Episode 3 – Death Is Charlie’s Trip

Episode 3 – Death Is Charlie’s Trip

Listen Here: In this episode, Prosecutor Vince Bugliosi shows jurors how the killings were committed not with “diminished capacity,” but with a “diminished heart, a diminished soul.” Defense Lawyer Sam Bubrick reveals Charlie Manson as “a man of a thousand faces,” and explained how “Charlie was God and Tex did not question God.”

Charlie had no idea what love was. Charlie was so far from love it wasn’t even funny. Death is Charlie’s trip.1Testimony of Brooks Poston, August 24th, 1971, The People of California vs. Charles Denton Watson.

There are 5 ways to defend a murder case: 1) I didn’t do it – or didn’t participate as an accomplice; perhaps they have an alibi, or that the person accused was present but not the killer, or that the person accused did not participate in a conspiracy, that they did not participate in the crime in any way; 2) There isn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I did it because the State’s evidence is too weak. 3) I had to do it because of self-defense, defense of another, necessity, defense of property or one’s home.

Tex’s defense centered around the final 2: 4) He didn’t mean to do it because the killing was accomplished without the required state of mind, meaning Tex did not kill with ‘malice aforethought’ because he lacked pre-meditation; 5) He was insane at the time of the killing meaning he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong as a result of a severe mental disease or defect.

The Defense strategy meant that as a result of Charlie’s mind-bending control and mind-altering drug use, Tex did not know the difference between right and wrong, and that he was mentally incapable of committing Murder as defined because he did not premeditate the killing. Prosecutors Vince Bugliosi and Stephen Kay disagreed, and would be heard  by the jury first.

Trial Themes

“Circumstantial evidence, a tiny speck, but of such specks, one after another, are strong cases made.”2Vince Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, Helter Skelter, The True Story of the Manson Murders, (1994) p. 129. The prosecution marshalled their evidence for two main purposes: 1) to prove the identity and role of the killers, 2) to rebut the defense of insanity or lack of premeditation, sometimes referred to by lawyers as “diminished capacity.” While Diminished Capacity is longer a technical legal defense, the term refers to a person’s inability to form intent to kill, or to pre-meditate the killing.

One way to defeat diminished capacity or insanity – in other words to show that the killer knew his conduct was wrong – would be to show the killer successfully carried out a particular motive and that he formulated and carried out a plan for killing by selecting the weapons and locations he knew would help him be successful. Prosecutors could also defeat insanity or diminished capacity by showing how the accused tried to cover up his crime, perhaps by hiding evidence, or lying about his involvement if confronted.

The circumstantial evidence – those traces of human agency left behind at every murder – also serve a very important purpose when the prosecutors call an accomplice witness. The physical evidence bolsters or makes the accomplice believable. In other words, the story that the accomplice gives about their knowledge of the crime must be corroborated by the physical evidence in order to be persuasive and believable. On the other side of the bar, circumstantial evidence has been used by the defense in case after case to show that the accomplice witness is not to be believed, that the evidence conflicts with his or her version of the killing such that are not only to be disbelieved, but that jurors should believe their role is much greater than a mere passive observer.

Diminished Heart, Diminished Soul

With all of that in mind, Bugliosi laid out his case in Opening statements: that Tex was the driving force during the killings; that he served his motive and his master Charlie Manson; and that he tried to cover it all up. Bugliosi set out to prove that Tex was independently thinking on the nights of the killings, making decisions on his own in order to avoid detection and accomplish his ultimate goal – Helter Skelter.

Here is a slightly modified excerpt from Bugliosi’s opening statement, delivered in Judge Alexander’s California Courtroom, August 16th, 1971.

