“I Was Willing To Kill for Manson”

Tex Watson just prior to the Tate/LaBianca Murders

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In early December 1968, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson left the Manson Family to pursue his own pleasures. His departure followed his visit to 10050 Cielo Drive, the home of Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher. Watson had been sent to Melcher’s Benedict Canyon home by Charles Manson, to get money to bail a mutual friend out jail.

Watson was not at Melcher’s home for long, but during that time he saw the upscale lifestyle of Melcher and his girlfriend, model/actress Candace Bergen. He was treated rather shabbily by Bergen, and by their maid. He was given a Jaguar to drive, but not the cash (Melcher claimed he didn’t have any on him that weekend) and then abused the offer by driving the car not just to the county jail, but up to Ukiah and back.

In his 1978 memoir, he recounted:

“I felt out of place, over my head, especially when a glamorous star, who was living there with Terry at the time, walked in on me and demanded to know what I was doing there.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

Then just a few days later, he leaves Manson, the Family and Spahn Ranch so that he can reconnect with his old friend Rich. Rich was his former roommate, and his business partner in a wig shop that had closed several months before. It doesn’t seem like conjecture to imagine that Melcher’s wealth and privilege had reminded Tex of his own greater possibilities and ambitions. Perhaps enough so that when he returned to Cielo Drive the following summer, Watson was resentful and angry to the point of homicide.

Watson called Rich, who arranged to pick him up in Topanga. He walked out the back door of the house where he and Charlie were visiting, Manson listening to The Beatles’ White Album. Tex didn’t even say goodbye as he left.

Rich nearly didn’t recognize Watson, who had grown out his hair and wore the first scruff of a beard. More importantly, he noted that his old friend seemed somewhat different in personality — dazed, dirty and spouting a bunch of weird philosophies about death and NOW and the Soul. But Rich brought his friend to the apartment he and his brother rented, to stay.

Tex’s first week of freedom away from Manson was spent on getting out of his scheduled Army physical, using a prior knee injury to get a deferment. Rich wasn’t so lucky: he went to his physical and, knowing he was about to get drafted, enlisted the next day.

But Watson soon grew bored. He bought some marijuana, then he called up a flight attendant he knew back in Dallas. They made plans to connect on her next layover in L.A.

“When I appeared at her hotel in the old 1952 Chevy that Rich had left me, with my wild mane of hair and old jeans and boots, she and the girl friend she had with her were stunned. She must have assumed I’d made it big in California — she didn’t even work very hard to hide her disappointment. I drove the two of them around town, trying to make up for her embarrassment by taking them to Dennis’s house, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, the Strip, and by talking about all the show-business people I knew. These two Texas girls were not impressed. Finally I decided I’d take them to meet Terry. We drove up Benedict Canyon and… I went into that gate at 10050 Cielo Drive. There was no one home and as we drove back to the airport I realized that they probably thought I just made up a story about knowing people in Hollywood or being friends with the celebrities who lived at the top of Cielo Drive. Even the lunch I’d bought them in Beverly Hills hadn’t done the trick. For the first time, I was embarrassed by how I looked.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

So, he decided to clean up his act and ditch the hippie look. But he didn’t have a job or any money. So he rang up a former girlfriend of Rich’s, a 26-year old woman named Rosina Kroner, and moved in with her.

Rosina was a drug-dealer, and Watson became her lover, her protégé and her business partner. She lived on Franklin Avenue in an apartment in the Hollywood Heights neighborhood. Kroner took care of Watson, buying him mod clothes and paying for his hair to be cut. Plus, she provided a lot of drugs.

“She had an old Hollywood-Spanish apartment with eucalyptus trees all around and a patio that overlooked the driveway to an exclusive private club for professional magicians and entertainment stars. Sometimes we’d sunbathe on the deck, drinking beer and smoking grass while we watched all the big limousines drive up for parties, dumping out beautiful people whom we could never quite recognize.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

To make extra money, the two overcharged friends and clients extra money for every lid of grass they sold. But as much as Watson enjoyed the Hollywood Heights lifestyle, parts of Manson’s rhetoric still seeped into his brain. Everywhere the Texan went, something would remind him of Charlie. He was especially cognizant of Charlie’s message about Hollywood people, and how shallow and plastic they were.

