- This story was first posted at themansonfamily.net
In this blog series, we’re going to examine the crimes of Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins and Leslie ‘Lulu’ Van Houten — specifically, what they did and didn’t do in terms of the murders they were convicted of.
These are issues that should have specific merit when it comes to their parole attempts. Prisons have four major purposes: Retribution (punishing those who commit crimes), Incapacitation (preventing dangerous criminals from harming others), Deterrance (a warning to others not to commit similar crimes) and Rehabilitation (helping criminals become less dangerous). Therefore, the prison experience should include an attempt to help make the prisoner better able to function in society, should they be released. Prison should be both a punitive and a redemptive experience for even the worst of offenders. That means that the prisoner must be honest and forthright about what they did during their capital crimes, in order to participate in the parole process as well as working to rehabilitative themselves.
The Manson Family all tend to be lumped together, in terms of culpability and amorality, by the public and even by the justice system. But there are vast differences between the behaviors of Charles Manson, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, Steve Grogan, Bruce Davis, etc. This blog series is going to focus on two of those defendants — Susan Atkins (aka Sadie Mae Glutz) and Leslie Van Houten (aka Lulu).
Saturday, July 26, 1969
That weekend was the anniversary of the Straight Satans, an outlaw biker gang affiliated with the Hells Angels. Charlie met several members of the Straight Satans in early 1969, just as the Family were preparing to return to Spahn Ranch (a dilapidated 500-acre horse ranch and former movie backdrop in Chatsworth, California). Charlie was especially impressed with how organized the bikers were, and their vast knowledge of guns.
Just a few months before, while listening to the Beatles’ White Album (released November 1968), Charlie had experienced something of a revelation. He believed that the album contained hidden messages pertaining to himself and his Family. The song ‘Helter Skelter’, in particular, had special meaning for Manson. It consolidated a belief he’d had for some time about race relations. He believed that there was a race war coming, between black and whites. Hearing the White Album, suddenly his vision was crystal clear. a war between the blacks and the whites was coming very soon, cities would be in flames and death and destruction would be all around. The black people had been down so long, he surmised, it must be their turn to Rise. He imagined that he and his Family would escape the coming conflagration by escaping back to Death Valley and he further imagined them hiding in a crystal cavern beneath the desert. There, they would not only survive during the war, they would thrive — with magical troves of food and water, and growing in number to 144,000 — a number taken from Revelations in the Bible. Eventually, the black victors would realize that they lacked leadership skills and, according to Charlie, they would come to him in the desert and beg him to come out of hiding and take over leadership of the world.
In early 1969, Charlie began telling several of his followers about this vision, which he now called ‘Helter Skelter’, in homage to the song. When he met the Straight Satans, Manson began to imagine them as his army. He would need protection, to escape the infernos of Los Angeles, and he pictured the bikers surrounding him and helping him and the Family make their escape to Death Valley. So, to court the Straight Satans, he went to great lengths to appease them. He paid off several traffic tickets for Straight Satans member George Knoll. He let treasurer Danny DeCarlo and DeCarlo’s 10-month old son Dennis stay at Spahn Ranch. And he pimped out the women to the bikers. Many of the bikers weren’t too keen on Charlie but they were happy to party at Spahn Ranch and enjoy the ladies. Charlie, in turn, hated that the bikers both used speed and dealt it but he knew he would need them when Helter Skelter went down, so he turned over the girls and bit his tongue.
“He thought the Straight Satans would be an army for us… He used the girls to attract them.”
— Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share from the documentary “Manson” ©2009 The History Channel
Bobby Beausoleil, an erstwhile member of the Manson Family, and a musician that Charlie befriended more than a year before, also was impressed with the Straight Satans. He and his pregnant girlfriend Kitty Lutesinger had just moved to Spahn Ranch six weeks before. Bobby decided that he wanted to get himself invited to the Straight Satans upcoming anniversary celebration, in Venice Beach. So he went to Danny DeCarlo and offered to broker a deal to buy mescaline for them. He had a friend, Gary Hinman, who was a chemist and fellow musician and who lived in Topanga Canyon. Gary made mescaline, in his spare time, using pure peyote. Bobby told DeCarlo that he could score them some mescaline — he just needed the cash up front. Since DeCarlo was the club treasurer, he was able to approve the release of either $1,000 or $2,000 (there are differing accounts). Most of the drugs would go to the bikers themselves, to enjoy on the night of their party (Friday, July 25th) and some of the drugs would be sold to other customers.
So, Bobby took the money and went to Hinman’s and bought the mescaline. Because Gary was such a good, generous friend, he also agreed to give a little extra mescaline to Bobby, for the Family to enjoy, with the promise to pay him back later. Bobby brought the mescaline to the bikers (saving the portion that the Family intended to use) and thought the matter was done.
It was not. The next morning, Saturday July 26th, three Straight Satans rode onto the Spahn Ranch property, angry as hell and looking for Beausoleil. They claimed the drugs were bad. They said they were poisoned by them, and some of their customers were too.
According to Manson,
“They wanted their money back. Bobby told them to give him the unused mescaline and he would return it to his connection and then give their money back… The three guys fired up their bikes and pulled out of the yard, saying they wanted to hear from us the next day. Bobby and I discussed the validity of their complaint. None of our group had gotten sick, but we weren’t sure if we had used the same batch. The only thing to do was to go talk to Gary about it. I got Gary on the phone and told him what was going on. Gary said he didn’t see how the stuff could have been bad, he hadn’t had any complaints from anyone else. Bring the stuff back and he would take a look at it. When I told him there wasn’t anything to bring back, he said ‘Hell, Charlie, I can’t buy that, it’s not good business.’ He was right, I wouldn’t have gone for it myself, but Bobby and I were in a cross and neither of us had two thousand we wanted to hand over to the bikers.”
— Charles Manson quoted in “Manson: In His Own Words” as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
All of this is a long preamble to explaining why Bobby Beausoleil went back to Gary Hinman’s in the late afternoon that Saturday, July 26th. It didn’t matter to Charlie that he believed Hinman’s account that the drugs probably weren’t bad and it would be bad business to give back the money. It was more important that he keep the bikers happy. Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins joined Bobby. According to Susan,
“Manson chose to send Mary Brunner and me along as well. This is probably partly because Gary Hinman knew both Mary and me, and he would be comfortable with us. But I’m convinced it was also because Mary and I both had infant sons back at Spahn’s Ranch — sons who could be used to prevent us from going to the police if anything happened.”
— “The Myth of Helter Skelter” by Susan Atkins-Whitehouse ©2012 Menelorelin Dorenay
What happened next has been fairly well documented. Bruce Davis drove Bobby, Mary and Susan to Hinman’s place at 964 Old Topanga Canyon Road. Danny DeCarlo was also in the car and, as they approached the property, DeCarlo handed Beausoleil a gun. Bobby already had a knife on him, as well. He, Mary and Susan got out of the car and DeCarlo and Davis drove away. Bobby waited near the property while Susan and Mary knocked on the door. They found Gary home and entered — seemingly, friends there for a social visit. Once Susan determined that Gary was alone, she (following Bobby’s orders) went to the kitchen window and lit a match, a signal to Beausoleil that it was safe to come inside. Bobby entered, and immediately began arguing with Gary about the allegedly tainted drugs. Gary again denied that the mescaline was bad. Bobby told Gary to give him back the money. He upped the ante — he didn’t just want the $1,000 or $2,000 back — he wanted $20,000. Another Family member (Ella Jo Bailey) thought she’d overheard that Hinman had come into a recent inheritance (he had not). Gary and Bobby continued to argue, and all four were in the kitchen (Bobby, Hinman, Mary and Susan). Bobby got angry and assaulted Gary. He hit his friend in the face with the butt of the gun, breaking a tooth. Then, Bobby gave the gun to Susan while he continued fighting Hinman.