Tex, and his accomplices were members of a nomadic land of vagabonds who called themselves the Family, completely obedient to their master, a 35-year-old ex-convict with a long and checkered criminal history named Charlie Manson. They committed the seven murders at his command. Tex was Charlie’s Chief Lieutenant and principal instrument by which Charlie intended to carry out his bizarre motive. The evidence at this trial will show that on these two dark nights of murder,Tex was a literal bloodthirsty savage, who had two primary thoughts in his mind: 1) to mercilessly butcher and viciously shoot and stab to death every single human being who was in front of him, and 2) to commit these murders without getting caught. Tex instructed them to everything they eventually did at Cielo Drive: told them to wrap the knives and revolver in a piece of cloth in the car if they got caught by police to avoid detection; to throw the knives and revolver out the window after the killings; he climbed the telephone pole and cut the telephone wires [beforehand]; he told Leslie VanHouten to go to the rear of the house and check for unopened doors for easier entry. After the killings, he looked for and found a place to wash off the blood, got rid of the clothing, wiped fingerprints off the knives, and then threw them out. Tex convened with the girls after those murders and before the next round of killing, telling them that they needed to select better weapons. The thought of murder entered his mind long before he entered their residences, ladies and gentlemen. He wasn’t suffering from any diminished mental capacity, he was suffering from a diminished heart and diminished soul.

The Man of a Thousand Faces

Defense Attorney Sam Bubrick next artfully and skillfully laid out his narrative: that Tex didn’t know the difference between right or wrong, and that the killings were not premeditated. If the jurors believed him, his client would at the very least avoid the death penalty; at most, Tex would walk out of that California courtroom a free man. From Mr. Bubrick, August 16, 1971, immediately after Mr. Bugliosi: 

On a fateful day in April or May of 1968 Tex picked up a hitchhiker on Sunset Blvd. named Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys Drummer. They went to Dennis’s beach home in Malibu. There he met Manson and the Family. Tex and Dean Moorhouse lived there, began taking LSD, and other drugs. Tex must have been attracted to the Hedonistic lifestyle. Charlie preached that everyone should love everyone and share everything, and live for pleasure, total freedom without responsibility. Charlie is a self-described man of a thousand faces: crazed, twisted, intelligent, dictatorial in his group, persuasive, cunning, sympathetic towards the oppressed, charismatic with a fantastic ability to make people think he was Jesus Christ. LSD in particular helped him do this. Charlie was obsessed with death. Death was Charlie’s trip according to family member Paul Watkins. Charlie preached that killing was right, and he fed those thoughts to his minions, his slaves. He believed in and preached Helter-Skelter. Tex was no more than a zombie, a mindless automaton, carrying out blindly what Charlie had instructed him to do. He killed the LaBianca’s as he was told, without questions. Charlie was God and Tex did not question God. No fear, no euphoria, no emotion, no second thoughts. Tex didn’t reflect, didn’t deliberate, didn’t premeditate, he just did it because he was told to do it by his God. His victims were not people, they were objects. Watson long ago lost his identity, his ego.

Prosecution Case

Bugliosi and Kay began their case by locking down the integrity of the physical evidence from the Cielo Drive Murders, and the observable remnants of the manner of their commission: that the electricity wires were cut; that Tex’s fingerprint was discovered on the front door after it was cleaned by housekeeper Winifred Chapman the day before the killing, the locations of the bodies, the types of injuries sustained, the tools needed to accomplish the acts, the rope tied to Mrs. Tate and Mr. Sebring, and finally that “PIG” was written in blood on the front door. He called a series of witnesses who discovered and recovered sets of clothes and knives from Benedict Canyon some miles away. They were dark and covered in blood, an obvious attempt according to prosecutors, by the killers to hide evidence, cover their tracks and escape criminal liability. 

An obvious sign, in other words, that they knew right from wrong.

