Escape From Cielo Drive (A Tale of Three Charlies)

Escape From Cielo Drive
(A Tale of Three Charlies)

By Paul Morantz
© December 2010

“When you reach the street there is only a left turn,
the street is narrow and the sign saying “Cielo Dr.”
slants downwards heltered-skeltered. One would
expect to see a large black crow on top of it. It was
when my headlights finally shined on the sign that I
remembered where I knew the Street from.”

( after reading suggest photo view at )

I am slightly older than Charles Denton Watson (born on August 16, l945 to his December 2, 1945) but I felt a lot wiser when we first met in June of l968 while we were both looking for a job at the same location. For me it was just a summer job before starting law school. Watson on the other hand after graduated high school from a small town in Texas and briefly attendig some college was trying his first time away from home and the controls of his middle class family.

When I found him in Hollywood he was a babe in the woods, saying, “yes sir, yes ma’m,” wearing suits with Texas thin ties in the middle of the summer heat. He was shy and courteous.

I had graduated USC and looking for something to do saw an ad in Los Angeles Times that said young men could make $50 an hour talking to women. So I arrived at the designated time on the designated morning where a lot of young men combing their hair stood in line hoping for this “dream” job. All there was to it was that we were supposed to go out in public and hand out cards to girls that said they could come to Contessa Creations on Melrose and La Cienega and get a free wiglet. In the 60’s it was part of the mod look for women to be able to change hair styles and wigs and other hairpieces were fashionable. We were supposed to put our initials on the card so if the girl came in and bought anything we got $5. Certainly each of us should be able to average handing out ten an hour with enough charm to commence them to come in.

It was, of course, a horrible job. No one wants to be that person on the corner handing out cards to strangers and few men, if any, ever came back to Contessa to pick up more cards let alone find out if they have any money coming to them. But the ad, and the pitch (talking pretty girls into the store) brought new male prospects regularly and provided Contessa Creations with a free workforce eager to bring in the girls.

Operating Contessa were 2 older late 30th something lifetime salesmen, Mike and Brian, believing themselves closers who could sell anything. For accounting there was the Major (recently militarily retired) and 2 young hotshots named Joe and Skip. Joe had the square cheekbone and chiseled look while Skip had the Beatle floppy hair and Paul McCartney eyes. Each thought there was no limit to their charm. But for the payola scheme to succeed more salesmen were needed so Skip and Joe could act as the closing managers.

The four of them one morning looked up and down the line of prospective card givers looking for whom they thought might be able to sell young women inside. They selected Charles Watson, who had the looks of a former football hero, which he was, and me.

Up until that time my working experience had been limited to being a noon duty aid at an elementary school near USC and to being sports editior of the Daily Trojan. I also had written freelance. So in essence I saw this eagerly as my first real job and didn’t pay much attention to the lack of morality of it.

Inside Contessa were “huts”– small intimate boutiques where the salesmen snuggle up to the young girls coming in for their free wiglits. The girl was told she was being given a free wiglit so she would be a walking advertisement. When people would comment on how nice it looked she would recommend the store. In order to be eligible for this, she had to agree to a short dissertation on women hairpieces so she could answer questions in public. Seemed like a fair deal.

Once inside the hut, the salesman displayed a machine made not very attractive wig made of artificial substances. In comparison, Contessa’s wigs were hand strung and made with real human hair. The girl was encouraged to stroke the two pieces and feel the difference, to model each in the hut mirror. Then she would be shown a fall and a cascade.

When the salesman sensed interest on the part of the girl he changed directions and asked permission to get some personal information. Was the girl popular? Did she go out a lot? Was she fashionable?

It was then explained that when a person walked out with a free wiglit often people who came in from seeing it were looking for wiglits. Occasionally, Contessa wanted women to model our wigs, falls and cascades so that women might come in looking for these more expensive items. Of course, they were too expensive to give away for free, but on rare situations, for the right and pretty, we might sell them “at cost.” And throw in the Brooklyn Bridge.

The salesman would add up the retail total for all 4 pieces and then show the reduced to cost payment they could make for all four. If they hesitated, the salesman would say let’s not discuss this further because “I am not really supposed to make this offer, I don’t have authorization…Let’s see if we can get it before discussing its further.” The salesman would then exit the hut and snap his fingers for a “manager,” usually Skip or Joe.

The manager, in front of the girl, would ball out the salesman for making the offer without preauthorization. Then, realizing that damage had been done, would ask the girl the same questions about her personal life to show that she would be a person likely to bring in business if she was given such a deal. Basically, the table had been turned, and the girl was selling herself, not us selling the hairpieces. Off the young girls happily went while each of us waited to take our commissions from her check.

Better still, the rule was once you sold the girl you could ask her out. And as we were all so charming; we were invited to all those Hollywood parties on those Hollywood nights. What better summer job could a 22-year-old male dream of?

