innocence, Daye Shinn, Susan Atkins’ current lawyer, owned up to bringing the paper into court. Shinn, at one time a used-car salesman, was duly sentenced for contempt, and taken into custody for three days. With Shinn out of the way, the business of assessing what influence the headline might have had on the jury began. In turn, jurors were quizzed on what they had seen, and what effect, if any, it might have on their judgement. Unanimously, they returned it had little or no influence on their potential decision, and the trial continued.
The controversy wouldn’t die, though, and on the morning of 5 August, as Linda Kasabian was being led into court, Atkins, Van Houten and Krenwinkel stood up as one, and in unison delivered, ‘Your Honour, the President said we are guilty, so why go on with the trial?’ The judge ordered them to sit down. As with the other interruptions, this had been stage-managed by Charlie, a point that Patricia Krenwinkel was keen to emphasise some twenty-five years later.
‘The entire proceedings were scripted by Charlie,’ remembered Krenwinkle years later. ‘Each day we’d meet, and he’d decide. (Manson) “Well today, I want you each to stand up and hold your hands in some stupid symbols; you’re going to get up and scream.” And each day was scripted . . .With Manson he believed that everything we did was creating some picture that was going to go out into the universe and somehow change it towards his will.’
As if wading through the Family’s women outside the court wasn’t enough, the witnesses had to endure testifying in front of Manson and the Family. For some, it was an opportunity to level the score, while for others it proved to be a deeply unsettling experience. Terry Melcher, allegedly the main target of the night of slaughter at Cielo Drive, made a nervous appearance in the stands. For Melcher, the trauma of his association with Manson was so colossal that he’d end up in therapy for two years.
On 5 October, Charlie took his courtroom antics even further. Aggrieved at events taking place without his input, Charlie contested his own defence’s decision not to cross-examine Paul Whitely, one of the Sheriff’s Officers attached to the Gary Hinman investigation. Asking to question him personally, Judge Older ruled that Manson could not. Glowing with anger, Charlie bellowed at Older, ‘You are going to use this courtroom to kill me . . . I am going to fight for my life one way or another. You should let me do it with words.’
As he had done on frequent occasions, Judge Older remonstrated with Manson, adding, ‘If you don’t stop, I will have you removed.’
Manson swiftly reflected the message back. ‘I will have you removed if you don’t stop. I have a little system of my own.’
Judge Older then ordered the next witness to be called, leading Manson to do a double-take. ‘Do you think I’m kidding?’ he added incredulously.
There was a split-second of silence before Manson continued his attack on the judge. ‘In the name of Christian justice someone should cut off your head!’
From nowhere, Manson leapt into action. With a sharpened pencil in his hand, Charlie used the defence table in front of him as a springboard, and leapt ten feet through the air in the direction of Judge Older’s desk. A temporary wave of shock allowed Manson to reach the base of the judge’s platform. Before he could hurl himself at Older, Manson was tackled from behind and knocked to the floor. With two other bailiffs weighing in, he was finally subdued and led out of the courtroom. As if on cue, the girls rose from their chairs and began delivering a nonsensical chant, ‘Moem be oro decaio’, adding to the mad cacophony. They too were led out of the courtroom to a secure antechamber.
While Older had faced many an enemy fighter jet in his time, Manson’s gravity-defying leap left him visibly shaken. The shock was evident as he told the court, ‘If he had taken one more step, I would have done something to defend myself.’ From that day onwards, a loaded pistol was kept within his reach. Outside the courtroom, Older was taking no chances with his safety, and was allotted the services of a bodyguard and round-the-clock security at his home. This privilege was extended to the trial’s twelve jurors, and preventative measures were taken, in Older’s words, ‘to protect them from harassment and to prevent their being exposed to trial publicity’.
Nonetheless, somewhere along the line, the identities of some of the jurors’ families had been revealed, and several malicious calls were made. Members of the prosecution team were also threatened. Stephen Kay, one of the prosecutors, was trailed back to his car by Squeaky and Sandy Good one evening. Their threat was chilling, he remembers. ‘Sandy Good and Squeaky Fromme snuck up behind me one night as I was walking to the parking lot, and they indicated that they were going to do to my house what was done at the Tate house. These were very dangerous people – very unpredictable.’
