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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 head.

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 to me.

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 is 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 and forget.

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 as "animalistic."

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: "No ."

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 something?"

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 to build.

Chapter Fifteen Table of Content Chapter Seventeen

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

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