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The Campus Kid

When I woke up in the attic at Myers Ranch the next morning, early on the morning of October 2, a shotgun was cradled in my arms. I knew why. I was waiting to kill two National Park rangers when they came looking for the arsonists who had burned their earthmover. Charlie had told me to kill them, just as he had told me to kill before.

I looked down at the gun and knew, just as certainly as I knew what he had told me, that I was not going to use it. I was not going to kill again for Charles Manson.

I'll never be sure exactly why I was able to say no then, when for the past eight months it had always been yes for Charlie. I think it had something to do with being without drugs for two or three weeks. Suddenly I didn't believe we were ever going to find the secret hole into the Pit; suddenly I knew the world was not going to end; suddenly I was tired and hungry; suddenly I didn't care what Charlie had told me to do-all I knew was that I would not kill anyone. Not again.

I tossed down the gun and went downstairs as fast as I could. Sorting through a pile of clothes we had all shared, I picked out the best shirt and pants I could find and ran out to a Dodge power wagon we had parked behind the house. Now it seemed inevitable that the rangers would be there at any moment, and my hands shook as I started the wagon and tore off down the Wash. Golar Wash was never meant for driving, much less at the speeds I was taking it, but I knew I had to get away before Charlie or the rangers or anyone else found me and stopped me. I knew if I could make it to Ballarat, the town a few miles up from the mouth of the Wash, I could hitch a ride back into Los Angeles. I had to make it to Ballarat.

I finally roared out of the Wash onto the unpaved road to ward town. About three quarters of the way there I realized I was running out of gas. I turned off the road and started out across the salt flats-a shortcut across an air-force testing ground to the road to Trona, eighteen miles or so to the southwest. Halfway across the flats the wagon died, bogged down in the salt and out of gas. I jumped out and started walking, leaving the door hanging open behind me. The sun beat down, dazzling up from the white salt all around. Suddenly there was an enormous roaring, like the Apocalypse I'd been waiting for so long. I threw myself flat on the ground just as an air-force jet flew over me, hugging the flats so close I was sure it would hit me. The sound waves rolled off into the empty desert and I got up and walked to the highway down to Trona where an old prospector picked me up in his jeep.

It's a long ride from the desert to Los Angeles, but I made it in one ride that took me to San Bernardino. I called my parents and told them I wanted to come home. When the money arrived an hour later at Western Union, I went to a store and bought a pair of Levi's, a coat, and new shoes. It wasn't enough-I was shaggy and filthy, with my hair full of sand and salt. I changed clothes behind a building and gulped down a Big Mac. It was the first meat I'd had in months and I thought I was going to throw up.

A helicopter took me from the San Bernardino airport to Los Angeles International and while I was waiting for my flight to Texas I had my hair cut and washed. When my sister and her husband picked me up at Love Field in Dallas at five o'clock the next morning, the first thing they said was that my Los Angeles International haircut was still too long for Texas. As soon as the barbershops opened they took me in for another trim, before my parents saw me. "And this time make him look like a boy." I was home. Texas. Copeville - a few white frame buildings scattered on either side of the railroad; my father's store and gas pumps; my mother in her kitchen with the picture of the Last Supper over the dinner table. From where I'd come it was as far away as the moon, and just as unreal.

The Copeville I grew up in was like a lot of small Texas towns in the fifties, only smaller. Early in the century it had boasted a whole main street, even one brick building, but by the time I was born the years and the Great Depression had wiped out most of that. Now the white wooden buildings were separated by vacant lots scattered with rusting junk. From beside the gas pumps out in front of my father's store you could see nearly all there was left of Copeville-peeling white on gray, with green weeds sprouting up in the open spaces in the spring.

My folks were married during the Depression and spent several years living off a small garden and a few animals until they scraped together enough capital to buy one of Copeville's stores, the whole place about the size of a single-car garage. It had one gas pump in front-a real pump that lived up to its name; you pumped the gas by hand. Over the years they built their house, enlarged the store, added new automatic pumps, and had three children who they were determined would have the chances they never did. They worked hard; they believed in a God who rewarded hard work and simple values. They believed in an America that was always right and would never change-not in any way that couldn't be made right by an appeal to the way "decent" folks had always done things.

I was born on December 2, 1945, exactly two months after V-J Day. America was the moral champion of the world. And it would always be that way. We would always fight on the side of right and justice, and the wars we fought we would win. It wasn't for nothing that Eisenhower added "under God" to the flag salute shortly after I started school.

God was very much a part of my world. He was the One you talked to every Sunday at the Copeville Methodist Church. He was the One who had long blond hair and a beard (like no other man you ever saw) and wore a white robe and sat under palm trees with children on his knees in the Sunday-school calendars. Next to my stuffed panda bear and my older brother, God was probably one of my favorite people. When I prayed as "I lay me down to sleep," that the Lord would keep me, the Lord was a hazy mix of that long-haired, bearded man in the Sunday-school pictures, my mother, and Santa Claus.