In particular, Prosecutor Vince Bugliosi focused on 3 critically important items in order to prove motive and premeditation. The first was a fractured wooden piece from the handle of a gun that investigators matched to a dual-action Buntiline revolver, .22 Caliber, with a 6 to 8 inch barrelThe gun was not recovered at the scene, and none of the victims owned a gun like that. It was recovered in Benedict Canyon some time later. Firearms experts compared the bullets recovered from the bodies of Mr. Sebring, Mr. Frykowski, and Mr. Parent, concluding that they were all consistent with having been fired from the same gun. A Firing Pin Mark is one caused when the hammer strikes the back of a bullet initiating discharge that causes a unique impression on the back of the casing. Jurors learned that forensic scientists compared the firing pin marks from bullets test-fired with the Buntline revolver against 45 shells recovered from Spahn Ranch: 15 of them matched. 

Someone or a group of someone’s had been practicing.

Second, the Buck Knife recovered jutting out from the cushions of the brown couch with the American Flag inches away from the bodies of Mrs. Tate and Mr. Sebring was consistent with being used as a murder weapon by comparing it’s size, shape, location and proximity to the body, and bloodiness. Jurors heard that the knife did not belong to anyone in the house.

Someone or a group of someones brought the murder weapon with them. Just like the gun.

Finally, prosecutors eliminated the possibility of more common motives to home-invasion type murders like these: no one was sexually assaulted, and no valuable property was missing. In fact, many valuable objects were left behind, untouched. Given the bloody messages, the obvious motive according to the prosecution, was to commit some ritualistic killing, and get away with so doing. 

In the phase of their case, the prosecution locked down the integrity of the physical evidence collected from the Waverly Drive crime scene. For example, the lights were off, shades were drawn, and it happened in the middle of the night. They proved that, just like off of Cielo Drive, multiple murder weapons were used, e.g., knives, a bbq fork, some object which caused blunt force trauma, an object or ligature which caused possible strangulation, the leather straps used to tie Leno LaBianca’s hands behind his back. They also focused on the apparent motive evident on the walls in the LaBianca living room. The motive – though tough to decipher at the time of the killings – was obviously meant to be seen, written symbolically in blood: Rise above the front door, Death to Pigs on Living Room Wall, WAR on Leno LaBianca’s stomach, and finally Healter Skelter on the refrigerator. Just like at Cielo Drive, things of considerable value were left behind – only Rosemary’s wallet was taken. That wallet was recovered in the water basin of a toilet in a bathroom at a gas station a few miles away a few months later. 

The value of the location of her wallet would have been lost on jurors until their star witness testified: Manson Family Member Linda Kasabian was up next, called to explain how the murders occurred. 

And it was, according to her, a firsthand account.

Linda Kasabian

She was 22 years old when jurors first laid eyes on her. They learned very early in her testimony that the prosecution offered her “Immunity.” Immunity means that she would not be prosecuted for her role in the killings. In order to earn that immunity, she agreed to testify for the prosecution. And that would not have been the first time: she already testified against Charlie Manson, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkle in their trial the year before. She took the stand in Tex’s trial. She gave jurors a little bit of her background, how she came to be a part of the family, and her version of what she saw, heard and did on the nights of the Tate-LaBianca killings.

She was Born in Maine, and moved all over after marrying at the ripe old age of 16, from Miami to Boston to New Hampshire, to Taos, to South America, eventually winding up in San Francisco in the Haight Ashbury District. By then, she was married to a different man, and eventually had 2 young children, one of which was born before the killings and actually lived with her and the family at Spahn Ranch.  The other was born after the killings but before the trial. She flew in for her testimony from New Hampshire.

In July of 1969 she was living in LA with her husband Bob, and their baby daughter. On July 4th, 1969, she and her husband separated. “Gypsy,”  a 28-year-old member of the Manson Family, told her about Spahn Ranch, and how there was a really beautiful man named “Charlie.” there were lots of children, lots of people, and lots of love. Kasabian decided to go. She met Tex that very night, 7/4/69, and made love to him.

She and Tex discussed that there was 20k$ cash from an inheritance, but that the money was back with her husband. Tex told her to take it because there wasn’t anything wrong for her to take it. So the next morning, she and Gypsy and her baby went back to where her husband stayed, and stole 5,000$ and took it back to Spahn Ranch.

