He Was No Hippie: Remembering Manson, Prison, Scientology, and Mind Control

News & Politics

When Charles Manson was a prison inmate, he got introduced to Scientology by fellow prisoners, and his ability to psych out people was intensified so that he could zero in on their weaknesses and fears. In 1967, he was released and went to the Scientology Center in San Francisco. A friend who accompanied him there told me, “Charlie said to them, 'I'm Clear – what do I do now?'”

But they expected him to sweep the floor – shit, he had done that in jail. However, in Los Angeles, he went to the Scientology Celebrity Center. Now this was more like it – there he could mingle with the elite. I was able to obtain a copy of the original log entry: “7/31/68, new name, Charlie Manson, Devt. No address. In for processing = Ethics = Type III.” The receptionist – who, by Type III, meant “psychotic” – sent him to the Ethics office but he never showed up.

At the Spahn Ranch, Manson combined his version of Scientology auditing with post-hypnotic techniques he had learned in prison, with geographical isolation and subliminal motivation, with sing-along sessions and encounter games, with LSD and mescaline, with transactional analysis and brainwashing rituals, with verbal probing and sexual longevity that he had practiced upon himself for all those years in the privacy of his cell. He was also raped by fellow inmates.

Ultimately, in August 1969, he sent his well-programmed “family” off to slay actress Sharon Tate, some friends, and her unborn baby. Tate's husband, film director Roman Polanski, was in London at the time. A few months later, when the family members were captured and charged with homicides, Manson was portrayed by the media as a hippie cult leader, and the counterculture became a dangerous enemy. Hitchhikers were shunned. Communes were raided. In the public's mind, flower children had grown poisonous thorns. But Manson was never really a hippie.

He had grown up behind bars. His real family included con artists, pimps, drug dealers, thieves, muggers, rapists, and murderers. He had known only power relationships in an army of control junkies. Indeed, Charlie Manson was America's Frankenstein monster, a logical product of the prison system – racist, paranoid, and violent – even if hippie astrologers thought that his fate had been predetermined because he was a triple Scorpio.

Now, on their black-painted bus, they visited the Hog Farm commune were all in a circle, chanting “Om,” which somehow caused the visiting Manson to start choking and gagging, so his family began counter-chanting “Evil.” It was an archetypal confrontation. Charlie even tried to get Hugh [later Wavy Gravy] Romney's wife, Bonnie Jean, in exchange for one of his girls. But they finally left, mission unaccomplished.

Manson had convinced himself and his family that the Beatles' songs – “Helter Skelter” and “Blackbird” – were actually harkening a race war, which he wanted to hasten by leaving clues to make it appear that black militants had done the killing. Stolen credit cards were deliberately thrown away in a black neighborhood. Healter (sic) Skelter was scrawled with a victim's blood on the refrigerator, and the word WAR was scratched onto a victim's stomach.

Roman Polanski put a $10,000 contract out on Manson's life.

Meanwhile, Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver was still on the lam. He had gone from Cuba to Algeria. Having been arrested for possession of marijuana, Timothy Leary escaped from prison to Algeria with the help of the Weather Underground, only to be imprisoned by his host, Cleaver. Leary escaped from Cleaver’s clutches only to be arrested by American agents and taken back to the States, then put in solitary confinement at Folsom prison, in a cell right next to Manson's. The two “hole-mates” couldn't see each other, but they could talk. Manson didn't understand why Leary had given people acid without trying to control them.

“They took you off the streets,” Manson explained, “so that I could continue with your work.”

*   *   *

Coincidentally, as I was diving into my Manson research, I received a letter from Charlie himself. He had seen in prison a copy of The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog, co-edited by Ken Kesey and me. During the trial, I had published an apocryphal piece in The Realist about Manson’s stay at Boys Town: “Charles Manson Was My Bunkmate” by Richard Meltzer. A defense attorney read it to Manson and he got pissed off. He complained, “You know how long I stayed in Boys Town? Two days!”

In response to his letter, I mentioned that the article had been intended only as a satire of media exploitation. He replied: “Yes, brother, the world is a satire and I did see all sides of your story, ‘Charlie's Bunkmate.’ But I think in Now with no cover. Most people take into their minds bad thoughts and call it joking. Some lie and call it funny. I don't lie.” Shades of Trump.

