Manson Murders, 50 Years - August 9, 1969...

Courtesy Framepool & Rightsmith

 “It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, that you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in the cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.” ~ Vincent Bugliosi, Helter Skelter

Fifty years is a long time…

Gary Hinman would be 84 this December.
Steven Parent would be 68.
Jay Sebring would be 86 this October.
Voytek Frykowski would be 83 this December.
Abigail Folger would be 76 this August.
Sharon Tate would be 76.
Sharon’s baby, Paul Richard, would be 50.
Leno LaBianca would be 94.
Rosemary LaBianca would be 90 this December.
Donald “Shorty” Shea would be 86 this September.

Instead, every soul listed above has been dead and buried for a half century while their killers — minus Atkins-brain cancer and Manson-heart attack — breathe quite comfortably above ground in prison.

I will not list the killers’ names. It was hard enough on this anniversary to list the two above who finally gave the world some measure of peace by keeling over. It’s amazing how long base and vile humans can live.

Since 2008, I have written countless words about the victims, the murders, the scenes and the times on my forensic/pop culture site,

And yet today it feels as if I haven’t written a single word, and this is August 9, 1969 and I’m frightened all over again. I was only five years old when the murders took place but by the grace, or curse, of an eidetic memory, those murders are burned into my mind and will remain so until I’m dead. Since that horrid weekend in L.A., I cannot look at a window screen in the summertime and not feel a sequestered panic.

Adults across North America were panicked, too, the main thought on everyone’s mind: if hippies there can do THAT, can the hippies HERE do that, too? Trust in the counter-culture exploded and it became an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Local police were far more vigilant and everyone gave the “Flower Children” a second glance and a wide birth, choosing to cross the street to avoid that hippie-slippie scourge instead of risking a confrontation by buck knife, bayonet or Buntline revolver.
I was one of the Us, albeit small. Rational came down to this for me: I like baths and I like life.
My mother needn’t have worried I’d join some kind of hippie commune and sell daisies for a dollar at the Toronto International Airport for the greater good. I’m rather fond of speaking my own mind and a lover of reason over Speed and LSD-induced mania.

Manson was and remains a nobody, but like similar pond scum before and after him — Lee Harvey Oswald and Jim Jones spring to mind — they all devised ways to annihilate and destroy what they coveted most, and in the end, their heinous acts didn’t raise their self-worth one red cent. Borderline beings live borderline lives and die in borderline ways, no matter how many innocents they hi-jack along the way.

People often wonder why The Family killers remain behind bars. The answer is simple. Every reasoned society has a moral red line, and if you cross it, you are simply left behind to suffer the retribution you’re owed, whether or not it’s 48 years ago via San Quentin’s “Green Room.” Some acts can never be excused. There is no place for forgiveness or rehabilitation for sociopathic domestic terrorists, and that is precisely what each of The Family murderers were, and are to this very day.

What a California Supreme Court legal hick-up didn’t do by throwing away the Death Penalty in all of those cases, rotting in prison has done over time, but at extreme emotional expense to the victims’ surviving family members who must attend each and every parole hearing to ensure the killers continue to rot behind bars. Sadly, the death toll goes far beyond the initial ten, as it shortened the lives of Paul, Doris and Patti Tate and other relatives connected to these murders. Such metastasizing ripples are still being suffered today as Debra Tate prepares her younger family members to carry the torch once God calls her home. Having to consider this fight as generational is bloody outrageous. 

With such an emotional and legal albatross on one’s shoulders, one wonders who really ended up in prison.

And still the murderers rest easy with three squares a day, heat and air conditioning, and a nice roof over their demented heads.

Know this: The Family was NOT a cult. I repeat. NOT a cult. Ignore the so-called “experts” and the former Family members who take interview fees for TV time and bemoan their victimization. These were drop-outs and bored rich kids who wanted to escape life’s responsibilities and CHOSE to follow a guy who offered them free food and lodging, free drugs, free sex and a 24/7 fantasy life that came with the “fun times” of creepy crawling houses late at night while the owners slept and killing The Establishment’s Beautiful People for bail money. Any one of those idiots could have left, and did, exemplified by Linda Kasabian doing just that even at risk to her own child forcibly being held behind at Spahn Ranch. Atkins, Watson, Beausoleil et al. came and went numerous times but they ALL chose to return and ALL chose to kill.

