Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Tex Watson’s Tapes May Hold Key to Unsolved Manson Family Murders

Charles Manson. Police photo.

The group popularly called the “Manson Family” is notorious for having members convicted of some of the most shocking murders in American history. The group’s titular leader, Charles Manson, and his “followers” Charles “Tex” Watson, the late Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel were all convicted of the August 8, 1969 murders of five people at the secluded Bel Air, Ca., home of filmmaker Roman Polanski who was away at the time. The five victims were Polanski’s heavily pregnant wife Sharon Tate who was a little-known but lovely actress, Steven Parent who had been visiting the caretaker for the Polanski estate, Hollywood hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress and volunteer social worker Abigail Folger, and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski. Manson, Watson, Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten were convicted in the August 9, 1969 murders of business owners Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. In addition to these slayings, people associated with the gang were convicted in the murders of musician and part-time drug dealer Gary Hinman and ranch worker and stunt actor Donald “Shorty” Shea. A total of nine murders are definitely connected to the Manson Family.

The former prosecutors of the Manson Family, writers on the case and other observers have long suspected that the group committed more murders. Recent events have led to renewed attention to this possibility.

On October 18, 2012, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it has open investigations into twelve unsolved homicides that the LAPD believes may be linked to the Manson Family. LAPD Commander Andrew Smith states that the twelve homicides occurred under “similar circumstances” and during “the same time period” that the Manson Family is known to have been active. These homicides also were committed in vicinities where Manson Family members are believed to have lived or traveled. Smith says, “We think there’s a chance that they may be related to the Manson Family.”

This revelation was made in the midst of a legal battle authorities are currently waging to obtain over eight hours of tape recorded conversations between the chief killer of the Tate-LaBianca victims, Charles “Tex” Watson, and his then-attorney, the late Bill Boyd. These tape recordings were made over forty year ago shortly after Watson’s arrest. The LAPD seeks to take the tapes from the custody of Texas bankruptcy trustee Linda Payne who received them upon Boyd’s death in 2009. Boyd’s law firm was liquidated as part of a bankruptcy proceeding following his death.

Usually such recordings would be off limits to law enforcement because of attorney-client privilege. However, after Boyd’s death, the LAPD learned that Watson had signed a document waiving attorney-client privilege for these recordings. He did so in order to allow the late Rev. Ray Hoekstra to hear them so he could use them to help in the writing of Watson’s memoirs, Will You Die For Me? That book made no mention of any other murders and Watson adamantly asserts that the recordings do not either. However, the LAPD believes it is possible other homicides are discussed in the tapes.

Tex Watson. Police photo.

Referring to the twelve unsolved homicides that law officers believe may have been committed by Manson associates, LAPD Commander Andy Smith said, “We have an obligation to the families of these victims. Our detectives need to listen to these tapes. The tapes might help with solving these murders.”

In March 2012, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck authored a request that the LAPD be allowed custody of the recordings. Beck wrote, “The LAPD has information that Mr. Watson discussed additional murders committed by followers of Charles Manson. . . . It is requested that the original recordings be given to the LAPD in order to determine if information regarding unsolved murders was included in the recordings. The LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division will be investigating Mr. Watson’s recordings.”

U. S. Bankruptcy Judge Brenda T. Rhoades signed an order in May 2012 that the recordings be given to the LAPD on June 14, 2012. However, Watson’s attorneys filed a motion, signed by Watson himself, requesting the court to “revise” that decision. In that motion, Watson proposed that LAPD officers be permitted to listen to the tape recordings but not allowed to take possession of them. Watson’s filing further asked that such listening be done “in the presence of the trustee or a court designated person.”

LAPD Commander Smith countered that such an arrangement would not be acceptable. Smith commented, “Just to sit down and listen with a lawyer in the room, that’s not really how our detectives get into the details.”