It wasn’t just those intimately connected to the court that was now under threat. Family associate Barbara Hoyt, found her wavering loyalties were about to be dramatically challenged. She’d heard talk of the murder of Shorty Shea, and had fled Barker Ranch as the heat had started to be turned up. As part of his comprehensive sweep of the Family members, Bugliosi had honed in on Hoyt’s revelations, and with her parents’ encouragement, she nervously agreed to testify for the prosecution. As with many of these peripheral personalities, Hoyt still maintained a connection with the Family at large, and was happy to socialise with them whilst the trial took place. As luck would have it, one of the girls, Ruth Ann Morehouse (Ouisch), had obtained a couple of plane seats over to Hawaii, courtesy of Dennis Rice, a Family supporter who’d leapt into the fray following Charlie’s incarceration.
Sweet-talking Barbara into going on holiday rather than testifying was easy enough; Hoyt was so nervous, the opportunity to escape the trial was hugely attractive. Additionally, there had been veiled threats made towards Hoyt that her family would be in danger if she took the stand. In early September, Barbara took off with Ouisch, to spend some quality time away in the sun. The pair checked into a swish hotel in Honolulu, although, despite the sun beckoning outside, Ouisch warned Hoyt to stay hidden away.
After a few days, Ouisch told Hoyt that she needed to return urgently. Although she was explicit that Barbara should stay on in Hawaii, she asked for her company on the trip to the airport. Once there, the pair went over to the snack bar. Ouisch claimed she wasn’t hungry, but encouraged Hoyt to buy a cheeseburger. While Hoyt stumped up the bill, Ouisch took the burger outside and loaded it with ten hits of LSD, which she then took to the waiting Hoyt.
Barbara Hoyt recalled: ‘She begged me to eat the hamburger, and she was getting ready to board the plane. She took a swipe with her finger across the ketchup and then sucked on her finger. She was about to get on the plane and she remarked to me, “Just imagine if there was ten tabs of acid on that hamburger,” and I went, “No way, that couldn’t be!” Then she got on her plane.’
Barbara happily waived Ouisch off back to sunny LA. It was only when she wandered away from the airport that the effects of the psychedelic burger took hold. Thrashing through two lanes of traffic, she finally collapsed and was taken to hospital. While ten hits of LSD would be enough to send most into a state of intense hysteria, an overdose of the drug is rarely, if ever, fatal, and Barbara was soon stabilised. However, the emotional nature of the experience took the young girl to the brink of insanity.
Once the prosecution got wind of this attack on their witness, they immediately ordered that a charge of attempted murder be levied against those responsible. When Hoyt finally recovered her composure, she testified with a renewed vigour for the prosecution. Despite calls for attempted murder, Squeaky, Ouisch, Clem, Gypsy and Dennis Rice – the five implicated in the hamburger caper, served only three months for witness interference. Ouisch, who administered the acid burger to Hoyt, escaped prosecution by fleeing California before the case started.
Despite all this drama, after nearly six months of damning evidence, the prosecution rested their case on 16 November 1970. They now waited with bated breath to see what the defence counsel would present in return. Three days later, they got to see for themselves. Collectively, the defence lawyers had allotted Paul Fitzgerald as their spokesperson. Fitzgerald had so far vainly attempted to champion his clients, even while they were freely admitting their guilt. Although one of the only lines of defence left would be to prove that the others were acting under Charlie’s spell, Manson clearly had other ideas. Fitzgerald soon began to hear whispers that, in an attempt to save his own life, Manson had instructed the women to take responsibility for masterminding the whole series of crimes themselves.
Leslie Van Houten recalls Manson’s justification: ‘Charlie suggested that we, meaning the three women, try to carry the load of the case so that he could be released, so that he could further carry on his work to save the world.’
