Blood marked the end of the 1960′s.
Some view the fatal stabbing of a concert fan at Altamont as the end to the era of hippie peace and love.
Others point to the gruesome series of Los Angeles area murders carried out in August by the followers of Charles Manson.
There are pages of links and shelves of books devoted to the subject.
There were too many bizarre revelations for the trial to be small.
The trial took 225 days, the longest in history to that point.
If you don’t know the details, members of the Manson “Family” were responsible for the murder of seven people in the Los Angeles area on two evenings in August 40 years ago. The murders were unusually brutal and designed to cause fear.
One of the victims was a young Hollywood actress married to a noted director.
The murderers scrawled the title of two Beatles songs on the wall in blood.
Charles Manson was on the fringes of the rock and roll community, having songs recorded by artists as prominent as the Beach Boys.
The ritualistic murders had racist political motivations.
Manson’s almost absolute control over his followers made some parents wonder if they needed to fear their children.
The Manson “Family” was involved in a communal sex and drugs.
During the trial “Family” members would vie for attention, changing their appearance, shaving their heads or carving an x into their foreheads. Manson would later convert this to a swastika.
Death surrounded the “Family”, one of their defense attorneys went missing and during the course of the trial, later found murdered, as did a ranch caretaker and a musician acquaintance of the family. Investigators still work to see if other murders were related.
A reporter was jailed 46 days, a year after the defendants were convicted, for not revealing his sources reporting on the trial. Until U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas intervened the jail sentence was indefinite.
A few years later a Manson family member tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford.
After the main trial was over the prosecutor wrote a best seller, Helter Skelter.
The trial was the first tabloid trial of the Television age, in the television capitol of the world, Los Angeles.
Quoting from an Ann Fairbanks parole hearing story January 14, 1983:
Nothing in Charles “Tex” Watson’s upbringing would have predicted his future as one of the country’s most notorious murderers.
“You had ample opportunity to turn out to be the average John Q. kPublic and how you turned out to be something so grossly different…I have no idea,” Board of Prison Terms member Robert L. Carter Jr. told the former Manson clan member Thursday during a parole hearing at the California Men’s Colony.
As a child in Texas he was a church going, honor roll student but after graduation he went to California and pursued a life on the fringe. He picked up a hitchhiker Beach Boy Dennis Wilson who invited him home to meet the people hanging out at his mansion. Hanging out with the famous were the soon to be infamous core of the Manson Family. LSD and the acceptance and approval of the Family were attractive to the then 23-year-old. When Wilson later kicked the Family out Watson left with Charles Manson and the philosophy and actions of the group became more extreme.
Charles “Tex” Watson became Charles Manson’s “lieutenant for killing”. Under orders from Manson, He began a night of murder driving with three female members of the Family to the home of Sharon Tate, cutting the telephone lines and killing Steven Parent, 18, with four gunshots as the teen ager pulled into the driveway.
The four victims inside the house were stabbed 156 times.
When victim Wojeciech Frykowski questioned the murderer, Watson responded “I am the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.”
Eight months pregnant, Sharon Tate was the last to die, stabbed to death by Watson as she plead for the life of her unborn child.
Watson later described the victims “as running around the place like chickens with their heads cut off.”
The next night Watson would participate with the Family in the equally brutal murder of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.
Family member Susan Atkins was arrested on other charges about two months later. When she confided to a fellow inmate about holding down Tate during the murder, investigators got their first major break in the case.
Charles Watson was tried separately, after being extradited from Texas.
In October of 1970 Watson was sent to Atascadero State Hospital while other Family members were already on trial. At the time he was adjudged insane and unable to stand trial. A report said the then 24-year-old was “turning into a vegetable.” He was being fed by a tube having lost 50 pounds and staring off into space and giggling.
A UPI story quotes the report, “He remains mute and nonverbal,” it said. “At times he appears to understand and tears well up in his eyes.”
He was later judged competent to stand trial and was convicted of seven murders and sentenced to death in 1971. He was implicated but never charged in the death of ranch caretaker Shorty Shea as more evidence came to light after Watson’s trial. A year after his death sentence, California’s capital punishment convictions were invalidated and commuted to life in prison.
Watson came to California Men’s Colony in the 1970′s, arguably the institution’s most infamous inmate. He became a born again Christian, an ordained minister and became a assistant pastor while at CMC. In 1979 he was denied a request to be classified a minimum security prisoner. For over a decade every time he came up for a parole hearing Doris Tate, mother of Sharon, would make the horrific pilgrimage to attend and testify.
The incarceration was not without controversy. On the afternoon September 7, 1979 he married a woman from New Jersey who he had corresponded with and who moved to San Luis Obispo at his request.
Charles Watson, 33, and Kristin Svege, 20, were wed on the prison lawn by John S. Milton, pastor of the First Assembly of God Church in Arroyo Grande.
They would have four children thanks to a conjugal visit program started under the administration of Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1971. Promoting family values was the reason the program was established. Prisoner rights groups defended the program as a way to encourage rehabilitation of model prisoners for their eventual release. The prison union called it an expensive nightmare to secure citing the risks of smuggling, violence and child molestation. Doris Tate would be one of the leaders who spurred legislators to end the program. Doris Tate died in 1992.
Later Watson was reassigned after a Los Angeles prosecutor discovered that both Watson and fellow Manson Family member Bruce Davis were working at the chapel.
Medi-Cal investigators raided the San Luis Obispo house of Kristin Watson looking for answers to allegations that she failed to report income from the couple’s mail order religious business. They sold cassette tapes of sermons by Charles and Kristin singing religious songs. The birth of the children was covered by Medi-Cal.
Over the years the rules governing parole hearings have changed from annual reviews to longer periods. According to one website Watson’s next hearing will be in 2011. Parole commissioners in their transcripts repeatedly cite the cruel and calculated brutality of the crimes and their doubt that the prisoner has made more than a superficial conversion.
Watson was transfered to Mule Creek State Prison in Ione in April of 1993 as the prison population mix was changed at CMC. Over 300 “lifers” were transferred so that the prison could serve mentally disturbed inmates.
In July 2003 Tex and Kristin Watson divorced.
All photos ©2009 The Tribune
An emotionless Charles “Tex” Watson at a 1987 parole hearing. This is how photos were transmitted to the Associated Press in the analog fax days. A print was made with room for a typewritten caption to be attached. ©2009 Dan Parker/Telegram-Tribune
Doris Tate prepares to testify at the parole hearing for her daughter’s murder. She holds a photo of Sharon Tate, murdered by Manson family member Tex Watson. 5-3-1990 Doris died of cancer in 1992.
©2009 David Middlecamp/Telegram-Tribune
Follower of Charles Manson, Charles Tex Watson was an inmate at California Men’s Colony from the mid 1970′s to 1993. He became born again in 1975 was ordained as a minister by the Bakersfield Word of Faith Center. Here the assistant pastor preaches a sermon to fellow inmates. Watson was convicted in the 7 Tate-LaBianca murders and sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison.
© 2009 Wayne Nicholls/Telegram Tribune
Wedding photo of Kristin Svege,20, and Charles “Tex” Watson, 33 at CMC. The bride and groom’s mothers flank the Watsons.
© 2009 Mark Arnoff/Telegram-Tribune
Kristin Svege, now Mrs. Tex Watson, still carrying her bouquet leaves California Men’s Colony after visiting hours were over. Watson is a convicted murderer and was a part of Charles Manson’s “family”. 9-7-1979
©2009 Mark Arnoff/Telegram-Tribune