Behold, He Is In The Desert
The "ranch" turned out to be nothing
but an uninhabitable old shack a few hundred yards
down the road from Olancha. An irrigation ditch
ran along one side of the place, and before we'd
finished unloading the truck I'd decided that
camping down there would be better than trying
to clean up the house.
As I watched the cowboy and Juan drive off-back
to Spahn and Charlie and all the others-I suddenly
realized that for the first time since the weekend
and the blood, I was completely alone. I could
see Olancha squatting down the road, not much
more than a truck stop, shimmering in the heat
waves and dust, but it was full of strangers.
Strangers must be hostile - because they weren't
Family. Olancha had nothing for me. In every other
direction all you could see was desert, emptiness,
and heat rimmed with naked hills. I was by myself-no
Family, no Charlie, no girls to look after me
or make love to me - just my racing brain for
I had an urge to stretch out under that searing
desert sun and just roast out of me every thought,
every sensation. But my mind wouldn't stop flying,
speeding back over those two nights and the days
before them, the days ahead, maybe tomorrow, maybe
tonight, when Helter Skelter would come roaring
down on the world. I should start organizing the
supplies; I should start looking for the Bottomless
Pit; I should move around; I should catch up with
time rushing like wind past my ears. My bombed-out
brain was whipping around inside my skull and
I couldn't stop it; even that huge sun couldn't
stop it, slow it down, and give me rest.
I spent most of the next day watching, waiting
like an animal that knows the hunt's on. Then
the truck appeared again. This time the driver
was one of Charlie's ex-convict friends who had
been wandering in and out of the fringes of the
Family for a couple of months. He was never much
interested in Helter Skelter or the end of the
world; armed robbery was good enough for him.
But the Family provided him a base of operations
and available women, and Manson and he had been
friends in prison; so he spent time with us and
did things for Charlie.
He brought two of the youngest Family members
with him, which made me think that either Charlie
was taking my lie about the F.B.I. pretty seriously,
or he had some other reason for expecting things
to start coming down. He seemed to be getting
the underage people out of Spahn Ranch and, with
them, the legal hassles they could cause if there
were a raid. With the two kids-a boy and a girl-he
brought some food and a little money. Once again
the truck rolled out for Spahn. Now I had company.
I don't remember the boy's name but the girl
was Dianne Lake; we used to call her "Snake."
She was one of the saddest members of the Family-so
young, only thirteen when she joined (with her
parents' okay, as Manson liked to brag), and Charlie
used to hit her and pull her hair a lot. Once
he whipped her with an electric cord, but she
still stayed around and loved him. She was nearly
sixteen by now, quiet, always sort of apologetic
in the way she acted.
The three of us camped out down by the irrigation
ditch, swimming naked, using some trees on the
other side of the house for a bathroom, not saying
much. When Dianne and I went into Olancha to buy
more food, I bought a newspaper to check out news
about the murders. From what I could tell, the
police didn't know anything that would tie the
Family to the deaths, at least anything they were
talking about, so I relaxed a little about the
call from my mother. But my head wouldn't let
go of it. While I had been with Charlie, the Family
all around me, things had seemed to make a certain
kind of sense, but now, stuck out in the desert
with these two kids, I got more and more confused.
I even began to feel fear again, the kind of nameless
fear I'd known as a child when I thought my parents
might catch me in some lie, a fear that makes
you feel like you have to do something quick to
fix things before you get caught.
But I didn't know what to do. How could this
be fixed? That night I felt so wound up inside
that I started talking to Dianne and finally admitted
to her that I was the one who'd stabbed that beautiful
blond actress, stabbed her again and again, over
and over, stabbed her because Charlie told me
to. Dianne got even quieter after that, but she
didn't try to run.
I was so mixed up that the next afternoon I just
suddenly left the two of them at our camp by the
ditch and walked into Olancha and hitched a ride
back to Los Angeles with one of the truckers.
He dropped me off at La Cienega about eight o'clock
that night. As I hitched up La Cienega toward
the Hollywood Hills and Sunset Strip, I noticed
headlines on some cheap newspapers that were trying
to claim the Beverly Hills murders had been the
result of a black-magic sex orgy or a drug bum
or something wild the victims had been doing.
Sticking out my thumb, I thought how all those
cars going by were full of people who wondered
who did it and why it was done. And I knew-and
it was so bizarre that they wouldn't begin to
believe me if I tried to tell them, tried to explain
that seven people were brutally murdered so the
world as we know it could begin to burn and Manson
Jesus Christ- could lead his children to safety
inside the earth.
