Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Manson: Speaking from Inside

Digging Up Doubts

Charles Manson in 1978.
Charles Manson in 1978.
Other sources have cast doubt on either Manson's role in the murders or on the "Helter Skelter" motive or on both. Susan Atkins' 1977 autobiography, Child of Satan, Child of God, states that the murders were committed at Manson's instigation but denies they were motivated by what she appropriately calls the "grandiose" belief that they would trigger a race war. Atkins says Mansonwanted them committed as copycat crimes, meant to resemble the murder of musician Gary Hinman for which Bobby Beausoleil was in jail. The motive was to mislead police into thinking the murderer of Hinman was still at large so they would release Beausoleil.

Much more recently, Atkins' widower, James Whitehouse, put her essay, "The Shattered Myth of 'Helter Skelter,'" on a website. Whitehouse writes that the purpose of the essay is "to dispel the misconceptions about the case and make it less of a subject of obsession to some misdirected young people."

Atkins wrote that she believed that the Helter Skelter motive depicted the murders as a "diabolical attempt to start Armageddon spawned by the mind of a Super Villain" and led to an unhealthy "aggrandizement" of the perpetrators. She hoped to persuade the public that the true motives behind the crimes were boring.

She claims Manson ordered the murders but reiterates that they were committed to free Bobby Beausoleil. This was not out of concern for Beausoleil but because Manson feared that the jailed Beausoleil would try to plea bargain by offering to inform on Manson.

While Beausoleil, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner were holding Hinman in his own home and threatening him in an effort to extract money from him, Manson and associate Bruce Davis came to the house. In an effort to intimidate Hinman, Manson sliced Hinman's ear with a sword.

Previous to this incident, Manson had shot drug dealer Bernard Crowe during an altercation. That altercation had been precipitated by a drug deal between Crowe and Tex Watson in which Crowe said Watson had failed to pay money owed. Manson believed he had killed Crowe who had actually survived.

According to Atkins' essay, Manson feared Beausoleil would tell police that he had assaulted Hinman and/or that he had killed Crowe.

Tex Watson's 1978 autobiography, Will You Die For Me?  differs from both the prosecution's and Atkins's accounts in the motives given. He claims the group hoped to trigger Helter Skelter and  that they hoped the murders would free Beausoleil. He also gives a third motive -- simple robbery -- for the murders. The bungling bunch failed in this most realistic goal as they left valuables and money behind when they exited the residences.

A book entitled Charles Manson NOW  by Marlin Marynick was published in 2010. It focuses on the author's relationship with Manson and Manson 's life behind bars.

When Marynick was eight years old his mother committed suicide by shooting herself. The tragedy led to young Marlin's interest in psychology and, as an adult, his work as a psychiatric nurse.

One day Marynick surfed eBay and discovered an advertisement for postcards from Charles Manson. He contacted the seller, a man named Donald Taylor, who had made friends with Manson. In their correspondence, Manson had sent Taylor postcards and written letters to him. He allowed Marynick to examine several of the letters.

Marynick was struck by the "lyricism" of Manson's writings. The psychiatric nurse's experience did not allow him to dismiss them as "the products of sheer insanity" although he saw evidence of mental disorder in them.

Marynick recalled how he first learned about Manson. Marynick had "discovered a beat up copy of Helter Skelter" when he was ten. Like so many readers of that book, he was fascinated by its depiction of Manson as a charismatic madman who convinced his "followers" to murder for him.

The author of the letters Marynick examined did not fit the image. Marynick observes, "I had assumed that anything written by Charles Manson would be written out of anger. But as I read through the stack of letters, I was shocked to find no trace of the fury I had come to associate with the notorious face."

Months after viewing these letters, Marynick received a letter from a Corcoran prison inmate. That inmate identified himself as Manson's friend and said he had gotten Marynick's address from the eBay seller. Marynick told this inmate he wanted to hear from Manson.

Manson began making collect phone calls to Marynick who found the infamous inmate "sometimes engaging, sometimes defiant, sometimes both. He could be funny, candid, even vulnerable."

Marynick's book states that in his research, he talked to a source who cast doubt on both the Helter Skelter motive and Manson's role in the murders. Filmmaker and Manson memorabilia collector John Aes-Nihil believes Charles "Tex" Watson, whom the prosecution called the "chief killer" of the Tate-LaBianca victims, met Jay Sebring, the prominent Hollywood hairdresser who was one of those murdered in the Tate massacre, through the hairdressing business.

There are other sources stating that Watson had been involved in hairdressing. It is reported on the About.com website that soon after Watson came to California, he "took a job as a wig salesman." The same article notes that "he and his roommate opened a wig shop called Love Locs" that soon folded.

According to Marynick's book, Aes-Nihil believes Watson may have known Voytek Frykowski, the Polish actor who was killed at Sharon Tate's house, through drug dealing. They also believe Watson committed the Tate murders on his own initiative because he had been burned in a drug deal by one of the victims.

Aes-Nihil believes that Watson murdered the LaBiancas because of previous friction with them. At trial, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi brought out that Watson and others had partied at the house of LaBianca next-door neighbor Harold True. This, says Aes-Nihil, led Watson to problems with the LaBiancas and culminated in their murders.

In an email to the writer, Beausoleil said he believes the LaBiancas were killed because "they had once called the cops" on the partiers. In a letter to the writer, Manson stated, "Yes Tex . . . was a Hollywood playboy. . . He well may of known them people. He knew a lot of Santa Monica people and Malibu people."

Perhaps most memorable for Marynick is his meeting with the imprisoned Manson. Marynick states, "He was there, just as I rounded the corner." Manson looked up with "a genuine smile." Marynick recalls his eerie sensation as he was "seated across from the man who once gave me nightmares."

According to Marynick, the swastika on Manson's forehead is "not carved into his head as is so often reported" but is a "dark green tattoo." Manson explained that he was the most hated man in the world so he identified with the world's most hated symbol.

The five hour visit ended and Marynick left his visit with the boogeyman of his childhood nightmares with a sense that the "world felt wide open."

Manson is undoubtedly the cause of many nightmares and regarded by most of the public as evil incarnate. However, "Devil's Advocate" Di Stefano contends, "Manson has been made out in America to be the Satan of the criminal justice system. He does not deserve the title."

As of this writing, Di Stefano has not yet made the suggested clemency appeal to the California Governor.

It remains to be seen if anything may come of the efforts of the "Devil's Advocate" to change the legal situation of the notorious Charles Manson.

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