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He's not talked about much, anymore, but he's still the nation's boogyman

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 10, 2005.

It’s been thirty-six years since the La Biancas were murdered in their home. Our culture's boogyman had a name after that day.

Their murder followed by one day the equally vicious murder of Sharon Tate Polanski and her friends. The police were flummoxed, the public terrified, and the media bonkers. Here was something to keep our minds off the Vietnam War, the recent assassinations of Kennedy and King, the horrors of our existence.

Except, well, things really weren’t too bad. This was the summer of Woodstock, and there was a lot of good music that now is used for automobile commercials and Safeway shopping, and things weren’t all that horrible for the vast majority of Americans. And here was Laci, and Monica, and the Smart child and JonBenét all rolled up into one panic and crisis, safely on the West Coast and near Hollywood where such things belonged.

These, you know, were the Manson murders, now recalled under the name Helter Skelter, which was written in the blood of the La Biancas on their wall. Although, in the undercurrent of deep stupidity and slapstick that propped up the entire case, they’d misspelled Helter. The LaBiancas had been stabbed so often police ceased counting the punctures, much like the Folger’s heiress and Tate and the hairdresser and their friend the day before. Tate had been in late pregnancy. It was, in the cold harsh light of the both reality and commerce, the perfect crime from which to profit. And people did.

As the police and DA Vincent Bugliosi put it together, Charles Manson, a dwarfish maniac of Rasputin like charisma with young girls and boys stoned out of their gourds, had configured a theory that a race war between whites and blacks was coming, and that he would instigate it by murdering some people and blaming it on the blacks, who’d retaliate, etc. Apparently his sole concept of what was needed was the word “pig” on the wall, which he falsely felt was the sole domain of the black militants then at work in our cities. Or something. It’s very hard to connect the dots.

In any case, while the war raged, Manson and his followers would lay low and arise only when things were so worn down they’d be recognized as the gods they were and rule. I think. Like I say, it doesn’t make sense, and in any case the Manson gang was incapable of tying their own shoelaces. Manson felt the Beatles, who had recorded a song called Helter Skelter, were singing in code solely to him, because they were divine creatures who channeled the principalities of the Cosmos. Or God. Something. During the course of this pathetic episode, Manson’s female followers tried to earn money as topless dancers and as prostitutes but they were unsuccessful at both. And the women were the brains and beauty of this outfit.

After Manson was tried and convicted, some of his followers tried to intimidate the world by, one imagines, letting their looks go to hell and shaving their heads, which proved handy for jail intake when they were periodically arrested for their public and private threats and, apparently, several more murders, including one of their own attorneys, whose body was never found.

Later, one of them pointed a loaded pistol at Gerald Ford, then President, but the gun proved too difficult to master and she’s spending her life under lock and key.

The Polanski and LaBianca murders were so awful, so disgusting, and so unwarranted that the black humor which immediately arose when Manson was discovered hiding under a kitchen sink and revealed in his physical glory to the world was blunted. How a disgusting and brain damaged mini-me, leading an ensemble of some of the world’s ugliest, smelliest, and certainly most pathetic lost souls, could bring the strutting macho social world of Hollywood - and indeed, the United States - to a complete stop, and prompted all sorts of tearful confessions of fear from rather big names, was an experience that few would argue – absent details like actual murder – wasn’t pretty amusing.

It doesn’t seem so now. After all, Manson’s visions of the future are held by the Michigan Militia and many other highly establishment and chemically unaffected minds from middle America. When he claimed his gang was composed of the nation’s children who’d been deserted by parents and society, he was painfully right. And because of this annoying fact, nobody talks about the Manson murders directly, anymore. No, drugs drove them insane, and look what happened? See? It was the drugs.

Manson himself may not have killed anyone, he used his followers as his weapons. But, you know, the same forces that produced Manson and his compliant and brain dead followers are still out there. The status of huge bodyguards and protective entourages became mandatory after Sharon Tate’s death. But in middle America where we say we love children but really love parents, that could not be the moral the public should recall from August of 1969. No. It was the drugs.