The story of Manson Family member Kitty Lutesinger

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Kathryn Rene ‘Kitty’ Lutesinger

During July-August 1969, members of a cult led by charismatic ex-convict Charles Manson murdered ten people, including the unborn baby of slain actress Sharon Tate. But police had no idea who the perpetrators were for several months, even though they had ample reason to suspect the Manson Family.

But police had been talking with 17-year old Kitty Lutesinger, boyfriend of a man the police had arrested on suspicion of the first murder (Gary Hinman, a musician friend of the Family) and it was through Kitty that investigators for the Tate/LaBianca murders finally solved their cases.

Kathryn Rene Lutesinger was born August 14, 1952. Her parents, Bud and Mary, owned a horse ranch in San Carlos, California up in San Mateo County, and later moved with their children to Northridge, in the Los Angeles area.

Kathryn was fond of animals and later nicknamed ‘Kitty’. She was a strawberry-blonde with lots of freckles and a tanned, Malibu-Barbie spunkiness.

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Like many teens of that era, Kitty began to have trouble with her parents. In the spring of 1969, she left home and through Gregg Jakobson, a talent scout who was best friends with Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson, Kitty was introduced to musician Bobby Beausoleil.

Bobby, who was born in Santa Barbara, California, was six years older than his new girlfriend and quite the ladies’ man. The previous summer, he had a small role in a low-budget soft-core porn film (Ramrodder) filmed at Spahn Ranch and he had three girlfriends in a polyamorous situation. Two of those women (Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share and Leslie ‘Lulu’ Van Houten) went to live at Spahn Ranch with Charles Manson and his Family. The other girlfriend, Gayle Massman, was in San Francisco when Bobby met Kitty.

Bobby met Charles Manson a few months before his job brought him to Spahn Ranch, at a party in Topanga Canyon at the start of the year. The two men enjoyed playing music together, and Bobby introduced Manson to his benefactor, Gary Hinman, a musician, chemist and devout Buddhist who often generously helped the Manson Family.

Charles Manson had a large number of young women and teen girls around him, but he really wanted more men. So acquiring Gypsy and Lulu was important to him, because he was very fond of Bobby and believed that through these two women, particularly Leslie Van Houten, Bobby would ‘join’ his growing cult. But Bobby wasn’t really a joiner. He was independent, egotistical and hard to pin down. Charlie often berated Leslie for her failure to keep Bobby with them.

Shortly after Kitty met Bobby, he Bobby learned that Gayle was expecting his baby. And in May 1969, Kitty also got pregnant.

Bobby was working with Jakobson and Melcher on a film soundtrack. He didn’t like the idea of his girlfriend being alone while he was working. Kitty was newly pregnant when Bobby brought her to Spahn the first time. Charlie had issues with her right away. He claimed that she looked like his mother… Charlie believed that Bobby was being pulled away from the Family by Kitty. He wanted Beausoleil with Leslie Van Houten, and held Bobby’s wandering against Leslie, as though she were responsible for keeping him and failed. At her 2016 parole hearing, Leslie said, “He wanted me always to get Bobby to come back. Or when Bobby stopped by that I would be with Bobby.” Despite his misgivings, Charlie let Bobby and Kitty move to Spahn Ranch on June 1st. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including quote from Leslie Van Houten, from her 2016 parole hearing)

Charlie’s issues with Kitty made her uncomfortable though, and by late July she was begging Bobby to leave Spahn Ranch.

Instead, Bobby got involved in a drug deal on behalf of a biker gang he was courting (the Straight Satans, who Manson also saw as a potential ‘army’ when Helter Skelter — the race war he prophesized — went down). He bought at least $1000 of mescaline from his friend Gary Hinman, the chemist, and the next day several bikers rode onto Spahn Ranch, beat Bobby up, claimed the drugs were poisoned, and threatened him to get their money back. That weekend, Bobby Beausoleil murdered Hinman, with help from Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Mary Brunner and others.

