July 1, 1969: The drug burn that led to the Manson Murders

there was always more to the story than ‘Helter Skelter’

On this day 51 years ago, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson burned a black drug dealer in Los Angeles for $2500 cash — prompting Charles Manson to shoot the man later that night.

Tex Watson met Charlie and the Family a year before, when they were staying at Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Palisades home. Wilson was one of many influential contact that Manson made during 1968, giving him hope that he might have a successful music career. He spent months grooming his relationship with Wilson, talent agent Gregg Jakobson and Columbia Records music producer Terry Melcher.

Wilson, Jakobson and Melcher — known in certain circles during that era as the ‘Golden Penetrators’ for their sexual proclivities — saw something worthwhile in Charlie and his songs. Wilson invited Manson and several of the women to visit his brother Brian’s home recording studio. Jakobson was known to take Charlie out on the town, to clubs along the Sunset Strip. And Melcher listened to Charlie’s music, and nodded appreciably.

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Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson (at left) and Terry Melcher (at right)

In fact, Charlie tagged along with Jakobson and Wilson on some of their visits to Melcher’s house, a rented place up in Benedict Canyon. Tex Watson had also visited that home on occasion.

But by the end of 1968, Charlie had somewhat worn out his welcome with the Golden Penetrators. Dennis still helped him secure more recording studio time, and Jakobson even pitched a documentary idea, about the Family, to NBC Studios.

But Melcher wasn’t as enthusiastic. He enjoyed Charlie’s women from time to time, but seemed to have little interest in promoting the former ex-con. Still, in early June 1969, Melcher brought a friend of his (Mike Deasy) to Spahn Ranch where the Family were staying. Deasy owned a mobile recording studio — housed in a van — and was willing to record the Family in their natural setting.

Melcher probably hoped that this would appease Charlie, and get him off his back. He looked around at the scruffy group of teenagers and drug-addled hippies around Manson, and gave him $50. He told him to buy hay for the horses at the ranch with that money, but clearly he saw young people in need of a hearty meal. Although Melcher no longer lived in Benedict Canyon, Spahn Ranch looked like a universe away from the tony estates of Benedict Canyon and Bel Air.

But Charlie took that $50 as a promissory note — and told his followers that it was Melcher’s promise to follow through on his recording contract. Melcher had, in fact, made no such offer.

Three weeks later, Family member Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share visited a friend in Topanga Beach, and met a young woman with her baby. Linda Kasabian, an idealistic flower child from New Hampshire, was in California trying to reconcile with her on-again, off-again husband, Bob. The two of them, baby Tanya (18 months old) and Kasabian’s friend Charlie Melton, were planning a trip by boat down to South Africa. Instead, Gypsy convinced Linda to bring Tanya and join them at Spahn Ranch.

That night, Linda had sex with Tex Watson at the ranch, and the following day she stole $5000 from Melton.

But the Family’s money woes continued. So on July 1st, Tex made a phone call.

Tex approached his ex-girlfriend Rosina Kroner about setting up a drug deal. In his words: ‘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.’ Tex asked Rosina for the money, but she didn’t have that much cash. 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.’

The somebody Rosina referred to was her dealer. His name was Bernard Crowe but he was known as ‘Lotsapoppa’. (Several movies have portrayed Crowe as an obese black man, but his nickname had more to do with his self-proclaimed sexual prowess, not his girth.) Crowe, 27, played trumpet in a jazz quartet and lived in an apartment above Sunset Boulevard. He was also part of a forgery and fencing ring in Los Angeles, creating fake Social Security cards.

The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (featuring citations from Will You Die For Me by Charles Watson with Chaplain Ray Hoekstra, published 1978 from Fleming H. Revell)

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Bernard Crowe, aka 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.’

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.

Tex wrote, ‘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.’

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.’

The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (featuring citations from Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson with Chaplain Ray Hoekstra, published 1978 from Fleming H. Revell)

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April 1968 mugshot of Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, arrested for public intoxication after a belladonna overdose

Crowe and his friends waited a while before realizing what happened. They drove Rosina back to her apartment at 6933 Franklin in Hollywood Heights. She must have been just about pissing her pants. Crowe knew he’d been set up. He 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 went into an absolute panic. Not just rage — which certainly he felt at Watson, putting everyone in danger — but abject terror. He was convinced that this black drug dealer was going to come murder him!

One wonders if Charlie wasn’t feeling a little remorseful. You see, the idea was his to begin with. He told Tex to talk to Rosina about fronting some cash for a drug deal. Charlie’s plan was to simply buy the kilos of marijuana and then the family could sell them for a profit. When Tex told Manson that Rosina demurred, claiming she had no money, that got Charlie mad. Charlie always had this crazy notion that everyone they knew had more money than they were letting on. He probably said something along the lines of ‘fuck Rosina’ to Watson. Now, that dunderheaded Texan had burned a drug dealer and put everyone’s life in jeopardy.

