February 4, 2016

Debunking Helter Skelter




The ones who matter




If it seems too crazy to believe, it might just be. 


The theory of "Helter Skelter" has long been accepted as the motive behind the senseless slayings of seven people and one unborn child on the weekend of August 8-10, 1969 in Los Angeles by the so-called Manson Family.  Vincent Bugliosi did a masterful job presenting the theory of Helter Skelter to the jury, who listened, understood, bought it and found the killers guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.  Honestly though, if Manson were trying to jumpstart a race war, why stop after the two sets of murders?  It's not like the police were hot on his trail.
So was Helter Skelter the true motive for the murders? 



Drugs.  Were drugs the underlying cause of the massacre?  Tate detectives initially believed they were, convinced that a drug deal had gone south.  True, drugs were found on the property . . . but not enough to suggest anyone at Cielo was a dealer.  If a drug burn was the root of the homicides, wouldn't a hit be more clean?  In other words, would a professional (as surely a hit would suggest) show up at the Cielo property with a rope, knives and a bayonet?  Hardly the weapons of a professional killer. 


Was Voytek Frykowski dealing?  Feelings on this seem divided.  If he was, he had to have been small potatoes.  No significant amount of drugs were found in the house to suggest he was a major player and there were no weapons -- like a gun - - that you would expect a dealer to have.  Would a dealer be living in such an easily accessible property?  Even assuming that he was the target, he left the house earlier in the day - -  the perfect time to carry out a hit and making him a far easier target for a professional.


Same with Abigail Folger.  If she were the target, she had a standing appointment Monday through Friday to see her therapist every afternoon.  She could easily have been eliminated leaving or returning to Cielo Drive without involving anyone else.


Rumors have floated for years that Jay Sebring was the candyman to quite a few Hollywood players.  If true and if Sebring was the target, it makes zero sense that he would be taken out anywhere other than his own house or office.  His visit at Cielo seemed to be a casual type of dropping by you do with friends, which would make it more unlikely that he was the target in my book.  He also had no drugs on him and a relatively small amount in his Porsche.  None were found in his system at autopsy.  While it could bolster the dealer argument (as most dealers apparently live by the creed that you don't use yourself) it does weaken the rumor that he had a major coke problem.  If he was such an addict, wouldn't he have the drug in his system? 


Besides that, assuming that one victim was the target why take out everyone?  Would anyone attempting a hit slaughter a pregnant woman?   Would they write in blood on the front door?  Would they tie rope around the victims' necks? 


And where does Steven Parent fit in all this?  He had no previous connection with anyone at the Cielo property and it's not been suggested that he was a drug dealer or user.  Assuming professionals were dispatched to Cielo over a drug burn, they would have let the unsuspecting Parent, leaving the guesthouse, get in his car and drive away.


Furthermore, if drugs were behind the crimes, would the assailants leave any behind?  Wouldn't they search the property and take any and all drugs with them, even minor amounts?  And where does that leave the LaBiancas?  They had no known connection to drugs, nor were any found in their home or in their systems upon autopsy. 


While drugs may have been present and perhaps even tied the victims, however remotely, to their eventual killers, I don't think it was why the murders were committed.


The Mob.  The Mob angle is tossed around with regard to the LaBiancas but not Tate.  Since the two crimes are related we'd have to find a connection to the Tate homicide and the Mob and so far, there appears to be none.  Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski had no known ties to the Mob.  Jay Sebring was in debt at the time of his death but not to the Mob - - to Sharon, to Abigail, to his dentist, all of whom invested in Sebring International.  He seemed to be a textbook case of cash poor but having assets from his business.  No apparent connection with Abigail Folger or Voytek Frykowski.  Steve Parent had just graduated from high school two months prior to his murder so a connection there is about as likely as Manson getting parole. 


Even if the Mob were somehow involved with the LaBiancas, specifically Leno, would they execute a hit by tying up Leno and his wife, putting lamp cords around their necks, stab them repeatedly and write in blood on the walls before taking a shower and grabbing a bite to eat on their way out the door?   And making sure to write about Manson's infamous upcoming race war on the fridge?  Really?   Not only great luck and quite a coinky-dink but also an extremely sloppy hit.


As far as the Mob contracting Manson to perform the hit . . . my eyes ache from how hard I'm rolling them.


Black Magic and Witchcraft.  This theory is almost too laughable to press but it came out immediately following the murders and it still haunts to this day.  I think the gruesomeness of the crimes combined with Roman Polanski's films (most especially the then-recent Rosemary's Baby) gave this tale legs.  It didn't help that Sharon Tate was pregnant (feeding into the allegations that a child is the ultimate sacrifice) or that is was mistakenly reported (repeatedly) that Jay Sebring was found with a hood over his head. 