One day a pretty UCLA 18 year old co-ed, Barbara Klein, came in to pick up her hairpieces she bought from Charles Watson. I asked Charles if it was Ok if I took a try and with his permission I helped Barbara carry her hairpieces to her car. When I called she accepted my date offer. We dated into the fall until she auditioned for Playboy after Dark and became the girl friend of Hugh Hefner, changing her name to Barbie Benton. I never believed her about Hefner alleged advances until I showed up one day to show her my just purchased Triumph GT-6 and she responded, “Want to see my Maseroti ?”

Yes, it was fun for the seven of us, but it seemed only Charles and I questioned what we were doing. I remember our sitting in a hut and Charles and I made up a skit where we complained of the horrible hand sewn human hair and the perfection of machine quality alternate. In other words, we knew we could sell whatever we wanted. And it began to bother us.

Still it was hard to turn down the fun. Finally one day after my hut pitch a girl looked through me and said how about giving her cash for the card. I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek and said thanks for restoring my belief in woman intelligence. That afternoon I quit and that was the last I ever saw of Charles Watson.

Part of the fun had been what we called “bringing out” Charles. Suits were fine in Texas, but this was Hollywood. Look see…blue jeans…Hawaiian shirts.. Sandels. When at the parties remember this was the 60’s. Drink this, do that. Have fun.

But as the summer concluded I never saw much of a change in Charles. He seemed forever conservative and as law school started he faded in memory. There was no way of foretelling my legal field would be one day cults and brainwashing, that I would become the subject of an infamous cult murder attempt while my friend Charles, and not knowing it for 20 years, arguably committed the most famous cult crime ever.

If ever I could be a witness to a life story that could convince me of the power of brainwashing, Charles Watson was and is that story. And it strangely as well foretold my future–a clear and present danger only a decade away.

During my first year at U.S.C law school I was still not through selling wigs. My Uncle who lived in Benedict Canyon was a wholesaler and he convinced me to go to the sorority houses making pitches to sale his wigs. I could even use it as an excuse to stop a pretty girl on campus. Finally, I felt somewhat embarrassed in front of my male friends and dropped it.

Charles, too, tried to open his own wig business but it quickly failed. During this time, he finally caught on to Hollywood, further than we ever recommended, not only using, but dealing. One night Watson picked up Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys who was hitchhiking. Wilson invited him back to his home, where he met a Wilson friend who Dennis met as a result of picking up Susie Atkins (Sexy Katie) hitchhiking one day. And so Watson was introduced to the friend, a short bearded charismatic want-to-be musician named Charles Manson.

Charles Manson, born in l934, like the third Charlie in this story, Synanon Founder Charles Dederich, was from Ohio–Cincinnati to be exact, the illegitimate son of a 16 year old mother. He lived with his Aunt and Uncle after his mother and her boyfriend were sentenced to five years for robbing a service station, knocking out the attendant with coke bottles. In l942 his mom was paroled but she did not want Charlie so he began at 12 a life of foster homes, escapes, holdups and incarcerations. Also like Dederich, the third Charlie who will enter this story, who angered when his Mom unforgivably married a wealthy man when he as 12, the abandonment seemed to kick start for Manson as well a period of self indulgence and retribution.

In l951 Charlie and some other boys escaped and headed for California in stolen cars, holding up more than a dozen gas stations on the way. He married a waitress in 1955, but the relationship became difficult when at the same time he was arrested for theft, credit card fraud and grand theft auto. He became institutionalized; regarding prisons as a place of comfort. He probed Dale Carnegie, Buddhism, Scientology and a group that worshiped both Christ and Satan, the Process. Some suspect in exploring the latter two he learned methods of bonding and controlling. In prison, Alvin Karpis, lone survivor of the Ma Barker Gang, taught him the guitar. That may have ultimately and ironically done him the most harm.

Released in 1967, my senior year of college, after his request to stay in prison–home half his life–was denied, Manson found his way to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, then the nation’s hippie capital. He found a world of flower children, free love and drugs. LSD enlightened his awareness. He was at home in the Human Potential movement.

As it was women who had in the past left him (wife and Mom) Charlie recruited girls for his family, most lacking close fatherly ties, who in turn were bait for young men. Whatever possessions anyone had were turned over to the family. Using an old school bus for transportation, they roamed in l968 before setting up communes at several locations. One was the Spahn ranch located in Chatsworth, where Wallace Beery, Tom Mix and Mack Brown once made movies and The Outlaw, Duel in the Sun and Bonanza episodes were filmed. Manson got free reign by placing 19 year old Squeeky Fromme with the then 81-year old George Spahn. For awhile Manson stayed at the home of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson who he met as a result of Wilson twice picked up Manson’s girls hitch hiking, eventually taking them home.

