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Charles Manson and Sharon Tate

Charles Manson and Sharon Tate

by William H. Benson

August 8, 2019

     On occasion, a brief sentence captures a facet of human wisdom better than does a lengthy essay or a philosophical tome of hundreds of pages.

     For example, “Pride goes before a fall,” and “Disaster follows achievement,” are two aphorisms that describe how human life can move, how it ebbs and flows.

     The ancient Chinese of the third century B.C. noted this phenomenon and arrived at the philosophy of “yin and yang,” that “all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, including male-female, dark-light, and old-young.”

     Fifty years ago this summer, “flower power” captured the nation’s attention. Hippies and flower girls in California and elsewhere were dropping out of middle-class America, with its pursuit of jobs, homes, and children, and were choosing to live in communes.

    There, the drug of choice was LSD. Guys wore jeans, sandals, and psychedelic-colored t-shirts, refused to cut their hair, shave, bathe, or work. Instead, they strummed their guitars, sang of free love, and accepted every idea that jumped out.

     Girls wore granny-styled dresses, and rimless glasses. The “Mamas and the Papas” sang, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”

     Yet, flower power, for all its ideals, in the hands of the wrong person, can go awry.

     An example of that is Charles Manson, who in the late 1960’s gather about him in Los Angeles a gaggle of young and impressionable girls and guys, who listened to his crazed lectures, and followed his instructions to murder people.

     In July of 1969, all of America was enthralled with its new heroes, astronauts who dared to walk on the moon. That same month, Charles Manson instructed Mary Brunner, Susan Atkins, and Bobby Beausoleil to murder a musician named Gary Hinman.

     Then, on the night of August 8-9, 1969, Manson ordered Susan Atkins, Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian to drive to 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, California and commit murder again. Five people lost their lives.

     They were: the actress Susan Tate, then 26 years old, and 8 ½ months pregnant; Steven Parent, then 18; Jay Sebring, a Hollywood hairdresser, then 35; Abigail Folger, then 25, and heir to the Folger’s coffee fortune, and Voytek Frykowski, then 32, and friend of Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate’s husband.

     The next night Leno LaBianca, 44, a supermarket executive, and his wife Rosemary, 38, lost their lives, but this time Manson himself participated. Also, in August of 1969, the Manson Family ended Donald Shea’s life.

     When the truth came out, all of America was appalled. Nine people were dead. “Flower power” had gone to seed. Freedom to live was transformed into freedom to kill. Instead of heroes whom we could admire, we now had anti-heroes who disgusted us, shocked us.

     The essayist Joan Didion said, “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended exactly the moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community.”

     The movie director Quentin taratino just released his newest movie, “Once upon a Time . . . in Hollywood,” a spoof that uses the Tate murders as backdrop to Taratino’s own fictional rewriting of the factual history.

     Yet, it is true that Charles Manson died in prison on November 19, 2017, but Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Charles “Tex” Watson are still there. Krenwinkel is now California’s longest-serving woman prisoner.