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.

The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications

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Charles Milles Manson

He assured Crowe that he was coming to Rosina’s to settle the matter. He sent Tex (with Sadie, the biggest blabbermouth in the Family) to the caves to camp overnight. The last thing he needed was the rest of the gang learning how close to danger they were. Then Manson had TJ drive him back to Rosina’s apartment.

Sadie Mae Glutz was, indeed, a blabbermouth. Her forked tongue did a lot of damage, including her jailhouse tattling and grand jury testimony. She also wrote two books in prison, about the Manson Family and the murders they committed. Her second book, ‘The Myth of Helter Skelter’, focused on her theory of motive. While anyone would rightly question Susan’s ability to tell the truth, this author believes that particular story. There were consistencies to Susan’s tales over the years and that final story feels as full a truth as she was able to tell. Perhaps more fully than anyone else, by virtue of her position in the Family.

According to ‘The Myth of Helter Skelter’, ‘Crowe told him he was a Black Panther and he knew where Manson was and if Manson didn’t come down and give him his money, he and all his Black Panther buddies were going to make a raid at Spahn’s Ranch and kill everyone.’

Did Crowe actually claim he was a Black Panther or did Manson simply infer it? We know that Lotsapoppa was not, in fact, in the Black Panther Party but might he have told Charlie that he was, to scare Manson enough to get his white ass down to Hollywood and return that cash?

It’s also possible that Manson simply believed that Crowe was affiliated with the Panthers. Charlie considered anyone who was black (and potentially a threat) to be more militant than they were. Either way, this detail was a major catalyst in the events that transpired later. We may never know how the Black Panther angle worked its way into the situation, but it had a profound and disastrous effect on what followed.

Per Susan, ‘Manson believed the only way to prevent the Panthers from getting his name and whereabouts was to eliminate the source — Bernard Crowe. If something happened to Crowe no one would be around to tell the Panthers anything… And so Charles Manson told Bernard Crowe he would meet with him and straighten the whole thing up. Manson got a gun and… The account given by TJ later was that Charles Manson placed the gun in the back of his pants, so that it wouldn’t be visible… if Manson wasn’t able to talk his way out of the situation… Manson would signal TJ, who was supposed to pull out the gun and shoot Bernard Crowe.’

Susan went on to explain that, ‘when Manson got to Bernard Crowe’s apartment there were several of his friends there.’ Here’s the thing: Susan did know more than others about that night but she mistakenly thinks Crowe and his friends are Black Panthers. Not only are none of these men affiliated with the Black Panther Party, but the three friends of Crowe’s are actually white men and one was buddies with Dennis Wilson.

Dale Fimple, Steve Scorpi and Bryan Lukashevsky are the three men with Crowe at Rosina Kroner’s apartment and who accompanied Crowe and Tex to the dealer’s place in El Monte. In fact, when Manson and TJ arrived at the Franklin residence late that night, Crowe wasn’t even there. He’d stepped out, leaving Rosina with the other three.

Dale Fimple was from Sonoma, California and died the following fall in a car crash. Steve Scorpi is also a mystery — according to Crowe’s later trial testimony, Scorpi lived in Brooklyn but his name turns up nothing now. Bryan Lukashevsky is a good friend of Wilson’s. He’s known as a bit of a Hollywood hanger-on, a club kid.

It’s easy to construe a connection, therefore, between Crowe and Wilson but Lukashevsky was known as a sycophant in the Hollywood scene. Likely, Crowe is just a guy he buys weed from. But also possible was that Bryan was there to score for his friend Wilson. Was Crowe dealing to the drummer and his friends? Was there a prior connection between Charles Manson and Lotsapoppa? Years ago, someone claimed that Dianne Lake allegedly referred to Crowe as the ‘black member’ of the Family. But there’s no verification of this statement and Lake made no mention of it in her recent tell-all.

The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (with citations from The Myth of Helter Skelter by Susan Atkins-Whitehouse ©2012 Menelorelin Dorenay)

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Susan Atkins aka Sadie Mae Glutz (Sexy Sadie)

While waiting for Crowe, Charlie made small talk with the other men. He even admired the silk shirt Lukashevsky wore.

’In a few minutes, Crowe reentered the apartment, and he and Charlie were talking calmly. Charlie told him to the effect that you can’t take my friend’s life, you must take my life. When Crowe said that no, he didn’t want to harm Charlie, just the people that had burned him, Charlie had him where he wanted him… Charlie performed some sort of ‘ritualistic dance’ and then got ready to leave.’

But Crowe demanded the return of his money. He was not willing to work out some ‘deal’ and was annoyed with Charlie’s antics. So that meant that Manson needed TJ to take action, as previously planned.