Manson strummed his guitar, as Karpis had taught him, but now in company of the famous Beach Boys. Wilson fixed Susan Atkin’s teeth, lent his Mercedes to Atkins (which she later crashed and car had no insurance), and gave Manson a bunch of his Gold records. Manson later traded one for the allowance of his family to use the Barker Ranch at the edge of the Death Valley desert.

It was at the ranches that the charismatic Manson did his programming. He controlled the environment and the information, teaching his followers to bond and love each other. Roll playing games, whether as Cowboys or Bikers, were called magical mystery tours in honor of Manson’s favorite singing group, the Beatles. A we-they dichotomy grew with those on the outside of the group being “they.”

When the family ate, they surrounded Manson, who dined alone sitting high on a rock. As in Synanon, as both Dederich and Manson blamed their mothers, children were raised communally so parents couldn’t give them their hang-ups. Eliminating bonds created by school, church and society would make them a “strong white race.”

Manson held sessions where he urged the denunciation of parents, the surrender of ego and past identity. To emphasize re-birth, typical of thought reform, Manson gave his followers new names to go by. Susan Atkins was now Sadie Mae Glutz. And of course, my friend Charles gave up his first name for the new one—“Tex.”

They were to be free and learn that there is no right or wrong, only love and to follow love. One was to be part of the Now. He said he was teaching them to be independent but instead he made them dependent. Each was to find his own love but he said I am your love. They should trust their love. Whatever you want to do is your karma. It was not even wrong to kill as there was no death, only a change. Death was not to be feared; it was beautiful. The spirit cannot die and goes on without boundaries. The only thing that dies is the ego which is good. Death is an illusion. Once, he went to Esalen, the craddle of the self-help movement and new age religions, to spout his philosophies.

Manson used LSD and sex orgies to break inhibitions and the past. The preferred tablet was known as white lightning because it was said to provide the strength to survive Armageddon. Charlie did the directing, first handing out the drugs (his dose would be small), then he would dance and take off his clothes as his family followed like a train. He laid them down, ordered deep breaths and slow rubbing against each other. He arranged the coupling, even the positions, the goal a simultaneous group orgasm. Whatever one would not do, Manson made them do in order to free inhibitions and destroy past self and moralities. They were taught oral sex, woman on woman, man on man. Manson initiated a 13 year old by sodomizing her in front of the group. The first time he had sex with Susan Atkins he told her to pretend he was her father.

All the time Manson talked of his philosophies, exploited weaknesses and instilled fear, at times applying physical punishments for breaking his rules. Fear, he said, was good. It made them more aware, more alive. Charlie never said directly he was Jesus Christ, but did say he had lived 2,000 years ago and died on the cross. The family, he said, were the original Christians reincarnated; the Romans had come back as the establishment. And, he pointed out, he was “Man-son.”

Dr. Edgar Schein, in his book Coercie Persuasion, wrote in the early 60’s the common characteristics of cult leaders who controlled followers. Manson fit that profile. As Schein predicted such a leader would become, Manson became paranoid over security as Dederich would over Synanon secirity ten years later (See The True history of Synanon Violence). The Barker ranch had a lookout post, a string of field phones, hidden arms, gas and supplies. In the desert they played Rommel war games (Manson studied Hitler) in stolen Dune Buggies, Manson’s having a built a sheath in his for his sword. Charlie gave the girls each a buck knife and taught them how to slit throats. They practiced creepy-crawling into people’s homes. To raise money, Manson sent the girls out to work as topless dancers.

In December of l968 the Beatles released their double disk White Album and Manson preached it contained special messages from the Fab Four to him. Manson spoke of a coming race war in which the family would wait it out inside a golden bottomless pit in the desert, all this being predicted in the Beatle’s Revelation 9. The blacks would win, but being “too stupid to run the world” they would come to the pit and ask Charlie and the family to lead and rule. The Beatles, said Charlie, were aware and in this album they were trying to communicate it was time to arise. He pointed at the songs Sexy Sadie (Atkins); Rocky Racoon (a black con man); Happiness is a warm gun; Blackbird “singing in the dead of night…you were waiting for this moment to arise;” Piggies (the last verse describes pigs eating their bacon with knives and forks); Revolution 1—“you say you want a revolution,” and Revolution 9 (a reference to Revelation 9)– a series of noises, mortars, machine guns and screaming. And there was Helter Skelter, named after a slide in an England park. “Look out Helter Skelter….She’s coming down fast.” Helter Skelter, said Manson, was the war between blacks and whites. But it wasn’t happening fast enough. So if the family wanted to ultimately rule they had to ignite it. Make it look like the blacks were attacking so the whites would retaliate.

