Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bad Craziness

Strange thoughts on this nervous night in Ohio.

I was up late this evening, helping Chad put the finishing touches on tomorrow’s Grove gathering. When I got home, I decided to stay up a little longer and finish the final draft of The Play™. Having consumed no less than three two litres of Diet Mountain Dew in the preceding hour and a half, I was way too wired to sleep. So I checked out the video archive my roommate and I share on a crappy little server we run here at Sasquatch headquarters. The roommate had recently uploaded several early episodes of The Muppet Show and I couldn’t think of a better way to waste the remaining wakeful hours than basking in the warm glow of a childhood favorite.

Glancing through the episode list, I noticed one which starred a young and surprisingly attractive Candice Bergen. I was surprised to see it, since I hadn’t previously heard of any noteworthy performances from her prior to her Emmy Award winning role on Murphy Brown in the early ‘90s. The show in question was from 1976. I thought she would have been far too young to be a professional actress back then. Rather, than shrug my shoulders and settle in for a groovy rendition of the “Mena-Mena (do doo do do do)” song (which was originally recorded for a Swedish soft core porn movie, by the way), I sated my curiosity and checked out the Candice Bergen site on Wikipedia.

Did you know that Candice Bergen was a professional Model in the sixties? It’s true! She either married or was dating a semi-famous music producer and lived with him in his palatial estate in the Hollywood hills and later in Florida. I also learned that, shortly after the big move to the sunshine state, a famous movie director and his beautiful young wife moved into the Hollywood estate. This beautiful young wife, who was also an actress, was subsequently murdered, along with several of her friends and an innocent young man who had come to visit the caretaker, by a group of young hippies at the behest of a little-known musician whom the music producer had recently shunned after a failed audition at the aforementioned palatial estate. The actress in question was Sharon Tate, and the little-known musician was, of course, Charles Manson.

This is where my evening took a turn for the worse.

You see, I have a sick fascination with crazy murderers. I like to try to find out where they were from and what had caused them to do what they did (other than their obvious insanity). The month I spent reading about the Zodiac killings was a terrible yet exciting time, in which I fully intended to take up Cryptography in order to decipher the uncracked notes he had left for the police and thus expose the killer and earn limitless fame and adulation all over the world. I didn’t get that far, but I did read a lot.

It turns out that Charles Manson was born and raised in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. He is an alum of the esteemed Walnut Hills High school. He may have even been schoolmates with Pete Rose, another infamous Cincinnatian. As you probably know, while he was convicted of first degree murder, he never actually killed anybody (at least, not officially). He directed others to do his bidding. In the case of the Sharon Tate and the LaBianca murders, four young hippies, members of the “Manson Family,” were convicted of the killings.

Their convictions rested upon the testimony of Linda Jasabian, a 19-year-old Manson Family Member who described the Tate and LaBianca murder scenes in her testimony. She stated that she saw her fellow “family members” shoot Steven Parrent, an 18-year-old who was on the premises to visit the estate’s caretaker, on their way into the house. Kasabian said she became afraid and could not go through with her orders to kill the Hollywood starlet and her friends. So she stayed in the car while they went inside. Kasabian testified that she heard the screams as the people inside were attacked and she cried and cried for it to stop. She claims she ran up to the house, hoping to tell the murderers that she had heard a noise (in hopes that it would make them want to leave), when two of the house’s occupants ran out the front door.

One of the occupants, a polish writer by the name of Wojciech Frykowski, ran towards her. He was covered in blood, and as he fell she said, “Oh God. I am so sorry. Please make it stop.” Then Charles “Tex” Watson caught up with the man, bludgeoned him over the head, and proceeded to stab him repeatedly for several minutes.

It is the ferocity of the murders that stuck with me this evening as I tried to find sleep. Police reports show that the words, “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people,” were scrawled in blood on the door of the Polanski/Tate household. This, of course, is the line Marilyn Manson uses in his song, “The Beautiful People,” and as I sat in my room, I thought of what it must have looked like to Linda Kasabian as the events of that evening progressed.

I picture the car driving slowly through the rich Hollywood neighborhood like many other cars out late in search of an empty park or an open fast food restaurant. It is quiet, unassuming. In the background, I can hear the faint, driving drum rhythm of the Marilyn Manson song. It’s quiet, but it’s there. I can see the kids – and rest assured that all involved are still just children, misguided as they are – laughing and joking like college students. Linda knows what is about to happen, but in the back of her mind, she doesn’t believe it. This is a strange dichotomy of thought that each of us has experienced at one moment of another, although hopefully under more benign circumstances.

The car approaches the house with the lights off and pulls into the driveway. In my mind, the estate is surrounded by hills and trees so the fact that the yard is well-lit does not damper the young killers spirits. They are still jovial. Nothing has happened. Not yet.

Background vocals are added to the driving rhythm, along with the occasional, musicless guitar beat. It is still faint, but now it’s a little more insistent. There is a whisper in the background, but I can’t make it out.

