Finished a book on Charlie Manson, took a hot shower, had a stiff drink.
Who thought there was anything new to learn about the musty old Manson case? But for 20 years author Tom O’Neill worked hard, dug deep and came up with new, astonishing information.
Let’s start with three locations critical to Manson and his Family’s “success.”
1) Los Angeles, where they (mostly) lived, hung with rock stars, and killed a lot of people.
2) San Francisco, where his Family formulated, coagulated, and began using LSD under the supervision of medical doctors at the famous Haight-Ashbury Clinic, financed in part by the CIA.
3) Ukiah, thick with back-to-the-land hippies, was where Mansonoids often came to harvest new members. Ukiah was also where critical Family crimes were ignored and / or covered up.
It’s all stitched together in a 2019 book called “CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties” by O’Neill, a veteran journalist. He spent two decades ploughing through the soft white underbelly of state and local law enforcement authorities who turned blind eyes to Manson and his demented cult’s never-ending crime sprees that involved drugs, car thefts, kidnappings, sex with minors, weapons possessions and murders. Lots and lots of murders.
In 520 pages it upends the self-serving version concocted by Vincent Bugliosi, the Los Angeles DA who prosecuted Manson and his Family and wrote the ‘Helter Skelter’ book that became the official version.
Chapter by chapter CHAOS brings clouds of dread to the reader via the growing, inescapable realization that powerful forces were protecting Manson, keeping him on the streets despite ongoing, never-ending criminal activities. No other conclusion can be drawn.
For many years, despite many crimes and many arrests, Manson and Co. were impervious to consequences because he was protected by higher ups. One, his protector and advisor, was a federal parole agent named Roger Smith.
Federal parole officers routinely carry caseloads of 150 to 200 parolees. Longtime parole officer Roger Smith had exactly one parole client: Charles W. Manson. And Smith, by bending rules and working as an advocate, shielded him and anyone within Manson’s orbit from going to prison. Smith intervened repeatedly, keeping the Family clan essentially immune from the law.
Within hours of his 1967 release from the Terminal Island prison in Los Angeles Manson violated parole by heading to San Francisco, knowing he didn’t need approval, not with Roger Smith watching his back. As the months passed Manson’s crimes piled up and eventually included drug use, multiple weapons violations including machine guns, grand theft auto, sex with (and rapes of) minors. Frequently arrested, always released.
In the summer of ’68, nearly a year before The Family’s infamous and deadly rampages in LA, Manson ordered his girls to visit Ukiah, where they fed local teens LSD and had orgies. One of the acid-soaked kids later told his dad, a police officer. The women were arrested on predictable charges: drug possession and transportation, furnishing drugs to minors, sex with minors, and assorted parole violations. All would be considered serious felonies even today, but in 1968 the crimes rocked Ukiah.
Enter Roger Smith. Now retired, Smith pulled strings, moved mountains, wrote letters on Federal Parole Office stationery on behalf of Manson’s associates (who were not then and had never been parolees of Smith) and even drove to Ukiah to speak on their behalf.
His efforts paid off. Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Robert Winslow slapped the defendants gently upon their wrists before turning them loose to go on their merry murderous ways. Manson knew Smith would fix the problems, so had remained in LA, living it up and partying with Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson.
Contacted by author O’Neill in Marin County many years later, Smith offered vague, innocuous responses about being Manson’s protector.
Manson became notorious for the multiple murders up in Cielo Drive. We remember August, 1969 and the killings of actress Sharon Tate, her unborn baby, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and several more slaughtered in the crossfire of the Family’s rampage, and then the followup killing of the LaBianca couple. The killers intentionally left behind overt messages written in victims’ blood about Pigs and Revolution.
But O’Neill probes the first, often overlooked, Manson-directed murder. Gary Hinman, a musician and a Buddhist who had befriended The Family with meals, cash and lodging, was targeted by Charlie, who believed Hinman had recently inherited money and that it ought to come Charlie’s way.
Hinman denied having money until his final breaths, which came after many days being tortured and ending in suffocation with pillows by two “Manson Girls.” Charlie personally sliced Hinman’s ear off with a Samurai sword and ordered Bobby Beausoleil to kill him and “leave a sign.”
The sign Bobby left behind was the first “Pig” message, smeared on walls using Hinman’s blood. Beausoleil stole Hinman’s car, was arrested in it a few days later and charged with murder. He used a jail phone on August 8, 1969 to call The Family. Cops tape recorded that call, which instructed Family members to go out, commit copycat murder(s) and to “leave a sign.” The theory: Police would think Hinman’s killer was still at large and turn Beausoleil loose.
The next night Tate and her unlucky friends died horrible deaths at the hands, knives and guns of Manson followers. Bloody messages were left on walls of the secluded house on Cielo Drive. It was intended as a coverup for Hinman’s killing, and it continued with the LaBianca murders, which also had bloody “signs” referencing Pigs left on walls.
Bugliosi invented a motive for the crimes and called it “Helter Skelter.” He said Manson was hoping to incite a racial war, a convenient, if preposterous explanation that was supposed to culminate with The Family burrowing underground in the desert, later to emerge to rule the world. Every cop or DA interviewed by O’Neill called Helter Skelter “b******t” or something similar, and said it was purely a Buglioisi invention.