Plus, the situation with Rosina was not going well. Watson did not want to be faithful to her, even though he knew she had fallen in love with him. He tried to convince her to date other men, even resorting to using Manson’s pimp talk on her, but to no avail. Then she got pregnant. Rosina went to Mexico for an abortion which was botched, resulting in her checking into U.C.L.A. Medical Center for treatment. A later trip to Mexico for the couple ended in a bad car crash, totaling Kroner’s VW Bug.

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Watson’s girlfriend Rosina Kroner

All of this bad luck made Tex think that maybe this lifestyle, as Charlie had warned, was wrong and he grew more restless. The great drugs, beautiful clothes and other Hollywood accessories just weren’t enough for him.

One day that March, Watson picked up the phone and called Spahn Ranch. He’d decided to go back to Manson.

The Family had just returned to Spahn Ranch, and upon their return had turned one of the buildings (The Longhorn Saloon) into a nightclub. Watson arrived the night the nightclub opened.

“I appeared at Spahn Ranch with my styled hair and my silk shirt and leather jacket and I felt like there were two of me standing there, the old Tex whom Charlie and the girls were so glad to see and Charles from Hollywood, noticing the dust that was getting on his expensive leather shoes. That night I saw the club. It was one of the old ranch buildings painted all black inside, with a huge parachute covering the ceiling and black lights and posters and HELTER SKELTER and other lines from Beatles’ songs scrawled all over the walls in luminous paint. There was a large jar in one corner marked DONATIONS. ‘That’s so we can buy things to get ready for Helter Skelter when it comes down,’ one of the girls explained… There was one tune the whole Family joined in on, repeating the chorus over and over: ‘You better get your dune buggy ready . . . you better get your dune buggy ready.’ Everybody started dancing, Susan-Sadie in the middle of things doing her go-go number, while Charlie and the others sang at the top of their lungs and the psychedelic posters throbbed with their sickly colors in the black light. I was home.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

The club was opened only a few evenings when the cops showed up. George Spahn was fined $1500 (as property owner) for allowing minors to drink.

During the time Tex had been away, he’d grown greedy and unscrupulous with his small-scale drug operation. These exploits continued when he returned to Spahn Ranch. On April 13th, Watson is alleged to have robbed Joel Rostau, a drug dealer. Rostau (who worked for a Boston-based mob guy named Eugene ‘Geno’ Massaro) was dating Charlene McCaffrey, the receptionist at Sebring International — the company owned by Jay Sebring.

Rostau was an intermediary in Massaro’s L.A. drug ring in the late 60’s. The police had a large file on his activities. Joel was found murdered, in the trunk of a car parked at Kennedy Airport, in May 1970. Many people believe that he is an important, maybe even key piece of the TLB (Tate/LaBianca) puzzle.

Rostau and Massaro were reputed to use a vending company as a front for their business. In Charles ‘Tex’ Watson’s own words:

“I’d arranged to buy a kilo of grass from the dealer who’d been supplying the Family. He fronted the dope with a vending-machine company and people said he was with the Mafia.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

Rostau claimed that two armed men came into his home on April 13th and tied Charlene and him up with rope. This was the same modus operandi that Tex used at Cielo Drive four months later. In fact, author Nicolas Schreck claimed that Watson used the same gun at both crimes. The robbers beat Rostau and demanded he give them his drugs. The taller of the two intruders, both with Southern accents, shot Rostau in the foot as they fled.

A neighbor heard the gunshot and called police, who arrived to find Rostau and McCaffrey tied up. After they released the pair, the cops discovered narcotics on the scene. So, Rostau and Charlene were arrested for possession. Marijuana, hash and cocaine were found, which begs the question of whether the robbers actually made off with any drugs or perhaps Rostau only gave them some of what he had. Either that or the burglars were particularly inept.

