The Public’s Side of the Manson Tale Charley Balding



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The Public’s Side of the Manson Tale

Charley Balding

Humanities 11

Hou and Barclay

May 23, 2014

In 1969, the last year of the era of love and peace, a horrendous crime occurred on Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills. In August of 1969 eight people were brutally murdered. Among the victims were the pregnant actress Sharon Tate and her unborn child. The murderers were a group of people who called themselves the Manson Family. The Manson Family, led by a former convict who had already spent more than half his life in jail, Charles Manson. Charles Manson had been in and out of prison for crimes such as forgery, rape, and theft. When Manson first started his cult none of the members ever expected it would escalate to murder. The Manson Family started as a group of young adults who wanted to be free from the norms of society and instead live a carefree life. It was not until around a year later that Manson initiated the murders and the horrendous events took place. The Manson murders were a horrible event for the victim’s families but they also affected the entirety of the American public. The public heard about the brutal murders and when they learned more about Manson they became MORE fascinated. The media started playing a major role in the stories of the murders. Media, such as newspapers, magazines, and journalists, constantly kept the public up to date on everything that was taking place within the Manson trial and featured interviews from Manson and the Manson Family. The public fed off this information and it did not take long until it was running the social aspect of people’s lives. The Manson murders were a shock to the American public and it greatly affected their everyday lives. The notoriety and intrigue of the Charles Manson Murders permeated American society and became a mainstay of the daily American home.

There had never been a massacre more heinous than the Tate-LaBianca murders. On the night of August 9, 1969 while the actress, Sharon Tate, had guests at her house someone broke in and created a scene that would haunt the America for years to come.  Actress Sharon Tate was found dead in her home along with four other people. Sharon Tate was eight months pregnant and both she and her child were killed. All the victims were stabbed numerous times. The word "PIG" was written on the door with Sharon Tate's blood. The murders were notorious for their brutality. It was reported that between the five victims there were seven gunshot wounds and 104 stab wounds. Sharon Tate had the worst wounds; she “died from multiple stab wounds to her chest, back, arms and face penetrating her lungs, heart and liver causing massive hemorrhage, her baby boy died with her” (“The Murders”). The police arrived on the scene the next morning and what they found started paranoia throughout America. By the same afternoon the news about the Tate murders had spread quickly. The next night, August 10, another brutal murder took place. Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, a grocery store owner and successful businesswoman, became victims of the Manson Family. The LaBianca's were murdered in their house the night after the Tate murders took place. Mr. LaBianca was found in the living room stabbed and Mrs. LaBianca was found in the bedroom. She was also stabbed numerous times; “By the time the stabbing ended Rosemary [had been stabbed] 41 times. [Leno was stabbed] a number of times and a carving fork [was left] protruding from his stomach and a steak knife from his throat” (“Charles Manson”). The vicious results of the two-night ordeal would be recorded as one of the most brutal murders in America history.

The day after the killings took place the city of Los Angeles exploded with the news of the murders. Newspapers, Magazines, and News Stations all reported on the events from the night before. The public fed off the events. They became the talk of the year:

The headlines dominated the front pages of the afternoon papers, became the big news on radio and TV. The bizarre nature of the rime, the number of victims [five], and their prominence – a beautiful movie star, the heiress to a coffee fortune, her jet-set playboy paramour, an internationally known hair stylist – would combine to make this probably the most publicized murder case in history, expecting only the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Even the staid New York Times, which rarely reports crime on its front page, did so the next day, and any days thereafter. (Bugliosi 20)

The public was intrigued and fascinated. The murders caught and kept their attention; "As the city recoiled at the brutality of the two murders," they became more fascinated by who instigated the murders (Netter). The excitement of the murders lasted longer than anyone expected. The public found them so fascinating that the newspapers continued to run the stories and update the public at every chance. The murders were the talk of the country and so was Manson. Due to their notoriety "it was impossible not to notice Charlie; there were stories about him to watch or to read every day" (Guinn 333). Famous people had been murdered and the public could not help but wonder who was next. It was not even two days later when the report of the LaBianca murders hit the public. Though the public was scared of what would happen next they did not stop focusing on the murders and after Charles Manson and the Family were caught the public’s attention immediately turned to them; "Charlie's arrival in chains at the L.A. Hall of Justice increased rather than satisfied public interest in the Tate - LaBianca murders" (Guinn 333).