She met Charlie Manson that night, 7/5/1969, gave him the 5,000$ and made love to him. According to her testimony, during their time together, he said something to her about how she hated her father, a “secret that he somehow knew.” She told jurors that she felt like Charlie Manson could read her mind, and immediately fell under his spell. She became a member of the Family. She was young, impressionable, and drugs made her amenable to suggestions. Charlie worked fast. In about a month, she would be driving Tex and the others to Sharon Tate’s House on Cielo Drive to start Helter Skelter.

Kasabian next described what life was like for her and the others at Spahn Ranch. She also talked about Charlie and his powers. The girls served the family, did what they were told, served the men. He referred to the girls affectionately as witches. Charlie gave the orders: love will never die, and “no sense is sense,” he would say. She never questioned any part of Charlie’s philosophy and did whatever he asked.

She confirmed for jurors and for prosecutors the motive for the killings: Helter Skelter. To her and the others in the family, including Tex, that meant that there was to be a revolution between blacks and whites that would eventually lead to Charlie taking over the world. She described how the words Helter Skelter were written on a black jug in the parachute room at Spahn Ranch, and there was a collection bin labeled Helter Skelter for donations to help out the cause at the Saloon at Spahn Ranch 

As for Tex on the Ranch in the month leading up to the murders and in preparation for Helter Skelter, he was helping fix dune buggies, the vehicles that would be necessary for their Family’s survival in the desert during Helter Skelter. When he wasn’t working on that, he would eat, sleep, make love, dance and sing.

For her part, she performed “Creepy Crawly Missions.” She and some of the other women would go into the rich neighborhoods and burglarize houses, taking property or credit cards. In order to eat, they would make garbage runs behind local restaurants and grocery stores, dumpster diving and then bringing the food back to the Family to eat. She went on these “creepy crawly missions” with Susan Atkins, her future accomplice. The girls worked for the Family, doing what they were told, serving the men.

Cielo Drive According to Linda Kasabian

The prosecution then moved Kasabian to the nights of the killings. They followed their usual chronological pattern: first Cielo Drive, second Waverly. 

Kasabian told jurors that in the early evening of August 8th 1969, Charlie announced, “Now’s the time for Helter Skelter.” Charlie told her to get a change of clothes, a knife, and her drivers’ license.  She got the buck knife from Larry Jones, a family member. Charlie told her to go with Tex and “do whatever he tells you to do.”  She got into the car with Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkle. Tex was outside the car talking with Charlie. As they left, Charlie told the group of women in the car to “leave a sign, you girls know what I mean, something witchy.” They were dressed in dark clothes. She was barefooted, and everyone had clothes to change into. Tex drove them off. They had among them 3 knives and 1 gun. For the jury, she identified the gun as the Buntline Revolver with the broken handle previous witnesses recovered from the bottom of the canyon. She identified one of the 3 knives as the buck knife investigators found in the cushions to the couch.  On the way, Tex told them, “If we get pulled over, throw the knives and gun out the window.” Even though there would have been 1 weapon for each of the 4 in the car, and despite her knowledge of Helter Skelter, she tried to convince jurors that she thought they were going “simply to steal.” 

Prosecutors made sure to point out that Kasabian thought Tex was acting “normally” that night, “calmly.”

Tex drove, and after about an hour, they wound up at 10050 Cielo Drive. According to Linda, Tex said he had been in that house before and knew the layout. Tex climbed a telephone pole and cut the cords. He continued and walked up the hill to the house with a rope around his shoulder. On the way from the gate to the house, they saw headlights. Tex tells them to get down, and approaches the car with his gun. She hears someone saying, “Please don’t hurt me, I won’t say anything!” This is the 18 year-old-red-headed boy named Steven Parent discovered the next day in the white Rambler. Tex shot him multiple times. After his first murder, Tex  turned off the ignition. All 4 start walking towards the house.

