He's a Runner
My parents seemed like strangers to me, characters
from a movie I'd seen once but nearly forgotten.
Copeville was a cardboard town, a city in a dream.
I was home, after so much, but home was nowhere.
Charlie was my only home, my only reality, and
I'd left him in the desert. Now, as unreal as
everything around me seemed, so, too, did Manson
and his Death Valley kingdom seem unreal. Everything
was splintered, broken, disjointed. The only certainty
was that unless Helter Skelter came down soon
(And did I really think it would?), I would be
caught. That thought did not particularly frighten
or even concern me. I was too burned out to feel
much of anything; it was simply a fact that sat
quietly somewhere in the back of my blistered
My mother tried to take charge of things. She
got me to the doctor, talked to me, worked to
pick up the frayed ends of our family life. But
it was obvious that something had happened to
me, something that it would take more than good
sense and home cooking to make right. I slept
most of the time, ate little-and threw up, whenever
I tried to please her by downing one of her huge
Texas meals. I didn't wash, just lay around, watching
television blindly with the shades drawn, screaming
at my parents to shut up if they tried to speak
Each day it seemed as though I got more confused.
Added to all the turmoil that had been boiling
in my mind even before I'd run away from Charlie,
there was now the pull of home and family and
habit, reminding me what I'd been and known. Was
Charlie right? Were these people I'd called parents
really pigs? Did this apparently stable world
of familiar sights and sounds and smells tremble
on the edge of extinction, waiting for its destruction?
Or was everything my parents and their simple,
honest lives represented the real truth? Did things
make sense in a way I'd once thought they did?
Or was it true, as Charlie said, that no sense
The once comfortable but now new and strange world
of my family and my past loomed with greater intensity
and reality, while the vivid, magical world that
Charlie had given me faded daily until I could
hardly hold on to it. It was as if my consciousness
were being torn in half.
Finally I couldn't take it anymore. After about
a week, I tricked my parents out of some money,
got my father to drive me to Dallas to "see
a friend," and then called them and announced
that I was going back to Los Angeles to pick up
the insurance money due me from the automobile
accident in January of 1968.
I did not go to Los Angeles. I flew to Mexico
and wandered aimlessly through the resort communities
around Puerto Vallarta for a week or two, making
friends among the young transients and scoring
my first grass since the drugs had run out in
the desert. But it was no good-Charlie was pulling
me, and my fear was pushing me. I flew to Los
Angeles and spent several days in a cheap hotel
on the beach at Venice. As in Mexico, I seemed
to be waiting for something to happen, but I didn't
know what. I picked up some acid and hung around
with other young people on the beach who were
like me, with nothing else to do. Like me, but
different; they didn't have my demons dancing
through their heads at night. I decided to go
to Hawaii and look up some people I'd known when
I was with the Family. Maybe the Islands would
be far enough away from everything to let me rest
I could only afford a one-way fare out of what
was left of the money I'd taken from my parents,
and shortly after I arrived in Hawaii a girl I
brought back to my motel stole all that I had
left beyond the price of the ticket. I ended up
sleeping on the beach under a canoe. It was not
as picturesque as it sounds-it rained a lot, the
nights were cold, and even with the starvation
diet I'd grown accustomed to in the desert, I
still needed to eat occasionally. During the few
days I was in Los Angeles I'd obtained a temporary
driver's license under the name of Charles Smith,
so I finally used the card as identification to
get part-time work in a carpet-cleaning plant.
What money I made at the job kept me going until
I met a young Canadian on the beach one day, lifted
the key to his motel room while he was sleeping,
and stole enough money out of his room to buy
a ticket back to L.A. Like Charlie said: There
is no right; there is no wrong.
The first thing I did when I arrived in Los Angeles
was buy a cheap cassette tape recorder and the
tape of the Beatles' Abbey Road album. The four
English rock stars had talked to me once before
in their songs; maybe they'd have something to
tell me now, some direction to give. I didn't
really need any direction, though: I knew where
I was going-back to Charlie.
I used the last of my money on bus fare to Trona,
the gritty desert town I'd left only weeks before.
Getting a large plastic jug of water, I started
off on foot across the desert for Golar Wash,
playing the Beatles' tape all the way. I walked
for miles over the arid flatlands and then climbed
a line of hills that lay between Trona and the
valley below the Wash. I still had some of the
acid I'd gotten in Venice and I dropped it periodically,
pushing on through the wasteland. Charlie was
my only goal.
It says something about my state of mind that
after half a day and a night of walking, when
I had just about reached the bottom of the Wash,
I was suddenly certain that if I did go back to
Charlie, he would kill me. It was sometime after
midnight, but I turned back at once, ready to
cross those hills and salt flats all over again
to run away from the god I had, up to then, been
so desperately seeking. On my way across the valley,
I came upon the trailer of an old prospector whom
we'd met several times while I was still with
the Family. He, too, was called Tex and when I
knocked on his door at two in the morning he told
me that Charlie and all the others had been arrested.