Charles Manson, though a cult leader and a murderer, appealed to countless numbers of young adults seeking freedom within the United States. The murders took place in 1969, the end of the hippie decade. Those young adults who still wanted to live in the free spirited, no worry era immediately migrated towards Manson. Manson promoted this carefree life style that these young adults wanted. The style of life he portrayed was happiness and love; however, when the murders took place, the life style became dark and brutal. Even though there was a change in life style, people still praised Manson and the Family:

In December, at the last formal meeting of SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] before it broke into irreconcilable factions, Bernardine Dohrn delivered a speech praising [the Manson Family]: “Dig it! First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into the victim's stomach. Wild!” The Weather men's salute became four fingers held up in the air to signify the fork jammed into Leno LaBianca's abdomen. To them, Mark Rudd recalls, the Tate – LaBianca murders were “a big fat finger in the face of this country... here's a little of your own medicine, you hypocrites.” (Guinn 334-335)

The intrigue of Manson to young adults radiated the shock waves throughout the nation. Several people started seeing the hippies as a dangerous influence to the rest of the United States; "Charlie and the Family were proof that long hairs were not only disruptive but dangerous" (Guinn 334).  The stereotyping that started developing shook the nation. Manson appealed to those rebel young adults, as well, and those who were already interested in crime; “due to the nature of Manson’s crimes he will be a marked man for [others who seek] attention and notoriety” (Manson 22). The hippies were a negative influence and were not wanted when the 60's came to an end; however, Manson and his Family withheld these ideas, appealing to the young adults who had not had the chance to experience a carefree way of life.

In addition, the Manson murders made Charles Manson an idol. Though some people looked down upon him quite a few saw him as a god. People wanted to be Manson or join his cult. Manson became so notorious that, "a black market for Manson memorabilia [began] blossoming" (Guinn 334). Everyone wanted to know more about Manson and how he became a cult leader and serial killer. The principal of Manson’s elementary school, “intrigued by all she read and heard, decided to pull Charlie's file from the dusty room where student records were filed. It wasn't there; in the few days since Charlie's explosion into celebrity, someone had stolen it" (Guinn 334). Manson became known nationwide and it was not long after he was imprisoned that letters for him started flooding in. Letters for Manson “began pouring in, hundreds a day. Some were diatribes from those who thought him disgusting, others suggested he save his soul through prayer, a good number requested autographs, but to those screening inmate mail the most disturbing came from teenage girls who wanted Charlie's permission to join the Family. They thought it sounded wonderful" (Guinn 335). Manson was the exciting new topic to talk about and everything was going to his plan. Manson was the person everyone wanted to know more about and quite a few hippies wanted to be him. The people who sent letters to Manson became even more obsessed; "Charlie gave this to me! See - there's his signature. I know Charlie Manson personally!" (Rule). Manson was influencing a whole new generation of people; "even from behind bars, it seemed, Manson inspired disaster" (Rule). Those who found Manson disturbing and frightful became worried about the effect he was having on young adults; however, it did not change the constant need for more news on the Manson Murders.

Manson, though he did not want to be arrested, was enjoying the way the public fed off his murders. The public had all eyes on him and he knew he could easily manipulate young adults who wished to follow him into believing he was innocent. Even though people knew he was crazy, "he proved to be spellbinding to the vulnerable" (Rule). When Charlie arrived, "in chains at the L.A. Hall of Justice increased rather than satisfied public interest in the Tate - LaBianca murders" (Guinn 333). Manson loved the fact that the eyes were on him and he was able to say exactly what he wanted to. Nothing Manson said was unplanned. Manson made speeches to the public, during his trial; he was able to "[break] out the same sermons he'd delivered so often to his followers: Everyone is God and the Devil at the same time. All human beings are part of each other, and individual human life has no real value. Children are pure until their parents ruin them. Blacks are about to overthrow whites, and it was foretold by the Beatles and the Bible" (Guinn 344). Young adults who wanted to be Manson followers felt as if he was speaking directly to them and took his words to heart. "'The paranoia was fulfilled.' Charlie Manson fulfilled the paranoia of disparate social fractions, giving everyone what they wanted - a bogeyman, martyr, and even a hero" (Guinn 333). He gave the public a new past time, which was to read about Manson.