Tex tells them to go look for open doors and windows. Tex cut a screen to the dining room, and told Linda Kasabian to go to the car. She did as she was told, got into their car, and waited. Moments later, Patricia Krenwinkle comes out and asks for a knife. She gives her one, and continues to wait while Patricia goes back inside. She then hears screams from inside the house. Loud screams, people pleading for their lives. It was like nothing “I’ve ever heard before.” She headed toward the house when a man came out. He looks at her, she at him, he falls. This is Voytek Frykowski, Roman Polanski’s friend, Abigail Folger’s boyfriend. Tex comes out, and stabs Frykowski over and over, and also hits him on the head with a gun. He lay motionless on the grass where he would remain until being discovered by Housekeeper Winifred Chapman.

Kasabian goes back to her car when she sees Patricia Krenwinkle chasing and stabbing a bloodied woman with long black hair in a white nightgown. The woman was coffee heiress and Harvard Graduate Abigail Folger, found dead on the lawn nearer to the pool.

Tex, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkle all came out of the house. They are bloody. Tex gets in on the driver’s side while the others change clothes. Kasabian held the wheel for Tex while he changed. Tex said to find a garbage can to burn the clothes, and a hose to clean up. Tex was mad because Susan Atkins lost her knife; he was also mad at Linda for running back to the car. She noticed that the handle on the bruntline was broken, too.  The buck knife she brought was no longer in the car, and she didn’t know where it was.

Kasabian told jurors that the 4 stopped at a house near Cielo and washed off with a hose. A woman who lived in the house comes out screaming, saying that her husband is a deputy sheriff or policeman; he comes out and tries to take the keys out of the ignition of the car. Tex calmly told him they were just out walking and needed a drink of water. They go back to the car, the husband runs and tries to take the keys out of the ignition, but is unsuccessful. The Manson Family Foursome drive off.

Tex tells Kasabian to wipe prints off the knife, and throw the clothes out the window. They were thrown in a “hilly country area.” A little while later, she threw the knives “down a hill” after wiping them off. They then go to a gas station: the girls go in the women’s restroom to clean up, Tex in the man’s. He also buys 2$ worth of gas, enough to get back to Spahn Ranch.

When they make it back to Spahn Ranch, Charlie is waiting for them. Charlie checks the car for blood. Tex tells Charlie, “I told them I was the devil, doing devils work.” Tex said there was “a lot of fear” and the killing was too “messy.” They all separated and went to sleep. Charlie was not pleased.  

Waverly Drive According to Linda Kasabian

The next afternoon, the group regathered. As they watched the News, they learned the identity of the victims. After dinner in the bunk room, Charlie tells Kasabian, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkle to get a change of clothes. He was carrying two long Pirate swords he so proudly carried around with him. Charlie handed her some leather straps that Kasabian referred to as thongs. He said last night was “too messy.” They all left. This time Charlie went, too. There were 7 in all: Charlie, Clem, Tex, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkle, and Susan Atkins, and our witness, Linda Kasabian.

The 7 left Spahn Ranch, driving from house to house looking for a “perfect target.” Though she couldn’t recall the exact one for jurors, she told them that the group eventually ended up in front of a house. They all get out and watch Charlie leave. He comes back, telling the group he couldn’t go in because of the pics on the wall. There were children in them, and Charlie “didn’t want to do children.” They drove down the street where they saw a man and a woman. But Charlie said the man was too big. They drove off. Charlie said he wanted to find a priest, so they drove up to the front of a church. No one appeared to be there, so they left. Charlie continued driving around Sunset Boulevard when they spotted and settled on a white sports car. Charlie told her to follow it because he was going to get out and kill the driver. But the light turned green just as Charlie got out. They stopped at Harold True’s place, a man Linda Kasabian knew, and a house she had been to a year earlier with her husband. Charlie said they were going to go next door. 