On August 9, l969 Manson sent my old workmate, Tex Watson, and other young kids, Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel to 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon–a house with a history of being occupied by Hollywood stars, including Henry Fonda, George Chakiris, Mark Lindsay, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Samantha Eggar, Olivia Hussey and recently by Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon– but now thought by Manson to be the home of record producer Terry Melcher, son of famed actress/singer Doris Day. But Melcher had moved into hismother’s Malibu beach house with actress Candice Bergen. Renting it instead was film director Roman Polanski who had just earned fame with the film Rosemanry’s Baby–A film about evil that now would almost seem prophetic.

Occupying the house this night was actress Sharon Tate, men’s hairstylist Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger. Polanski was out of town filming Day of the Dolphin. Tate, 26, Polanski’s wife, eight months pregnant, an actress known for her incomparable beauty, had just filmed Valley of the Dolls which pushed her to stardom. Sebring–with clients like Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, George Peppard, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen– had taken men’s hairstyling out of the barber shop to a new level, opening a series of salons and producing a line of shop hair products—all new concepts in those days–was Tate’s former boyfriend. Frykowski, an actor, was a friend of Polanski and Folger, of the coffee company family, was a Radcliff graudate, a social worker and Frykowski’s girlfriend.

A recent Arroyo High graduate, 18-year old Steve Parent, was leaving from visiting the occupant of the Cielo guest house, when my buddy Watson walked up and, despite the boy’s pleading, shot him four times while he sat in his driver’s seat, using a 22 caliber Hi Standard Longhorn revolver. The family then entered and tied up the occupants in the living room with the 3/4 rope Watson had brought along. Watson had made entry possible with bolt cutters. Watson then shot Sebring and Frykowski, as well as stabbing the latter two over four dozen times, saying “I am the devil and I am here to do the devil’s business.” Tex then told Susan Atkins to kill Frykowski. He leaped in defense and the two fought in mid air like a scene out of bad 60’s karate movie, Susan stabbing Frykowski in the leg. My former friend hit him over the head with his gun butt and then stabbed him. Folger got loose and was in a fight with Patricia Krenwinkel. Tex went over and stabbed Folger. Susan started stabbing Sharon until she stopped screaming and begging for the life of her baby. Tate was stabbed 16 times. Frykowski was stabbed 51 times, hit over head with a blunt instrument 13 times and shot twice. Sebring was stabbed 7 times, Fogel 28 times. Atkins took a towel, dipped it in Tate’s blood and wrote the word “pig” on the wall.

Manson decided they had not done it right; too much struggling. The correct way was to reassure the victims they would be all right and then when they are quiet kill them. So the next night to teach the right way Charlie took them to 3301 Waverly Dr. in Los Feliz, the home of Leo and Rosemary LaBianca. Leo was the president of the Gateway Supermarket chain, Rosemary owned her own dress shop. Manson creepy crawled and tied the couple up. Tex, Katie and Leslie Van Houten (just 19) went inside to kill the occupants. Rosemary was stabbed 41 times. Leo was stabbed 12 times and punctured another 14 times with a large fork. Sadie carved the word “war” on his stomach. Helter Skelter and Death to Pigs was written on the wall in blood.

On August 16, 1969, my 24th birthday, just eight days after the Cielo Drive murders, police raided the Spahn Ranch and rounded up several family members on auto theft charges. Believing Donald Shea, aka Shorty, had snitched, Manson had family members, including Steve Grogan, Bill Vance and Larry Bailey, torture and murder Shea.

Shea remains were not found until 1977 when Grogan drew a map for investigators leading them to the body. Charles Manson, Steve Grogan and Bruce Davis were convicted of Shea’s murder but over a dozen witnesses implicated my friend Watson as one of Shea’s killers.

On October 2, 1969, Watson fled the ranch and headed back to his home state of Texas. On November 30, 1969, he was arrested in Texas for the Tate-LaBianca murders. Given his Texas home town disbelief over accusations against a favored son, lawyers were able to fight his extradition back to California for nine months. Once back in California, it was reported Watson began regressing to a childlike state. He stopped talking and eating, dropping 55 pounds. He was admitted to Atascadero State Hospital for a 90 day observation period to determine if he was able to stand trial. He stayed there until February 1970 when he was deemed suitable for trial.

I was then in my second year of law school at USC, spending free time sitting by the Tommy Trojan statue watching all the girls go by. When the summer of 1970 came I hitchhiked care free through Europe.


It was the true crime of the century and the world was horrified when the discovered culprits showed no remorse or shame from doing what they said was right to do. Susan Atkins spoke of her deeds with pride saying, “You have to have a real love in your heart to do this for people.” She was not sorry for doing “what was right for me.”

While his family members denied Manson had any control over their minds, during Manson’s trial, they slavishly copied him in court when he struck a crucified pose. When he carved an X on his forehead, they did likewise, with heated bobby pins. When Charlie shaved his head, so did they (as Synanon members would do a few years later).