Manson's ability to obtain followers surprisingly engaged the public’s interest. Manson, to his followers, was godlike; however, to the public he was terrifying yet fascinating. Manson became a public rage. His capability to cause such mayhem within two nights was a new piece of media that the public could cling to; "The killers were viewed as heroes by the extreme wing of young revolutionaries" (Decurtis). Everyone waited for the next newspaper print on Manson because the trial that was taking place behind closed doors. Charlie knew how to manipulate the public. He used his "docile appearance and initially polite requests to represent himself in court, which were turned down, signaled to many disaffected that here was an innocent man being railroaded because he looked and acted different" (Guinn 334). Manson knew that he fascinated the public and used this to his advantage.

The public was constantly reading and hearing about Manson. Soon the paranoia became too much. People within Beverly Hills and the Hollywood area became most aware of the murders. Movie stars and corporate owners had seemed untouchable before the murders. However, the murders proved that it could happen “to people as disparate as movie colony celebrities and a grocery market owner and his wife, it meant it could happen anywhere, to anyone” (Bugliosi 42) With the rich being murdered it showed that there was no discrimination, and social class was not a determining factor, nor would it protect people.  The public quickly became frightened and began placing bars over windows, looking doors, and buying weapons for defense:

In two days one Beverly Hills sporting goods store sold 200 firearms; prior to the murders, they averaged three or four a day. Some of the private security forces doubled, then tripled, their personnel. Guard dogs, once priced at $200, now sold for $1,500; those who supplied them soon ran out. Locksmiths quoted two-week delays on orders. Accidental shootings, suspicious persons reports−all suddenly increased. The news that there had been twenty-eight murders in Los Angeles that weekend (the average being one a day) did nothing to decrease the apprehension. (Bugliosi 42)

The Manson Murders had started hysteria. American public became incredibly cautious; their every day lives had changed. Protecting themselves reached a new extreme and no force of action could calm down the public except Manson being imprisoned. Now that anyone could be a target, even the rich and famous, people were afraid that they could be next on Manson’s list. A sense of fear swept over the country but the Los Angeles area was the most fearful.

Manson was aware of the effect he was having on the public and he knew that he could manipulate the media. He enjoyed the attention he was receiving and he knew he was capable of influencing some of the free spirited young adults. Manson looked forward to the trials because he would finally be able to show the media more of himself. He promised the media that "he wouldn't be silent at his trial, and conceded that 'I'm probably one of the most dangerous men in the world if I want to be'" (Guinn 344). The trial ended up becoming "the longest trial in California history...and included a bizarre string of outbursts and his spectacles that dominated headlines for months" (Netter). According to the newspapers, "He [Manson] wore his buckskins, and the L.A. Times noted that 'he appeared to relish' the crowd that jammed into the courtroom to see him" (Guinn 336). The media reported almost every part of the trial they could and the public loved it. When the trial finally came to an end, "Manson was originally sentenced to death for the murder spree that horrified the nation in the late 1960s but was spared execution after the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972" (“Charles Manson Follower”). Instead of the death penalty, Manson faced life in prison. However, Manson still used the media to his advantage during his trial. In fact, Manson used the trial as a persuading tool; "Most radical activists [thought]... the presumed guilt of Charlie and his followers made him admirable" (Guinn 334). Manson took any chance he could to show the media what type of person he was. The more people who were exposed to the media the more people Manson could influence. Manson started giving interviews and convinced the Family members to do so as well; "No one associated that he was manipulating the media as well" (Guinn 344). He also, encouraged the Family to open up the Spahn Ranch. The Spahn Ranch was where the Manson Family lived and celebrated Manson’s idealized way of life. Manson was careful with everything he said and did in order to gain the power of the media. He knew that he could easily enlist new Family members if he acted a certain way. Manson also knew, “that he was [good at] manipulating the media as well" (Guinn 344). Manson was succeeding at winning over some of the public. Manson knew how to manipulate the media and when both the public and media started asking more questions about the Manson Family lifestyles he chose to let the world into the Family’s home.