Over the years various "sources" have claimed that Sharon was initiated into witchcraft and said witchcraft is what got her killed.  They use a photo of her standing in a magic circle to prove it.  First, the photo is a picture taken on set of Eye of the Devil, in which she plays a witch so no dice.  If a real photograph existed, in this age of social media and eBay, you'd bet it would be circulated.  No black magic paraphernalia was discovered at 10050 Cielo Drive so what kind of black magic practitioner was Sharon anyway?  Witchcraft doesn't mesh with Sharon's Catholic upbringing and none of her friends claim that she participated in any such thing.  Her sister spent quite a bit of time with Sharon that summer and saw nothing amiss.  Furthermore, nothing has been said about Abigail, Jay, Voytek or Steven being into witchcraft so why were they killed?  Guilt by association?  The magic circle made a mistake? 


Orgies and Sex Tapes.  This topic has reached almost epic proportions in some arenas.  It was reported in Bugliosi's Helter Skelter that the LAPD recovered a videotape in the loft of the Cielo property that showed Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski making love.  Hardly an orgy or a cache of porn and yet some remain convinced that Tate, Polanski, Sebring and a host of other Hollywood players were participating in various orgies, all of which were recorded for good measure and the existence of these tapes (and the threat of them) is what incited the murders.


What makes this impossible for me to believe is, once again, that if such tapes existed, where are they?  It's been more than forty-six years since the murders; surely they would have surfaced by now.  Someone, somewhere, would be trying to get big bucks for these tapes and yet . . . not a peep.


And if the murders were committed in order to retrieve these tapes, why was it necessary to kill everyone in the house?  Why write in blood?  And why execute the LaBiancas the next evening?  Surely they had nothing to do with supposed Hollywood orgies.


And maybe the most important point - - what would Charles Manson and his band of killers have to do with sex tapes that don't involve them?  Exactly.  Nothing.


Copycat Motive.  Other than below, this motive makes the most sense out of all of them.  To wit:  Bobby Beausoleil was sitting in jail for killing Gary Hinman and The Family/Charlie/the girls thought a copycat killing spree would exonerate him for the Hinman murder and/or they needed cash to bail Bobby out.


The robbery angle is weak in my book.  Manson had no problems sending his girls out hooking before for cash so why not do that now?  He had also starting creepy-crawling homes so surely they could have pocketed some items worth a little bank. 


If Manson was so concerned about Beausoleil's incarceration why was he taking his jolly ass up north with Stephanie Schram and hitting the Esalen Institute to play his music?  (More on that below.)   Shouldn't he have been staying in town to organize his troops for soliciting and stealing? 


As far as that goes, wouldn't you think that he'd want to distance himself as much as possible from Hinman?  Especially given that he was present during Gary's imprisonment and torture, slicing off the poor man's ear himself.   You would think he'd go underground or something but this is Charles Manson.


The copycat motive is similarly weak in places.  Beausoleil (and possibly Manson, Atkins and/or Mary Brunner) had Hinman sign the titles of his two vehicles over to the Family before his death.  (In fact, Beausoleil was arrested in one of Hinman's vehicles.)  None of the vehicles at either Cielo or Waverly was touched.  (Maybe Beausoleil's stupidity taught them?)  The cops also knew that Beausoleil was part of Manson's gang so it stands to reason that another murder or set of murders along the lines of Hinman should have been a red flag leading the cops to Manson, right?


Manson and Revenge.  I believe Manson spoke about "Helter Skelter" coming down to the Family.  He was a storyteller and a preacher (non-religious, of course) who loved to hold people in rapt attention, particularly those who were under the influence of drugs and other dysfunctions.  One thing I will say about Charlie was that he was very adept at reading others' hang ups and issues, like most good con men and sociopaths.  The ragtag group of social misfits and dropouts that made up his "Family" wanted something to believe in besides all the free love and drugs that permeated Spahn Ranch.  Helter Skelter gave them a purpose and also fed into their antisocial nature by promising the "Pigs" (i.e., the white establishment) would get theirs while Charlie and his group remained hidden away until they could safely emerge and take over.  It's been said that Charlie is actually quite intelligent with a fairly high IQ, something that might very well be the truth given how easily he manipulated the Bible and the songs on the Beatles' White Album to interpret Helter Skelter. 


However, I don't think that's why seven people lost their lives that terrible weekend.  I don't think it's a coincidence that on August 8, 1968 - - exactly a year before the Tate murders - - Manson recorded his music with the help of Dennis Wilson, Terry Melcher and Greg Jacobson.  Manson wanted to be a musician, like Dennis (of the Beach Boys fame) and the Beatles but he wanted to do so without having to pay the dues that most musicians do.  In other words, he didn't want to work his way up the ladder, he wanted to own the ladder from jump.  While it's been said that he wasn't a bad musician and his voice was fine, his lyrics and the overall down nature of them turned off the executives.  Remember, this was just before the Summer of Love; the hippies were preaching peace and love, not death and destruction.  So Manson got the usual "thanks, we'll be in touch" line and went back to Spahn Ranch to wait for the call that would make him king.  The call that would never come.