The theory was along with wanting to accomplish Helter Skelter Manson sought revenge for several Family jailed members and possibly created copy-cat crimes that would exonerate Family associate Bobby Beausoleil (arrested for the murder of Gary Hinman).

But I have little doubt as to the cause. Manson’s lifetime frustration at the establishment that had shunned him boiled over when he just missed entering that very establishment by a distance that could be measured in inches.

When he met the Beach Boys, they liked his music. They brought record producers to hear him arguing he should get a music contract. It does not take much imagination to understand how Manson must have felt; to be that close to a life he once could never have thought possible. But despite the Beach Boys urging, all rejected his music. He was good, but not that good.

Like that, the dream was taken from him. He popped. It was time for revenge. So he invented and preached to his family Helter Skelter. But this was just the sales pitch. All cult leaders have a sales pitch to motivate their followers that they themselves just made up for that purpose (See Common characteristics of Totalist Movements). They know its all bull.

Manson’s true motives were far more self-serving. “You people have done everything in the world to me,” he said of society during a parole hearing years later. “Doesn’t that give me equal rights? I can do it to you people because that’s what you have done to me.”

Melcher was one of the music producers who rejected him. Manson had been to the Cielo Dr. home before to see Melcher. He preached Helter Skelter, but his family was sent to revenge this final rejection. Melcher was the target, eithe to kill or scare to death.

As to the LaBiancas, Manson had once been at a party next door to their home. It is easy to imagine him walking through the middle class house envying their things and lifestyle that would be forever denied. He picked that house as symbolic revenge, only he went next door by accident.

Ultimately 12 murders were linked to the family and Manson bragged of 35.


Polanski is considered one of the all time great movie makers. In l977 the director of Chinatown was arrested for and plead guilty of statutory rape of a 13-year old girl he used for a photo shoot. In so doing he had given the girl a date/rape drug. In fear of being sentenced to prison despite a plea bargain he thought had avoided same, he fled to Europe. He claimed his conduct in part grew out of his depression over my friend’s murder of his wife and unborn child. He had also endured and survived the Holocaust without his parents, who were forcibly taken to concentration camps for being Jewish. The underage girl victim has publicly long ago forgiven him but he has remained in fugitive status while making such movies as The Pianist, Frantic, The Ninth Gate and Ghost Writer.

In September 2009 Polanski was arrested by the Swiss per request of U.S. authorities who asked for his extradition. In July of 2010, the Swiss rejected that request and instead released him from custody and declared him a “free man.”

Vincent Bugliosi who prosecuted the murders, told the jury all were responsible for the hideous crimes because my friend Tex, Leslie and others “had murder in their hearts.” But in reality the followers were mainly from middle-class families. Van Houten had even been a high school princess, and none had a history of violence. Bugliosi pointed to their social alienation to support his argument, and the fact others had left, but their anti-social history was nothing more than many middle-class youths had experienced in the 60s, dropping out for a while before turning into BMW-driving yuppies. This wasn’t the type of background that typically led to violence. But juries accepted Bugliosi’s argument, preferring to believe this was an aberration, a unique blend of sociopaths uniting in the desert.

What happens in these movements is the illogical sociopath reasoning is sold and accepted as reason by intelligent people who’s prior identities were washed away and they became a pirate’s parrot.

However, this is not to say Bugliosi was wrong. He was correct they were all guilty. Believing Helter Skelter is not an excuse for murder, no belief is. And if no belief is justification than having belief forced on one is not an excuse. Even Patty Hearst deserved jail time. Just because you believe a crime will help society does not give one the right to commit it. If it did, we would all be killing each other. The fact is my friend Tex knew he was committing a crime. Brainwashing is really no defense although it should be considered in mitigation and considered when considering when someone should be released, if ever.

In the end, however, this was the creation of one mind, and in the end the victim list includes the murderers as well as the murdered. It includes sadly my once long ago friend.


My ex-workmate Charles Watson was sentenced to death on October 21, 1971 but was saved by the California Supreme Court in its People v. Anderson decision invalidating all death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972 as unconstitutional. The statue has since been amended and the death penalty reinstated.

Watson has been denied parole 13 times and remains incarcerated in Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) in Ione, California. His next scheduled parole hearing is in December 2011.[11] Susan LaBerge, daughter of the LaBiancas, pleaded for Watson’s parole at a 1990 parole hearing.

“Tex” Watson became a Minister and in 1979, Watson married Kristin Joan Svege who he met through conjugal visits. He fathered four children.

Eventually Watson blamed his acts in large part on being under the affect of amphetamines.

And all of this concerning Watson was basically unknown to me for 20 years. When he was first arrested his hair was long and shaggy, his face bearded framing glaring eyes. He was not recognizable to me and I had never had known him by the name “Tex.”