As the reporters arrived at Spahn Ranch the Family shifted their agenda toward convincing the media that their home was a pleasant environment and that they did not wish to harm anyone. When Manson allowed his followers to open up the Family Ranch a new spark started. The idea of how the Family lived, "Charlie fulfilled the paranoia of the young disenchanted" (Guinn 334).  Everyone participated in the work on the Ranch but most of the time the Ranch was a place of music, happiness, and love. Orgies were organized for reporters to witness; however, the Ranch was set up so the reporters only saw the harmony within the community. The reporters and public were intrigued by "the 'sexually free' inhabitants of Charles Manson's commune on the Spahn Ranch and the sense of 'tribal unity' there" (Decurtis). The public perceived the Family as hippies and free spirited; no danger surrounded them except Manson, and it was Manson who kept the public afraid of the Family. The murders were planned in secret at the Ranch and the Family’s ability to fit into conventional society without being noticed scared the public but that effect lessened when reports of Ranch lifestyle were released. The media; however, changed the appearance of the Family. They were practically glorifying them and the Family embraced this perception. The media was attempting to sell more stories on Manson and to do this they had to incorporate all the opinions of the public. Newspapers, magazines, and other media began printing different versions; one version entertained negative views on the Family and other versions focused on the positive side. When new information about Ranch life reached society, opinions started to change. The façade the Family gave to reporters made the public lessen their harsh impressions; therefore the Family was not being seen accurately. Opening up Spahn Ranch to reporters allowed the public to see a different side of the Manson Family.

The public did not only consist of the group of individuals who were reading about the murders, it also included the jurors who were a part of the trial. The jurors on the case rode to the courthouse on a bus with blackened windows just so they would not be influenced by the headlines. The jurors assigned to the case all had different theories as to why the public was so enticed with the murders. One Juror, "Sheely…believes the public fascination stems from the horror of Manson's crimes" (Netter). Some jurors felt personally attacked by Manson and were afraid of what may happen once Manson’s sentence was revealed; "Melcher was now petrified of Charlie and the Family, particularly of the members who aren't in jail. He hired a bodyguard and kept a shotgun handy. To Melcher, the scariest thing was that he couldn't pick any potential Family assassins out of a crowd: '[they] looked like every kid at every Grateful Dead or Byrds concert'" (Guinn 345). The Family acted like everyone else and because they promoted a loving carefree life style, no one could point them out within a crowd. The jurors became just as paranoid as the rest of the public.

The paranoia of the nation soon reached the White House and President Nixon was pulled into the stories of the murders. The public was driven into a national hysteria; drawing President Nixon’s attention. Trying to mitigate the effect of the murders President Nixon addressed the media. He was aware that the media continued to glorify the Manson Family and so "[President Nixon] accused the media of making Mr. Manson a 'glamorous figure'" and he advised them to immediately stop to prevent more panic from arising (Decurtis). The media ended up going against what the President suggested and they continued to idolize Manson and the Family. President Nixon’s attempt to mitigate the aftershock of the murders failed and within the next year the crime rate had risen. The recorded murder rate in 1969 was approximately 14,760 which was up from 13,800 murders that took place in the previous year. Other crimes also rose; robbery went from 262,840 in 1968 to 298,850 in 1969 (United States Crime Rates). The crime rate escalated within the year and cult life was becoming popular because of the Manson Murders. President Nixon tried to decrease the shock of the murders but instead the stories kept engaging the country.

