Charles M Manson, accused in the mountain-desert area of rustling four-wheel-drive vehicles, has emerged as a key figure in the investigation of the killings of Sharon Tate and seven others in Los Angeles.
The bushy-haired, wild-bearded little man with piercing brown eyes has been tabbed the leader of a hippie-type roving band whose members call him “God” and “Satan” — and now two attorneys say clan members killed the actress and others.
Manson, 35, who with others is accused here of running a stolen car ring from a commune near Death Valley, sat stolidly Wednesday through his preliminary hearing. After witnesses said they saw him driving stolen cars, he was held for trial.
There are no charges against Manson in Los Angeles. But two attorneys there said Wednesday that a woman member of Manson’s mostly female “family” told them it was some of his followers who killed Miss Tate and four others after the pregnant actress pleaded, “Let me have my baby.”
The woman, Susan Denise Atkins, 21, is charged with murdering a man with whom Manson once lived. If she waives immunity to self-incrimination, a deputy district attorney says, she could become a key witness when the Los Angeles County grand jury begins a murder investigation Friday.
Shot or stabbed with Miss Tate, 26, blonde actress wife of Polish director Roman Polanski, at her $200,000 home in Bel Air last Aug. 9 were Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring, 35, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, 26, Polish playboy Votyk Frokowsky, 37, and Steven Parent, 18, a friend of the caretaker. Stabbed fatally the next day at their Hollywood home were Leno LaBianca, 44, and his wife Rose Mary, 38, wealthy market owners.
Miss Atkins’ attorneys Paul Caruso and Richard Caballero, said she was among those who dressed in black and invaded the two death homes. But they said she was under Manson’s “hypnotic spell” and “had nothing to do with the murders.” Caruso said there were three women and two men.
Caballero said it was four women and one man, and said Miss Atkins told him Manson was not among them. Police say the makeup of the group was different each night.
Caruso gave this account of the killings, which he said was based on a five-hour interview with Miss Atkins:
“One man had a gun. The girls had knives. They parked the car so they could get away quickly. A man with wire cutters went up a pole and cut utility lines outside the Tate house. “They saw Parent starting to leave. He got into his car and was shot. A man went through an open window, then opened the front door. The others went inside.
“Frokowsky was lying on the couch. Sharon Tate and Sebring were talking in her bedroom. The Folger girl was in another bedroom reading a book.
“Tate and Sebring were told to stay in the bedroom. Then they were brought out. Miss Tate became very apprehensive. She wanted to make sure her baby (she was 8-1/2 months pregnant) was not harmed. That was virtually all she pleaded about, ‘Let me have my baby.’ But she was killed.
“Sebring said very little. He was killed. Frokoysky attempted to escape. As he ran through the front door, he was hit on the head with a gun butt. Miss Folger handed them all the money she had, and they took it and killed her and Frokowsky anyway.”
The next night, picking a house at random and killing again to show they hadn’t lost their nerve, Caruso said, the invaders stabbed the LaBiancas — then showered and had a snack from the ice box before leaving.
The Los Angeles Times, in an account it said was pieced together from many sources, added details:
Frokowsky was tied up but escaped and was shot in the back as he ran. Miss Folger was stabbed in the house, but ran, then was overtaken and stabbed fatally on the lawn. Miss Tate was stabbed repeatedly in the upper body.
After the killers wiped their hands on it, a bloody towel was used to write “Pig” on the front door, the towel was then placed over Sebring’s head like a hood and a cord was looped around his neck and over a beam to Miss Tate’s. When the group returned to a ranch commune, one reported: “We got five piggies.”
Under arrest on murder warrants in the Tate case are Patricia Kremvinkel, 21, in Mobile. Ala.; Charles D Watson, 24, in McKinney, Texas, and Linda Louise Kasabian, 20, brought here from Concord, NH.
Police say they will seek murder indictments against the three and “five others,” unidentified, from the Los Angeles County grand jury. It is to convene on the killings Friday and is expected to conclude its probe Monday.