Unless you were alive in ’69 and remember living through this nightmare, don’t talk to me about forgiveness and rehabilitation. It will never exist for the remaining seven murderers. You cannot rehabilitate Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Death will be their only escape. 

California Governor, Jerry Brown, well remembers the summer of ’69 even if some Cumbaya parole board members do not.

To ponder this anniversary and wonder what lives the victims may have led makes one stop in one’s tracks. The losses are so great, your mind freezes, and all that roils to the surface are blank slates of black sorrow, to include the public’s loss of innocence.

By August 11th 1969…
You lock your doors.
You buy a guard dog.
You install CCTV.
And your community becomes gated.

You no longer pick up hitch hikers and you give a wide birth to the unkempt and unwashed, who after these murders and the following muddy fiasco at Woodstock, start to ebb away and disappear. Thank God.

A free-loader good thing never lasts for very long. You can escape into the country and make daisy chains and poo-poo the working class, but once you run out of food and water and your tie-dye togs become threadbare, even the Cumbaya Crowd has to come in from the cold and realize that it isn’t faeries who make stuff and put a roof over one’s head. Even a bloody melee with buck knives, a Buntline and a thirsty bayonet won’t change that fact.

Yes, 50 years is a long time, but it might as well have been yesterday for those of us who were there and saw and touched that fear and felt that rage.

As each murderer dies off, we survivors of their hate breathe a sigh of relief, and whisper, “Who’s next?” for we will never receive a lasting peace until each and every one of the killers is wiped off the face of this earth. Scourge is scourge. Their kind of hate is immune to psychiatry or penicillin.

From July 25th to the end of August, I will choose to think about Gary, Steven, Jay, Voytek, Abigail, Sharon, Paul Richard, Leno, Rosemary and Donald and know in my heart they have been in a better place for this half century. Some time ago, I created a fictional place where those lost souls could meet, so for this anniversary, I have dusted off the tale and republished it here. Let us hope there is light wherever they are, and that such a vile darkness shall never again touch any of our souls.

Potluck for the Dead


Every year since ‘69.

A house in which to hold the potluck is chosen, and ten people attend… every year.

It’s always on the evening of the 8th of August. Sharon’s chosen date. It seems reasonable. It is her idea to have these potluck dinners in the first place. She loves having people over, cooking herself, trying new foods, having Jay bring the wine, and over these last 50 years she’s accepted the fact that this odd band of souls would be forever linked, so why not get to know one another, truly, is Sharon’s thinking. And through these Do’s, all ten have become very close, you know, bonding better than blood relatives, over an inevitable coming-together of fated moments in time and, well, summer wouldn’t be summer if you didn’t have a get-together, at least once.

Courtesy LASO

This year, Gary’s place is chosen. It’s never a big deal for the guys to host the party, for they know Sharon, Gibby and Rosemary will help them in the food and party essentials department — how to prepare and how to lay it all out for the shindig. This Do is never a stressful one… no, not for the food.

At about 7:30 p.m. people start to arrive, the time roughly coinciding when Sharon and her friends started to get ready for that long ago dinner at the el Coyote. Tonight, one by one, they will “materialize” in their respective cars, cars that have a distinctive ‘60’s era look and feel, for everything and everyone is frozen in time. Up the hill they come. Darkness hasn’t yet enveloped Topanga but headlights are clearly visible as they make their way up Gary’s drive.

First to arrive is Jay’s Porsche (he gives a ride to Sharon as her Ferrari is in the mechanic’s garage), then Steve Parent’s Rambler, car-radio predictably blaring, followed by Leno’s Thunderbird with his dear wife, Rosemary, in the passenger seat, the T-Bird still hauling the speedboat. Then Gibby’s Camaro, with her ever-present, somewhat mooching sidekick, Voytek, riding shotgun (forgive the choice of words). Shorty Shea’s ’62 Mercury is the last up the hill, for he has the longest way to drive, and really isn’t known to rush in any instance. All are present and accounted for, cars and company. What is missing in the driveway are Gary’s VW micro-bus and Fiat station wagon. Not surprising, for we know they are stolen by Bobby, Mother Mary and Sadie on July 27th.

