It's Halloween. Since nothing major is going on in the news (at least not at the moment), I thought I'd take you on a small journey into the mystery and lore surrounding the Manson Family murders. It's also a journey into my youth.
My renewed interest in the Tate/LaBianca murders was sparked by this mind-bending interview with Jim DiEugenio
. Jim became interested in the Manson case while writing his superb book Reclaiming Parkland
, which (among many other things) details the life and times of famed attorney Vincent Bugliosi. Long story, that. Suffice it to say that I'm very glad that I did not vote for Bugliosi when he ran for office in 1976. (The long-forgotten tale of that election deserves a post of its own.)
Before proceeding, I should mention a couple of YouTube interviews which will take you well beyond the Bugliosi-approved version of the Manson Family crimes. Bottom line: A lot more went down than you'll ever learn from reading Helter Skelter
The first interview features Ed Sanders
, author of The Family
, which many consider the finest book on the case. In this dialogue, Sanders speaks of the surprising number of unsolved
murders linked to the Manson Family. Warning: The interviewer is "a human named Bill Nelson" (as Sanders might have phrased it), a noted authority on the case who happens to be very annoying. He can't help it. He just is
The other interview features a very intelligent and very strange personage named Nikolas Schreck, a musician and alleged Satanist-turned-Buddhist. After befriending Manson in prison, Schreck spent a number of years studying the murders. The interview comes in four parts: One
Schreck has written a book about the Manson case
which, unfortunately, comes at a very steep price. I probably won't read it until the updated edition finds its way into the American library system, because I've never paid more than $25 for a book in my life, and never will.
(Your humble host is a man of transcendental cheapness. Cheapness is just a kind of awareness, and awareness is just another form of love. Christ on the cross, the miser scrounging through sofa cushions for coins -- it's the same thing
Solve for X.
Schreck tracked down someone who was with Roman Polanski at the moment the filmmaker first received news of his wife's death. The name of this important source will be kept secret as long as the source lives. For now, Schreck refers to this man only as X, although we are also told that anyone with "half a brain" should be able to guess who X is.
At the time he received that horrifying telephone call from his agent, Polanski (according to Christopher Sandford's biography) was in London working on a script with two people: Michael Braun and producer Andrew Braunsberg
. Braun died
in 1997, so he is ruled out. Braunsberg released a documentary about Polanski
two years ago.
Therefore, Braunsberg is our leading candidate for X. As we shall see, he is not the only candidate.
Schreck reports that, according to X, Polanski said something very revealing and astounding right after he got the worst telephone call of his life. We are told that the director uttered these words: "I told Jay not to do business with those fuckers in Chatsworth."
("Jay" refers to Polanski's slain friend, hairstylist Jay Sebring. The Manson family lived in Chatsworth and dealt drugs.)
That one statement cuts Bugliosi's Helter Skelter
narrative into shreds.
We now know that Jay Sebring was not just
in the hairstyling business: One of his clients was Yul Brynner, who had as much need for a barber as I do (or Schreck does). The newer biographies of Sebring's close friend Steve McQueen confirm that Sebring was also in the drug trade. Actually, that fact should have been apparent to anyone who gave a careful reading to Ed Sanders' The Family
, written in 1971. (If you have any talent at all for reading between the lines, some important facts are encoded in the original text of that work.)
I've uncovered a data-shard which may relate to Schreck's claim. If you go here
, you'll see a newsclipping from November 20th, 1969 -- after
the murders but before
the police charged "the fuckers in Chatsworth" in the Tate/LaBianca killings The article features an interview with Gene Gutowski, another close Polanski associate who was working with him in London at the time of the murders. Gutowksi, still alive, must therefore be seen as another "X" candidate.
Mr. Gutowski told me he is convinced that the Los Angeles police know who the murderer is but through lack of evidence, cannot make an arrest.
Gutowski probably spoke of "murderers" in the plural. Some evidence suggests that the cops had reason to suspect "those fuckers in Chatsworth" early on.
And now for the personal stuff.
In previous posts I have spoken of my late "stepfather," whom I would prefer not to identify, although he was fairly well-known in certain circles. It seems that he knew Jay Sebring.
In 1969, we didn't have a lot of money; sometimes we had to stretch every dollar until George Washington screamed for mercy. Nevertheless, my stepfather insisted on using Frank Sinatra's hair stylist, who charged $50 a haircut -- a price then considered unthinkable. My stepfather said that he had no choice but to pay this outrageous price. He had special
hair, you see, and only one man in the universe could cut it.
After the crime, my stepfather seemed awfully
(As someone noted at the time, there were toilets flushing all over the Hollywood Hills after the death of Jay Sebring. Toilets also flushed down in the Valley.)
Almost exactly 45 years ago, when I was just a tyke (yet already determined to become an artist), I drew my first political cartoon: A picture of two policemen playing checkers. Mom asked what the drawing meant. I told her that it depicted the cops working on the Sharon Tate case. (At the time, everyone
was talking about the murders, and many people complained about what then seemed to be ridiculously slow progress.) My stepfather grimaced and left the room.
It is possible
that I have another personal link to the Tate murders. This possibility never occurred to me until yesterday, when I re-read the Sanders book.
Sharon Tate was killed on a zebra rug in her living room. If that rug was real
zebra, I may have once "creepy crawled" all over that very hide.
Let me explain.
Shortly after the death of my father (and by "shortly," I mean a timespan that would have shocked Hamlet), my Mom dated a fellow named DuGally, whose first name I can't recall. (Was he Belgian? That seems right...) He was, believe it or not, a big game hunter. He ran a shop called DuGally's Native Elegance, which sold rugs made from the skins of lions and tigers and leopards and zebras
An amazing place, that shop was. I still recall what those pelts felt like. (The only internet mention of DuGally's store is here
; in 1966, the shop was located not in Hollywood but in Beverly Hills, near La Cienega and Wishire, close to the theater where The Sound of Music
played its first run.) Although most people would now consider both DuGally and his establishment vile and disgusting, at the time I thought that lion-skin rugs -- with heads!
-- were incredibly cool.
Did Polanski (or his landlord) buy that zebra rug from DuGally? Impossible to know, but there weren't many other entrepreneurs who sold such items to the Hollywood crowd. If DuGally was
the provider, chances are good that I lounged on that very piece of carcass, whiling away the time with Superman
comics while a politically-incorrect Belgian chatted up my recently-widowed mother. This may not be a story to be proud of, but it is what happened.
But that's not all.
I also have vivid memories of hiking around the rocky hills near the Spahn movie ranch. My first visits occurred well before the murders, at the very time when Charlie and his gang moved into the area. The place oozed with freakiness.
The red rocks above and around Chatsworth Park made a remarkable impression on everyone who visited them -- and the Manson gang were not the only freaks to be found in that locale, not by a long shot. In 1990, in a place not far from the Spahn ranch, the body of a UCLA student was found. He was allegedly killed by occultists. A few days after the murder, I visited the exact location, and I saw...
Well, I'll have to tell my weird tales of Chatsworth Park another time. Perhaps later today. Right now, the caffeine is finally wearing off and bed beckons.
In the meantime, let's embed the video interviews referenced above. These interviews are riveting stuff. If you know the Manson affair only from the book or film versions of Helter Skelter
, prepare for more than a few shocks.
(You may want to download the small-sized 3gp files and transfer the audio to MP3, which will allow you to listen to these interviews on your iPod or other personal audio device. Freemake Video Converter
will do the job nicely.)