Watson is a common last name.

In 1988 my then wife and I, as we did monthly, walked along the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena searching for interesting antiques and collectibles. We came across a Charles Manson memorabilia booth. I purchased 2 books, one was by former family member Paul Watkins and the other was by Tex Watson, Will You Die For Me?, unknown to me published ten years earlier in 1978, the same year Synanon tried to murder me in a fashion that brought out comparisons to the Manson Famly murders and the deeds of my ex-com-padre.

My wife was awoken at midnight the night of the book purchase at the sound of a big thud as the Watson book hit the ceiling and saw the strange sight of my pacing frantically in front of our bed crying out over and over, “he was my friend.”

Watson in his first paragraph of his book had described arriving in Los Angeles in the summer of 1968 and finding a job selling wigs at Contessa Creations near La Cienega and Melrose.

I immediately went into shock. My efforts to explain it to my wife resembled incoherent babbling.


In October of l978 two members of the Synanon “family” tried to murder me by placing a rattlesnake, sans rattles, in my mailbox. I was bitten and almost died. It was at the time, until the Jonestown suicides six weeks later, the second most famous cult crime, my buddy Tex having done the first. Synanon’s violence against its enemies and discovery of the Founder, this story’s third Charlie (Dederich) “kill the enemies” tape recording brought forth years of the media comparing Synanon, the once beloved original self help drug rehab, with the Manson family.

Charles Dederich in l980 plead nolo contender to charges he ordered my death. The theory of the prosecution case was Dederich, who had gone paranoid and obsessed with war games, had brainwashed his followers to get the enemies, particularly me. Dederich, as with all cult leaders, had convinced his followers of what he knew was untrue–there was a “conspiracy” of enemies who will destroy Synanon and to save their “home” they must “attack” first, even kill. As to how Dederich did it see the Synanon section.

Lance Kenton, just 20, who put the snake in my mailbox was the son of famed band leader Stan Kenton and was placed in Synanon to be raised at age 11. By 18 he was the youngest member of the Synanon Imperial Marines, as incredible as the existence of such a thing must seem, who would be involved in many of the more than 80 incidents of Synanon violence which included at least two attempted murders. I am convinced, as with my old friend, but for two men both named Charlie neither would have committed a crime in their life.

* * *

Ten years later I and attorney Ford Greene successfully convinced the California Supreme that brainwashing was outrageous conduct for which a victim could collect compensatory and punitive damages (Molko vs. Unification Church–See Escape from the Unification Church).


It is hard not to think about the coincidence. Two college age friends, one goes off to argue that brainwashing is strong enough to make people want to kill, becomes the victim of a murder attempt wherein the main defendant is accused of brainwashing followers to put a Rattlesnake in his mailbox, while the other goes off to prove the theory by committing the most famous cult murders in history.

It sort of raises quasi-spiritual questions I cannot answer. The mathematical probabilities seem off the realm of any possibility.

Charles “Tex” Watson was not my only connection. Manson victim Jay Sebring’s salon empire was inherited by his stylist Jim O’Rourke who opened his own salon upon Sebring’s death. O’Rourke married one of the best friends of USC co-ed Donna Maltese who has been my friend since high school. O’Rourke and I were introduced and not only became close friends but I became a public relation’s man for him designing his promotional brochures for his salon and his attempt at politics.

Through O’Rourke’s salon I was re-introduced to Jan Berry of Jan and Dean which led to my writing the movie Deadman’s Curve (see Behind The Movie). And Jan and Dean had become famous doing surf music following the lead of the Beach Boys. Many of their songs were written by Brian Wilson and Dean sang lead on the Beach Boy’s Barbara Ann (“Take my hand”).” Dean, who has remained a life-time friend, in fact was invited to the Spahn Ranch several times for a good time with some fun girls but never got around to it.

In l976 in a legal case I had involving kidnapping and selling skid row alcoholics to nursing homes (Escape from Golden State Manor) per a MediCal fraud scheme, I deposed Dr. Keith Ditman who had been a defense expert for Leslie Van Houten testifying how LSD could aid her brainwashing. (Ditman per an experiment earlier gave Charles Dederich LSD from which Dederich later claimed he got the idea for Synanon).

I became an advocate for the release of Leslie Van Houten as early as l978 and tried to convince Vincent Bugliosi that she was a victim of brainwashing. Eventually I tried to convince her attorney to let me argue for her release but I was never given the shot.

In l998 I was fixed up with a woman who lived in Benedict Canyon. After our 2nd date, she gave me her home address and permission to pick her up from there. The address was on Cielo Drive. As I followed directions I was sure that I had heard of that street before. As my Uncle who wholesaled wigs had lived in Benedict Canyon I thought maybe he had lived on that street. When working on Deadman’s Curve in mid-seventies I went often to a home of a producer in Benedict Canyon and I thought also maybe this was a street where he had lived.