In pursuit of information, I visited Warren Hinckle. He was my editor at Ramparts, and after that folded, at Scanlan's, which also folded, but he had been planning to publish an article on the Manson case in Scanlan's, and now he brought me to former FBI agent William Turner, who had checked out Doris Day. The only connection she could possibly have with the Manson case was that her son, record producer Terry Melcher, had met Charlie and was interested in his music, and that Melcher was a former tenant of the Beverly Hills mansion where the massacre took place. Aha! I realized that could be the focal point of my satire – a torrid affair between Doris Day and Charlie Manson – a perfect metaphor for the coming together of the image and underbelly of Hollywood. Just for the hell of it, I wrote to Manson and asked if he ever had sex with Doris Day.

His reply: “Yes, and I also f**ked [the Hollywood dog actor] Rin-Tin-Tin and the Virgin Mary.”

I continued to absorb whatever details I could find out about the Manson case. A prison psychiatrist at San Quentin told me of an incident he had observed during Manson's trial. A black inmate said to Manson, “Look, I don't wanna know about your theories on race, I don't wanna hear anything about religion, I just wanna know one thing – how'd you get them girls to obey you like that?”

Manson replied, “I got a knack.”

Hinckle also brought me to the renowned private investigator Hal Lipset, who informed me that not only did the Los Angeles Police Department seize pornographic films and videotapes that they found in Sharon Tate's loft, but also that certain members of the LAPD were selling them. Lipset had talked with one police source who told him exactly which porn flicks were available – a total of seven hours' worth for a quarter-million dollars. Lipset began reciting a litany of porn videos. The most notorious was Greg Bautzer, an attorney for Howard Hughes, with Jane Wyman, the former wife of then-Governor Ronald Reagan. There was Sharon Tate with Dean Martin. There was Sharon with Steve McQueen. There was Sharon with two black bisexual men.

Lipset recalled, “The cops weren't too happy about that one.”

He told me there was a videotape of Cass Elliot from the Mamas and the Papas in an orgy with actors Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers, and Warren Beatty –  Brynner and Sellers, together with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, had offered a $25,000 reward for the capture of the killers..

I had felt that there was some connection between Charlie's executioners and their victims before the murders took place. I finally tracked down a reporter who told me that when she was hanging around with L.A. police, they showed her a porn video of killer Susan Atkins and victim Voytek Frykowski, even though, according to the myth, they had never met until the night of the massacre.

But apparently the reporter mentioned the wrong victim, because when I asked Manson directly – “Did Susan sleep with Frykowski?” – he replied: “You are ill advised and misled. [hairdresser victim Jay] Sebring done Susan's hair and I think he sucked one or two of her dicks. I'm not sure who she was walking out from her stars and cages, that girl loves dick, you know what I mean, hon. Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers . . .”

I came across Billy Doyle's name in Ed Sander’s book, The Family. Doyle was Cass Elliot’s boyfriend. He was also the drug connection for two of the victims, Voytek Frykowski and his girlfriend, coffee heiress Abigail Folger. Sanders wrote:

Sometime during [the first week in August] a dope dealer from Toronto named Billy Doyle was whipped and video-buggered at [the Tate residence]. In the days before his death, Sebring had complained to a receptionist at his hair shop that someone had burned him for $2,000 worth of cocaine and he wanted vengeance. Billy Doyle was involved in a large-scale dope-import operation involving private planes from Jamaica.

And Dennis Hopper was quoted in the Los Angeles Free Press:

They had fallen into sadism and masochism and bestiality – and they recorded it all on videotape too. The L.A. police told me this. I know that three days before they were killed, twenty-five people were invited to that house to a mass whipping of a dealer from Sunset Strip who’d given them bad dope.

Naturally, Billy Doyle felt it was rude of Sebring and Frykowski to tie him to a chair, whip him, and then f**k him in the ass while a video camera taped the proceedings before a live audience. When folksinger Phil Ochs and Yippie Jerry Rubin visited Manson in jail, Ochs asked him if he knew Doyle. Manson, who had been quite glib up to that point, flinched, then hesitated, and said, “No.”

Police investigators eliminated Doyle as a suspect in the murders. However, on the Friday evening just a few hours before the massacre took place, Joel Rostau – the boyfriend of Sebring's receptionist and an intermediary in a cocaine ring – visited Sebring and Frykowski at the Tate house, to deliver mescaline and coke. During the Manson trial, several associates of Sebring were murdered, including Rostau, whose body was found in the trunk of a car in New York. So it appeared that the Manson family had actually served as some sort of hit squad for a drug ring.

