Paul Crockett managed to talk sense into several members of the cult
In the fall of 1968, members of the Manson Family journeyed from the Los Angeles area to Death Valley. They spent about two months in the desert but Charlie and most of the Family returned to L.A.
Earlier that summer, 24-year old Joan Wildebush met Susan Atkins, TJ Walleman and one other Family member, as they were hitchhiking. She drove them to Spahn Ranch and stayed with the Family for the next year. Manson convinced her to donate her van and nearly $16,000 in cash — money that was given to George Spahn (owner of the ranch where the Family was staying) to pay his back taxes.
When Charlie went back to L.A., Juanita and Brooks Poston (a young impressionable man from Texas) remained at Barker Ranch, the property in Death Valley. And in the spring of 1969, a powerful new influence arrived in the desert to compete with Manson’s sway over his followers.
“They were supposed to get us in ten days, but nobody had ever come back from Spahn’s. We were there alone when Paul Crockett and Bob Berry showed up… They pulled up to the farmhouse and it was difficult for us to either invite them in or send them away. We couldn’t do either. Paul said that was his first clue that we were under the influence of mind control. We didn’t know how to think for ourselves or make decisions for ourselves at all. We came out and told them that the place was taken.” — Joan Wildebush, interviewed in 1984 by Win McCormack, reprinted in “The Dichotomy of Evil: The Manson Girl Who Got Away” ©November 2017 Tin House magazine
But Brooks and Juanita had little in the way of provisions, which melted their standoffishness. Paul and Bob were gold prospectors but Crockett was also familiar with cults.
“Crockett had studied with… one of the first five people that L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology) had studied with himself. This man had known Ron Hubbard when he used to say things like, ‘Well, you know how to really make it in this world is to start your own religion. Nobody can touch you, and you can really do it.’ That man told Paul the reason he wasn’t a Scientologist was that he didn’t like the amount of control that was happening in that organization.” — Joan Wildebush, interviewed in 1984 by Win McCormack, reprinted in “The Dichotomy of Evil: The Manson Girl Who Got Away” ©November 2017 Tin House magazine
Crockett, in fact, was a self-proclaimed expert at deprogramming.
“Paul essentially deprogrammed Brooks and me… he talked about… the way Charlie got control over everybody by getting people to agree that he was something spectacular and agree to his other self-serving ideas. He said that agreements are much more powerful than people realize they are and that implied agreements are more powerful than overt agreements. It was those implied agreements that were making it very difficult for us to break away from him. Paul, Brooks and I used to stay up until one, two, three o’clock in the morning just talking. Doing what were early Scientology experiments. I don’t know whether they’re still done. I don’t know anything about Scientology now at all, other than the fact that Paul has warned me not to get involved with them, because they are as hard to get away from as Charlie was.” — Joan Wildebush, interviewed in 1984 by Win McCormack, reprinted in “The Dichotomy of Evil: The Manson Girl Who Got Away” ©November 2017 Tin House magazine
Charlie himself cribbed notes from Scientology. In fact, his phrase ‘Cease to Exist’ was actually a Scientology term.
Just after leaving Brooks and Juanita in Death Valley, Charlie heard the newly-released Beatles album The White Album. That’s when he had a vision of a global race war which he named Helter Skelter. From that point forward, Charlie was a heat-seeking missile bent on destruction, and that included destroying the lives of the young people who believed in him.
All during the early months of 1969, Manson began preaching about Helter Skelter. Warning his followers what kind of carnage they would face, and what they would need to do to prepare for it. He even told Brooks at one point that they (the Family) might need to start Helter Skelter themselves. Brooks was not in favor of this and began losing faith in Charlie’s persuasive powers.
And others were beginning to question it as well. In June, Charlie told Paul Watkins that black people could only do what white people told them. Maybe, he said, we should teach them how to start a race war. A few days later, unsettled, Paul left for Barker Ranch with Bo Rosenberg. When Watkins and Rosenberg arrived in Death Valley, they discovered that Brooks and Juanita had defected, and were living with Paul Crockett and Bob Berry.
“It was very clear to them that we were alive again… They had been sent up to get us and to bring us home… And we told them we weren’t going. And they stayed for several days, ostensibly to talk us into going. But it was very, very clear that they really wanted to find out what had happened. And Bo in particular just kept saying, ‘You’re really staying here, and you’re happy?’ And I kept saying, ‘Yeah, I am’.” — Joan Wildebush, interviewed in 1984 by Win McCormack, reprinted in “The Dichotomy of Evil: The Manson Girl Who Got Away” ©November 2017 Tin House magazine
Within days, Crockett also began deprogramming Bo and Paul.
“Crocket gave them just enough to make them interested in breaking away… But Paul Watkins said, ‘No, I’ve got to go back and see Charlie’… We asked him to wait until the whole Family was together… and to say that we wanted Charlie to release us from any agreements we had made with him, and that we in turn would release him from any agreements he had made with us. We asked him to do it in front of everybody because Charlie couldn’t turn down requests in front of everybody…” — Joan Wildebush, interviewed in 1984 by Win McCormack, reprinted in “The Dichotomy of Evil: The Manson Girl Who Got Away” ©November 2017 Tin House magazine
Paul and Bo did return to Spahn Ranch where Watkins tested Brooks and Juanita’s assignment.
“Charlie said, ‘Of course. They’re released. Nobody has any agreements to us, to me.’ He said, ‘I don’t have any holds on anybody’. And so Watkins said, ‘Well, then, do you release me from any agreements with you?’ And Charlie said, ‘Of course’. And Barbara said, ‘And me?’ And Charlie said, ‘Yeah’. And Paul looked around the room at the rest of the Family members… and said, ‘And what about them?’ And Charlie said, ‘Enough of this shit about agreements’, and wouldn’t release anybody else.” — Joan Wildebush, interviewed in 1984 by Win McCormack, reprinted in “The Dichotomy of Evil: The Manson Girl Who Got Away” ©November 2017 Tin House magazine
Again, Watkins left the ranch for Death Valley. There, he stayed with Crockett, Berry, Wildebush and Poston and continued his deprogramming. Wildebush later married Crockett’s business partner, Bob Berry. Today, she lives in the Pacific Northwest and is a social worker specializing in addiction recovery.
After the trials, Paul Watkins and Brooks Poston performed together in a rock band. Paul Crockett was the band’s manager. Paul Watkins died in 1990 of leukemia. Paul Crockett passed away in 2014.
You can learn more about the Family here:
And more about the Manson Family’s connection to another infamous cult here: