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There was a lot of confusion in those first weeks in March when I returned to the Family, and not all of it was inside my head. I didn't know what to think of this new teaching of Charlie's. It seemed to make sense, especially with everybody parroting it and working so hard getting ready for what was coming, but a part of me held back. I wasn't quite sure. Meanwhile, George Spahn was telling Charlie he'd have to get us all off the ranch. The police had come up several times since the Helter Skelter Club opened, pestering George about operating a nightclub without a license. There were constantly new people coming and going, guys like Danny DeCarlo, one of the Straight Satans bikers who needed to get away from his "red freak" (barbiturate addict) wife in Venice. DeCarlo hung around mainly because he enjoyed making love with Charlie's "sweeties," as he called them, and later, during the investigation of the murders, he would be a major source of information for the prosecution.

Once George started getting uptight, Charlie decided Squeaky should talk the old man into signing over his ranch to the Family. Although nothing specific was said about it at the time, I don't think Charlie planned for him to last very long after he made out his new will. But Spahn was as stubborn as he was old, and after George made us close down the club Charlie decided we should move back to the Canoga Park house on Gresham Street.

It was more than just a house. There was a large garage in back, along with some run-down stables for working on the dune buggies and bikes, and there was also a large attic where we put all the mattresses and continued our lovemaking in the dust and cobwebs. Between working on the vehicles and getting together supplies and trying to find a secret route up through Devil's Canyon into the desert (the Canyon started just across the highway from Spahn and Charlie was convinced that the song "Helter Skelter" gave coded directions for a way through it into Death Valley), we were kept pretty busy, but Charlie wasn't comfortable down in the middle of the Valley. There were too many people. When he found out about a house up in the hills above Malibu Canyon that had been leased by the rock group Iron Butterfly but was now standing vacant, he decided we should live up there. So once more we piled everything together and made a move. Just as he had left Brooks Poston and Juanita up at Barker Ranch in the desert, however, and Squeaky at Spahn Ranch with old George, Charlie had a couple of the girls stay behind at Gresham Street, too. He liked to have lots of options.

At the Malibu Canyon house we spent most of our time roaring up and down the Santa Monica mountains in the dune buggies or trying to accommodate Charlie's constantly changing whims-like turning one of the trucks into a mobile pit stop for the dune buggies or painting the name of a fictitious movie company on all the vehicles for cover. Then, without warning sometime early in April, Charlie decided we should move back to Spahn, whether George liked it or not. The time for Helter Skelter was very close and we needed a clear escape route to the desert.

Through most of this I had still not been absolutely certain whether or not I believed everything Charlie was teaching us about the coming Apocalypse, and even though I considered myself back in the Family, I made occasional trips to Hollywood to visit Luella and get acid from her. One afternoon late in March, I took Mary Brunner and another one of the girls with me to Luella's apartment and when we got there, Luella was having a little acid party. What we were offered was a special acid I'd never dropped before-called "Orange Sunshine"-and when it started coming on, it came on heavy. Suddenly another song on the White Album made sense:

. . everybody's got something to hide, except me and my monkeys." We were the monkeys, we realized, just bright-eyed, free little animals, totally uninhibited. The three of us started bouncing around the apartment, throwing food against the walls and laughing hysterically. As far as we could tell, we were all love-spontaneous, childlike love-even though everybody else at the party seemed turned off by us, a little frightened at our pupils so dilated that there was no more color to our eyes, just huge black holes in the middle of the white. Somehow Luella got us out of the apartment, and on the way downstairs I remember stopping to speak to one of the neighbors we'd dealt dope with in the past.

"I treat you as I treat myself," I remember saying to him solemnly, and somehow it was like a benediction, as though I was making him my brother, giving him title to all my drug business and Luella and everything of mine that was still in the apartment upstairs. "I treat you as I treat myself," I repeated and it was like the closing of a chapter. The two girls and I ran out onto the street, chattering like little apes.

As we walked down the street, the blazing light burst into our brains through totally dilated eyes that held back nothing. We were certain we were invisible. We hitched a ride over Laurel Canyon into the Valley and though I can't explain it now, the young guy who'd given us the ride suddenly jerked to attention as if he hadn't even been aware of us with him all the way over the hills. "Who are you?" he screamed. "What're you doing in my car? Where'd you come from?" As we tumbled out onto Ventura Boulevard we realized we'd been right-the boy had never seen us at all until it was time for us to get out. It was true, what Charlie had sometimes said-if you burn every thought out of your head, then there's nothing left for anyone to see.

As we walked west on Ventura Boulevard, facing the setting sun, looking directly into the orange ball of flame, it felt as though I was being magnetized by the sun itself. The sun was God, and the closer the sun came to setting, the closer the end of the world must be. All the cars going back and forth on the street suddenly seemed to be in total confusion, crashing and smashing into each other in their frantic rush to escape, but the sun just kept slowly sinking, taking no notice of them, pulling down the curtain on the world. Charlie was right, I realized; everything he said was true; I was seeing it. The Apocalypse was at hand and the present world was dying. As we passed two little children playing on the sidewalk, I suddenly ran over and scooped them up into my arms, dashing to hide them under a bush. I wanted to save them from the Helter Skelter that was coming; I wanted to protect them. There was no longer a trace of doubt in my mind. It was coming down fast, just as Charlie said, just as the Beatles said, just as the Bible said. It was coming down fast; yes it was!

On April 23, 1969, I was arrested in Van Nuys for being under the influence of drugs in public. It began with a small piece of belladonna root that Brenda-Nancy had found in the fields behind the ranch and boiled up in the kitchen, a piece no more than half an inch long and a quarter of an inch across. It ended up with me slithering across a sidewalk on my hands and knees through a crowd of schoolchildren, unable to walk, unable to make any noise except little mechanical sounds, over and over: "Beep, beep . . . beep, beep, beep." Before it was over, ten days later, I would have seen space people beeping back at me, landing and taking off from circles of light; I would have seen the wind itself. The arrest was not only the source of a mug shot that showed me grinning up at the camera like some sort of demented animal-a photograph that later became the best-known image of me in the press. It also resulted in my being fingerprinted for the first time in my life. Later it was one of those fingerprints that matched a print lifted from the freshly washed door at 10050 Cielo Drive the day after the first murders.

Even before I came back to the Family in March, Charlie had mentioned to Paul Watkins that it was beginning to look like blackie was so stupid that somebody would have to show him how to start Helter Skelter. Once we moved back to the ranch in late April, it became more and more clear who that somebody would have to be.

Ever since I'd known him, Charlie had talked about death, but it was usually spiritual death he urged upon us: death to the ego. Now there was nothing spiritual or psychological about the dying which Charlie seemed more and more obsessed with. It was violent death, physical death that he meant when he told us that death was beautiful, because it was the thing people feared the most. Yet, he said, death was nothing but an illusion in the mind anyway, so killing a human being was merely destroying a fantasy. He kept repeating that the spirit, the soul, can never be killed; it is one and eternal-the illusion of physical death merely opens the resistant spirit to realization of its essential oneness with all that is.

He became more and more interested in weapons and we began to develop quite an arsenal: rifles, pistols, knives, even a machine gun. Charlie was especially fond of a Buntline Special, Hi Standard .22 caliber Longhorn revolver he'd been given by Randy Starr, an old rodeo performer who hung around the ranch. (Quite literally "hung"-his favorite stunt was a macabre fake garroting where he'd dangle from his own specially made scaffold, eyes bulging, tongue protruding. Charlie loved it!) Besides the weapons there was the steadily growing collection of dune buggies, including Charlie's command vehicle which he covered with hanks of hair donated by all the Family members.

There was a lot more talk about fear. The purpose of fear, Charlie said, was to get rid of all thought; if you were really afraid, you were conscious of nothing but the moment and the present situation. That was being in the now and that was true clarity, true awareness. None of this was new. Charlie had often said we should live in constant fear, like wild animals always on the alert, but now the fear games developed a new edge. At Charlie's direction we'd take the tricky turns of the Santa Susana Pass at ninety to a hundred miles an hour in our dune buggies, defying centrifugal force. At night, he started sending the girls out on what he called "creepy-crawls"slipping into darkened houses while the owners were sleeping and crawling through them, rearranging things. Although it might seem that this kind of game was designed to frighten the people who woke up the next morning and found that things had been subtly shifted in the night, the real purpose was to make the girls doing the crawling face their fear and go beyond it. Sometimes Charlie would gather us all together in the ranch house and have us imagine a rich piggie sitting in a chair in the middle of the circle we'd form. "Imagine we just yanked this pig out of his big car and stuck him here," Charlie would instruct us. Then we would project all our own fear on that piggie while we fantasized his own fear as he was surrounded by our silent staring power. Charlie would direct us until we'd actually see ourselves scaring this imaginary pig to death just by the force of what we were projecting onto him.

During this kind of game we'd usually drop acid, and after a while Charlie got in the habit of quietly talking about things that might happen, things that could be done to this imaginary piggie-things like tying him up, stabbing him, going into his house and murdering all his family and getting all his money, or frightening him into willing everything he had to us and then killing him. We'd all follow Charlie's lead and imagine the butchery and the terror, and even though it was all just a game, the images stayed locked in our brains after the game was over.

Charlie never gave up using the acid and his teaching to break down our egos and completely dominate us. He continued all the old preaching, telling us we had to cease to exist, asking us to make the gift of our love and submission to him complete. It went on day and night until finally it seemed there was so little left of me that it was pointless to even carry the empty symbols of a separate identity around with me any longer. I went out to the dump behind the ranch house and threw away everything in my wallet: driver's license, draft card, everything. Now even the fiction of there being a separate Charles Denton Watson had been destroyed, at least for me. There was just a body named Tex that carried around a little part of the all, a little part of Charlie under the illusion of self.

