Convicted killer Charles "Tex" Watson, the muscle behind the Tate-LaBianca murders, has filed a motion to stop the Los Angeles Police Department from obtaining tapes of him talking with his lawyer in the aftermath of the Manson Family arrests. The eight hours of tape, access to which Watson had once granted to an author, became available as a result of the deceased attorney's bankruptcy proceedings.
The LAPD seeks to possess rather than merely listen to the recordings because of suspicions that they might shed light on Manson Family murders beyond those affirmed by the courts. Accounts of a supposed one-man-game of Russian-roulette-gone-wrong played by a cultist with a fully-loaded revolver (strangely witnessed only by other Family members), the mysterious disappearance of a defense attorney, and a follower's throat-and-wrist-slashed suicide in London continue to raise suspicions. Of this last case a Family member cryptically wrote, "I would not want what happened to Joel to happen to me."
Forty-three summers after the Helter Skelter murders, the Manson Family still provokes headlines and head-scratching. One needn't six-degrees-of-separation to connect the villains and victims to as diverse a collection of characters as Doris Day, Steve McQueen, Neil Young, and Lou Costello, proving that the entertainment Mecca was still like a village where everyone's connection extended to everybody. A friend of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson killed friends of the Mamas and the Papas' John and Michele Phillips for reasons found on a Beatles album.
It didn't make sense, but then again so little during the late 1960s did.
Most mysterious of all is why what we know, and not just what we don't, remains so obscure. Specifically puzzling is why a group so mired in the leftist counterculture is so disassociated or at least considered anomalous from the sixties Left.
"His words and courage inspired us," explained Yippe Jerry Rubin, who visited Manson in jail. "I fell in love with Charlie Manson the first time I saw his cherub face and sparkling eyes on TV." Counterculture newspapers fell for a conman's Christ complex by depicting the establishment crucifying Manson. Weatherman adopted a split-fingered greeting, and featured a cell named "The Fork," in homage to the culinary implement stuck into the murdered Leno LaBianca's stomach. A banner even spelled out victim Sharon Tate's name in bullets at a 1969 "War Party" gathering in Flint, Michigan.
Like Weatherman, the Manson Family started on a college campus—Berkeley, to be precise, where the group's messiah recruited his first follower, University of California librarian Mary Brunner. Both groups fetishized African Americans as the vanguard of a pending world revolution. Whereas the Weathermen appropriated Bob Dylan lyrics for their name and manifesto, Manson discovered cryptic messages embedded in The Beatles' white album. Both cults used communal living, sex on demand, and narcotics as means of control.
Most importantly, Weathermen and Manson cultists set out to kill people they regarded as "pigs"—sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and murder.
But it's somehow uncouth to draw parallels between, say, Bernardine Dohrn and Charles Manson. Was Manson's "Helter Skelter" prophecy of race war really any more outlandish, or that different, than the Weatherman manifesto's contention that "the real interests of masses of oppressed whites in this country lie with the Black Liberation Struggle," its overthrow of the U.S. government, and the world communism that would supposedly ensue?
The Manson Family provokes endless curiosity. Desert excavations in search of bodies and periodic parole hearings stoke public interest. Suggest the reopening of a case connected to Weatherman, as Accuracy in Media's Cliff Kincaid did several years ago regarding the 1970 murder of San Francisco police sergeant Brian McDonnell, and listen to the crickets.
The media frenzy that greets new information in a case in which the major figures remain incarcerated strangely becomes media indifference when the reinvestigation focuses on scot-free academics with powerful friends and enormous bank accounts. Never is the search for truth (and justice) so maligned as a campaign of harassment as when it involves the crimes of well-connected old lefties.
If Brian McDonnell had been a movie star rather than a cop his murderers would be behind bars instead of lecterns.
Weatherman cultists found sinecures in academia, won generous publishing contracts, and even cultivated friendships with a future president. Manson Family members, on the other hand, hide from society, change their names, and rot in jail.
This status discrepancy, like certain deaths surrounding both cults, remains an unsolved mystery.