Carrying various well-wrapped dishes, all climb Gary’s bedraggled steps, Jay hauling a cardboard box filled with various Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, for he’s always in charge of the drinks for these Do’s. Steve is the last up the steps as he forgot to retrieve the board game and the Sony AM/FM clock-radio out of his car. Sharon put Steven in charge of the after-dinner entertainment. Tonight’s game is Mouse Trap, and although Steve attempts to set the correct time on the clock as it blares out ’60s tunes, the numbers always flip back to “11:45.” Oh well, no matter, it’s the music they are interested in anyhow.

The line stalls when it’s Sharon’s turn to head up the stairs as she’s carrying the wicker bassinet, all lined in lovely white linen, a frilly mini bedding ensemble for wee Paul Richard, the soft tinkle of a baby rattle is heard.

Hugs and kisses are exchanged all around. It’s always so nice to see one another again. Once Sharon finds a nice place for Paul Richard, she joins Rosemary and Gibby in Gary’s kitchen to prepare and re-heat the buffet. The men get-together in the living room helping Jay uncork the wine, everyone laughing and joking, room to room, exchanging pleasantries and small talk on how this last year unfolded.

Alone, in the dark, coffined deep within the earth, one surely thirsts for company by August.
And everyone is famished. You get like that not eating for so long.

Each dish is incredible and tastes so fine, and the wine flows brightly. There’s a big smile on Jay’s face, so thrilled he is to be by Sharon’s side, and Shorty puts everyone in stitches with his down-home ranch-hand humour. Leno trades horse-betting secrets with Steve, and Voytek asks after Rosemary, trying to make her feel more at ease. It doesn’t matter what place they meet after ’69, Rosemary never quite relaxes, always inexplicably wringing her hands. Leno’s lovely wife tries to hide her nervous habit, especially from her husband, by secreting her hands under the table, as Leno gets so infuriated that at least for one night, Rosemary can’t settle down, relax and enjoy herself.
Around the table, the news from each is enthusiastically exchanged…

“I never lose anymore, you know. I’m at Santa Anita race track every day now and I always win! But there’s no place to spend the money “up there,” so I’m piling it in bricks of $5,000 and building walls to make convenience stores strategically placed in Heaven. I don’t care where you end up: location, location, location, and everyone gets the munchies even on Cloud 9,” Leno says, leaning far into the dining table, hands animated, spitting out words in between manly chaws of roasted pork.

“Good for you!” says Steve. “I over-see the Geek Squad at the Best Buy, you know, the one in the Valley near my parents’ house. When those guys get stuck with either fixing a mother board or installing a car or house stereo, I ‘assist.’ They don’t know it’s me, but I do get thrills knowing I helped. You should see the components they have today, man! Wish I had stuff like that in ’69. What systems I could have made.” Steve leans well back in his chair, slowly rocking it back and forth on the two rear legs. Leno nods in approval, a kind of Fatherly pride for Steve washing over this Father-for-real. Leno enjoys his annual talks with the teen. Nothing keeps you young like talking with the youth.

“How’s the hair business going, Jay?” asks Shorty. “I don’t know a lot about cutting hair but I know what I like, and that’s SHORT hair, not that Hippie-Girlie look. Had enough of that in ’69 to do me a lifetime!”

Jay laughs out loud, and replies, “Well, you know, Sebring International is still a going-concern but not how I envisioned it, and after that movie, ‘Hair,’ starring Warren Beatty — a take on MY life, seriously? — Warren looks nothing like me, and I always managed to keep my pants on while working with the stars.”

Sharon overhears the last comment and blushes.

“And after I helped Larry Geller get together with Elvis to cut his hair, and seeing how screwed up Elvis’s thinking became under Larry’s ‘tutelage,’ a bad taste got in my mouth about the whole styling business.”

“What do you do now between our potlucks?”

“I pal around with McQueen. He and I ‘appear’ at Le Mans every year and at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, and we hit the Land Speed Racing over at el Mirage in the Mojave. We quietly tool-up and race our own cars and bikes and we usually come in first… but no one sees. And if we aren’t doing that, we’re haunting Clint Eastwood out in Monterrey. We play pranks on the guy, you know, having pens drop or hiding stuff on the man, just messing with him enough to make his day a little bit less perfect out there in ‘Pacific Coast Heaven.’ Up until this year, Steve and I kept a close eye on Clint’s neighbour, Doris Day, just because she’s a ray of sunshine wherever she is. Doris is ‘up there’ now, you know,” Jay points to the sky, his expression sorrowful, adding, “You can often hear her singing Que Sera, Sera with her son, Terry, from a far off cloud.”

“You miss working?”

