Helter Skelter began tonight

after two Manson Family women used stolen credit cards to buy end-of-the-world supplies

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Charles Manson

On this night 51 years ago, Charles Manson sent four people into the canyons to kill white, wealthy, establishment people so that it would launch Helter Skelter: his vision of a global race war that would ultimately put him into power.

In the article “I’ll Unleash Those Animals”, I detailed Charlie’s timeline for the week that ended on August 8th. After being implicated in a murder the week before, Charlie left Spahn Ranch on August 3rd, intending to be gone anywhere from a few weeks to several months. He told his followers that he was going to go recruiting new followers and not to expect him back soon.

But one day into his trip he met a young woman, 17-year old Stephanie Schram who left the man she was traveling with to join Manson. They made love beside the Pacific, and slept in the Hostess bread truck he was driving.

They then drove to Big Sur and the Esalen Institute where Charlie left Stephanie, took his guitar inside the prestigious spa and performed for the staff. He was hoping that they would be impressed and either hire him or refer him to influential people in the music industry. They did no such thing and Charlie left Esalen in a huff.

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Remember this scene from the 2015 finale episode of “Mad Men”? It is supposed to take place at Esalen. Charles Manson did not leave Esalen with the big shit-eating grin that Don Draper has, we assure you. Photo courtesy of AMC Television.

He and Stephanie briefly returned to Spahn Ranch on Wednesday, August 6th but Charlie had promised his new girlfriend to take her back to San Diego, to her sister’s house, so she could get her dog and guitar. So they left early the next morning and did not return until sometime on Friday, August 8th — 51 years ago today.

Now I want to dive a little deeper into what was happening on that Friday, at the Ranch and with the other members of the Family.

The people living at Spahn Ranch were feeling quite a bit of tension already that day. The evening before, Linda Kasabian (who had only been with the Family about 5 weeks) accepted an incoming phone call from Bobby Beausoleil, a musician who stayed at the ranch with his girlfriend that summer. Bobby explained to Linda that he got arrested the previous day on suspicion of murder.

We don’t know whether Bobby indicated that he was actually guilty of murder, but Linda later implied that Beausoleil suggested that maybe if there were other murders very similar to the one he was involved with, police might think someone else was guilty of his crime.

In other words, he thought that copycat killings might convince police to free him. Linda shared this information with several others that night, around the dinner mealtime. It is believed that many of the Family women participated in this conversation.

The next day, Friday the 8th, Manson and Stephanie return to Spahn Ranch either in the late morning or early afternoon. Charlie learns that Bobby has been arrested and he begins to panic, knowing that the suspect could name the others who were present before and during the murder.

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The August 1969 mugshot of Robert ‘Bobby’ Beausoleil, arrested for murder of his former friend Gary Hinman

Charles Manson was on federal parole in 1969. Any implication that he was involved in murder would quickly throw his ass back into prison. Now he didn’t kill Gary Hinman, the victim in question, but he did wound him a day before Beausoleil stabbed him to death. But Charlie did believe he was guilty of murder — a month before he shot a black drug dealer. He thought the man he shot had died, and he also thought he was a Black Panther. Although neither were true, he was absolutely terrified of either going back to prison on murder charges or possibly facing retaliation from the Black Panthers.

So that afternoon, Friday August 8th, Charlie gathered his followers:

Charlie knew that he might have precious little time before Bobby named names. So, he gathered everyone around and announced, “Now is the time for Helter Skelter.” It was late afternoon. He sent Mary and Sandy in the Hostess truck with several stolen credit cards, to buy supplies. Mary was one of two people who had valid driver’s licenses that summer — herself and Linda.

“After Charlie’s announcement in the afternoon, the ranch became very quiet, with an undercurrent of electric excitement, even dread.” Tex (Watson, a 23-year old from the Lone Star State who burned the drug dealer that Charlie shot and put Manson in the position of defending Watson’s actions) recalled. “With everything that had been happening over the past weeks there was no question that we would be the ones to bring down the Apocalypse, not some black militants from Watts. The only question was which of us and how.”

Tex and Katie reacted to Manson’s announcement by dropping acid. That was on top of the speed Tex had been snorting for days. — From The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including citations from Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell)

Tex Watson, Susan Atkins and Bruce Davis (all Manson Family members) had been indulging in speed for several months. Charlie didn’t like speed — he preferred marijuana and LSD — but he tolerated the use and sale of speed (methamphetamines) by the bikers that he courted as muscle. The Straight Satans, an outlaw motorcycle club based in Venice Beach, had the strength, numbers and knowledge of weapons that Manson believed would protect him from the hellfires of Helter Skelter. But at some point that summer, he had it out with Watson, Atkins and Davis — and he may have believed that Watson and Atkins were actually dealing speed themselves.

Tex had an empty jar of Gerbers’ baby food where he kept the liquid speed. He hid it under a porch of one of the ranch’s buildings so he could dip into it from time to time, hiding it from Charlie. But Susan and Bruce knew where that speed was, as well.

The two women Charlie sent to buy goods to help him escape (what he believed was) his inevitable arrest for murder were Mary Brunner and Sandra Good.

Mary was the official first member of Manson’s so-called Family: a 23-year old assistant librarian working at UC Berkeley, and originally from Wisconsin. Brunner gave birth to Manson’s son Valentine Michael the previous April. She often bore the brunt of her baby daddy’s rage — one he beat her so badly she couldn’t get out of bed for three days. We believe that this particular beating followed a threat Mary made to leave Charlie, and take their son with her.