Though it has been 40 years since the Manson murders took place, they are still relevant and affecting the public. Books are still being written about Charles Manson and the murders he carried out. Every eight to ten years another parole hearing is held for the Family members who are still alive in prison and every time they are denied; however, the thought still shakes the public. One incident sent the public and the victim’s families into an uproar; one of, "Charles Manson[‘s] follower[s] paroled AGAIN despite the public outcry and governor's veto the last time California tried setting him free" (“Charles Manson Follower”). Though this event was quickly changed and the Manson follower was sent back to prison the public made their view on the matter quite clear. Files are being released and the populace is still clinging to the exciting events that took place numerous years ago. One file that was released contained an interview from Sharon Tate’s sister, Patricia Tate. Patricia Tate recalled one of her experiences during school after the murders had taken place, "I made every effort to avoid sympathetic gazes or questions about my well-being as they only triggered memories of Sharon's murder" (Statman 143). The family members of the victims still fight at parole hearings making sure the killers are never released. Sharon Tate’s sister, Patricia Tate, makes a statement at every parole hearing of the former Manson Family members; “They should stay in prison for the rest of their lives, like my sister will stay in her grave for the rest of time” (“Breaking”). The public still migrates toward the idea of how people could be capable of doing such horrible crimes. In 2009, the former Family girls, who did most of the killings, and Manson were interviewed by Diane Sawyer. Leslie Van Houten, one of Manson’s Girls, said during an interview, “He knows what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing” (“Breaking”). Van Houten said this when talking about how he was manipulating the media and, though Manson acted crazy, everything he did was for a reason. The interviews of the former Manson Family members were quickly spread across the web and the public flocked to them. People are still intrigued to learn more about the group who committed such brutal acts.

The Charles Manson murders of the summer of 1969 were quite intriguing to the public. With eight people dead and a whole cult to blame for their deaths, the public had more than enough excitement when it came to theses specific murders. Charles Manson and the Manson Family had committed crimes and had been convicted as well, and while the trial was going on the media was there to report minute little detail. The media had found a story that fascinated the public and would continue to do so for years to come. With all the accounts the media had the stories were twisted into new intriguing ones and they turned Manson into a daily topic. Some people, mainly young adults who were tired of the normal way of life, found Manson enchanting and wished they could join the Family. Others, mainly the older generations, found Manson sickening and feared him. The mixed emotions about Manson aided the debates and the controversial topics of the murders. Manson was aware that the media had a great effect on society and so he used it to his advantage. He deliberately made comments in interviewers and in the trials to make more people see the world through his eyes. After witnessing the effect the media was having, Manson started allowing interviewers to tour Spahn Ranch, the home of the Manson Family. All that was found there was a kind loving group of people. Forty years after the Manson Murders they are still having an effect on the public; every time there is a parole hearing or a new interview with Family members the public is quick to tune back in. Manson’s notoriety and the murders changed everyday lives and transitioned an era of peace and love to one of worry and fear. 

Works Cited

"Breaking Free of Charles Manson." ABC News. ABC News Network, 5 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 May 2014. .

Bugliosi, Vincent, and Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: the true story of the Manson murders. [1st ed. New York: Norton, 1974. Print.

"Charles Manson follower paroled AGAIN despite public outcry and governor's veto the last time California tried setting him free." Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 24 Apr. 2014. Web. 21 May 2014. .

"Charles Manson, Sharon Tate, The Family, LaBianca, Murders, Cielodrive.com." Charles Manson Family and Sharon Tate-LaBianca Murders. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2014. .

Decurtis, Anthony. "Peace, Love and Charlie Manson." The New York Times. The New York Times, 1 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 May 2014. .

Guinn, Jeff. Manson: the life and times of Charles Manson. London: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.

Manson, Charles, and Nuel Emmons. Manson in his own words. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1986. Print.

Netter, Sarah. "Charles Manson Reign of Terror: 40 Years Later." ABC News. ABC News Network, 7 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 May 2014. .

Rule, Ann. "There Will Be Blood." The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 14 May 2014. .

Statman, Alisa, and Brie Tate. Restless souls: the Sharon Tate family's account of stardom, the Manson murders, and a crusade for justice. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. Print.



"THE MURDERS (GRAPHIC DETAIL)." SHARON TATE. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2014. .

"United States Crime Rates 1960 - 2012." United States Crime Rates 1960 - 2012. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2014. .


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