Officers say they are holding five material witnesses, not identified. Deputy District Attorney Aaron H Stovitz says he will call 18 witnesses.
One, Stovitz, said, will be producer Marty Melcher, 27, son of singer-actress Doris Day. Melcher was a previous tenant of the rented Tate mansion.
Manson visited Melcher at the home last summer to discuss his songwriting ambitions, friends have said. Melcher has declined comment.
Miss Atkins pleaded innocent Tuesday to a charge of murder in the killing of a Malibu musician, Gary Hinman. last July. Police say Manson lived for a time with Hinman. A codefendant. Robert K. Beausoleil, 21, described as a Manson friend, was tried previously but the jury could not agree and a new trial was ordered.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Evelle J Younger, whose office will prosecute the murder cases, expressed hope there will be no court-imposed “gag order” on information. He said such an order in the case of Sirhan B Sirhan. convicted earlier this year of murdering Sen. Robert F Kennedy, prevented clarification of “absurd rumors.”
The Sirhan order forbid attorneys and public officials from discussing evidence or details in the case. He said he has no indication there will be such an order.
In Independence, Manson was charged with two counts of receiving stolen property and one of operating a stolen vehicle. After the hearing, he was ordered held for arraignment Dec. 12. Bond was fixed at $25,000.
His attorney argued: “There’s no evidence that Mr Manson knew that vehicles were stolen. The simple act of driving a vehicle, even if it is stolen, is not enough. There has to be intent.”
Manson is no stranger to trouble. From followers and police came sketches of a life of problems, imprisonments and menial jobs.
A Los Angeles Times account said Manson was born to an unwed 16-year-old girl in Cincinnati, Ohio, lived with his maternal grandmother, then an aunt and uncle. He ran away from a boys’ school, landed in a correctional institution and by the time he was 25 had spent 13 years in reformatories and prisons for such offenses as auto theft, forgery and transporting women across state lines for prostitution. Out of prison on parole, he was married and fathered a son. but by the time the boy was born he was back in jail. His wife divorced him.
In his free time behind bars he became interested in the occult. Officials termed his intelligence “superior.” He also took up the guitar, discovered he could sing and began writing music.
Then, on parole, he discovered the hippie-style life and a friend said “a whole new world” opened for him. He went to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and acquired a following of hippie types — most of them girls.
He and a 19-year-old girl moved into a hillside pad she described as “a luxurious hobo castle’ with Arabian tapestries, goatskin rugs and a yard full of “dancing trees and smiling clover.” Manson fancied himself a “roving minstrel” and budding song writer. His growing clan sang and played along with him.
They left Haight-Ashbury April 12, 196S, in an old school bus, converted into living quarters for 14 young men and women — most of them women. The bus broke down near Oxnard, and one rainy afternoon, they ducked into a ranch full of old movie sets. They were still living there when the slayings occurred.
When deputies raided the place last August, shortly after the killings, and made arrests on prostitution and drug allegations, Manson moved his “family” into a canyon area populated by hippie-types near Death Valley. They set up headquarters in a ranch building in an isolated
canyon reachable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles and equipped it with walkie-talkies and observation posts. Visitors said the women often went nude or near nude.
With a combination of pronouncements — “Follow my orders or meet a horrible death” — and captivating glances, Manson convinced some of his clan he owned them. “We belong to him, not to ourselves,” Miss Atkins’ attorneys quoted her as saying. “He is a very beautiful man. If Charles said it was right, it was right.”
“He was magnetic,” another follower, Sandra Good Pugh, 2G, told interviewers in Independence. “His motions were like magic… the first time I heard him sing it was like an angel… There was no dope, but sunbathing in the nude was common.”
On Oct. 12, a dozen sheriff’s deputies and highway patrolmen hunting for a band that was stealing cars and converting them to dune buggies, raided the commune. They escorted seven persons out of Hanson’s cabin. Patrolman James Purcell, who led the raid, said he returned to search the little building and found Manson.
Said Purcell: “He was in a very tiny cupboard beneath the bathroom sink… three feet high, 18 to 20 inches wide and 12 to 18 inches deep.”