Manson: Why the Fascination?
Criminals and their crimes are like fingerprints. Each one is unique. When we first hear about them, we immediately know the basic stuff: who, what, where and when. But it’s the why that takes so long.
Speculation grows in the petri dish. It’s not until the trial that we get the answer to why. Each day our fascination grows into a frenzy until the jury reaches a verdict.
Take, for example, the trial that at the time was deemed the trial of the century. Like the JFK assassination, we talk about it because we still don’t know why it happened. So why the fascination?
The Manson Family
Imagine having the ability to order people to murder. It doesn’t start out that way, of course. It’s 1967 and Manson crashes at his girlfriend’s place in San Francisco. He somehow gets her to agree to 18 other girls living there because it’s the Summer of Love. Many teenagers across the country run away from home to live in this so-called haven called the Haight-Ashbury district.
Manson buys an old school bus and moves to the Los
Angeles area to make it as a musician. He hooks up with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. After two years of doing drugs and hanging out at Spahn Ranch, Manson is influenced by the Beatles’ White Album and needs to start a race war called Helter Skelter (so-called after the Beatles’ song).
His followers are so under his control that they kill seven people in gruesome attacks on two separate nights in August of 1969. These attacks are known as the Tate-La Bianca murders. His family members show no remorse for their actions.
In fact, one follower named Susan Atkins, is so brainwashed that Sharon Tate, who is weeks from giving birth, begs Atkins to keep her alive to have her baby as Atkins stabs her 16 times. Atkins replies, “I have no mercy for you, bitch.”
On July 24, 1970, the Manson Family Trial begins. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi must prove that Manson ordered his family members to kill Sharon Tate and the guests at her home on August 9, 1969, and the La Biancas at their home the night after.
As if the crimes weren’t a spectacle themselves, Manson and his followers continue the drama in the courtroom. When he isn’t allowed to act as his own attorney, he carves an X in his forehead. The Manson girls follow suit.
During former Manson girl Linda Kasabian’s testimony for the prosecution, Manson holds up a newspaper with the headline stating, “MANSON GUILTY, NIXON DECLARES.”
A Manson family member takes another former Manson girl, Barbara Hoyt, to Hawaii during the trial and drugs her with 10 tablets of LSD in a hamburger. They are at the airport as Hoyt is about to fly back to Los Angeles. Luckily Hoyt recovers fully and testifies for the prosecution.
Leslie Van Houten’s attorney, Ronald Hughes, refuses to let her testify. Van Houten participated in the La Bianca murders. On November 30, 1970, Hughes doesn’t show up for court. His body was later found in Ventura Creek, thought to be the work of the Manson family.
And then, of course, the best (or worst) part of the trial is on October 5, 1970 when the judge won’t let Manson question a prosecution witness. He jumps over the defense table, charges the judge and yells that someone should cut his head off. As Manson is removed from the courtroom, the female defendants chant in Latin.
Patricia Krenwinkle, the third female Manson family member convicted of murder, said in a later interview that Manson scripted all the courtroom antics.
Manson’s notoriety gets a reboot with NBC’s Summer series Aquarius, yet it’s only loosely based on the truth around the family. It takes poetic license to create well-written storylines around 1960s issues such as the Black Panther Party and the Vietnam War. It doesn’t tell the whole truth like Oliver Stone’s JFK, but at least Aquarius comes with a disclaimer.
Just when Aquarius fans finish binge-watching the first season, Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi succumbs to cancer on June 6 this year. So shocking is his death that word doesn’t get around for a while, probably because he never owned a computer and didn’t trend on Twitter, not that he cared to.
And just as Susan Atkins showed no mercy to Sharon Tate as she stabbed her 16 times, the court shows no mercy to release Atkins when she’s diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008. One of the relatives of her murder victims says to the judge at Atkins’ hearing for compassionate release that you’ll hear “various opinions” but nothing from the people who lie in their graves because of Atkins. She dies in prison in 2009, 40 years after the Tate – La Bianca murders.
So This is Why
We find Manson fascinating because he is the end of the peace-loving sixties. This is what happens with illicit drugs and brainwashing. He continues to perpetrate the news after going to jail; ordering Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme to assassinate President Ford (though she doesn’t put a bullet in the gun) to his bizarre parole hearings and television interviews.
But it’s the insatiable answer to “why” that makes us follow and continue our interest in this and many other crimes of the century.