Voytek Frykowski's father had financed Roman Polanski's first film. He and Abigail Folger, were staying at the Polanski residence. She was paying the rent and supplying him with the money for their daily drug supplies. In July 1969, Billy Doyle promised Frykowski a new synthetic drug, MDA, made in Canada. I had tried MDA a few times – it felt like a combination of mescaline and amphetamine, acting as an extraordinary energizer and, if you were with the right person, a powerful aphrodisiac. The plan was for Frykowski to become the American distributor of MDA. He was hoping to sell a screenplay, but it's always nice to have something to fall back on.

Peter Folger was the coffee tycoon whose daughter Abigail had been one of the victims. She supported Tom Bradley as the first black candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, despite the objection of her father, who had a reputation as a fierce racist. While Ed Sanders was researching his Manson book, he received a Mafia kiss from a lawyer for Peter Folger.

Within a week after the murders, there was a dawn raid on the Spahn Ranch, with a grand-theft-auto search warrant. The Manson group had been stealing Volkswagens and turning them into dune buggies. Manson and four family members – Linda Kasabian, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie van Houten – were arrested, then released in three days. But, while they were in confinement, Atkins told her cellmate about the murders, and when the cellmate was released, she informed the Los Angeles police.

By this time, Manson and the others had moved to another ranch in Death Valley, where they were arrested again. Preston Guillory, a former deputy sheriff at the Malibu Sheriff’s Department, aided the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in the original raid of the Spahn Ranch. Guillory had participated in that raid, and I interviewed him at an apartment in San Francisco. He stated:

We had been briefed for a few weeks prior to the actual raiding of Spahn Ranch. We had a sheaf of memos on Manson, that they had automatic weapons at the ranch, that citizens had complained about hearing machine-guns fired at night, that firemen from the local fire station had been accosted by armed members of Manson’s band and told to get out of the area, all sorts of complaints like this.

We had been advised to put anything relating to Manson on a memo submitted to the station, because they were supposedly gathering information for the raid we were going to make. Deputies at the station of course started asking, “Why aren’t we going to make the raid sooner?” I mean, Manson’s a parole violator, machine-guns have been heard, we know there’s narcotics and we know there’s booze. He’s living at the Spahn Ranch with a bunch of minor girls in complete violation of his parole.

Deputies at the station quite frankly became very annoyed that no action was being taken about Manson. My contention is this – the reason Manson was left on the street was because our department thought that he was going to attack the Black Panthers. We were getting intelligence briefings that Manson was anti-black and he had supposedly killed a Black Panther, the body of which could not be found, and the department thought that he was going to launch an attack on the Black Panthers.

Manson was a very ready tool, apparently, because he did have some racial hatred and he wanted to vent it. But they hadn’t anticipated him attacking someone other than the Panthers, which he did. Manson changed his score. Changed the program at the last moment and attacked the Tates and then went over to the LaBiancas and killed them. And here was the Sheriff’s Department suddenly  wondering, “Jesus Christ, what are we gonna do about this? We can’t cover this up. Well, maybe we can.”

I bet those memos are no longer in existence. The memos about what Manson was doing. Citizens’ complaints. All those things I’m sure have disappeared by now. It shows the police were conscious of the fact that he had these weapons in violation of his parole. You’ve got at least involvement here on the part of Manson’s parole officer, on the part of the Sheriff’s Department, probably the sheriff himself, and whoever gave him his orders. Manson should have been [imprisoned] long before the killings, because he was on parole, period. He was living at the Spahn Ranch with an outlaw motorcycle gang. I feel that, to say the least, the sheriff of Los Angeles County is an accessory to murder.

The raid was a week after the Sharon Tate thing, and the intelligence information was coming in for about three weeks prior to the raid. They just didn’t want any arrests made. It was obvious they wanted the intelligence information we were gathering for some other reason. Three days after they were arrested, seventy-two hours later, they were all released – lack of evidence – after this mammoth raid. This raid involved two helicopters, 102 deputies and about twenty-five radio cars, and all the charges were dropped against everyone.

It appeared to me that the raid was more or less staged as an afterthought. It was like a scenario that we were going through. There was some kind of a grand plan that we were participating in, but I never had the feeling the raid was necessary or that it required so many personnel. Now, if you were a police official and you were planning a raid on the Spahn Ranch, utilizing 102 deputies and helicopters and all that, one would think that with all the information coming out a month prior to the raid, wouldn’t you have them under fairly close surveillance? If you did have them under fairly close surveillance, wouldn’t you see them leave the Spahn Ranch to go over and kill seven people and then come back?