When you reach the street there is only a left turn, the street is narrow and the sign saying “Cielo Dr.” slants downwards heltered-skeltered. One would expect to see a large black crow on top of it. It was when my headlights finally shined on the sign that I remembered where I knew the Street from. The feeling was frightening and hard to overcome; it seemed this date, this moment, had been inevitable and long ago planned. I realized almost at once to me Cielo Drive was the metaphor for the day long ago I layed snake bitten in a street called Bollinger Dr. waiting for the ambulance not knowing if I would live or die.

The house where my once friend Watson led the Sharon Tate murders had understandably been long ago destroyed. My date, of course, lived in the house next door. As I sat on her couch I thought I am finally there; the spot 29 years ago my friend Watson had done his deeds a year after we first met, a foretelling that the same phenomena would strike me nine years later.

I liked the girl, she was very nice, but I never spoke to her again. I had escaped Cielo Drive long ago. It was not a place I wanted to come back to.

With lobbying of Doris Tate, mother of murder victim Sharon Tate, conjugal visits for imprisoned individuals convicted of murder were later banned. Kristin divorced Charles Watson after meeting another man in 2003.

Leslie Van Houten appeared before the parole board for a 19th time on July 6, 2010. Once again she was denied parole, with a next possible parole date of 2013. It would be my hope if I am still here I would be asked to help.

Bugliosi went on to become a prolific author on subjects he criticized. His most recent books included Outrage (his view of OJ Simpson trial) Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy , and The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. (a subject I would agree with).

Beach Boys, Guns N Roses, and other artists have recorded Manson songs. Manson eventually released his own “White Album.”

My forever friend Dean Torrence still tours singing with members of the Beach Boys. Once I gave Beach Boys legal advice but it was before I knew they knew Watson so I never asked any of them questions.

I have never spoken again to Barbie Benton since the day I learned of her Maseroti in the fall of l968. In summer of l970 while hitchhiking in Europe when in Munich I decided to try to call her at a Hotel where I read she and Hefner were staying but they had left that day in the Playboy black jet.

I doubt she ever discovered the identity of her wig salesman who sold her the whole package in the summer of l968.

In 1980 CBS made a TV movie re Synanon where it showed my being bitten by a rattlesnake in my mailbox. It was produced by a Playboy subsidiary company.


In time, evidence did surface confirming that Manson family members were victims of a ruthless thought reform regime. In jail, away from the total control of Manson, all ultimately recanted their allegiance and expressed remorse. Other family members went off and lived normal and good lives.

Paul Watkins who wrote the other Manson book I, along with my wife, bought at the Rose Bowl in l988 wrote he had been No. 2 in the family, but, after being deprogrammed by a neighboring miner while Manson was off visiting the Beach Boys, he went on to become a mayor and head of the chamber of commerce in a small Death Valley town. Had he not been deprogrammed and saved by the miner who held off Manson with a shotgun, he wrote in his book, it would have been him, not my friend Charles Watson, who succeeded him, who would have done the murders. His greatest regret, he wrote, was picking up Leslie Van Houten hitchhiking.

Watkin’s book is a collector’s item and today is very expensive to purchase.

After reading his book in l988 I did think of visiting Watson. Or writing him. But I could never do either. And now another 20 years has passed.

For some reason it was a story I publicly never disclosed until the decision to create this site. I think part of the reason it was just too difficult for me to accept life on its own could have such coincidences. Another may be that if there was a real life monster comparable to the fictional Anthony Hopkins creature, it was Manson. To breathe his name almost seemed dangerous. Who wants Freddie Kruger in your dreams?


My first choice to represent me against Synanon for the rattlesnake was naturally Vince Bugliosi. Having convicted Manson on substantially the same arguments as the case against Dederich he was the obvious choice. But he declined and further suggested I represent myself because no one was going to know Synanon like I did. When I look back at the conversations I had with Bugliosi I think it is too bad I didn’t know then who Tex Watson really was. What we would have said to each other?

To this date, Bugliosi, perhaps because of the relationship he developed with the victims’ relatives, would not advocate parole for any Manson family members. Even though he claims Manson murdered through control and power over his followers, it seems he could not consider the doers also to some extent victims. Bugliosi eventually argued against comparing Manson to cult leaders such as Jim Jones and David Karesh. They ordered mass suicides, he contends, and says that is different than getting people to commit murder for you. Actually, he has it in reverse. It is harder to get people to kill themselves rather than others.

And Bulgiosi’s argument forgets the murders at the Jonestown airport before the suicides and that many followers who tried to run from the poison distribution were shot in the back. And the bullets fired by Karesh followers at the ATF agents were not blanks. Someone poured the kool-aid and someone lit the match.

Osama bin Laden got his followers to do both for the good of mankind—kill and die.