The people get out of the car and approach the house, Steven Parrent walks around from the side of the house. He sees the Manson Family members in the yard, but he thinks nothing of it. He knows this house belongs to Hollywood royalty, and what would be suspicious or strange in his neighborhood is par for the course in the Hollywood hills. He walks towards the estate entrance and, before any of them can speak, Charles Watson shoots the young man in the head. Linda Kasabian freezes and watches as her compatriots move forward. Their shoulders hunch and their muscles flex. They seem somehow larger and more athletic as they slide up to the door. Linda is now terrified. She did not expect this. But even in her fear, she recognizes that the remaining killers are excited. The scent of blood has heightened their senses and now they are ready to go to work. They love this.

The driving beat of the Marilyn Manson song is louder still. We can hear the whispers repeat the line “The beautiful people. The beautiful people” over and over again, with three quick beats from the drum and guitar interspersed within.

Linda retreats to the car, not knowing what to do. She sees lights flash inside the house. Loud rumbling noises give way to screams of terror and pain. This screaming goes on longer than she thought it would. “Why don’t they just kill them and get it over with,” she thinks. “What is taking so long?”

What police will tell us later is that the killers who entered the house were exceptionally brutal with their victims. Sharon Tate, who was two weeks shy of giving birth was stabbed sixteen times, five of which would have been fatal by themselves. This means that Charles Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricial Krenwinkel likely took turns administering just the right kind of blow to elicit the maximum amount of pain. This was not a calculated crime. This was not a crime of passion. This was pure, unadulterated bloodlust.

I have read several stories of similar murders in the past (because I’m such a happy guy!), and each time I wonder at the mindset of such a person. I find it hard to believe that a person who would do such a thing could ever be called what is normally considered “sane,” You might call it “nuts” or “crazy” or even “full tilt bozo.” I would go a step further and call it “Possessed.”

The killers are nearly finished with Sharon Tate when two of the occupants escape and run out screaming into the night.

There’s a scene from the movie “From Dusk till Dawn” (starring George Clooney, another Cincinnatian and graduate of Walnut Hills High School) where one of the main characters, Sex Machine, makes the transformation from normal human (or, rather, somewhat normal give his name) to vampire. Another of the characters is giving a speech of some sort and we see large hands creep up on his shoulders from behind. Then we see the face. It is an elongated, disproportioned face with blank eyes and hungry lips. One moment he was normal, and the next minute he wasn’t.

This is the face I imagined Linda Kasabian saw just after she expressed her horror and apologies to the polish writer. The distorted face of Charles Tex Watson peers over the writer’s shoulder. He grabs his arms and proceeds to not only kill him, but rip him to shreds. This man was wholly different than the man with whom she had laughed earlier in the evening. This man was possessed.

As Linda Kasabian watches her friends thrash and rip their victims over and over, the Marilyn Manson song “Beautiful People” dominates the night at full volume. Linda Kasabian watches and waits, horrified at what is happening and wondering if, when the killing is done, her friends will turn the last bit of their bloodlust on her.

Sometimes having an overactive imagination is not a good thing. I can picture the young killers in my mind and the clarity of their distended faces and blank eyes has made it difficult for me to get to sleep. I don’t normally scare myself like this, but the pure ferocity and hatred it takes to rip into a person over an extended period of time, inflicting five separate mortal wounds is just scary. I don’t care who you are.

I should have stopped with The Muppet Show.

Cincinnati is a strange city. My grandfather used to play trumpet for the Rosemary Clooney orchestra. Rosemary Clooney is, of course, the grandmother of George Clooney, who went to the same high school as Pete Rose and Charles Manson, and who stared in the movie “From Dusk Till Dawn,” which left the creepy, possessed image that has kept me up all night. Along with starring in “White Christmas,” Rosemary Clooney also performed several concerts in big cities across the country. These concerts would often find the last vestiges of mafia/gang members in attendance. One such mafia boss was Alvin Karpis, a leading member of the Barker gang. He was a music lover and had taught himself to play the guitar at an early age. He was eventually arrested, of course, and spent several decades in prison where he would discuss music with other inmates and occasionally teach them how to play. One such inmate was a young, wild-eyed drifter who had been arrested for passing bad checks and felony possession of a stolen vehicle. Karpis spent extra time teaching this young man, and would later remark that he had a pleasant voice and decent songwriting ability. This young man asked Karpis, who still had contacts in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, to secure him a gig playing small shows upon his release from prison. Karpis refused and the young man was later transferred and released. Not having a music career to fall back on, the young man relied upon his next best skill. The young man, of course, was Charles Manson. Alvin Karpis would later remark that, had he taken the time to show Manson some encouragement, all that badness might not have taken place. According to Karpis, Manson had what it took to become a professional musician like fellow Cincinnatians Rosemary Clooney my grandfather.

Rumor also has it that a distant relative of mine (another Cincinnatian who is also a lover of music) dropped out of college in the early sixties and moved out west to become a hippie. According to legend, she became a member of the Manson Family instead, but never took part in any killings.

As far as we know, anyway.

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