Although I'd heard about Spahn Ranch soon after
I first met Charlie, I had never actually been
there until the day Dean and I picked up Terry
Melcher's XKE at the Cielo Drive house and then
stopped by the ranch for several days before continuing
north to Ukiah. The fact that I first saw both
places-10050 Cielo Drive and Spahn - within an
hour of each other on the same day, driving directly
to the ranch from Benedict Canyon, is one of those
strange twists of fate that could have no meaning
for me until much later.
Spahn Movie Ranch had once been used extensively
as a location for Western films and some early
television series. Any kid who grew up watching
half-hour shoot-'em-ups in the early fifties will
recognize those strange dry hills, covered with
huge sandy boulders. By the time Charlie and his
Family moved in, the place had gone to seed and
was only used for an occasional Marlboro commercial.
The real business was renting out horses, mainly
to teenagers, usually on weekends.
Shortly after Dean Moorehouse went to Ukiah the
second time (and never returned), Charlie took
me up to the ranch house to meet George Spahn,
the blind owner of the place. The old man was
sitting in a chair with one of his little dogs
in his lap, his cane beside him. Charlie introduced
me and explained that I was a good mechanic and
might be able to get some of the old trucks that
George had sitting around the ranch running again.
I didn't realize it at the time, but most of the
people that Charlie brought out to Spahn, at least
the ones he told George about, were supposedly
there to help work the place. I'm not sure Spahn
even knew about a lot of the others, especially
the women, but if he did, Charlie kept him satisfied
by giving him Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme-one
of the original San Francisco Family members who
was eighteen at the time-as his housekeeper. She
also spied on the eighty-yearold man for Charlie,
as well as making love to him.
When I spoke to Spahn he recognized my accent
and dubbed me "Tex," a nickname that
was quickly picked up by the Family. Part of Manson's
method of deprogramming us, of breaking our ties
to the past and our usual perceptions of ourselves
and the world, was giving all Family members new
names. I think, in my case, there was an added
reason: there could only be one Charlie.
He decided that hard work was the best way to
get rid of my negative karma. True to his word
to George, he had me start by fixing up some of
the old trucks. It was an uphill fight; most of
them were past repairing, and I'd just think I
had one going and something else would go wrong
with it. A bigger project was what came to be
known as the In Case Place, a small house-some
might say "shack"-that he had me build
for him at the back of the ranch. As the name
suggests, the little cabin was where Charlie and
the others were supposed to escape in case the
ranch was ever raided. I spent two months working
on it-digging out a floor and putting it together
with scrap materials the girls would throw down
the bank to me. Never in all those two months
did it occur to me to wonder why-with all this
talk of peace and love-Charlie thought he'd need
a place to hide from the police. When I wasn't
repairing trucks or building the house, he kept
me busy going down to the Valley on garbage runs
with some of the girls and even helping George
Spahn's son repair fences on the property.
After several weeks of work, Charlie let me move
up the hill to the movie sets and ranch buildings
where the Family lived. After he directed one
of the girls, Mary Brunner, to be my special "love,"
I began to feel a little less like an outsider,
but there was still pressure to prove myself,
especially with some of the women constantly preaching
to me that I wasn't as dead as I should be, that
I hadn't reached awareness.
Mary was a blond Scandinavian type, a year older
than I was, prettier than most of the pictures
published of her later would show. Like all the
Manson women-taught that their only purpose in
life was taking care of men and having babies-she
knew how to make you feel good.
During the months that Mary and I were more or
less together, I learned practically nothing about
her past. The past was nonexistent for the Family,
something to discard along with all the materialistic,
middle-class programming and the ego that it had
built. The Family lived in the present, the moment
and its fancies, not questioning where we'd come
from, who we'd been. People simply were who they
were, and it never occurred to anyone to wonder
how or why. If one day one suddenly changed his
or her name (as many of the girls did more than
once) and took on a new personality, then you
just rode with it.
Our only real history was an assortment of occasional
fragments we picked up of Charlie's own past:
his time in jail, the fact that he reached "beta"
(a Scientologist term for the highest state of
mental and spiritual awareness), his discovery
of love in a San Francisco park when a young boy
handed him a flower.