He wasn't sure why, but he thought it had something
to do with car theft and arson. I'd better get
out of the area, he said, and as quickly as possible.
The old man drove me down to Ridgecrest himself,
about fifteen miles south of Trona. The next day,
October 30, I once more called my folks and asked
for money to fly home to them. This time they
were more cautious, demanding that I promise to
stay. I agreed and I kept my promise-until the
time came when where I stayed or where I went
was no longer something over which I had any control.
Back in Texas I tried again to settle into the
life I'd known. I did odd jobs, helped my father
add on to his store, fended off my mother's urging
that I start looking for a serious job. I still
was living in my own peculiar world, caught between
Charlie and my past, lost in the cracks between
two separate, incompatible realities. I occasionally
consoled myself with the attentions of a girl
I'd known during my college years. We'd smoke
grass together and take rides and make love in
the fashion I'd learned from the Family and that
she would later describe in court and to the press
My family-and it seemed strange to say that word
without meaning Charlie and the others-made no
secret of their concern for me. What had happened?
What terrible thing in California had turned the
son they'd been so proud of into this vacant-eyed,
listless stranger who flew into rages without
warning and spent hours lying in bed in his darkened
room? On Thanksgiving all the relatives got together
in my mother's living room and, sometime during
the meal that I could barely touch, my sister's
mother-in-law-knowing I'd been in California and
anxious to find something that might make me join
in the conversation-asked me casually, "Say,
did they ever find out who killed that Sharon
Tate and all those others?"
The moment seemed to last forever as I was torn
between screaming, "You're looking at him!"
and bolting. Finally I shook my head and tried
to act interested in the food. I avoided her for
the rest of the day.
On November 30, I took a drive with my rediscovered
girl friend. We had a quiet day at a nearby lake,
sitting on a blanket, talking. For some reason,
I felt I could relax around her, and we even wove
fantasy plans of running away to Northern California
together. She was very bored with Texas, and California
had the same allure for her it had once held-it
seemed like an eternity ago-for me. It almost
seemed possible that there might be a future.
When I got home that afternoon, my father and
my mother's brother, Maurice Montgomery, were
waiting for me. As soon as I walked into the dim,
musty light of the store and saw the two of them
together, my father's weathered face staring at
me in pain and disbelief, I knew what had happened.
The running was over.
I found out later that, shortly before I got
back from the lake, Maurice had been visited by
Deputy Sheriff Albert Bennet from McKinney, who
told him that I was wanted for murder in California.
A call had just come through from the Los Angeles
County District Attorney's office. My uncle and
the deputy had then walked over to the store to
talk to my father. A few minutes before I got
home the deputy had headed back to McKinney.
Now my father and uncle faced me. My father had
always been a direct man: "Charles,"
he said, "do you know anything about a murder
in California?" My answer was equally direct:
When I walked into the kitchen a few moments
later, my mother looked up with one of her smiles.
"You know what," I told her with all
the confused innocence I could muster, ".
. . they're trying to get me for some kind of
murder in California."
She had already taken a lot and she would have
to take much more. As I crossed toward my bedroom
she called after me, "It can't be so! Charles,
do you . . . did you have a fight, maybe . . .
and the boy could have died after you left or
I looked her in the eye: "I didn't kill
anybody." She told me to put on my best clothes
for the ride into McKinney. I went into the bathroom
and flushed down the toilet the last few tabs
of the acid I'd bought in Venice.
As the three of us rode the twenty-five miles
into McKinney-my father, Uncle Maurice, and me-I
never spoke. The thought of escape crossed my
mind, but I felt too weak to do anything but lean
back and stare out the window at the familiar
flat landscape whipping by. It was all out of
my hands now. I was almost relieved.
When we got to the sheriff's office in the big
stone jail-just off the main square where the
Collin County Courthouse punctuates the low-slung
town-my second cousin, County Sheriff Tom Montgomery,
called California again for more information but
was told nothing except that I was to be held
until Los Angeles detectives got to McKinney and
that I was dangerous. As he led me to a cell with
an embarrassed, apologetic grin, my cousin Tom
said, "I think we'll be able to clear all
this up quick enough. We know for sure you didn't
commit no murder." I walked into the cell
without answering him.
By late the next day, the story had hit the wire
services, reporters had started calling my parents
at home, and photographers and newspeople were
descending on McKinney in droves. My parents had
to fight their way through a large crowd to get
into the jail.
It was front-page news. Los Angeles Police Chief
Edward Davis gave a press conference to announce
that warrants had been issued for the arrest of
Patricia Krenwinkel, Linda Kasabian, and Charles
Watson (Charlie, Susan and Leslie would be named
later) for the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring,
Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Steven Parent,
Rosemary LaBianca and Leno LaBianca. He told the
two hundred reporters from around the world that
the crime of the decade had been solved.
A few days later my father painted over the WATSON
on the front of the store he'd taken half a lifetime
(Will You Die For Me? Copyright 1978, by Ray
Hoekstra. Published by Cross Roads Publications,
Inc. All Rights Reserved.)