On April 23rd, Tex was arrested for public intoxication. Days earlier, Paul Watkins spotted a Belladonna plant (the deadly nightshade) growing wild in the hills near Spahn Ranch. He’d been introduced to the plant while living on a Hopi Indian Reservation and knew how to brew it into a narcotic drink.

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Watson’s mugshot for his April 1969 public intoxication arrest

A few days later, Paul brought the Belladonna roots to the kitchen at Spahn Ranch, where Brenda (true name Nancy Pitman) brewed them into a tea. But while this was happening, Tex Watson walked into the kitchen.

Watkins later testified that he watched Tex pick up a hunk of root, then announce that he was leaving to go find his motorcycle. He left, chewing the root which is highly poisonous if ingested raw. When asked when he saw Watson next, Paul said it was three days later and Tex’s face was all banged up.

“I was… crawling on my knees and my mouth was foaming cotton. My body was sort of red and I fell down three or four times… and then I couldn’t stand. The last thing I remember, the police were dragging me out of some car in the Valley. I was in Van Nuys Jail the next morning.” — Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, according to the August 1971 trial testimony of Dr. Kenneth Grosvenor Bailey

He couldn’t even sign his damn name when he was taken to the precinct; he was so out of it. That famous mugshot of Watson (the one of him grinning, with scruffy hair and filthy teeth) wasn’t taken in August, when the Family was arrested at Spahn Ranch. In fact, Tex was in Death Valley during that raid. His mugshot was taken April 23rd in the throes of his belladonna intoxication. He was hallucinating, unable to talk and his cellmates had quite the time with him. They beat him up, splitting his eyebrow open and requiring several stitches in the county jail.

Watson was released the next day but left behind a powerful piece of evidence: his fingerprint. That print later placed Watson at the gate of Cielo Drive on August 9th.

Tex wasn’t himself after that bad trip.

“He’d disappear for long periods of time, or sit comatose for hours and have to be hand fed… I remember it really messed him up.” — The Myth of Helter Skelter by Susan Atkins-Whitehouse ©2012 Menelorelin Dorenay

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“Mary, Ella, and Tex took acid before a trip to the city for supplies… when they returned, the girls looked haggard. Everything was fine, they said, until they were about to come home, and Tex began literally picking up children, saying he had to get them to the desert before sundown. The girls had to disengage him from a child and get him into the car.” — Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press

Tex was becoming a complete zombie, although his addled senses didn’t prevent him from continuing to deal drugs. Charlie may have believed that Tex and Sadie were starting their own drug ring that season, with speed. He was displeased.

“Charlie, for all his use of acid, was absolutely against speed. He believed it was bad for your body. But when a young guy from one of the neighboring ranches began sneaking it over, Susan-Sadie, Bruce Davis and I started carrying it around in the bottom of a cigarette package. Later we hid it in a Gerbers’ baby-food jar under the porch of one of the buildings. I liked the way speed worked. You’d stick your finger in, sniff it up each nostril, and everything came to life. Sometimes time moved past you so fast you could barely keep up with it… I was willing to kill for Manson, but I wasn’t willing to give up my speed.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

The Family were acquainted with a man named Charles Melton, sometimes known as ‘Black Beard Charlie’. He lived in Topanga. In April he visited Spahn Ranch. Melton, a mystical far-out dude or Dharma bum, wore a long beard. When Tex saw Melton’s facial hair, he commented that he wished that someday Manson would let him grow a beard.

But Watson, despite the pressure he felt to live up to Manson’s rules, was never under anyone’s thumb. He only became a fixture at Spahn Ranch after he blew out his mind on belladonna. According to several people, Tex turned mean and pushy after that bad trip.

Tex was not a ‘follower’ of Manson. He came and went as he pleased. He dated women who were not in the Family. He set up his own drug deals, often without Manson’s involvement and once, famously, without thought to the domino effect it would create.

That was the July 1969 drug burn of Bernard ‘Lotsapoppa’ Crowe. We will get to that in all due time.