On my way up into the Strip area I stopped to
look into the windows of a wig shop where I'd
worked when I first came to Los Angeles from Texas
two years before. I'd expected a lot back then:
a whole new life as a whole new person, never
stuck in the Texas back country again. Now here
I was, that new person-dirty, itchy, spaced out,
face pressed against the glass of the dark shop
with the name of a movie star going around in
my head: Sharon Tate. I'd never seen one of her
films, never really heard of her or seen her photograph.
All I knew of her was as a terrified woman begging
to be allowed to have her child before we killed
I didn't know why I'd come down to Los Angeles
or where I was headed. I stopped by an old girl
friend's house but no one was home. I wandered
some on Sunset Strip. It had been like another
world when I came to Los Angeles in 1967: hippies
and psychedelic shops and people "turning
on" on the sidewalk. There weren't the crowds
anymore; in two years the shops were already starting
to look seedier. I hitched over Laurel Canyon
into the Valley. I thought of going up to Spahn.
I wanted to see Charlie, at least a part of me
did. But I also wanted to run away from Charlie.
I had, once before, but he'd drawn me back. I
thought about calling my parents and asking for
the money to come home to Texas, but I decided
the first place the police would look for me would
be home with my folks. And Charlie had put me
in charge of those two kids up in Olancha. He
wouldn't like it if I ran away. And as much as
I might want to run, where was there to run to?
I got on an entrance ramp of the San Diego Freeway
and by the next morning had hitched my way back
to Olancha. I don't think Dianne ever asked me
where I'd been.
Although we didn't find out about it for several
days, on Saturday morning, August 16, the morning
I got back from my sixteen-hour circle to Los
Angeles and back, sheriff's deputies raided Spahn
Ranch, arresting Charlie and all the rest of the
Family on suspicion of grand theft, auto. For
the second time within a week of the murders,
police had the killers everybody was talking about
in custody (at least some of them) and for the
second time they released them, this time after
a couple of days in jail. The warrant on which
the arrest was made had been misdated.
About four days after I got back, Dianne was
picked up by the deputy sheriff from Independence
while she was in Olancha buying food. Independence
was the closest town with law enforcement, about
thirty miles farther up the highway from our truck
stop. As a lot of the Family did at one time or
another, Dianne had some sort of skin disease
and when she told the deputy she was nineteen
and just hitchhiking through, he took her home
and his wife fed her and gave her a salve for
her skin. When he brought her back to Olancha
she sneaked back to the camp.
The next afternoon, the same deputy drove up
outside our shack, responding to a complaint by
some of the local people who'd seen us swimming
nude in the irrigation ditch. I was asleep on
an old cot in the shade behind the house and my
heart started pounding when I woke up and saw
the car and the lawman talking to Dianne and the
boy. My first impulse was to run, so I started
off into the trees; but it seemed point less,
so I came back out and sauntered up to the car,
claiming I had just been relieving myself in the
woods. Putting on my heaviest Texas drawl, I told
him my name was Charles Montgomery and gave him
my actual age and date of birth. The deputy made
out a field report on me and took in Dianne and
the boy. We never saw the boy again. I presume
he was sent back to his parents, but Dianne was
back at camp a few hours later. In the next few
days five other girls from the Family came up
from Spahn and the deputy sheriff ended up chauffeuring
them back out to our camp every time they'd hitch
into Olancha. I think he did it partly out of
kindness and partly out of suspicion. Whatever
the reasons, I wasn't comfortable having police
around so much, so I called Charlie and he decided
it was time everybody should move up to the two
ranches in Golar Wash. It was time to start looking
for the entrance to the Bottomless Pit.
The week or so that followed was taken up by
a confused series of trips back and forth between
Spahn and the desert, back-breaking hauls of dune
buggies and supplies up the rock-strewn Wash,
frantic stashing of guns and vehicle parts in
scattered gullies and ravines, and setting up
camp at Myers Ranch. We made dozens of day-long
trips up the Wash in the blazing August sun, dragging
up everything the Family owned on our backs. A
big school bus that we'd had for over a year was
driven in from the Las Vegas side and parked at
Barker Ranch. It was preparation for war, the
final war. If we didn't find the entrance to our
underground haven in time, we'd be ready for the
black man once he came after us; we'd fight him
off until that moment when the sand would swallow
us up. Charlie seemed to have more power in him
than ever before. He moved faster; you could almost
see the energy streaming out of him, like rainbow
waves on one of those black-light posters we'd
kept at Spahn Ranch. We would be ready; he would
see to that. So we followed his orders, we pushed
ourselves to dropping, we fortified Myers Ranch
and waited for it to begin.