However, ‘TJ’s better sense prevailed,’ Atkins explained, ‘and he refused to pull the gun out of the back of Manson’s pants. This left Manson standing all alone… facing several Black Panthers {again, not being present, Susan believed that Crowe and his friends were actually militants, not drug dealers and wannabe’s} and one angry dope dealer who’d just been ripped off. Manson was forced to pull the gun himself. He shot Bernard Crowe right in the chest. Crowe fell to the ground and lay still. Manson and TJ ran.’

Charlie actually fired the gun twice — the gun misfired on the first attempt but on the second fire, he hit Lotsapoppa. The .22 revolver he used was the same one that Tex used weeks later at Cielo Drive and allegedly, the previous April, to rob drug dealer Joel Rostau the previous April.

Before bolting, Manson asked Lukashevsky if he could have that silk shirt. As you may imagine, Bryan was happy to remove it and hand the shirt over.

The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (including citations from The Family by Ed Sanders ©2002 Thunder’s Mouth Press, and The Myth of Helter Skelter by Susan Atkins-Whitehouse ©2012 Menelorelin Dorenay)

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Charles Manson, in happier times?

Susan argued, ‘that Charles Manson… ended up having to pull the gun and shoot Crowe himself is a testament to how foolish a position he’d put himself in. He had obviously thought he could get TJ to take care of his dirty work for him. That it hadn’t worked and he’d had to dirty his hands infuriated Charles Manson… not only did the Panthers believe it was he who had ripped off Crowe, they would soon find it was he who had killed one of their brothers. When Charles Manson returned to Spahn’s Ranch that night he still had to worry about where he was going to raise money for more drugs, and where he was going to make his connections, and whether the police were getting ready to move in on him over the auto thefts and under-age kids at the ranch. On top of all that he now had to worry about a murder charge and the prospect of being arrested… More disturbing to him that night was the prospect of retaliation by the Panthers for Crowe’s death.’

She also wrote, ‘He was so angry and abusive to TJ when they got back to Spahn’s Ranch that TJ… left in the middle of the night out of fear for his life.’

What Manson didn’t know was that he did not kill Bernard Crowe. Crowe’s friends rushed him to the hospital, where he remained for two weeks. He wasn’t a Black Panther, so the Panthers weren’t planning retaliation. But the next morning, a news report surfaced of a Black Panther being shot to death and left on the lawn of UCLA hospital and Manson heard that news. He went absolutely apeshit insane. He believed he killed a Black Panther and now the Panthers were coming for him, his Family and everyone at Spahn Ranch.

Even though Crowe survived his wounds, the Panthers weren’t lying in wait for Charlie and he wasn’t facing a murder rap — the Crowe Incident was the inciting event that led to the murders in Topanga Canyon, Bel Air and Los Feliz. The motive begins here, even though Crowe didn’t die at Charlie’s hand. It was Manson’s idea to have Tex get money from Rosina and when that plan backfired, led to the theft of $2500 from Bernard Crowe, which prompted Manson to shoot the man, which resulted in two major 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.

The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (including citations from The Myth of Helter Skelter by Susan Atkins-Whitehouse ©2012 Menelorelin Dorenay)

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Charles ‘Tex’ Watson during his 1971 murder trial

The shooting of Bernard ‘Lotsapoppa’ Crowe is really the mitigating incident that leads to the so-called Helter Skelter murders.

Charlie feels forced to shoot Crowe, because Tex has burned the dealer for $2500 — money that the Family needs and cannot return. But Tex handled it so poorly, that Charlie has to take charge. He shoots the man, mistakenly believes that he KILLED HIM and that Crowe was a BLACK PANTHER (neither being true) and believes that the Panthers are going to hunt him down and kill him.

In desperation for money to get out of dodge, Charlie then orders the murder of musician Gary Hinman — a friend of the Family who he believed had recently come into an inheritance. He tells the primary killer (Bobby Beausoleil) to stage the scene after Gary’s death to make it look like black militants (like the Panthers) committed the crime.

But police don’t draw comparisons, based on the evidence, to the Panthers or any other militant group. They have no idea who killed Hinman.

Bobby then stupidly takes Hinman’s car (stolen) for a ride up north, pulls over to take a nap along the 101 and is picked up. The police officer calls in the plates and discovers it is connected to a 187 — a murder. Bobby is booked and charged with the death of Gary Hinman.

The day that Charlie discovers Bobby’s arrest, he orders Tex Watson, Susan Atkins and two others to commit the murders at Sharon Tate’s home.

He specifically selects Watson because of the situation with Crowe. He told him — ‘you owe us, brother’ and pointed out the times that he, Manson, had to clean up Tex’s messes.

It’s a sordid domino effect that leads to the murder of ten innocent people, and the incarceration of several of Charlie’s loyal Family members. But the first domino was the burn of Lotsapoppa.

This article first appeared at MansonFamily.net

Written by

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

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