Kitty allegedly did not know about the murder of Gary Hinman, but she was growing more discontented at Spahn Ranch.

On July 30th, Charlie threatened to cut Kitty and she ran away. According to Ed Sanders, “Frank Retz… was on the property north and west of the Spahn Ranch at the very moment that Kitty made her move to escape… Mr. Retz had driven to the property with the then current owner, a Mrs. Kelly, in order to negotiate purchase of the land. Just minutes previously, they had stormed in on the back ranch… and demanded that Manson and the others leave the premises. When Mr. Retz and Mrs. Kelly returned to his car they discovered that it had been robbed of Mrs. Kelly’s pocketbook. Right at that time, Miss Lutesinger ran through the brush and asked for protection from Manson. Retz drove Miss Lutesinger to a police station and she was transported by police officers to her parents’ horse ranch. After returning home, Miss Lutesinger was very afraid and kept all doors to her parents’ house locked for several days because Charlie, she said, had told her he would kill her mother and sister if she left the ranch. She refused to answer the phone, even when Bobby called to say he was going to San Francisco.”

Bobby’s ex-girlfriend Gayle had just delivered a baby boy. Bobby was leaving in a few days to drive north, to see his new son. But he never made it to San Francisco.

That Wednesday, Kitty had her first conversation with the police. She told them that she was worried for herself and her family — that Manson threatened to kill them. She had no idea that her boyfriend had just committed murder, even though she was at Spahn Ranch the weekend before.

The following day, Gary’s body was found by friends. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including quote from The Family by Ed Sanders ©2002 Thunder’s Mouth Press)

(Frank Retz was a neighbor of Spahn Ranch owner George Spahn, and in negotiation to purchase a large portion of Spahn Ranch.)

After Hinman’s body was found, Charlie left Spahn Ranch, intending to be gone perhaps several weeks. Instead, he met a 17-year old girl during his travels and hooked up with her, and brought her back to Spahn Ranch on Friday, August 8th. When he arrived, he learned terrible news: Bobby had been arrested two days before and charged with murder.

Knowing that Bobby might place him (Manson) at the scene of the crime, Charlie decided to create a distraction — he decided to create copycat killings that would make it look like the cops had the wrong suspect and free Beausoleil. He specifically wanted the murders to be pinned on black people, so white people would retaliate and start Helter Skelter, the race war. Those killings (August 9/10) became known as the Tate/LaBianca (or Helter Skelter) murders. The murders took place in Benedict Canyon on Cielo Drive and the next night, on Waverly Drive in Los Feliz.

After Kitty Lutesinger fled Spahn Ranch on July 30th, she was visited by Deputy Sheriff William Gleason of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office. Gleason was investigating reports of auto theft at the ranch. He’d compiled a dossier of information about Manson and the Family and first met Kitty when Frank Retz dropped her off at the police station. Gleason went to the Lutesingers’ ranch on August 10, to interview her. Kitty told him about the auto thefts, drugs and guns, stolen credit cards plus the underage runaways living at Spahn Ranch. Gleason looked up Manson’s record and discovered the statutory rape arrest on June 4th. He realized that he was dealing with more than just a thieving group of hippies. But he needed a few more days to arrange to bring them into custody.

Kitty was unaware that Bobby had been arrested for Gary’s murder, but had seen the news reports about Cielo Drive and Los Feliz and she asked Gleason whether the Black Panthers killed Sharon Tate! “He replied that it didn’t appear that any blacks were involved. ‘I had been programmed to believe it was the Panthers who did it,’ Kitty recalled.”

She didn’t know that the Family were the real culprits, but if she had explained Helter Skelter to the sheriff, perhaps the killers might have popped up on the radar. Certainly, if she had mentioned the words ‘Helter Skelter’, wouldn’t this have connected them to Waverly Drive?