In the end, there was nothing unique in the Manson story, say perhaps but for my spooky connection to Cielo Drive and a strange ironic long ago friendship of me and Watson, two then very young girl happy kid wig salesmen who were friends unknowingly headed in eerie opposite but related directions.

fn1 I asked Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean fame once how Dennis Wilson could own a new Mercedes without insurance. Dean said you had to be that young, rich and famous to understand. He said it leads to believing rules don’t apply to you and nothing bad can happen.

fn2 Richard Corriere also pitched his group at Esalen. See Escape from Center For Feeling Therapy.

fn3 See Common Characteristics of Totalist Movements for discussion of common of cult leader personality traits.

fn4 Family member Linda Kasabian waited outside the Cielo Dr. residence as the murders occurred. She did not participate and later testified against the family for the prosecution.

fn5 Jay Sebring cut actor Alex Cord’s hair for his part in the Columbia movie Synanon in l962. Cord’s wife, actress Joanne Petite, had been visiting Sharon Tate at the Melcher house but left an hour and a half before Manson’s family arrived. Because of his role in the Synanon movie Cord would later take me to lunch to learn of what happened to the organization and I learned how lucky Petite was to escape death at my former friend’s hand.

fn6 The association with Manson and trips to the ranch suggests the Beach Boys were having a good time. Brian Wilson, the genius behind the group, eventually developed mental problems and isolated himself. I met Brian once. Whether drugs was a part of the equation is a speculation. Could he have taken something harmful from Manson? When I met various members of the Beach Boys through Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean, not knowing of the Watson connection, I missed the opportunity to ask what they observed of him.

fn7 While Synanon attempted two murders (myself and former member Phil Ritter who was trying to blow the whistle), and had over 80 violent known encounters, no resulting deaths are known or suspected. While the end results were similar, and I have pointed herein to some similarities between Manson and Dederich’s history, the routes to Manson and Dederich’s ends are dis-similar as well as similar. While Manson’s fuse was blown, Dederich’s slide had a lot to do with effects of Synanon’s own self isolation and history of battles to exist. What they have most in common is both founders were likely anti-social, unable to hold back impulses and used brainwashing (thought reform) controls that transferred their ultimate insanity to the sane.

fn8. In l973, having broken up with Dyan Canon, 34 years younger, and years after moving out of the Cielo Dr. house, Cary Grant’s new girl friend was an even younger 26 year old Maureen Donaldson from England. She originally came over to be a nanny for rock star Dee Donaldson who she later married and divorced. She then became a gossip reporter for Hollywood magazines owned by Rona Barrett. She met Cary Grant when assigned to interview him.

In l973 after my father died, my mother, in advance of selling our home at 9640 Cresta Dr., while I made a second trip to England, sold my bed by through a classified ad in the L.A. Times to Maureen Donaldson. I asked my mother if she was pretty and when she said yes I called her and said, “I still want to sleep in my bed.”

She laughed, we met and we had a relationship. One day Cary, who liked to educate, showed her my first ever published story “Incident at Lola’s” about a murder of a public defender that appeared in L.A. Times West Magazine in 1972.

It felt great to think Cary Grant, who entertained me growing up, had been entertained by me; that he knew of my existence. Maureen did not tell him she knew me.

Their relationship, with her at his side, amidst media speculation she would be his fifth wife, lasted until l977. Photos of them together are seen at

In l991, five years after Cary died, Maureen wrote An Affair to Remember: My Life With Cary Grant which one day I saw in a bookstore. I skipped through the pages. She didn’t mention me.

I miss her.

In l965 I had my first screen crush when I saw another former resident of the Cielo Dr. house, Samantha Eggar, in The Collector. A year later she made Walk Don’t Run with Cary Grant, the last movie he made.

My childhood love affair with hero movies started with seeing on TV 1939 Gunga Din starring Cary Grant. The movie was made the same year Eggar was born.

fn9 The house where the LaBiancas were murdered, 3301 Waverly Dr., was previously owned by Walt Disney. I became a collector of Disney art in l985 and have spoken publicly on Disney’s life.

It is reported there is a “Helter Skelter” tour that takes people to the house locations at $50 per person.

The Spahn ranch can be reached off the 118 “Topanga Canyon Blvd” exit a south, going west on “Santa Susana Pass Road” until reaching a church parking lot access road which is across the street from the Spahn Ranch.

I have never visited.

fn10 All of us have had situational friends in life. Maybe it was the kid in the next bunk at summer camp. So who was my close friend before Watson during my senior year at USC?

Well, there were lots of them. But one does come to mind. When he arrived in Los Angeles in Spring of 67 I was the first LA reporter (Daily Trojan) to do a story on him. He went on to win the Heisman Trophy. His name was OJ Simpson.

But that’s a story for another day.