Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Groupies

Pied Pipers

Charles Schmid
Charles Schmid
One might think from his strange habit of wearing make-up, from being so short, and from stuffing newspapers and crushed tin cans into his boots for height that Charles Schmid, 23, would hardly be a draw to girls, and yet he was. He tended to hang out with high school kids and because of his age and apparent street knowledge, he attracted a small following. He kept the allegiance of his girlfriends by giving them cheap gifts. Perhaps in his Tucson, Ariz., neighborhood, there wasn't much else going on, so a guy who "knew things" might be a good foil for boredom. But Schmid wasn't content with mere admiration. He wanted control...and much more.

On the night of May 15, 1964, he persuaded John Saunders and Mary Rae French to go with him while he raped and killed Alleen Rowe in the desert. He buried her there in the sand and even bragged about it afterward, but no one reported it. Since he got away with it, he felt even more powerful and important.

The following summer, he strangled two young girls and buried them out in the desert as well. Once again, he had to prove it to someone. But when he showed his buddy Richard Bruns what he had done, Bruns turned him in and Schmid was arrested. Dubbed by the press as "the Pied Piper of Tucson," he inspired many questions about how such an eccentric character could attract girls the way he did. Joyce Carol Oates even based a short story on it, attempting to understand the allure of such a man from the girl's point of view. It seemed that young girls could be easily persuaded to go along with what they themselves knew was not a good person. In fact, Newton writes that girls flocked to his trial.

Charles Manson
Charles Manson
About four years later, another short man with odd ways had a similar effect, and he used it to get his collection of groupies to kill for him. His name was Charles Manson.

On July 31, 1969, musician Gary Hinman, 34, was stabbed to death by several people who lived with Manson on an old movie ranch outside Los Angeles. On August 9, at the home of film director Roman Polanski, five people were slaughtered in a blood-drenched spree, including Polanski's eight-months-pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate. Then, just a day later, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were murdered in their home in a similar style.

Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel
Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins and
Patricia Krenwinkel

In October, a young woman named Susan Atkins confessed to the crimes, gleefully taking credit for her involvement. That led police to her associates, and they arrested Atkins, as well as Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, a drifter called "Tex," and Manson, their supposed leader. During the investigation, documented by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi in his book, Helter Skelter, the motive for the killings eluded prosecutors for a while, and even when they discovered it, no one could believe it.

Manson had a philosophy that blacks would rise up against whites, but they needed an instigator such as himself to get the "revolution" started. He used his followers as an extension of himself. Throughout the trial, Bugliosi's team wondered how this skinny, bizarre man had managed to acquire so many female disciples, some of whom demonstrated outside the courtroom and shaved their heads when he did, and some of whom claimed they would kill or die for him.

Helter Skelter
Helter Skelter
The answer appeared to be that he had rescued them from lives on the streets, made them feel loved, and gave them a sense of purpose by making them believe that they were a part of something larger. He also plied them with food and philosophical dogmas until they viewed him as a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. By committing murder, they were doing something "good."

In January 1971, the jury convicted Manson and two of the girls, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, of seven counts of first-degree murder. Leslie Van Houten was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, and in a separate trial, "Tex " Watson was convicted for his part.

Lynette Fromme
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme
But it didn't stop there. Manson still had "family" on the outside, and in 1975, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme attempted without success to assassinate President Gerald Ford. She got life in prison.

To explain the bizarre events in which the Manson cult was involved, Bugliosi set out to show that the three girls who committed the murders possessed a syndrome of rage prior to their encounter with Manson, which he unleashed. Each had some inner flaw that Manson had exploited. He made them fall in love to the point where they would do anything for him.

In Mass Murder, Jack Levin and James Allen Fox offer the analysis of psychiatrist Clara Livesey, who stated that Manson operated in a way similar to other cult leaders, using his unique charisma to manipulate his followers. He developed in them a belief that he was invincible, even supernatural, and was aligned with Christ. While they may not have had violence in mind when they joined the cult, they became part of a group mind, attuned and responsive only to Manson. It wasn't much of a step for them to go out on his orders and kill.

How do people become so devoted to dangerous men? Let's look at some of the theories.



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