She smoked a pall mall and waited with the others while Charlie went inside the house next door, 3301 Waverly Drive, the house Leno LaBianca grew up in and bought from his mother.

Charlie comes back, and tells the group waiting outside that he tied two people up inside, and told them that he wasn’t going to hurt them. He didn’t want to create fear in the victims because that’s what caused the killings the night before to be so “messy.” Charlie tells Tex, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkle not to cause fear and panic like they did the night before, and sends them inside. 

Charlie, Linda, Susan Atkins and Clem remained in the car, eventually driving off, leaving Tex and the two girls behind. Charlie gave Linda a wallet and told her to wipe off prints. She told jurors she looked inside and noticed a driver’s license. Pictured on it was a woman with an “upraised hairdo,” and an “Italian or Spanish name” she identified for jurors as Rosemary LaBianca. Charlie told her to throw it in the street “in the ghetto, hoping that a Black person would get it, use some of the credit cards in it, and be developed as a suspect.”  But he changed his mind and pulled into a gas station, instead. Charlie told her to take it into the ladies room and hide it where someone would find it. She hid it in the toilet tank. Unfortunately for Charlie’s plan, Linda hid it too well. The wallet was not recovered for several months.

When she got back from the restroom, Charlie had bought 4 milkshakes from Denny’s for them. They then walked on the beach. They were approached by 2 police officers. Charlie made small talk with the officers, avoiding any suspicions. The 2 officers had no reason to know or believe that they had just encountered the mastermind behind the Tate killings the night before, and the LaBianca killings happening right then.

Or that Charlie’s desire for more killing wasn’t satisfied.

They get back in the car when Charlie asked Linda if she remembered where a man she had previously mentioned to him lived? Charlie wanted her to kill him with a pocket knife. He pulled it out and motioned with her hand how to do it: by stabbing in and pulling up. The two got out of the car when Charlie told Linda to point out the apartment where the man lived. Linda intentionally pointed out the wrong door. Charlie gave Clem a gun and took off, leaving Linda, Clem and Sadie to do this murder. They went up to the apartment, she purposefully knocked on the wrong door, and a man answered. She said she had the wrong apartment, and they all left hitchhiking their way back to the ranch. On the way, they sang songs. They eventually met a girl at Topanga Canyon on the way to Spahn Ranch, smoked some weed, sang more songs, and hitchhiked the rest of the way home.

And they got rid of the gun.

The remainder of the prosecution’s trial strategy centered on corroborating Kasabian’s story by pointing out details and circumstances that Kasabian knew that only could be known if she was involved: the damage to the pistol, the locations of the bodies and their descriptions, the types of wounds, the story about leaving the crime scenes and meeting up with the neighbors when they were hosing off, the locations of the clothing dump sites, their description, and that Tex had been to Cielo Drive on numerous occasions to visit Terry Melcher prior to the killings. The People also called two former Family Members to talk about the meaning and preparations for the uniquely identifying motive in the case, Helter Skelter. 

With that, on September 1st, 1971, The People of California through prosecutors Vince Bugliosi and Stephen Kay, rested their case.

In the chess match that is a trial, once the prosecutors rest, the defense has their chance.  The defense – for the first time, by and large – must show their hand. Will they rest and argue to the jurors that the evidence was wholly unworthy of a conviction? Is there some evidence that will exonerate their client, like an alibi perhaps? Will they spend their time tearing down the prosecution’s case through the use of rebuttal witnesses?  And prosecutors always wonder whether the defendant will take the stand. They have no way of knowing for certain. In this case, the case Proseuctors put together was quite strong. Any fair reading of Linda Kasabian’s testimony tells you it was as powerful as it was convincing, both because of the witnesses who independently backed up her connections to the family, Tex and Charlie, but also – and perhaps more importantly – because of the corroborating physical evidence.

It was so strong, in fact, that after the defense called University of North Texas Fraternity brother and former roommate David Neale, Tex took the stand in his own defense.

-End of Episode 3-