That June, the Family got their newest addition when one member (Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share) visited Charles Melton in Topanga and was introduced to Linda Kasabian, a young hippie wife and mother originally from New Hampshire. Linda, who had a little girl named Tanya, was not happy with the state of her marriage. Upon Gypsy’s recommendation, she left that day with her and brought Tanya to stay at Spahn Ranch.

Charlie wasn’t at the ranch the day Linda arrived. But that night, in a shack on the Spahn property, sheand Tex made love.

“Tex was gruff and greasy, but he just always had this beautiful smile and these beautiful eyes. I was attracted to him and he kinda had me, that first night.” — Linda Kasabian from the documentary “Manson” ©2009 The History Channel

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Linda Kasabian

After sex, Linda told Tex that Charlie Melton had received a large inheritance. Tex told her that money wasn’t something any one person could own. That possessions, including cash, were meant to be shared. Money belonged to anyone, everyone. Of course, he was trained to say those things by Manson. Watson was as prostituted as the women were. He was the primary stud at Spahn Ranch and knew what Charlie wanted in a new girl.

He didn’t come out and ask her to take the money, but Linda understood what he was implying. She wanted to leave her husband and these people had welcomed her and Tanya with open arms. She felt a debt of loyalty to them.

The next day she went back to Melton’s trailer and found it unoccupied. She confiscated $5,000 in cash. She also took some acid tabs she’d brought to California, and a buck knife.

“I was willing to take the money,” Linda confessed. “I didn’t do it to hurt my husband but for acceptance within the Family.” — Linda Kasabian from the documentary “Manson” ©2009 The History Channel

Days later on July 1st, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson approached his ex-girlfriend Rosina Kroner about setting up a drug deal.

“I called Luella {the alias he gave Rosina}… on July 1 and said that the Family had $100 and wanted to buy a kilo of grass, but our Mafia vending-machine connection would only sell 25 kilos at a throw, for a cool $2,500” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

Rosina didn’t have that kind of cash, she told him and hung up. But then,

“She called back and told me that she knew somebody who was interested in buying the extra kilos, but she needed to make some money out of the deal as well.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

The somebody Rosina referred to was her dealer. His name was Bernard Crowe, but he was known as ‘Lotsapoppa’. Tex explained to Rosina that the plan was to get $2,500 from Crowe, buy the drugs, and sell most of them to her clients at a $25 markup per kilo. Then he would bank the extra weed (three kilos worth, to Tex and the Family), pass a few hundred dollars back to Rosina, and then reimburse Crowe. But Watson had a more nefarious scheme in mind.

He told Rosina that he must meet alone with his dealer. The guy won’t trust anyone else, he argued. He’s got to get the money from Rosina’s contact and meet privately with the dealer. Rosina called Lotsapoppa who agreed to meet at her apartment. Tex asked TJ to drive him to Los Angeles from Spahn Ranch.

“TJ would… drop me near Luella’s apartment to make it look like I’d hitchhiked. He’d then go on to the dealer’s place on the other side of town, parking in the back of the apartment house out of which the man worked. Luella would drive me back there with the money, and I’d go in the front door and out the back with the bread, leaving her to explain things to her friend.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

He wasn’t planning to buy drugs, at all. He just needed $2500. Tex was not only planning to rob a drug dealer but also to burn his ex-girlfriend in the process. What a prince! But Crowe thought the plan seemed hinky from the start. When Watson arrived, Crowe had his guard up — and he wasn’t alone. Three of his friends had accompanied him to Rosina’s apartment.

“He and one of his boys waited downstairs in their big black Caddy… I tried everything I could think of, including walking out of the door, but finally we ended up riding out to the connection’s apartment in Crowe’s… car, with his men on either side of us, just like something out of a movie.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

Meanwhile, TJ had driven to the dealer’s place in El Monte and parked out back, where he wouldn’t be seen. When Tex, Rosina, Crowe and the other men pulled up, Tex was ready to spring into action. He was gonna walk into the apartment complex with the cash and give the others the slip, sneaking out to where TJ was waiting for him. But Crowe said, wait a minute. He could just picture this grimy Texan making off with his money and told him he wanted a guarantee. He told Tex that if he was on the up and up, he wouldn’t mind leaving Rosina with them while he went inside to score. She was his promissory note.