Aware that the women were now preparing to fully exonerate Charlie during the cross-examination, the girls’ lawyers succeeded in trumping him. Following the judge’s invitation, Paul Fitzgerald rose from his seat at exactly 4.27pm. on the afternoon of Thursday 19 November. With anticipation heavy in the air, the defence’s presentation carried with it an enormous expectation, especially as the prosecution’s case had been so comprehensive.
‘Thank you, Your Honour,’ Fitzgerald begun. ‘The defendants rest.’
For a courtroom that had at times resembled a battlefield, the silence that permeated the air was tangible. Even Judge Older was visibly shocked and called an immediate recess so that he could meet with the defence team behind closed doors to listen to the reasons behind their decision.
Summarising their decision, counsel for the defence conceded that with those accused planning to fully exonerate Manson, their involvement would be like ‘aiding and abetting a suicide’. While counsel for the defence had hoped to show the defendants being caught in Charlie’s web, with the women intent on writing him out of the murders, the only option was to deny them the rope to hang themselves. For once, the prosecution agreed with the defence lawyers. As a considerable part of their evidence had hung on Manson’s ability to control their every action, the girls’ declaration could have seriously undermined their case.
On being denied the chance to testify, Charlie and the women protested vociferously. Aware that every nuance of legal protocol was being observed, Judge Older forged an unprecedented ruling, whereby the defendants could testify, but not in the presence of the jury. This would allow any inadmissible evidence to be later expunged before it reached the jurors. Furthermore, it would remove the threat that Charlie would try to brainwash the jury with his hypnotic words.
To the defendants, this compromise was the work of the devil. All three girls refused to speak. As befitted his contrary personality, Charlie unexpectedly took the opportunity to testify. Five months into the trial, Manson took the stand on 20 November 1970 to put forward his side of the story.
Manson began: ‘There has been a lot of charges and a lot of things said about me and brought against the co-defendants in this case, of which a lot could be cleared up and clarified . . . I never went to school, so I never growed [sic] up to read and write too good, so I have stayed in jail and I have stayed stupid, and I have stayed a child while I have watched your world grow up, and then I look at the things that you do and I don’t understand . . .
‘You eat meat and you kill things that are better than you are, and then you say how bad, and even killers, your children are. You made your children what they are . . . These children that come at you with knives. They are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up . . . Most of the people at the ranch that you call the Family were just people that you did not want, people that were alongside the road, that their parents had kicked out, that did not want to go to Juvenile Hall. So I did the best I could and I took them up on my garbage dump and I told them this: that in love there is no wrong . . . I told them that anything they do for their brothers and sisters is good if they do it with a good thought . . . I was working at cleaning up my house, something that Nixon should have been doing. He should have been on the side of the road, picking up his children, but he wasn’t. He was in the White House, sending them off to war . . .I can’t dislike you, but I will say this to you: you haven’t got long before you are all going to kill yourselves, because you are all crazy. And you can project it back at me . . . but I am only what lives inside each and every one of you. My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system . . . I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.
I have ate out of your garbage cans to stay out of jail. I have wore (sic) your second-hand clothes . . . I have done my best to get along in your world and now you want to kill me, and I look at you, and then I say to myself, You want to kill me? Ha! I’m already dead, have been all my life. I’ve spent twenty-three years in tombs that you built.
Sometimes I think about giving it back to you; sometimes I think about just jumping on you and letting you shoot me . . . If I could, I would jerk this microphone off and beat your brains out with it, because that is what you deserve, that is what you deserve . . .
If I could get angry at you, I would try to kill every one of you. If that’s guilt, I accept it . . . These children, everything they done, they done for the love of their brother . . . If I showed them that I would do anything for my brother – including giving my life for my brother on the battlefield – and then they pick up their banner, and they go off and do what they do, that is not my responsibility. I don’t tell people what to do.’
Charlie then turned to the female defendants.
‘These children were finding themselves. What they did, if they did whatever they did, is up to them. They will have to explain that to you . . . It’s all your fear . . .You expect to break me? Impossible! You broke me years ago. You killed me years ago…I have killed no one and I have ordered no one to be killed. I may have implied on several different occasions to several different people that I may have been Jesus Christ, but I haven’t decided yet what I am or who I am . . . You can do anything you want with me, but you cannot touch me because I am only my love . . . If you put me in the penitentiary, that means nothing because you kicked me out of the last one. I didn’t ask to get released. I liked it in there because I like myself.’