“Nah, not really. Business stresses, well, I’ve left them all behind. I choose to enjoy myself these days. I never did enough of that when I was here, you know, always trying to climb some business and social ladder that never really meant a thing to me in the end. I’m not doing that any more. Now I cherish what’s truly important.” Jay reaches for Sharon’s hand and their eyes glisten.

“You still working with horses?” asks Jay of Shorty.

“Yeah, mostly. I’m at peace when caring for those critters. I brush ’em, feed and water ’em like I did at Spahn’s Ranch, and they like me for it, and they don’t talk back. Can’t say the same for people,” Donald says, chuckling. “It doesn’t take much to make me content, Jay. It never did. I was never any threat to anyone, you know, well, not really. Think people got the wrong idea about me, due to my size or that I would sometimes spout off before thinking. Turns out spouting off can get you killed.”

“Yeah…” Jay says, lowering his gaze, and thinking back…

Jay and Donald clap sober eyes across Gary’s dining table, and the pair become silent… the uncomfortable pause broken by Jay offering to fill Shorty’s glass. Donald hates wine but he never admits that to Jay, never one to hurt feelings. Besides, everything since the end of August ’69 tastes like a good old American beer to Shorty anyhow.

“Your place looks great, Gary. This must be such a retreat for you from all the din at UC Berkeley, huh?” asks Gibby.

“Yeah. It’s only here that I can think, you know, or write music, or play my guitar. Be myself. Luckily for us, we get to ‘see’ my house as it was in ’69. I get that the new owners have improved on it since then, but you know, for me, my eyes only see my long ago pad. Sometimes it’s good to not see into the future.”

Gary sidles up to one of the walls, crouches down and tries to wipe away some lingering red stains but the stains won’t disappear.

Gibby ignores Gary’s disquieting words, refuses to look at the stains, and says, “I’m still reading the same paperback I had in bed with me that night. Darned if I don’t turn to a new page and the next thing I know, it’s back to that last page!” Gibby laughs and laughs, and Gary laughs, too, then a paralytic silence overtakes.

Clearing her throat, Gibby adds, “Have some more ziti, Gary. Rosemary outdid herself this year!”

“Don’t mind if I do,” returning to the table to grab the casserole dish. The two of them gobble down another helping. The act of eating, slowly drowning their disturbing thoughts.

At the other end of the table, Voytek and Sharon are seen leaning into one another, quietly exchanging stories on being parents. “How is Bartek doing these days, V?”

“Amazingly well, and you know what? He writes now, too, just for himself, so far, but I think he’s writing for the two of us, memoir stuff mostly, but who knows what the future will bring. I’m so proud of him, Share, so very proud. He’s so responsible, mature, and such a hard worker. Everything I never was. He has done more with his life maybe because I didn’t do with mine. Maybe my loss was his gain. That’s good, right Share, that’s good?” Voytek asked, desperately hoping she’ll agree.

“You bet, V! He’s as good as he is because of you and your life. Nothing is ever in vain, you know. Here or not, we influence our babies, affect in a positive way those who love us. I have no doubt that he is the man he is because of you. A published book or play wouldn’t have got you any further or made you any more valuable as a human being or as a Father to Bartek.”

“Thank-you, Sharon. Thank-you for your kindness towards me, I know I didn’t always deserve it but I never meant to harm either.”

Softly touching his arm, Sharon’s big bright eyes look into his, and she says, “Hey, hey, I know that. We’re friends forever, and now both parents to boot!” Sharon knows, maybe more than anyone else, Voytek still carries so much guilt and regret.

Being “up there” doesn’t wash away everything.

“I know. Isn’t it wonderful? Your boy is looking so well, such a handsome fellow, but why not? You’re a stunner, and even with those hound-dog looks of Roman, how could Paul Richard lose?”
The two burst out laughing, clinking their wine glasses and toasting to Roman, their American absentee, for more reasons than one.

Sharon has the ability to know everything after 1969 and so does Voytek, but ability and desire can mix like oil and vinegar even in the After Life.

Sensing utter quiet to her left, Sharon turns, and says, “Rosemary, how’s the dress store doing?”
“Oh, Sharon, so kind of you to ask. It’s going gang-busters. So many pretty designs and such a lovely store decor, I’m so content when I’m there. Leno says it’s silly because it has no front door or customers, but that doesn’t matter to me. I moved it right onto Rodeo, you know. I hit the Big Time. And I don’t care what Leno thinks. I think he’s jealous, anyways, all my free time spent at the shop.” Rosemary smiles for the very first time.