“When Crowe threatened violence to her if I tried to cheat them, I gave him one of my Texas grins and drawled that they should know I’d be coming back when they had my girl.” But Tex didn’t give a shit about Rosina. “It didn’t much matter to me what they did to Luella, as long as I got the money for Charlie. They gave me the cash and I went straight into the front of the apartment and straight out the back. TJ and I were off to the ranch.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

Crowe and his friends waited a while before realizing what happened. They drove Rosina back to her apartment at 6933 Franklin in Hollywood Heights. Crowe demanded Rosina tell him where that Southern son-of-a-bitch went. She said that Watson lived on an old movie ranch in Chatsworth.

Crowe asked Rosina if she knew the phone number. As a matter of fact, she did. At 2:00am, she called the ranch and handed Bernard Crowe the phone.

Back at Spahn, Manson was having a good old time. That crazy Tex Watson had shown up with $2500 in cash and everyone was celebrating. Crowe told the young lady who answered the phone to put ‘Charles’ on the line.

Crowe had no idea that nobody at the ranch knew Tex by his Christian name, Charles. There was only one Charles known there, and that was Manson.

Charlie came to the phone, only to hear the drug dealer threatening him. Initially, Crowe thought he was talking to Tex and said he was going to kill him. When Manson interjected and explained that he was a different Charles (and claimed he hadn’t seen Watson in weeks) Crowe said he was going to show up at Spahn Ranch nonetheless, kill everyone there and slit Charlie’s throat from ear to ear. He told Manson that he had Rosina and he’d better get down to her apartment to make good on the money stolen, before he did something horrible to her and then drove north to Spahn Ranch.

Manson had given Watson a lot of leeway that year. This was the thanks he got: now he had to go and fix Tex’s mess.

He assured Crowe that he was coming to Rosina’s to settle the matter. He sent Tex to the caves to camp overnight. Then Manson had TJ drive him back to Rosina’s apartment.

The situation at the Franklin Avenue apartment did not go well. It ended with Manson shooting Lotsapoppa, who he believed died as a result.

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Two days later, he heard on the local news about the body of a Black Panther member turning up at a local hospital and Charlie went into a tailspin. Not only did he (erroneously) believe he had killed a man, but now he also feared retaliation from the Panthers.

A week after shooting Lotsapoppa, more than two dozen black people arrived at Spahn Ranch to ride the ponies! Manson was convinced they were Panthers, checking the place out to report back to their leadership.

Even though Crowe survived his wounds, the Panthers weren’t lying in wait for Charlie and he wasn’t facing a murder rap — Charlie knew none of these things. Lotsapoppa’s shooting resulted in two dire things:

One: Manson urgently needed to get out of town, which meant he needed even more money; and

Two: Manson was SUPER PISSED at Tex Watson.

“Believing he had murdered Bernard Crowe, Charles Manson became frantic… he came up with a plan to protect himself… He could hardly admit he had just killed a Black Panther and the entire brotherhood of Black Panthers was about to come screaming into Spahn’s Ranch to wipe them all out. Everyone would have left… Manson had to figure out how to turn Spahn’s Ranch into a fortress without letting anyone know what the real reason was. And then it came to him. The answer was right before his eyes.” — The Myth of Helter Skelter by Susan Atkins-Whitehouse ©2012 Menelorelin Dorenay

The answer was Helter Skelter: the apocalyptic race war. He could convince these kids that they were imminent danger without revealing that he had ‘killed’ a Black Panther, by citing examples that Helter Skelter was actually happening.

Helter Skelter took over everything in July 1969, with Manson ordered Tex Watson (as a form of penance) to train everyone in military-style maneuvers including martial arts, gunmanship, stabbing, and surveillance.

And then, just a month later, Charlie told Watson they needed to start Helter Skelter themselves, and he told him to get in the car and drive to Cielo Drive to slaughter everyone there.

Watson did as he was told.

To learn more about the Manson Family murders, please visit MansonFamily.net

Written by

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

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