As for Mary, I did gradually learn that she was
the very first Family member. Charlie had met
her walking her dog outside the gates of the University
of California at Berkeley where she'd been a librarian.
She had been present when he discovered his "true
identity" on an LSD trip and she had been
the "Magdalene" weeping at his feet
as he "hung on the cross." It was to
her apartment that Charlie started bringing more
"young loves"-at first over her objections,
I sensed-and when the Family began wandering in
the bus, she'd quit her job and joined them. She
had been the first of the Family women to bear
a child by Charlie-Michael Manson. Charlie himself
had delivered the baby, with the rest of the Family
I began to realize how alone I'd felt for the
past year on my own in Los Angeles. Rich had been
a good friend to me, and there'd been girls and
friends from the wig shop and people you got to
know through drug deals and parties. But now I
saw how empty and plastic all that had been-people
spending time with people but never knowing them,
people using people but never caring, people like
Dennis Wilson making you think they were your
friends and then turning their backs on you. The
Family was different. Here were people you could
count on, people you could share everything with,
people you could become so one with that you'd
give your life for them and know they'd do the
same for you.
It may have something to do with the attitudes
I was raised with, or maybe it's just part of
the person I am, but I've never been very introspective.
I've tended to see life pretty much as what it
appears to be on the surface, see it in terms
of events and places and things, not trying to
analyze inner feelings and motives, my own or
anyone else's. Charlie presented himself to me
as incarnate love, and I accepted it without question.
The girls talked about being free and one-and
I believed it. I did begin to notice unique personalities,
though, within the inner core of the Family, individual
egos and characteristics that survived even as
we worked to destroy all traces of ourselves and
become perfect blanks, reflecting our father,
It was most obvious in the girl we called "Sadie
Mae Glutz" - Susan Denise Atkins. Susan had
one of those strange faces that was sometimes
pretty and sometimes very homely, and there was
something about her that reminded me of a lonely
child desperately anxious to be liked and noticed
and important. Sometimes it seemed as if she even
wanted to fight Charlie himself for the center
of the stage. Then he'd have to discipline her
with a quick slap or jerk at her hair. Later,
when the Beatles' song "Sexy Sadie"
came out, the words fit her so well that it made
us all sure the group had to be singing directly
to us: "Sexy Sadie . . . you came along to
turn everyone on . . . you broke the rules, you
laid it down for all to see . . . ." Susan
- Sadie had broken all the rules, sexually, and
liked to talk about her experience and lack of
inhibitions. Sometimes it seemed to me that she
saw her sexuality as just one more way to draw
attention to herself. Susan was the evangelist
of the group, always praising Charlie, repeating
his teaching, urging the rest of us to give ourselves
to him totally, even while her own ego was fighting
back sometimes, asserting itself against his domination.
It wasn't so much that she resisted doing what
Charlie told her; she just wanted to be special;
she refused to be annihilated.
Then there was Leslie Van Houten, in some ways
the prettiest of the women. Leslie was like a
little girl-emotional, easily hurt, spontaneous,
willing to do whatever she felt like doing, without
thinking. The other girls ordered her around a
lot and she accepted it, falling into her "mountain
folk" role, complete with lazy, exaggerated
accent and pretended helplessness. Underneath
all the crazy playacting and little-girl manner,
I felt she was always genuinely afraid of Charlie.
There was no question that she would do anything
he told her to, just as she obeyed Susan. I was
the only one she'd talk back to.
Patricia Krenwinkel was different. We called
her "Katie," and even though she was
the sweetest of the girls, none of the men except
Charlie ever got involved with her sexually. She
was a little standoffish and, probably more important,
unattractive. When Charlie started trying to get
bikers involved with the Family by offering them
girls, they all complained that Katie was too
hairy. For all the talk about love and oneness,
I think she must have felt the rejection from
the men and that made her all the more devoted
to Charlie-no matter what the others thought,
Charlie loved her, and would make love to her.
Why shouldn't she do anything he asked?