Watson states in the filing that he fears that if the LAPD receives possession of the tapes, media outlets could demand to obtain them through the Freedom of Information Act. Watson argues that media access to them “could be hurtful to the families of the victims.” He also claims that the use of the tapes to write Will You Die For Me? was done in such a manner as to “respect the victim’s [sic] families” and that he and Hoestra attempted “to show delicate consideration when sharing the graphic details of the crime.”

Attorney Kelly Puls, who is representing Watson, notes that a week prior to the LAPD’s first request for the tapes, Watson sent a letter to bankruptcy trustee Linda Payne asking that the entire file be sent to a cousin of Watson’s. Puls declared in a filing before the East Texas District Court that “a waiver of attorney-client privilege is not a waiver of property rights or privacy.” Puls elaborated that the efforts of the LAPD to obtain the tapes amount to an “unsubstantiated witch hunt.” The offer to allow LAPD officers to listen to the recordings providing the trustee or a court monitor was present does not appear in the motions filed by Puls. Puls also contends that allowing LAPD representatives to hear the tapes would violate Watson’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Tex Watson.

The LAPD then attempted to obtain the tapes through a search warrant. On October 9, 2012, U. S. District Judge Richard A. Schell in Texas granted Watson’s request for an emergency order that prevents police from executing that search warrant until the Bankruptcy Court resolves Watson’s appeal. In Schell’s decision, he stated, “The LAPD has provided no explanation as to why this court should shortcut the usual procedure for determining a bankruptcy appeal of a previous ruling in Bankruptcy Court.”

Commander Smith expressed dismay at Schell’s ruling. “The civil courts here are blocking a criminal investigation,” Smith remarked. “We don’t even have a date for when this will be resolved.”

Loyola Law School Professor Stan Goldman, who is also an attorney, believes that attorney-client privilege may still apply to the recordings even though Watson waived them for his co-writer Rev. Ray Hoekstra. Goldman states, “If this is still privileged . . . LAPD may not be able to get it.” However, Goldman also believes that the only way the Fifth Amendment argument might hold up is if Watson can persuade the courts that the LAPD is on a “fishing expedition” with no solid basis. Goldman thinks that if attorney-client privilege no longer applies to the material, “You can be forced to turn it over, if the government didn’t force you to record it.”

After the Tate-LaBianca murders, Manson and several people associated with him lived in the remote Barker Ranch that is located near Death Valley. Acting on suspicions that people had been murdered there and their remains buried, investigators spent two days in 2008 digging up several places in Barker Ranch. No human remains were found.

Watson, now 66, is currently imprisoned at the California Mule Creek State Prison that is located in the city of Ione in Amador County outside Sacramento. Watson last applied for parole in November 2011 and was turned down despite being a model prisoner.

Manson is now 77 and is imprisoned at the Corcoran State Prison. He is not considered a model prisoner and has not availed himself of prison programs oriented toward rehabilitation. He occasionally gives interviews to media outlets in which he often behaves in a clownish manner. Most observers believe he has no interest in being paroled.

One Manson Family member who very much wants to be paroled is Bruce Davis. Davis played no part in Tate-LaBianca but was convicted for participating with others in the murders of Hinman and Shea. During Davis’s imprisonment, he has earned master’s degrees in philosophy and religion through correspondence courses and become an ordained minister. On October 4, 2012, the day before Davis’s 70th birthday, a parole board recommended that he be paroled. Prison officials stated in a press release that the parole board decided as it did because of Davis’s “positive adjustment, record of no recent disciplinary problems, and for successfully completing academic and vocational education and self-help programs.”

However, Davis was previously recommended for release by a parole board but then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed their decision. Present California Governor Jerry Brown is still reviewing the decision as of this writing. It remains to be seen what that decision will be. It is also unknown as to whether or not the continuing investigation into Manson Family involvement in unsolved homicides will play any part in the future of Bruce Davis.

Charles Manson: Speaking From Inside

Sources on following page. 

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