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Mary Brunner with her son Valentine Michael Manson

Charlie made a point of separating babies from mothers. He claimed it was so that the children wouldn’t be formed by their parents’ insecurities and egos, but really it was a form of coercion. You’d be a lot more willing to do whatever he asked if he had your baby in his control.

Sandra Good joined the Family in the spring of 1968. She was a college student from San Diego, from an affluent family and she had means. In fact, she had a $200 monthly trust fund that she gave to Manson. But she was high-strung and suffered from esteem issues.

On August 8th, Sandra was nearly eight months pregnant — with Bobby Beausoleil’s child. She certainly would have wanted to do what she could to save her own baby daddy.

Mary and Sandy drove the Hostess truck down to the San Fernando Sears store. They had been told to buy rope, and other things (we can assume it would be items that the Family might need out in Death Valley, since that’s where Manson planned to flee). But their shopping excursion did not go well:

“…at the Sears store in San Fernando Valley, Mary and Sandy were in trouble. They entered the store at 4:00pm and purchased several items, using a credit card in the name of ‘Mary Vitasek’… Mary Brunner forged the receipt.

All they had to do was act nonchalant and depart, but neither of these two weird birds could do that. Sandy, in particular, was acting strangely and the clerk (a Ms. Ramirez) noticed. As the women walked away from her register, she pulled out her list of stolen credit cards (mailed to merchants weekly) and checked if the card used was on that list.

It was. And again, if Mary and Sandy had simply left the store and calmly walked to their truck and driven away, they would have been free to return to Spahn Ranch. Instead, they went into another section of Sears and continued shopping. Ms. Ramirez alerted the store manager, who approached Mary and Sandy. They then fled the store, the manager chasing them into the parking lot.

The women got into the Hostess truck and peeled away but the manager kept going. He got into his own car and followed them out to Brand Boulevard, toward the freeway.

Mary was driving and, attempting to flee the manager, swerved into a gas station. There, Sandy tried to get rid of the evidence, tossing the credit card out the passenger window.

Mary was approaching the entrance to the 405 freeway when she crashed the truck. The police, who finally joined the chase, closed in on the two criminals. Both Mary and Sandy were arrested. The police found a number of stolen credit cards and eventually found Mary Vitasek’s card at the gas station.

Mary was charged with burglary and forgery, Sandy for burglary alone.

They were both booked at the West Valley Police Station in San Fernando. But that station didn’t have jail facilities for women, so they were transferred that evening to the Sybil Brand Institute in East Los Angeles, the main women’s jail for the county. Their movements that evening (shopping, car chase, initial arrest and transfer to Sybil Brand, including processing) took several hours. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications

Mugshot images for Mary Brunner (left) and Sandra Good (right), arrested on the evening of August 8, 1969

If Mary and Sandy arrived at Sears around 4pm, we can likely assume that Manson asked them to go around 3pm.

Around 11pm, someone at Spahn Ranch accepted a phone call. It was Sandra Good, letting them know she and Mary were arrested. She also had the unpleasant task of telling the other person (we think it was Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme) that the Hostess truck was impounded, and the stolen cards were all confiscated. The person who answered the phone immediately ran and told Manson.

He responded by pounding his fists into a tree and threatening to punish those who were persecuting his Family.

Charlie would not be escaping to Death Valley that night.

Instead, he would be ordering the vicious murders of five innocent people.

Tex Watson, Susan Atkins and Linda Kasabian were three of the four people selected personally by Charlie to start Helter Skelter.

The next night, two more people were killed in Los Angeles.

And still, Helter Skelter didn’t begin.

But if Mary and Sandy had not been caught that Friday afternoon, Charlie would likely have fled to Death Valley. That might have spared the victims of the Tate/LaBianca killings. Stephen Parent. Jay Sebring. Abigail Folger. Sharon Tate. Wojciech Frykowski. Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

Then again, something always seemed to go wrong for poor little Charlie Manson. If he hadn’t ordered and orchestrated the killings that weekend, 51 years ago, he probably would have committed murder nonetheless.

But those victims might have been saved. One of those victims, Sharon Tate, was eight months pregnant (just like Sandra Good) and her baby died in utero, along with his mother.

Sandra was released from jail a week after her arrest. Mary spent two months at Sybil Brand and when she was released, she fled to Wisconsin (where her parents had custody of her little boy).

Sandra gave birth in October 1969 to a little boy. While at the hospital recovering from childbirth, she was visited by Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, another one of the Tate/LaBianca killers.

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Manson Family member Sandra Collins Good (in the foreground) with her baby Ivan. Family member Squeaky Fromme sits behind Good.

Sadie started dropping hints about the name Tate, Katie threw her an angry look and Sandy demanded to know what was going on. They told her about Cielo Drive. They told her that Sharon was pregnant when she was stabbed to death. When Sandy asked them about the unborn baby in the actress’s womb, Katie looked at Cho and said, “You have him in your arms.”

In their lunacy, they believed they had claimed Sharon’s unborn child and passed him energetically to their sister to raise! — from The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including citation from Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press)

You can read more about the events that led up to the murders here:

And what happened immediately after the murder of Sharon Tate and her houseguests:

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series. https://www.mansonfamily.net/

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