Katie-Leslie-Sadie-and another girl, a quiet,
motherly little hippie named Linda who wouldn't
even join the Family until five weeks before the
murders-and me: Tex Watson. Why us? Why were we
willing to be sent out into the night with guns
and knives? More important, why did we say yes
- all of us but Linda-when Charlie told us to
kill? There was the acid and the domination and
the Helter Skelter doctrine that gave a reason
for it all, but still-why? Maybe for Katie it
was gratitude and devotion to Charlie, who accepted
her when no other man would. With Susan-Sadie
perhaps it was a matter of keeping in the middle
of the action, close to Charlie and his plans.
Maybe Leslie did what she was told on the second
night because she was a born follower and afraid.
And perhaps I had to prove to these women that
I was just as dead as they were, just as open
to Charlie, just as one, just as aware.
Whatever the reasons, that was all a year away.
Now it was love-love that meant death-and freedom-freedom
that meant total slavery to Charles Manson. We
weren't the only ones, of course; even though
later estimates of the Family's size were exaggerated,
there were eventually about thirty of us.
I'd gotten to know some of the girls while I
was living at Dennis Wilson's house with them:
Ouisch (Dean Moorehouse's daughter Ruth)-one of
the young girls Charlie kept for himself; Brenda
McCann (her real name was Nancy Pitman)-of all
the women probably the most like Charlie, the
most blanked out. The time would come when she
and I would be so completely dead, no thoughts
in her head, no thoughts in mine, that we could
look into each other's faces when we were on acid
and see our own reflection staring back at us.
There was also Gypsy (Catherine Share)-a raven-haired
free spirit who sang and played the violin. Others
I met for the first time at the ranch: Squeaky
(Lynette Fromme) - so devoted to Charlie that
she would shut herself away with an eighty-year
old man most of the time, being his eyes and Charlie's
ear; Dianne Lake-the sad little girl whom Charlie
kept having to hit and whip but who loved him
anyway; Sandra Good-she was pregnant but still
seemed to think she could somehow keep herself
for Manson, maybe hoped she could someday have
him for herself alone.
There were men, too, though never as many. "Clem"
(Steve Grogan) was Charlie's favorite of them.
He was severely retarded and acted as if he were
about five years old, parroting everything Charlie
said and following the girls around with a stupid
sort of grin on his face. Charlie told us he should
be an example for everyone because he needed very
little deprogramming. He was innocent, like a
little child before his mother got to him and
killed his soul and laid the whole sick society's
trip on him. "No sense is sense," Charlie
often said; and Clem hardly ever made sense.
Paul Watkins - later freed from Manson's control
by Paul Crockett, the old Scientologist in Death
Valley-was Charlie's chief recruiter when I arrived
at Spahn Ranch. He was goodlooking and smooth
and useful, since Charlie was always anxious to
get himself new young loves and build up the Family.
A young girl might come up horseback riding and
end up with Paul in one of the ranch buildings.
He would make love to her and draw her into the
beautiful world we all shared. Then Charlie would
give her acid and pretty soon she'd be living
with the rest of us, learning how to die. Brooks
Poston, who was later sent to the desert with
Paul and came under Crockett's influence as well,
began as a stable hand at the ranch, shoveling
manure. He was always weak and unreliable as far
as Charlie was concerned, because on his first
acid trip he laid on a mattress for three days
in his own excrement, completely out of his mind.
Of the others, I probably became closest to T.
J. (Tom Walleman), a sort of gypsy in his late
twenties whom Charlie had picked as his right-hand
until the trip changed from love to death and
T. J. split when people started being killed.
On the fringes of the Family were ranch hands
like Juan Flynn, the Panamanian cowboy who stuck
around even after Charlie threatened him-partly
because he liked the sex and partly out of stubbornness.
This was the Family that was going to protect
me from the loneliness the city had come to mean
to me; these were the people who would populate
my world, the people I would live with, make love
with, drop acid with, finally kill with. It was
a strange collection-Charlie would later refer
to us as the ones society didn't want and threw
away-but who we were really didn't matter all
that much. The only personality that counted for
anything was Charlie: Charlie-our father, Charlie-our
god, Charlie-our selves.
(Will You Die For Me? Copyright 1978, by Ray
Hoekstra. Published by Cross Roads Publications,
Inc. All Rights Reserved.)