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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 company.

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 her.

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 a boomerang.

"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 disciple.

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.

Chapter One Table of Content Chapter Three

(Will You Die For Me? Copyright 1978, by Ray Hoekstra. Published by Cross Roads Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

About Helter Skelter

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Cult Madness

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Manson's Right-Hand Man Speaks Out!

Christianity For Fools

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Forgiven: The Charles Watson Story - Scenes from original docudrame, including interviews with Charles and Rosemary LaBianca's daughter.

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