After her interview that day, Kitty went incommunicado for two months. She was about to return to Spahn Ranch. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including quote from The Family by Ed Sanders ©2002 Thunder’s Mouth Press

On Friday, August 15th, Kitty called Spahn Ranch and asked someone to please pick her up from her parents’ home — she was fighting with them and wanted to leave again. Gypsy and Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins arrived and right there on the Lutesinger’s driveway, the cut half of Kitty’s hair off. They told her all the women were doing it, and donating the hair to Manson.

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Kitty during her August 16th arrest, with her hair shorn

During the nighttime hours, more than 100 law enforcement officers raided Spahn Ranch, searching for evidence of auto theft and other crimes. The members of the Manson Family were arrested along with several others, but eventually released two days later due to an administrative error with the warrant.

A week later, members of the Family killed another victim, a Spahn Ranch hand named Donald ‘Shorty’ Shea. They then fled to Death Valley, Kitty with them. Meanwhile, Kitty’s mother Mary reported the teen as a runaway with local police.

The situation in Death Valley was even more tense and controlling than it had been in Spahn Ranch. First, she learned that Bobby was in jail for murder and heard some of the details from Susan Atkins herself. Then, every night, Charlie spewed his hateful sermons about Helter Skelter and murder and violence and manipulation, and once, poor pregnant Kitty fell asleep during the middle of his tirade. He punched her in the face.

She decided to run away and she and another pregnant 17-year old fled during the night, in the middle of the desert. They didn’t get far: police arrived in the early dawn to arrest the Family (this time on arson charges) and Kitty and Stephanie Schram crept out and begged for their help.

Investigators on the Hinman homicide team wanted to talk to Kitty — they knew that one or two women had been with Bobby at Gary’s home during the murder and wanted to question her. She told them that Susan and Mary were there and they went to the desert to bring Susan in (Mary was in Wisconsin with her parents and her son at that time).

Susan admitted her role in Hinman’s death and was transported to Sybil Brand, the main women’s jail for Los Angeles County.

But the Tate and LaBianca homicide investigation teams didn’t know that their crimes were connected, or that the Manson Family was involved. They finally learned this with a string of events that began with Kitty, at juvenile hall, talking to detectives. She mentioned that Susan said she repeatedly stabbed a victim in the legs.

Gary Hinman, investigators knew, had not been stabbed in the legs. But Cielo Drive victim Wojciech Frykowski, had.

In December 1969, a grand jury indicted six members of the Manson Family for the Tate/LaBianca murders. In early 1970, Bobby Beausoleil was tried and found guilty of first degree murder for Hinman’s death. Kitty, who had just given birth to Bobby’s daughter two months before, was distraught.

Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi had planned to have Kitty testify during the upcoming trial against Manson, Atkins, Van Houten and another defendant (Patricia Krenwinkel) but Kitty must have been getting pressured by the Family to support them. Charlie knew that she had snitched before and now, she had a baby to protect.

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Kitty during the trials

Kitty returned to the Family, and supported them during the trial. She was seen with the other women protesting near the courthouse. She even carved that horrible X in her forehead and then shaved her head bald, after the death sentences were issued against Manson the others.

After the trials, her parents were raising her daughter and Kitty remained in support of the remnants of the Manson Family. She assisted in the jailbreak of potential witness Kenneth Como (a member of the racist Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, who broke out of jail and then took over leadership of the Family) and married Veldon Goucher, the brother of another Aryan Brotherhood member who, along with two friends, killed a married couple that were friends of several Manson women.

Kitty divorced Veldon a year or two later, got custody of her daughter back, married a man named Frank in 1978, became a step-mother to his children, and then divorced Frank in 1984. During those years, she was charged with credit card fraud but never sentenced.

In the past several decades, Kitty worked as a school administrator and lived in several states including North Carolina. Today, she lives in Colorado and is retired. Her daughter (daughter of Bobby Beausoleil) is an animal rights activist and stay-at-home mother.

Kitty knew how dangerous Manson and other members of his Family were, and it’s kind of understandable that she would side with them during the trial — she had lost Bobby, their infant daughter was at risk, and we know the lengths the Family went to silence anyone who might speak against them.

Learn about another member of the Manson Family here:

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series.

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