So the hypothesis I put forward is, either we didn’t have them under surveillance for grand-theft-auto because it was a big farce, or else they were under surveillance by somebody much higher than the Sheriff’s Department, and they did go through this scenario of killing at the Tate house and then come back, and then we went through the motions to do our raid. Either they were under surveillance at the time, which means somebody must have seen them go to the Tate house and commit the killings, or else they weren’t under surveillance.

You have to remember that Charlie was on federal parole all this time from ’67 to ’69. Do you realize all the shit he was getting away with while he was on parole? Now here’s the kicker. Before the Tate killings, he had been arrested at Malibu twice for statutory rape. Never got [imprisoned for parole violation]. During the Tate killings and the Spahn Ranch raid, Manson’s parole officer was on vacation, so he had no knowledge of Manson being incarcerated, so naturally Manson was released, but why wasn’t a parole hold put on him?

It’s like Manson had God on his side when all these things are going down, or else somebody was watching every move he made, somebody was controlling from behind the scenes. Somebody saw that no parole hold was placed. Manson liked to ball young girls, so he just did his thing and he was released and they didn’t put any hold on him. But somebody very high up was controlling everything that was going on and was seeing to it that we didn’t bust Manson.

Prior to the Spahn Ranch raid, there was a memo – it was verbal, I would have loved to Xerox some things but there wasn’t anything to Xerox – that we weren’t to arrest Manson or any of his followers prior to the raid. It was intimated to us that we were going to make a raid on the Spahn Ranch, but the captain came out briefly and said, “No action is to be taken on anybody at the Spahn Ranch. I want memos submitted directly to me with a cover sheet so nobody else can read them.” So deputies were submitting memos on information about the Spahn Ranch that other deputies weren’t even allowed to see. We were to submit intelligence information but not to make any arrests. Manson was in a free fire zone, so to speak. He was living a divine existence. We couldn’t touch him.

And so it was that the presence of racism had morphed the Sheriff’s Department into collaborators in a mass murder. But who was the higher-up that gave them the order to leave Manson alone? I was certainly prepared to believe that’s what occurred. I had been gathering piece after piece of a mind-boggling jigsaw puzzle, trying to make them all fit snugly into one big cohesive picture, but without having any model to pattern it after.

Tex Watson, the Manson family member who led the others on the night of the massacre, had played a bigger part in planning the massacre than generally believed. Charlie had instructed the girls to do whatever Tex told them. When Manson was charged, Watson was also charged, but federal authorities held Watson in a Texas prison with no explanation – not even his own lawyers were allowed to see him – while Vincent Bugliosi prosecuted the Manson trial in California.

In order to find Manson guilty, the jury had to be convinced that Charlie's girls were zombies who followed his orders without question. However, in order to find Watson guilty, another jury had to be convinced that he was not a zombie at all and knew exactly what he was doing.

In the course of our correspondence, there was a letter from Manson consisting of a few pages of gibberish about Christ and the Devil, but at one point, right in the middle, he wrote in tiny letters, Call Squeaky, with her phone number. I called, and we arranged to meet at her apartment in Los Angeles.  On an impulse, I brought several tabs of LSD with me on the plane.

Squeaky Fromme resembled a typical redheaded, freckle-faced waitress who sneaks a few tokes of pot in the lavatory, a regular girl-next-door except perhaps for the unusually challenging nature of her personality plus the scar of an X that she had gouged and burned into her forehead as a visual reminder of her commitment to Charlie.

That same symbol also covered the third eyes of her roommates, Sandra Good and Brenda McCann. “We've crossed ourselves out of this entire system,” I was told. They all had short hairstyles growing in now, having shaved their heads completely. They continued to sit on the sidewalk near the Hall of Justice every day, like a coven of faithful nuns being witness to Manson's martyrdom. Sandy had seen me perform stand-up at The Committee in San Francisco some years previously. Now she told me that when she first met Charlie and people asked her what he was like, she had compared him to Lenny Bruce and me. It was the weirdest compliment I ever got, but I began to understand Manson's peculiar charisma.

With his sardonic rap, mixed with psychedelic drugs and real-life theater games such as “creepy-crawling” and stealing, he had deprogrammed his family from the values of mainstream society, but reprogrammed them with his own philosophy, a cosmic version of the racism perpetuated by the prison system that had served as his family. Manson stepped on Sandy's eyeglasses, threw away her birth-control pills, and inculcated her with racist sensibility. Although she had once been a civil rights activist, she was now asking me to tell John Lennon that he should get rid of Yoko Ono and stay with “his own kind.” Later, she added, “If Yoko really loved the Japanese people, she would not want to mix their blood.”

