MY LIFE AS A JOURNALIST
WHY The Beatles DIDN’T Make Charles Manson Do it!
Ivor Davis, Award-Winning Author
9 August 2019
I felt utterly astonished—stunned even. In July 1970, I sat in the second row and listened to Los Angeles deputy district attorney Vincent Bugliosi’s opening remarks in the murder trial of Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, and Patricia Krenwinkel. The scene played out in a courtroom at the Los Angeles Hall of Justice.
At the time I worked as a foreign correspondent covering the trial for a London newspaper. The defendants were accused of the murders of the pregnant actress Sharon Tate, and six others on August 9 and 10 ,1969. Van Houten was only implicated in the second-day killings of grocery store owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.
Bugliosi—attired in his trademark three-piece Brooks Brothers suit—with an almost theatrical flourish, declared, “The motive for these murders, originated, ladies and gentlemen, in the warped, twisted mind of Charles Manson. The motive for these murders was bizarre, perhaps even more bizarre than the murders themselves. Briefly, the evidence will show Manson’s fanatical obsession with helter-skelter, a term that he borrowed from the English musical record group The Beatles.”
Listening to Bugliosi, I honestly thought maybe he’d lost his mind. His rationale sounded as though he lifted it straight out of wild crime fiction.
“To Charles Manson,” Bugliosi continued, “‘Helter Skelter,’ which, incidentally, was the title of one of The Beatles’ songs, meant the black man rising up against the white man and destroying the entire white race.”
The reason for my skepticism
In l964, again as a reporter, I traveled with The Beatles on their first American tour and became familiar with the lyrics of their music, particularly songs like “Helter Skelter,” “Piggies,” “Revolution” and “Blackbird,” from their l968 White Album. In my opinion, absolutely no way existed that any of those songs construed as a blueprint for mass murder as Bugliosi meticulously presented to the seven-man, five-woman jury. The Beatles confirmed my speculations in interviews years later.
Of course, Bugliosi’s daring strategy worked perfectly. In l971, all the defendants were convicted, along with Charles “Tex” Watson. After battling extradition for a year, Watson was found guilty in a separate trial.
Fast forward fifty years, and while re-examining those events for my new book, I carefully re-focused on the big question that disturbed me way back then.
In my opinion, the real motive for the series of killings that so violently punctuated the Sixties:
On December 5, 1969, I interviewed Paul Watkins and Brooks Poston at the decrepit Spahn Movie Ranch in Chatsworth California where the Manson gang lived. They laid out this scenario: Around July 27, 1969—two weeks before the Tate-LaBianca killings—Manson sent Bobby Beausoleil, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner to get Gary Hinman’s hoard of cash. When Hinman said he had no money, Manson showed up, chopped off his ear with a sword then left. Atkins sewed it back on with dental floss. Then over the next three days, Beausoleil finished him off.
A week later on the morning of August 6, 1969, a highway patrol officer arrested Beausoleil after he spotted him sleeping on the side of the road in a car registered to murder victim Hinman.
“Bobby sat in jail taking the rap for Charlie, but never snitched on him. Charlie appreciated that loyalty, so he came up with a plan. He sent Tex (Watson) and the others to Cielo Drive, and told them to kill everyone and, ‘do witchy things,’” Paul Watkins told me.
Watkins and Poston remained clear that Manson sent the killers out for one reason and one reason only. He wanted to get a Family member, Bobby Beausoleil, off the hook in the brutal torture-murder of Hinman.
Three days later came the Sharon Tate murders.
The next night Manson led them to the LaBiancas house, tied up the couple, and left after telling them, “You know what to do.”
At all three murder scenes, the killers daubed messages such as Pig, Political Piggy, and Helter Skelter on walls, doors, and refrigerators in the victim’s blood. Manson’s warped reasoning for the carnage went like this, according to Watkins. “Once detectives saw the corpses and the same bloody messages written on walls at all three houses, they will realize that someone else—maybe militant Black Panthers were responsible. And they would kick Bobby free.”
Does that motive sounds far-fetched? Aaron Stovitz, once the district attorney’s chief trial lawyer, Bugliosi’s boss before his removal from the case four months into the trial for breaking the judge’s gag order, confirmed the same theory to me in a conversation in the early seventies. He said the DA worried that Manson might go free if they used the “get Bobby out of jail” motive.
On top of it, Manson never actually wielded gun or knife. So, they opted for the Helter Skelter motive.
It paid off handsomely for Bugliosi, who made his international reputation after getting convictions in the high profile trial.
For him, the ends simply justified the means.