Not all of Charlie's attempts to condition us to fear and violence were immediate successes. The first time he told me to slip up to a house and find out what was going on inside, I just walked up and rang the doorbell, ready to ask whoever answered what he was doing. There was nobody home, but Charlie still wouldn't talk to me for a while after that.

We began stealing anything we could get our hands on: money, credit cards, traveler's checks, dune-buggie parts. It was all for Helter Skelter, Charlie told us; we had to be ready. We creepy-crawled a couple of houses in Malibu and walked off with clothes and some tape equipment that turned out to have already been stolen from NBC.

I think it was sometime in June that Charlie started saying that if blackie didn't make his move soon, we might have to start Helter Skelter for him. We all listened and agreed and added it to the doctrine, but I didn't really think the time would come when we would be killing people. It was strange, but even though I truly believed that Charlie knew everything, I could sometimes ignore what he said, even disobey him. There was the matter of speed, for instance. Charlie, for all his use of acid, was absolutely against speed. He believed it was bad for your body. But when a young guy from one of the neighboring ranches began sneaking it over, Susan-Sadie, and Bruce Davis, and I started carrying it around in the bottom of a cigarette package. Later we hid it in a Gerbers' baby-food jar under the porch of one of the buildings. I liked the way speed worked. You'd stick your finger in, sniff it up each nostril, and everything came to life. Sometimes time moved past you so fast you could barely keep up with it. Even after the murders, when I was up in the desert, I tried to get Bruce to find our little baby-food jar of speed, but somehow it had disappeared. I was willing to kill for Manson, but I wasn't willing to give up my speed.

As the summer got longer and hotter, the piggies in the fear games and the visions Charlie put in our heads for them got more and more specific.

About two miles down the hill from the ranch there was an ostentatious new suburban development with homes that managed to resemble mausoleums in their conspicuous consumption and attempted grandeur. Gradually the pig in our fantasies became one of the people from this development. Charlie began to talk about going in and taking over one of those enormous houses. As he sketched it out, we could just barge in when we were all on acid and scare the owners to death by the fear we would project onto them. Then we'd take charge of the place and live there, and the girls would pretend to be maids and keep up appearances while we ripped off everything we could for Helter Skelter. It says something about how unrealistic Charlie's visions were that he apparently believed we could really get away with something like this, that the girls could somehow convince friends and employers and neighbors that our victims were away on vacation while we cashed their checks, used their credit cards, and sold off their possessions. I don't remember exactly when or how we crossed the line between imagination and reality, but one afternoon Charlie actually went up to one of those houses while others of us waited in the car. He tried first the front door, then the back, but there was nobody home and we never got inside. Whoever lived (perhaps still lives) in that house never knew how close they came to being Manson's first victims.

When the residential development didn't seem to work out, Charlie turned his eye to the top of the hill above us-where a restaurant and gambling club overlooked the Simi Valley beyond the pass. Charlie's first idea was to rob the casino itself, but after a week of casing the place with binoculars and nighttime creepy-crawls around the grounds, he gave up on that and decided we would kidnap one of the rich customers. From there we'd follow our plans for the Chatsworth mansion: take over the pig's house and put his money into buying dune buggies and supplies for our escape to the desert. By this time, Charlie had another idea as well. Instead of scaring our victims to death, he wanted to build a jail in the sewers for them, a jail where he would be the warden-a fair switch after his seventeen years in the pigs' joint. He went so far on this one as to equip our big truck with a shortwave radio (it was supposed to block the front entrance to our subterranean prison), but then an ex-convict friend of his stole the whole rig and ran off to Texas with one of the girls.

That disappointment didn't make Manson give up on getting some of the casino patrons. He just went back to his original plan of either making them prisoners in their own home or killing them. Sometimes he'd even talk about bringing them back to the ranch and putting them in the middle of our circle so we'd have a real piggie to work on. But whatever the details, the intent was always the same: getting money for Helter Skelter.

As farfetched as it sounds, Charlie's second plan almost killed two women. One night he and I were waiting in the parking lot of the casino, looking for the right victims, when two elderly ladies came out to their car, one of them crippled. As they got in slowly, oblivious to what was happening ahead of them, Charlie pulled up to block their exit and sent me with a knife to force them into our car. I crept forward slowly, then suddenly appeared at their window, flashing my blade. The woman who was driving accelerated violently, nearly running me down as she swung around our car and took off down the driveway. We spent about fifteen minutes chasing them all over the north end of the Valley before they finally lost us somewhere near Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Once again Charlie had been cheated out of his pig. Once more his preparations for the end were frustrated. But he had gained something. He had seen that at least one of his Family had reached the point that he would try to do anything Charlie asked, even try to kill.

Considering all Charlie's plans, it is ironic that the first person he actually killed (or thought he killed) was not a rich establishment pig at all, but rather a black man, a dope dealer in Hollywood.

Chapter Eleven Table of Content Chapter Thirteen

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

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Will You Die For Me?

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