The four of us ingested those little white tablets containing 300 micrograms of acid, then took a walk to the office of Laurence Merrick, who had been associated with schlock biker exploitation movies as the prerequisite to directing a sensationalist documentary, Manson. Squeaky's basic vulnerability emerged as she kept pacing around and telling Merrick that she was afraid of him. He didn't know we were tripping, but he must have sensed the vibes. I engaged him in conversation. We discussed the fascistic implications of a movie, The French Connection, and he remarked, “You're pretty articulate – ”

“For a bum,” I completed his sentence, and he laughed.

Next we went to the home of some friends of the family, smoked a few joints of soothing grass, and listened to music. They sang along with the lyrics of “A Horse with No Name”: In the desert you can't remember your name, ’cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain.I was basking in the afterglow of the Moody Blues' “Om” song when Sandy began to speak of the “gray people” – regular citizens going about their daily business – whom she had been observing from her vantage point on the corner near the Hall of Justice.

“We were just sitting there,” she said, “and they were walking along, kind of avoiding us. It's like watching a live movie in front of you. Sometimes I just wanted to kill the gray people, because that was the only way they would be able to experience the total Now.” That was an expression Charlie had borrowed from Scientology. Later, Sandy explained that she didn't mean it literally about killing the gray people -- that she had been speaking from another dimension. She told me that prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi once snarled at her as she kept vigil outside the courthouse: “We're gonna get you because you sucked Charlie Manson's dick.” The girls just sat there on the sidewalk and laughed, because they knew that oral-genital relations did not constitute a capital offense.

When we returned to their apartment, Sandy asked if I wanted to take a hot bath. I felt ambivalent. I knew that one of the attorneys in the case had participated in a ménage à trois with Squeaky and Sandy, but I had also been told by a reporter, “It certainly levels the high to worry about getting stabbed while fucking the Manson ladies in the bunkhouse at the Spahn Ranch – I've found that the only satisfactory position is sitting up, back to the wall, facing the door.”

Visions of the famous shower scene in Psycho flashed through my mind, but despite the shrill self-righteousness that infected their true-believer syndrome, they had charmed me with their honesty, humor, and distorted sense of compassion. They sensed my hesitation, and Squeaky confronted me: “You're afraid of me, aren't you?” she asked.

“Not really. Should I be?”

Sandy tried to reassure me: “She's beautiful, Paul. Just look into her eyes. Isn't she beautiful?”

Squeaky and I stared silently at each other for a while – I recalled that Manson had written, “I never picked up anyone who had not already been discarded by society” – and my eyes began to tear. There were tears in Squeaky's eyes too. She asked me to try on Charlie's vest. It felt like a perverted honor to participate in this ceremony. The corduroy vest was a solid inch thick with embroidery – snakes and dragons and devilish designs including human hair that had been woven into the multicolored patterns.

Sandy took her bath, but instead of my getting into the tub with her – assuming she had invited me – I sat fully dressed on the toilet, and we talked. I was thinking, You have pert nipples, but instead I said, “What's that scar on your back?” It was from a lung operation. Brenda asked for another tab of acid, to send Manson in prison. She ground it into powder which she then glued to the paper with vegetable dye and the notation, Words fly fast, explaining that Charlie would know what it meant. She stayed up late that night, writing letters to several prisoners with the dedication of a polygamous war wife.

Squeaky visited me a few times in San Francisco. On the way to lunch one day, she lit a cigarette, and I told her about the series of advertisements by which women were originally conditioned into smoking: a woman standing next to a man who was smoking; then a woman saying to the man, “Blow some my way”; and finally a woman smoking her own cigarette. Squeaky simply smiled, said “Okay,” and dropped her cigarette on the sidewalk, crushing it out with her shoe.

Another time, when I attempted to point out a certain fallacy in her logic, she responded, “Well, what do you expect from me? I'm crazy!”Once, she told me she had been beaten up by members of the Mel Lyman family from Boston because she wouldn't switch her allegiance to them, even though they'd had plans to break Manson out of jail, by means of a helicopter, while his trial was taking place. She said they were “well organized.”

Squeaky mailed me her drawing in red ink of a woman's face with a pair of hands coming out of her mouth. Written in script was the song lyric: “Makes me wanna holler, throw up both my hands . . .” In 1975, Squeaky tried to shoot President Gerald Ford. She was wearing a Red Riding Hood outfit, and I sent her a note in prison, teasing her about fading into the crowd. I never heard from her again.

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