According to church records, I received Christ as my personal Savior in August 1958 and was baptized and received into church membership. What I remember most vividly was being told in class one Sunday morning that two other kids and I had reached the age at which we would join the church and be sprinkled. For some reason I didn't like the sound of that so I ran all the way home and hid under the covers, even though I was twelve years old. I finally went through with it, to please my parents and because it was what you did when you turned twelve. I wasn't even conscious of any deception in the act. Being in church and being a Christian were just part of what it meant to be a young American boy, a Scout, a good citizen, and a Future Farmer of America. Religion was important, especially for women and old people, but the only folks who got carried away with it were some blacks and poor white trash that we called "Holy Rollers." I never saw a "Holy Roller" in the flesh, but I knew that they were almost as "bad" as the Catholics.

As I got older, I was involved in activities at church, even led devotions for the youth group and gave talks for Sunday-night evangelistic services. Inside, I was beginning to feel as if God and my mother had one more thing in common-they both wanted to hold me down, keep me from doing the things I wanted to. They both said, "No!" and "Bad!" to some of the urges I was starting to feel, especially about girls. But Mom wasn't very hard to fool, so I supposed God wouldn't be either.

My childhood was very happy. There was an older brother with whom I only started to feel I had to compete as I got into high school. There was an older sister who raised me almost as much as my mother. There was a big collie dog and there were my projects. Even before I started school I began making things with my hands-little cars, models, toys. And from the time I was six I helped my father in the store and worked on the onion harvest each year.

After my arrest, the media had a field day comparing Copeville's Charles Watson - honor student, track star (my record in high hurdles still stands), Yell Leader, the boy next door with the crew cut and the prize-winning calf-to the doped-up killer who grinned stupidly out of Life magazine with glazed eyes. "If it can happen to an all-American boy like this," the articles and picture spreads seemed to be asking, "what about your own children?"

I went to school in Farmersville, a few miles up the road from Copeville. It was home of the "Fighting Farmers" and had also been the home of Audie Murphy. Some people thought I might be the next son of Farmersville to bring fame and pride to that dusty little community. When I was only ten a local reporter commented in print on my industry in gathering and selling crawdads to fishermen on a nearby lake. Three times during my years in high school I was chosen "Campus Kid" by the Hi Life school newspaper staff. They noted that I was active in everything from the school band to the yearbook to the paper itself to drama. And there was sports.

My brother had been a football hero at Farmersville High before me, and I very quickly realized I had a legend to live up to. I was determined to better it. In eighth grade I entered my first track meet and walked away with five first-place blue ribbons. They were not the last. My mother kept them all in an old tie box and as the semesters went by, meet after meet, the box started getting stuffed. I wasn't content with just track-I went out for basketball and lettered in football, left halfback. I played on district teams, was voted honorable mention, alldistrict. I won more ribbons and my mother started collecting clippings from the sports pages of the local papers.

In my junior year I became co-sports editor of Hi Life with my buddy Tommy Caraway. Although we'd have been embarrassed by the word at the time, I really loved Tommy. We hung around together, worked on the sports section of the yearbook, talked about our futures, what we wanted out of life. It seemed as if what we mainly wanted at that point was women. We'd tool around the country roads in a 1956 Mercury two-door hardtop I'd bought from my brother-in-law and sneak beer and water-ski in the hot summer months. We thought we'd live forever.

I was determined to go to college. I worked summers and afternoons in an onion-packing plant, saving money, and in between school and work I found time to rebuild cars (a skill of mine Manson would find useful a few years later) and make a pool table from scratch, even time to get to know a particular girl who gossip had it was "easy."

I think one reason the sexual freedom I found later in California, especially in the Family, seemed so liberating at the time was the fact that sex was never discussed much in my family-somehow it seemed forbidden, secret, dirty. Growing up in the country, you couldn't help discovering how things worked, and as strange changes started happening in your body there were always other, wiser boys who could tell you what "it" was like and how to get it, even if you didn't talk about it at home. There were the usual whispered conversations in locker rooms and on overnight visits, the Playboy centerfolds sneaked out of an older, college-age brother's room and shared among the team, the campus rumors about which girls would and which wouldn't. In that day before the Pill, there was always the chance of pregnancy, and you knew once that happened it was a church wedding and baby pictures seven months later. The problem was that the girls you'd want to marry didn't, and the girls that did weren't the kind of girls you took home to meet your folks for Sunday dinner.

It's probably hard for kids growing up today to understand, but the early sixties, at least in Texas, were still times when stealing a quick caress on top of some high-school junior's bra in the backseat of a buddy's car seemed unbelievably exciting and forbidden and could provide fantasy material for weeks. And no matter how bad my mother or the church might say it was, I knew what I wanted and I found a girl who would give it to me. The only problem was the fact that her reputation had spread beyond the locker room. My parents told me not to see her anymore. That didn't stop me-we just met in secret for those clumsy encounters. If I felt any guilt at all, it just added to the excitement. I told myself that my parents just didn't understand what it was like to be sixteen . . . . Just like-good Methodists that they were-they made a big fuss about beer, but once I tried it I found out you didn't get roaring drunk on your first sip.

My parents' world of church and God and rules wasn't what I wanted. I was a success, I could handle my life without them or that pale-faced Jesus in the church magazines. I started to think about getting out, finding a larger, more exciting world where everybody didn't know you and every false step wouldn't get reported and discussed within twenty-four hours behind the counter of my father's store.

Chapter Two Table of Content Chapter Four

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

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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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