Charlie then looked over to the chief prosecutor in the case.
‘Mr Bugliosi is a hard-driving prosecutor, polished education, a master of words, semantics. He is a genius. He has got everything that every lawyer would want to have except one thing: a case. He doesn’t have a case. Were I allowed to defend myself, I could have proven this to you . . . Helter Skelter is confusion. Confusion is coming down around you fast. If you can’t see the confusion coming down around you fast, you can call it what you wish . . . Is it a conspiracy that the music is telling the youth to rise up against the establishment because the establishment is rapidly destroying things? Is that a conspiracy? The music speaks to you every day, but you are too deaf, dumb, and blind to even listen to the music . . . It is not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says “Rise”, it says “Kill”. Why blame it on me? I didn’t write the music . . . .
I don’t recall ever saying “Get a knife and a change of clothes and go do what Tex says.” Or I don’t recall saying “Get a knife and go kill the sheriff.” In fact, it makes me mad when someone kills snakes or dogs or cats or horses. I don’t even like to eat meat – that is how much I am against killing . . .I haven’t got any guilt about anything because I have never been able to see any wrong . . . I have always said: Do what your love tells you, and I do what my love tells me . . .
Is it my fault that your children do what you do? What about your children? You say there are just a few? There are many, many more, coming in the same direction. They are running in the streets – and they are coming right at you!’
There was a brief silence. Judge Older, sensing that Manson had come to the end of his soliloquy, asked him if he wanted to add any more thoughts.
‘No. We’re all our own prisons, we are each all our own wardens and we do our own time. I can’t judge anyone else. What other people do is not really my affair unless they approach me with it. Prison’s in your mind . . . Can’t you see I’m free?’
On that note, Charlie brought his testimony to a close. Convinced that the rambling testimony was innocuous, Judge Older offered him the opportunity to repeat his statement to the jury. Manson was unmoved. ‘I have already relieved all the pressure I had,’ he said before leaving the witness stand to resume his seat. As he walked past his three co-defendants, all visibly weeping, he motioned to them and said, ‘You don’t have to testify now.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon Wells has written on film and music for numerous magazines and newspapers including The Guardian, The Times and The Independent. He is a regular contributor to Empire, Record Collector, Hotdog, TV Zone, Watch, Total Film, and The Beatles’ Book, the group’s official magazine. In addition to his writing credits, Simon has researched projects for the likes of the BBC, Channel Four, C5, Discovery Channel and Virgin Media, as well as broadcasting live on LBC, ITN and the BBC on film and music.
In 2001, Simon co-wrote Your Face Here- British Cult Movies Since the 1960s, which was published by Fourth Estate/Harper-Collins. During the summer of 2003, Simon was asked to curate a month-long season of classic 1960’s cult movies at the National Film Theatre in London. Simon is the author of the hugely successful The Beatles: 365 Days published by Abrams/Time Warner and has also written The Beatles in Japan, published by Tascam in June 2006, and The Rolling Stones: 365 Days published in November 2006. In July 2007, Simon wrote the screenplay for the documentary Don’t Knock Yourself Out, a visual history of The Prisoner television series. 2009 saw the release of Coming Down Fast, an exhaustive account of the Charles Manson “Family” saga published by Hodder & Stoughton. 2011 saw the publication by Omnibus Press of Butterfly On A Wheel, the story of the infamous trial of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in 1967. 2012 saw Simon writing the definitive story of Quadrophenia – The Who’s classic cult film and a project in collaboration with The Rolling Stones (due for publication in 2014) with Taschen. Simon’s first novel, The Tripping Horse was published in 2013 through Wholepoint Publications. 2015 sees the publication Eight Arms To Hold You – a celebration of The Beatles film Help! And 2017 sees the release of In Echoed Steps: The Jam: and the spirit of Albion, an exploration of the music and poetry of Paul Weller.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, March 6th, 2017.