I stood at the end of the road, beneath a clear blue LA sky, fingers gripping the lattice of the 10-foot high chain-link gate. A loose padlocked chain prevented the gate from swinging open and allowing access to the property beyond.
It was May, 1975. I was nearing completion of the first year of my Cardiology Fellowship at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. This was my first trip to California. I had first gone to San Francisco to run in the Bay To Breakers race and had then flown down to LA to see my friend Ben. He lived in Marina del Rey. I had gotten in late the night before so I had seen little of LA.
The next morning, Ben asked, “So this is your first day in LA. What do you want to see?”
“Do you know where Benedict Canyon is?”
“That’s where I want to go.”
So off we went. Once onto Benedict Canyon Drive, we quickly found Cielo Drive and turned up the hill. Isolated, quite, tree-shaded. My heart rate amped up, palms moistened. This was the road the killer’s walked up. I could almost hear their footsteps, their laughter. For them, this was a party. This was for Charlie. Then there it was. The gate the killer’s had climbed. 10050. End of the road.
Why were we there?
It was so quite, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.
And later on Page 1:
Cielo Drive is a narrow street that abruptly winds upward from Benedict Canyon Road. One of its cul-de-sacs, easily missed though directly opposite Bella Drive, comes to a dead end at the high gate of 10050.
This from Vincent Bugliosi’s 1974 masterpiece Helter Skelter. I had just finished reading it, one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever encountered. As someone who grew up in the quiet and safe South of the 1950s, where we didn’t even have a house key, this story was like cold water in the face. Or maybe battery acid. While reading, I would often put the book down, take a few breaths and try to envision this being true. It simply read like crime fiction. It read like something generated in a creative, if sick, mind. But this was not fiction. This was very real.
So, here I stood, at the end of Cielo Drive, looking through that gate, searching for something, anything, that would attach a physical anchor to this story. I needed proof, concrete evidence.
Of course, nothing was as it had been that hot August night in 1969.
There was no Steve Parent sitting in his car, slashed by Tex Watson’s knife and shot four times. No Wojciech Frykowski sprawled in the front yard punctured by two bullets and 51 stab wounds. No Abigail Folger in the back yard, white dress crimson from 28 stab wounds. Inside, things had been worse. Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring, a rope that stretched up and over a ceiling beam around their necks, waited for a similar fate. When Sharon begged for them to save her baby, Susan Atkins, aka Sexy Sadie, aka Sadie Mae Glutz, said, “I don’t care about you or your baby.” She then stabbed Sharon 16 times and used her blood to scribble the word “PIG” on a door.
Charlie had told them where to go and what to do. Though he wasn’t present, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian followed his orders to the letter. After all, he was Charlie. Jesus to them.
Hard to believe it’s been 40 years.
The next night, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca fell victim to Charlie’s madness. This time, Charlie was there. He entered the home and tied up the couple. Then the same cast of characters plus Leslie Van Houten brutally murdered the LaBianca’s. More blood messages: Death To Pigs, Rise, and Healter Skelter. The misspelling of Helter would play a role in the trial.
Why? What was Charlie’s deal? Helter Skelter. Something Charlie supposedly dreamed up while listening to The Beatles’ White Album. I listened to that album hundreds of times. Guess I didn’t get the message. Helter Skelter was Charlie’s vision of a coming race war. One he would ignite with these murders. One where the blacks would win but would not have the skills to run the world and would come to him and ask him to take over. Really?
To quote the late great Sam Kinison: It’s a f__king album! You were on acid, Manson! It’s a f__king album! You’d have gotten the same message out of the Monkees, you f__kin’ d_ckhead.
I miss Sam.