We weren't alone at the ranch. Along with swarms
of black bats that we were convinced came from
the Abyss we were searching for, we had human
company. A man named Paul Crockett was living
in a cabin near Myers Ranch and he had two younger
men with him who had belonged to the Family the
year before, when we first came up to the desert.
Charlie had sent them back up in March to stake
our claim on the ranches, and somehow they'd gotten
in with Crockett; he had begun deprogramming them
from Manson's control to a Scientology trip he
was on that was similar to Charlie's in some of
its terminology and concepts, but not as dangerous.
Crockett did not believe anything he heard about
Helter Skelter or lakes under the desert.
Manson had never had any competition within the
Family and he didn't quite know what to do with
this forty-fiveyear-old man, especially the fact
that he had managed to turn two Family members
against him. Charlie had been careful never to
tell us the sources of any of his ideas (except
for the Bible and the Beatles). Most of us just
assumed they were wisdom he had come to on his
own. Now here was someone who could argue with
Charlie on his own terms, toss around the same
language and ideas, but come up at a different
place with them. For a while Charlie talked about
killing him. Finally the two of them sat down
for a three-day marathon conversation and argument.
When it was over they had established a kind of
wary truce, though I know Crockett was afraid
Manson would try to murder him, up until the time
he was arrested. Even though he gave us help hauling
things up from the bottom of Golar Wash to the
ranch, he slept with a shotgun by his side at
night. What probably saved his life was a series
of little coincidences that convinced Charlie
he had power, too-spiritual power, energy, like
Manson himself had.
Crockett wasn't the only one who was threatened
with death, though as far as I know no one was
actually killed in the desert while I was there,
despite what some people claimed later. Another
one of Charlie's old prison buddies was helping
move things up from Spahn in his four-wheel-drive
truck, and when Manson found out he was also stealing
from us he vowed to cut him up if he came back
again. He never did.
Charlie seemed on edge, nervous a lot of the
time, hyper. One day he'd be deciding we should
live at Myers Ranch, then the next we'd suddenly
pack up and move to Barker, then he'd change his
mind and order us to camp outside to keep watch
for the blacks and the pigs. Meanwhile, Family
women were coming and going from Spahn, bringing
back food and visitors-it seemed like every day
there were different people, different plans.
Nights were heaviest. We'd take acid, and Charlie
would get into really strong programming-that
is, destroying whatever ego we might have left
in us. Sometimes he'd lunge at me and scream that
because of the murders, I had the same thing coming
to me. I'd taken on the karma of those deaths,
the violence, and it would come back to me like
"Do you feel guilty for what you did?"
he'd scream three or four times.
"No," I'd say. "I don't feel guilty;
I don't feel anything." "Well, I want
you to feel guilty about it. Feel guilty! Feel
guilty! Feel guilty!"
"I will if that's what you want, Charlie."
But I didn't. I couldn't.
Suddenly he'd laugh and go on to something else.
The stars would be spread out in the black sky
above us and he'd be dancing around the fire,
dancing into our heads, threatening to kill anyone
who tried to leave. We belonged together, we were
a Family, and anyone who broke the bond would
have his throat cut.
In the middle of all this Charlie decided we
needed more dune buggies. Eventually he planned
for each of the men to have one, a kind of army
of dune buggies to patrol the desert like German
Field Marshal Rommel and the Afrika Korps during
the Second World War. I never quite understood
how this fit in with our escaping into the Bottomless
Pit, except that it began to look as if the Abyss
would be harder to find than we'd first thought.
In the meantime we might have to fight off an
enemy that sometimes consisted of black revolutionaries
bringing on Helter Skelter and sometimes pigs,
establishment cops. At night we kept lookout in
the hills, flying over the sand and back roads
like wild people in our dune buggies - renegade
Indians with buckskin and knives.
Charlie sent Bruce Davis and me to Los Angeles
with three newcomers who had been drifting in
and out of the Family over the past weeks. Our
assignment was to steal transportation. We did.
One of the new boys took a brand-new dune buggy
off the lot in Long Beach for a "test drive"
and drove it all the way up to Golar Wash without
looking back; I hot-wired a red Toyota jeep on
the street. When we got back that night, camp
had been moved again. Now Charlie had a base set
up for himself and a few others behind the entrance
to the Lotus Mine shaft in the Wash. He'd been
out all day chasing two of the girls who had run
away and he was "wired," throwing out
energy. We all dropped acid, and just before it
started to "come on," Charlie pulled
out his knife slowly, turning it in the firelight.
You know the rest . . . .
Even though I was willing to die for Charlie,
I was getting tired of breaking my back for him.
