Family Reunion: The Manson Chronicles

It’s been a long time since I have had a post on my Manson Family research. Much has happened since then: Leslie Van Houten comes up again for parole. Bruce Davis seems perpetually to be up for parole. . . and perpetually denied. There’s the irony of Bobby Beausoleil still being in prison for one stabbing. I’m not minimizing the first “Manson Family” murder. I am simply highlighting the irony. Due to the fame and infamy of the Manson Murders he is still in prison. All other killers with only one victim to their record from that time have long been sprung. This is true even of celebrity killers, like Sal Mineo’s murderer.

The Manson Murders cannot be divorced from the period in which they occurred, the state of fearful flux society was in due to the counterculture, Vietnam, cold war nerves, and every other type of fret. But it was especially the counterculture. Manson destroyed the image of the hippies. This is commonly said. But he could only have done so because society was on the whole nervous about the hippie image and movement already.


Manson murdered the 1960s and the peace movement, it is frequently said.  This is probably true, of images anyway. But it is not frequently said that Manson created the 1970s. In image, I think this to be true. Press coverage shifted. The press had loved the counterculture image and the flower power look. Popular culture followed suit and TV and movie plots incorporated the changing mores of the time, from serious films like The Graduate to comedies like Bob Hope’s How to Commit Marriage.

All this ended with the Manson Murders. Hippies were vilified and the dark urban reality of the 1970s became the focus of the press. There was, actually, very little else they could focus on. They couldn’t continue to drumbeat peace, love, and psychedelica. We were left with the gritty, urban reality of the 1970s– Dirty Harry, The Zebra Murders, and chic urban guerillas like The Symbionese Liberation Army. There was nothing redeeming in popular culture. Without the ideal of youth seeking peace and a new way, they were written up as dropouts and dopers, and each hippie commune or long-haired kid (which was most every youth) was a potential acolyte of some devil Manson-like cult.

In fact, Satanism became a focus of the media. Satanists were blamed for cattle mutilations. That hippie hitchhiker cut the heart out of the man who gave him a lift. They were blamed for missing children. They were altars in the woods. So we heard.  Or, for a kid from Gilroy like me, they were in covens up Mount Madonna, the mountain range that separated Gilroy from Watsonville, haunted orchards, and then Santa Cruz, the hippie mecca.

I was rather intrigued to see an article recently that Quentin Tarantino was looking to make a movie on the Manson murders. From what I recalled from years ago he was the director who lamented that Hollywood had lost its ability to make the gritty urban reality pictures that so dominated the early 1970s. If so, he is the perfect one to bring the authentic flavor  to such a film and not just a facsimile of its historic image.

I have no idea, of course, if the film will be similar to Helter Skelter, or if it will focus on more than a dramatizing of the whole affair. Manson’s rise within the hippie culture and then within Hollywood was never portrayed in Helter Skelter, and it is quite fascinating how it happened, and his success crucial to understanding how he could become so intoxicated as to plan to the nights of August terror.


I’m obviously not an admirer of Manson, but I can appreciate a complex, intricate moment in time and the various and sometimes ironic elements that come together to form exceptional events in history.  All that exists in the window in time in which his bizarre murders occurred. He was both a careful manipulator of what was around him, a logistic thinker, and at times completely fooled about real life by his years in prison and by his success at conning people in the counterculture in the brief time he had been out.

A movie capturing the real Manson, his rise and fall, I think would be something welcomed rather than just another gory attempt to portray the murders, devoid of cause and effect.

Few try and explain why Manson went out on the second night. Few highlight the fact that Manson had a horror of hurting children. The news that his toadies had butchered a pregnant woman might be one of the reasons he went out. Leslie Van Houten testified at one parole hearing about how Manson returned to the car from checking out one potential house and nixed the idea by saying there were kids in there. Then he wanted to go crucify a pastor on his own cross over his church’s altar.

Who could play Manson? Off the top of my head, I would say, academically at least, Jared Leto. He might be considered too old, but he has the ability to morph into the looks and he has the eyes. I suspect someone relatively unknown might be chosen, however.

I don’t usually write on popular culture or speculate on Hollywood affairs, but the Manson murders are a complex subject to recreate dramatically, and this has seldom happened despite the fame and significance of the murders in American popular culture.  The veneer can be captured, but can the complex and agitated spirit of the times and seasons?

The Family– an interesting lot. There was the freebooting they did. The coddling they had on the fringes of a luxuriant society, the superficial Hollywood wannabes they were. There are the 2 nights of terror as they happened, and as Manson wanted them to happen. There are the after-effects Manson wanted for his own protection, and there is the hypocrisy he used to convince his followers to do the murders.

Manson was a master manipulator, but it was because of the times of the crimes. It was because he was a good judge of character, and lack thereof, in people, and the use of drugs, that he could manipulate others. But how he convinced and manipulated himself is far more intriguing.

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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.


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