James Buddy Day the author of ” Hippie Cult Leader: The Last Words of Charles Manson” has earned a reputation for being a “true crime documentarian”. His book is one more in the list of many books written about Charles Manson (1934-2017), variously described as a musician, poet, cult leader, drug dealer, pimp, and mass murderer. As a teenager in 1969, I remember how shocked we were to read about the gruesome murders of the beautiful film actress Sharon Tate and others, in “Life” and “Time”, the popular magazines of those days.
Over many years, Day had conversations with Charles Manson who called collect to speak to him from prison. This book, the author tells us, has been put together taking advantage of the wealth of new material that he obtained through these conversations.
Like many stories of mass murderers and psychopath killers, Manson’s can be traced back to his childhood. Born in 1934 -an illegitimate child of a run away 16 year old girl, who was a drug addict and a prostitute- he had to survive as best he could in a hard world. Not surprisingly, he took to crime at a young age. He was in and out of juvenile homes all though his childhood years.
Later he moved from Ohio to California in the 1950s. Soon he was behind bars again, often for dealing in drugs, pimping, and even fraud. Here he was influenced by the infamous Chicago gangster Alvin Karpis with whom he spent time in jail. Out of prison in the early 60s, he was identified as a “groovy hippie” who spent his first year out of jail in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco and Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles. Those were the days when sex, drugs and music were in ” overwhelming supply.” At one time, one of Manson’s songs was played by The Beach Boys, then an immensely popular rock group in the United States. In the mid 60s a group of people, mostly young women running away from their homes and lives, gathered around Manson and became the first members of his commune. They were the most devoted of them all and a few stayed with him till the very end.
It was the murder of actress Sharon Tate and her friends at her mansion in Hollywood that captured the attention of the entire nation. It is a fact that Manson himself was not present when the gruesome murders took place. However, the prosecution was able to produce enough evidence to suggest that he had been influential in making his Family Members ( the actual killers) do what he wanted. Many were horrified to find out later that the most cruel and inhuman cts were committed by young women amongst the killers like Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel. Of course, all of them were high on drugs at the time.
James Buddy Day gives you another slant to the Manson story. To what extent could Manson be held responsible for many acts of violence and lawlessness done by his Family Members? Was being a part of the commune enough to punish you for acts done by a few? Was there much that remained hidden during the trials decades ago?
Manson died in 2017 having spent most of his 83 years in jail. To some extent he was a product of his times. To some, he could do no wrong. To others, he was a clever criminal who took advantage of the weaknesses of those around him. Was he crazy? He once said, “You know, a long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody’s crazy.”!
If, like me, you have an interest in crime stories, this book should be in your reading list!