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Friday, October 31, 2014

Growing up in Manson country: Part one of a rambling memoir

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, two, three and four.

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, man!)

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.

Challenge accepted!

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 nervous.

(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.)

The Schreck book is online at Scribd if you want it.

Didn't Sebring and Tate have another dealer whipped, videoing the action?

Vile how Manson has become an 'American hero' for some.

On clowns: a French town bans them.
sI made a cursory review of the books by Sanders and Schreck. It seems that the big revelation was that there were drugs in Hollywood in the 1960s. OMG!!!! I think the more interesting question is why Manson had any followers at all. I mean, what is it about the psychology of a person that would allow him or her to follow a lunatic.
Scribd has the original Amok Press version of "The Manson File," published in the early 1990s, if memory serves. The volume has some value but the rewrite is several times larger and contains the alleged revelations from source X and others. I think Schreck may be rewriting the thing again; you'll have to ask him for the straight scoop.

Schreck's original work on Manson led to the hero-worship fad, which even Schreck now seems to think was puerile. You know kids: They have to go through a "shock the bourgeoisie" phase. That fad led to annoying screaming matches between the pro-Manson puerility-spewers and the anti-Manson Holy Joe types who thought that they were taking a bold new stance when they announced to the world that Charles Manson Was Bad.

This inane screaming match drowned out any attempt to debate the stuff I consider important. Namely: If Helter Skelter was not the motive for the mruders, then what WAS? Why did California Attorney General Evelle Younger (FBI, OSS and allegedly CIA) contrive to give the case to Bugliosi? And -- most importantly -- what's the real story with those other murders?
small-j Joseph: WHich version of the Schreck book did you deal with? Also, you should listen to the DiEgunio interview if you want to go further.

The big revelation is not just that Hollywooders did drugs but that the drug scene was, to some extent, protected. You should look up a couple of interviews with a former cop named Preston Guillory, who knew that the cops had a "hands off" stance toward Manson. Remember, Manson did what he did while on parole -- and no matter how many times he was arrested during that period, no matter how many times he was pulled over, no matter how many underaged girls he seduced (some as young as 13), no matter how many times the neighbors complained -- Manson was never in danger of prison.

(If you scour the net, you can find an interview he gave at the time, and you can also find one he gave quite recently.)

It's also important to note a huge shift took place during this period. Previously, the mafia kept drugs relegated to the black community. (The first Godfather film includes a scene based on an actual meeting.) In the late 1960s, that all changed -- drugs were being sold to rich white people. Naturally, corpses started to show up in the canyon communities around L.A. It was like Chicago in the 20s, but nobody was willing to admit what was really going on.

As for Manson's secret -- it was simple: 1. He dispensed lots of drugs. 2. He told girls who lacked self-esteem that they were beautiful. 3. He fucked them while telling them that he was their father. 4. Lots more drugs. 5. He used the girls to recruit the guys.
Why at that time? Was the timing to do with Woodstock? Hippie rebel longhair freak seguing into that plus psychokiller? What influence did the killings have in which markets? If more youngsters got into 'shocking the bourgeoisie' (or was it their parents?) rather than opposing the said bourgeoisie more intelligently,...great for some.
I think a wider pattern emerges with this story. I read Helter Skelter when I was 14, and bought every part of it. What I do find interesting, is that the murders were indeed violent, which reminded me of the deaths chronicled by Robert Saviano in 'Gomorah'. They were violent, as it is the mob's way of saying, you mess with us, this is what happens to you. I also find it interesting that Vinnie (Bugliosi) also penned that terrible book on JFK - which you've already mentioned is extremely suspect. Who was he protecting with writing that? Which next brings me to Gary Webbs' book, 'Dark Alliance'. Drugs were sold to raise funds for CIA / government operations. So now we have a total circle, CIA, the MOB, shitloads of untraceable cash and and establishment wishing to keep things looking 'pure and innocent'. There are a number of interests at hand here, none of which is beyond lying, murder and smearing anyone who gets near the facts.