Cops didn’t think Beausoleil was innocent, but they also didn’t think, amazingly enough, that the Tate murders had anything to do with the Hinman or LaBianca killings, despite bloody “Pig” signs left at all three locations. Manson rolled on.
One week later, the murders unsolved, the LA Sheriff’s Office determined Manson & Family was at the hub of myriad criminal enterprises, including stolen car rings, drug sales, illegal automatic weapons and housed numerous underage teenagers, some runaways, some pregnant, on the Spahn Ranch property east of LA. It triggered the biggest organized police raid in California history, a pre-dawn invasion on August 16 involving helicopters and more than 100 police officers. Nearly three dozen members of The Family, including Charlie himself and seven minors were arrested. Two days later, with no charges filed, everyone was released, because the warrant had been “misdated” said Bugliosi. It was a lie.
Had justice been served the prior summer in Ukiah, several of the “Girls” and maybe Manson would have been shipped back to prison, Sharon Tate might have lived a long happy life, Roman Polanski a child to help raise, and late ‘60s hippie history would have rewritten itself. And had Family members remained in custody following the huge raid, they would not have been able to continue committing crimes, including at least one more murder.
And if all Manson’s brood had remained incarcerated the odds of the Tate murders and LaBianca murders being solved sooner would have increased dramatically.
And that’s the creepy big feeling that grows, chapter by chapter in CHAOS: That Charlie Manson and his loyal band of merciless killers was being protected. How else explain the lack of consequences, the hands-off approach from law enforcement, whether it was the Bishop, CA., police department or the FBI?
CHAOS is larded with creepy, weird facts:
WEIRD FACT #1) Early in the morning of August 9, prior to bodies being discovered, a CIA operative named Reeve Whitson phoned friends to tell them he’d been to Cielo Drive and viewed the carnage. It wasn’t until hours later that cops were called.
WF #2) Working hand-in-glove with the Haight Ashbury Freed Medical Clinic were CIA-sponsored agencies researching potential uses of LSD in interrogating foreign spies, homegrown dissidents, or inspiring controllable but amoral, behavior in groups of unsuspecting members. This was the precise time and place Manson was assembling his riffraff mob.
WF #3) Heading the shadowy agency was Dr. Louis Jolyon West, a doctor long involved in LSD research and long associated with the CIA. Author O’Neill links him directly to a 1950s case involving the murder of a child by a disoriented soldier accused, convicted and executed in the little girl’s murder. The soldier was a patient of Dr. West’s and his behavior reeked of someone unwittingly dosed with LSD.
WF #4) Author O’Neill is stunned to see Dr. “Jolly” West turn up big in the Kennedy assassination, as the only medical expert (appointed in federal court) to interview and report on the mental status of Jack Ruby. He said Ruby had suffered “an acute psychotic break.” (NOTE: Any author whose investigations veer in the direction of the JFK conspiracies knows his work is instantly tainted, and O’Neill openly wonders if it’s time he start wearing a tinfoil helmet.)
But the story goes where facts, documents and suppositions lead it.
WF #5) Why police in Bishop, CA would hide evidence, produce misleading reports and conclude the killing of young Fillipo Tenerelli was a suicide is deeply disturbing; the crime is clearly the work of Manson’s clan. Why the coverup continues half a century later makes the puzzle even creepier.
WF #6) Terry Melcher, son of Doris Day and the hottest record producer of the era, was a vital prosecution witness who lied to judge and jury about times he met with Manson both before and after the Tate murders. At a post-murders meeting at the Spahn Ranch witnesses said a weeping Melcher got on his knees and kissed Manson’s feet, blubbering apologies for reasons unknown. This was covered up by Bugliosi.
WF #7) Bugliosi, the DA who interviewed and prepped Melcher, knew Melcher lied on the stand and probably instructed him. Bugliosi’s handwritten notes of an interview feature heavy cross-outs on pages Melcher tells of the times he and Manson met. A DA who worked with Bugliosi on the case said it was prosecutorial misconduct sufficient to warrant Manson a retrial.
WF #8) Melcher’s attorney, who prepared him for trial and sat with him in court, was none other than Robert Winslow, the Mendocino County judge whom local voters had rejected in his re-election campaign following his gentle treatment of Manson’s women who had furnished drugs and orgies to Ukiah minors.
WF #9) Susan Atkins, deeply involved in both the Hinman and Tate murders, was offered a plea agreement in exchange for testifying against Manson & Family. She was represented by a court appointed lawyer named Gerald Condon. The DA, fearing she might change her story at some point, felt a different lawyer might be able to better hold her in line, i.e., exert sufficient “client control.”
Following private meetings between the judge and the DA, and with neither the knowledge nor consent of the lawyer or defendant, the court dismissed Condon and appointed a new attorney, Dick Caballero. Caballero had recently served eight years as a prosecutor in the LA District Attorneys office, and was well known to Bugliosi.
WF #10) During the time the Family’s Mary Brunner was in jail in Ukiah she gave birth to a boy. The Mendocino County Courts made parole agent Roger Smith and his wife the foster parents of Charlie Manson’s baby.