It seemed as if every day there was less chance
of finding the Pit, no matter how much we drove
around over the desert, no matter how many abandoned
mine shafts we crawled through. We were short
of food, we were allowed only one cup of water
per day and, worst of all, the drugs were running
out. For the first time I began to wonder, somewhere
in the back of my head, if everything Charlie
said was sure to come true after all.
Charlie decided he wanted to own Myers Ranch
so he sent Catherine Gillies - the one we called
"Capistrano" - to Fresno to murder her
grandmother who happened to own it. She was also
supposed to kill any other members of her family
who might be in line to claim title. One of the
newer boys went with her and I never found out
exactly what went wrong. It was something to do
with a flat tire and their getting caught trying
to pose as man and wife. It may have boiled down
to the fact that they weren't as dead as some
of the rest of us were - but the grandmother survived
and they didn't come back. I could understand
their staying away once they'd failed on one of
Charlie's orders. You didn't disappoint him, no
matter what it took. I'd proved that. But even
though they didn't come back, they didn't turn
him in, either. You might not be able to face
"God," but he was still God-Charlie
and you respected him.
By this time I would assume that at least half
of the Family knew something about our involvement
in the murders in Los Angeles. And we had reason
to believe there would be more killings to come.
Charlie was threatening first this outsider then
that one. He had given each of the girls her own
Buck knife and had them practicing how to slit
pigs' throats - pull back the heads by the hair
and slice from ear to ear. The girl he used as
a model for this demonstration was so scared she
tried to run away, but he pulled a knife on her
and made her take the last of the acid. The vibrations
weren't what they had been before; it was as if
the Satan who Charlie sometimes claimed to be
was striking out at even the Family itself.
At first it was a kind of trip, not eating, drying
up under the desert sun. After all the acid we
had taken, we became very aware of our bodies,
as if we could see into and under the skin. Charlie
said that it was the pigs who stuffed themselves;
we should cut down on our food and water and sweat
the poisons out. We could see that happening,
the things that weren't "us" boiling
to the surface of our skin and dripping away.
But when he began feeding what little food we
had left to some burros at Barker Ranch, I started
wondering if he knew what he was doing.
Between looking for hiding places and looking
for the tunnel that would lead us under the desert
to our home, we covered most of Death Valley during
September. We knew that sheriffs and National
Park rangers were watching us and that added to
our paranoia. One night we found that a road we
had been using had been torn up by a skip loader.
A few nights later we found the offending machine
and poured gasoline over it and set it on fire.
You could see the blaze for miles.
People are bound to ask at some point if Manson
actually believed we would find the Bottomless
Pit-or if it was a delusion he merely fostered
among his followers. I will never know for certain,
but I'm convinced he believed it as much as we
did. He was absolutely sure he was Jesus Christ-it
had been revealed to him three years before on
an LSD trip in San Francisco-so why shouldn't
he lead us first into the Pit and then back out
of it to rule the world? He shared the madness
he created in us; he was finally its most ardent
Late in September, having failed to "inherit"
Myers Ranch through murder, Charlie went to Arlene
Barker again and offered to buy her ranch. He
gave her a new line-he was no longer working with
the Beach Boys; now he was in the film business
and wanted to buy the ranch for movie locations.
She asked for cash and that ended it.
Day after day the search continued and still
we found nothing. Since our midnight bonfire with
the skip loader, attention from the authorities
had increased and on September 29 Ranger Dick
Powell and California Highway Patrolman James
Pursell surprised some of the girls and me in
one of the gullies behind Barker. I ran off naked
before they could talk to me. While they were
there the two officers took parts out of the engine
of the Toyota jeep I'd hot-wired the month before,
but it still ran and as soon as they were gone
we drove off into one of the canyons nearby and
covered it with camouflage.
All the next day, from our lookout posts in the
hills, we watched the National Park rangers driving
back and forth like ants over the desert roads,
looking for us. After it got dark, Charlie and
I drove all night by the light of the moon, surveying
his desert kingdom. He was very quiet, wound up
like a spring. When we got back to Myers Ranch
early the next morning, he handed me a double-barreled
shotgun that had been stolen from one of the girls'
parents before we left Los Angeles.
"Go up into the attic there," he said
to me, pointing to a place where the attic extended
out over the porch of the ranch house with gaping
holes between the boards. "Go up there with
this and wait. When those two rangers come-kill
them." He drove off and I climbed into the
hot, dusty attic to wait.
(Will You Die For Me? Copyright 1978, by Ray
Hoekstra. Published by Cross Roads Publications,
Inc. All Rights Reserved.)