Would that Manson's secret was that simple. In fact the messianic leader as murderer, or one who convinces his followers tp murder, has occurred more than once. Jeffrey Lundgren, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Shoko Asahara, even Brigham Young and the Mountain Meadow Massacre. That list doesn't include the many false messiahs who convinced followers to abandon reason and engage in activities that, while short of murder, were nonetheless not in the followers interest. Sabbatao Tzvo. Aldebetty, and Eudo de Stella are but three. There is an interesting, bizarre dynamic at work in these messianic leader and follower relationship. Most books focus on the leaders. I think the followers are at least as interesting.

By the way, to whom precisely is Manson a hero? I suppose there are some who view Gacy or Dahmer as heroes but they are only a function of the size of the American public. I mean there are probably some Japanese that see Asahara as a hero but they too are as nutty and goofy as those who see Manson as a hero.
So Vincent Bugliosi writes a book on JFK and one on Manson. DiEuginio simply shreds Bugliosi's credibility on each of them. That interview is devastating.
I don't know the answer to the "precisely" question (I live in Britain), but it's more than just a function of US population size. Here, while there are T-shirts praising the Kray twins I've never seen any praising Ian Brady, much as that psychokiller presents himself as some kind of existentialist hero. US has got a proportionally bigger kid problem than most countries. I just read a book on advertising. Is it true that it's the kids in the US who make the family purchasing decisions where breakfast cereals are concerned?
Not just the breakfast cereals. McDonald's markets to children because they determine most of the family meal choices. In America nobody wants to be an actual adult.

This comment by Jim DiEugenio in the interview...

"Ronald Hughes, who, who had a, sustained some kind of accident, and, when he was on vacation the weekend before the summations were to begin, and so he didn't show up in court." quite an understatement.
Thanks for the Ed Sanders interview. I always preferred his book over Helter Skelter. Sanders' melancholic tone reveals how deeply his investigation into these matters disturbed him, and his empathetic response to Mrs Tate is genuine and rarely seen in media discourse these days. He describes his own reasons for jumping into this story early in his book.

Peter Levenda also takes up the Manson issue in his trilogy "Sinister Forces". Levenda wonders if there wasn't a secret program tied to MK-ULTRA which attempted to "weaponize" serial killers. His book covers the esoteric threads underlying contemporary history.
The Dieugenio interview was really, really good.

More on your thoughts about the case please!

It took a while, but I listened to all the interviews. So it was a botched drug robbery that ended in unplanned slaughter. Makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense that the FBI and LAPD would want to cover their screw ups. And it makes sense that the powers that be might have an interest in not lifting the lid on the long established Hollywood underworld.

So many different accounts, and people's stories changed over time. But that makes sense with so many different individuals protecting their own interests or trying to cover for Charlie. But for Bugliosi to build and prosecute such a case based on a fantasy and nobody called him on it? Nobody? Such a famous high profile trial? Pretty amazing.

And forty-five years later Bugliosi writes a book about the JFK assassination that supports the massive cover up which surrounded that murder. So strange.

And in the bigger context, the Manson case wasn't just about small time criminals and the mafia. The Manson affair took down the youth movement. Just poisoned it. That was no small matter. The case would have been a gift to the right people who recognized its potential, and were practiced in the arts of psych-ops.
I listened to the "interview" with DiEugenio (was more like a monologue). Quite entertaining. This level of prosecutorial corruption would be notable if it were not so common on the big cases (RFK being the most shocking to me). But at no point does DiEugenio ever touch on the subject of what Manson himself presented as the motivation or circumstance of the murders. Quite strikingly, the wikipedia page on the subject also does not present Manson's perspective. Does he have one? Has he ever said something about the Helter Skelter scenario as presented by Bugliosi? I'm asking from a position of almost complete ignorance on the case.
This was written a long time ago and I'm not sure if you're still interested in solving for X but I think your alternative possibility is correct. On 11 August, 1969, The Bridgeport Post out of CT ran an article titled, "Suspect Link to 2nd Crime Questionable." Here is an excerpt from that article:
"Roman was with me when the terrible news arrived," said Gene Gutowski, a business partner who flew with him from London. "He told me: 'They have killed my wife and baby.' He then broke down."
Thanks. Actually I have since confirmed that Gutowski is Shreck's source. Both men are quiet now. I wonder why?

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