Manson apparently waited and stewed for months, while putting Terry Melcher on redial.  By March of 1969, he had enough and went directly to Melcher's residence on Cielo Drive to find out why the executives weren't beating down his door with offers.  The property's owner, Rudi Altobelli, was living in the guesthouse at the time and informed Charlie that Melcher had moved out and new tenants were living in the main house.  When pressed, Altobelli told Manson that while Melcher had moved to Malibu, he had no idea where in Malibu.  A lie.  He also told Manson, when Charlie asked about Altobelli's contacts in the entertainment industry, that he was living for Europe the next day and would be gone for a year.  Also a lie - - Altobelli did leave for Europe the next day, along with Sharon Tate, but he wasn't planning on being gone for a year. More like a few months.


Manson went back to his life at Spahn of fixing dune buggies, eating out of garbage cans and sending the girls out on prostitution runs for extra cash and things seemed to be status quo until August.  In early August Charlie went up north to the Esalen Institute and played his music for its guests - - the so-called establishment that he despised.  There is no proof they were there at the time but both Sharon Tate and Abigail Folger had been guests of the Institute previously.  Charlie's music was met with dislike and disdain and he must have left thoroughly bitter.  He left on August 7, 1969.


I think when he returned to the L.A. area on the afternoon of August 8, he was seething.  It had been a year since all of his music industry dreams were to have come true.   Terry Melcher had told Manson he was going to get his music out there and to Charlie, a man born of the prison system where your word is the only thing you have, a promise was a promise.  Melcher, part of that establishment of "Pigs", along with those at Esalen Institute, had humiliated him for the last time.  He wanted revenge.


Charlie wouldn't have offed Melcher, the same way he wouldn't have offed Dennis Wilson or Greg Jacobson.  He needed them to further his musical career.  But sending a message was okay.  He had done so with Wilson by leaving him a bullet, the subtext loud and clear.  He would do the same to Melcher but in far gorier terms.


He knew Melcher no longer lived at Cielo; he may have heard that movie industry people resided there now.  It mattered little.  He knew the layout of the property and he knew that Melcher would hear of what was going to happen.  


When he sent his merry band of killers out that night, he was careful not to accompany them but his wishes were clear.  I think he sent them out on their deadly mission under the guise of Helter Skelter because he didn't want to tell them that he was really throwing a temper tantrum and ordering the deaths of a group of people because he was pissed.   Watson, Krenwinkle and Atkins - - thoroughly antisocial and blood thirsty - - were more than happy to instigate what they thought would be a race war.  In truth, they were simply obliterating human beings because Charles Manson didn't get his way.


I don't think Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring or Voytek Frykowski had personally done anything to Manson.  In fact, I doubt they had any interactions with him, ever.  They were merely representations of the industry and the establishment that had mocked him and for that, they lost their lives.  Steven Parent was collateral damage, having the extreme misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and meeting up with the evil and unsympathetic end of Watson's gun.


The LaBiancas were victims of geography, living next door to a house that Manson had been to several times, and victims of the Family's bloodlust.  They too represented the establishment that Manson had so much disdain for and yet wanted to be a part of.  For that, they too paid for his raging desire for revenge, plain and simple.


I think the truth of this case is a matter of Occam's razor - - the simpler explanation makes the most sense.  And the simplest explanation to me is revenge.

2 comments:

  1. This is a really good article. I agree with you that 'simple' is most likely. However, if a revenge message was sent for Melcher - I am unsure about the second night which has always been puzzling - because similar to the Helter Skelter problem of 'why did it stop?' - if it was a pure revenge message killing - 'why go to Los Feliz?' I tend to go the copycat motive route because of this and the base familiarity of the properties. It was sloppy but there are linkages to Panthers and pigs throughout all three sites starting with Hinman - as the plan fizzled - paranoia set in even more - and off to Death Valley we go in hopes of evading authorities with Bobby in the pen. Still a great article. Appreciate it.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Chris!

      I recently took a Helter Skelter tour in LA and the tour guide said that it was possible that while visiting Harold True in the house next door to the LaBiancas, Manson and his gang wandered over to the LaBianca property and used their pool. Back in 1969, there was no fence between the properties or any other way to prevent guests at True's home from walking to the LaBianca home. He speculated that Leno may have told Manson, et al. to get off his property. It's not much but it would have been enough for Manson.

      In any event, Manson and his gang likely thought the Tate homicides would be connected to Hinman immediately. When they weren't, they could have planned a second night to bolster the copycat angle. We do know that Manson wanted to blame the Panthers; he believed he had killed Bernard Crowe aka Lottsapoppa (who had actually survived the gunshot from Charlie) and was interested in self-preservation as much as anything.

      I don't think the full motive will ever be known but I do think that Manson was pissed off that he didn't become a musician, antisocial and enraged toward the "pigs."

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

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