“Hey, ignore Leno. You know him. If it doesn’t have four legs and hit Win, Place or Show in the 4th, it just doesn’t count.”

Voytek, Sharon and Rosemary get the giggles, clinking glasses and sneaking glances at Leno who by now has a curious expression, wondering what all the banter is about. Despite the gaiety of the moment, Rosemary soon returns to wringing her hands under the table.

In the corner of the living room, a tinkling is heard from a baby’s rattle, and a cooing in contented delight.

Even after the lovely buffet is over, the evening festivities continue. With Gary’s dishes all washed and put away, Jay opens yet another set of bottles from Napa and the southern hills of Germany. The sun long since set, everyone moves into the living room to play Mouse Trap. It doesn’t matter what year it is, Voytek always ends up setting off the trap, and although everyone tries not to laugh at him, it’s darn difficult, for he pounds his fists and swears in Polish every time that red plastic trap slams down on his little grey mouse. The sight is just too funny for words.

As time wears on, the gang becomes less jovial and a little more ill at ease, not in any noticeable way, mind, just a vibe you pick up on, if you were there with them on this night. More awkward silences spring up in between more stilted conversation. Light and breezy are the topics but they don’t defend against the indefensible.

No matter the potluck location, each year the phone rings at around ten o’ clock. It’s Gibby’s Mom asking if she’s all right and if she’s still taking tomorrow’s flight to San Fran. Every year Gibby lies and says she is. By 11:45 p.m. Steve makes his own phone call but, of course, no one answers like that night in ’69. No matter, Gibby and Steve carry out the inevitable every year.

Mouse Trap played, the phone calls made and the last wine drank are signs that the potluck get-together is winding down. Jay’s wine box holds merely empties now. The women wrap up the leftovers and pack the containers. The food will not go anywhere but that doesn’t matter. With no formal to-do and when the clock strikes midnight, all slowly, with sober resignation, put on their wraps and coats and head for Gary’s front door.

The women hug for such a long time and kiss one another lightly on the cheek. Handshakes and pats on the backs are had for the men. 

“Until next year. Same time… but hey, which place?” asks Shorty.

“Right! Which place?” echoes Steve.

“How about my place next year? I am dying… I mean, eager, to go for another swim in the pool. I miss floating in my inner tube, and I’d like to splash and play with Paul Richard. He never got the chance to… so how’s Cielo Drive next year?”

Everyone silently nods in agreement. They all stay mum and look away, forcing back the tears, their throats choked with emotion at the loss of time a mother should have had with her son.

“And what about the board game? Any suggestions?” asks Steve, the first to clear his throat and the air, so Sharon wouldn’t notice the many tears pelting onto the floor.

With her head bowed, and in a wavering whisper, Rosemary replies, “How about The Game of LIFE? Anyone for LIFE?” her eyes rising to meet their glances, sheepishly waiting for an answer.

Courtesy ebay

There is a slow, silent but determined raising of nine hands and a coo and rattle tinkle from the bassinet.

All who are there, and all who know best, voted for LIFE.

That settled, the ill-fated group of ten slowly exit Gary’s front door, one by one heading down those long wooden steps. Sharon is first in line with Paul Richard, Jay steadying her all the way.
Car engines start, all sounding pretty darn good for being a half century old. Headlights turn on and a slight dust-up is seen in the warm, dry desert air as they reverse out the gravel and dirt rutted drive. From their respective car windows, all the guests take one last look to wave Goodbye to Gary… but the house is in darkness and his aura is already gone.

You see, the vapour that makes up this group, well, each would dematerialize in the order in which they were killed, so by the 9th of August, Gary is well and truly dead, some thirteen days hence, his corpse long decayed in the L.A. heat. Shorty’s presence is the last to fade, and each in their fateful turn will “depart,” making their way down Topanga Canyon.

Courtesy pixabay

The pixels of light that are each soul will extinguish like dying stars in the heavens, the result: ten fading auras that ultimately, effervescently float down over Malibu Beach and out into the sea.
The clinking of empty wine bottles, the click-hum of Steve’s clock-radio and the tiny coo and rattle tinkle from Paul Richard are the last remaining signs that this Potluck of the Dead ever occurred.

Rest well, ’til next year… rest well.


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