Gary managed to get the gun away from Susan briefly, before Bobby fought him for it. This continued for some time. Eventually, Mary picked up the phone and called Spahn Ranch and asked to speak to Charlie. She told him that Bobby was in trouble, that Gary was being difficult. Manson responded by going to Gary’s house, again driven by Bruce Davis.
At Hinman’s, Charlie and Bruce entered and saw that Bobby still did not have the situation under control. Susan was also in the living room and Mary was in the kitchen. Bruce Davis held a gun on Gary, while Charlie threatened the man.
“To scare Gary and show Bobby how to take care of the situation, Charlie drew the sword and brought it down on Gary’s face, slicing through his upper left ear, severing it partially from his temple. Blood gushed out and Hinman fell to the floor. Charlie also cut his own hand and rushed into the kitchen for Mary’s help.”
— “The Manson Family: More to the Story’ by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
Charlie and Bruce then left the property, leaving Bobby, Susan and Mary with a bleeding Hinman, and taking one of Gary’s cars (a red FIat) and a set of bagpipes with them.
It was now Saturday night. Gary was bleeding profusely from his ear wound and still refusing to return any money or provide new drugs to Beasoleil. The trio — Bobby, Mary and Susan — continued trying to plead with Hinman, who stopped responding. He was badly hurt and in a lot of pain. The women encouraged him to sleep. One of the three stayed awake, taking turns through the night, while Gary rested.
In the early morning, Susan left the house and walked to a nearby store where she looked for items that could stitch back Gary’s ear. She found only dental floss and a needle, purchased those and came back to Old Topanga Canyon Road. She managed to stitch the top of his ear back, but Gary was deeply afraid and still in pain.
“Once, someone called the house looking for Hinman. Sadie answered, using a phony British accent and told the caller he wasn’t home.
As she wrote, ‘After a couple days it became obvious that Gary certainly didn’t have any money. Bobby was on the phone several times in heated discussions with Manson, but I never knew what they were talking about’.”
— From “The Manson Family: More to the Story’ by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
All that day, Sunday July 27th, Bobby tried to reason with Gary. But his friend wouldn’t budge. By late Sunday night, the only thing Bobby had managed to do was get Hinman to sign over the pink slips to both of his cars. Mary and Susan napped. Gary tried to sleep. But sometime that night, he asked one of the three if they would please take him to a hospital. Bobby knew that if Hinman received medical attention, he would also potentially report this as a crime. Bobby had hit, punched and pistol-whipped Gary, and broke his tooth, but Manson had done worse damage, cutting Gary.
Bobby knew that Charlie would kill him if he allowed Gary to tell anyone what happened. For that reason (and more), Bobby killed his friend Gary Hinman. He stabbed him twice in the chest, in Gary’s bedroom. Gary fell down but did not die. It was late Sunday night or early Monday morning (predawn hours).
Believing that Gary would die soon, Bobby asked the women to get rid of evidence around the house. Susan and Mary both cleaned the house, wiping down doorhandles and finger prints. At some point, they placed Gary’s Buddhist prayer beads in his hands, so he could pray in his faith. He was still alive although barely hanging on. At this point, both women took turns holding a pillow over the man’ face, waiting for him to cease breathing.
When they believed he was dead, the three left the house. But just as they were closing the door, Susan thought she heard a noise inside and told Bobby. He re-entered the home, went to Gary’s bedroom and discovered that Hinman was still, miraculously, alive. He then stabbed Gary once more, finally killing the musician. As he prepared to leave, he daubed his hand in Gary’s blood, made the mark of a bloody paw print on the living room wall (implicating the Black Panthers) and wrote the words ‘Political Piggy’ below it.
After the murder, Bobby drove off in Hinman’s VW Beetle with Susan and Mary. The three went to a diner and ate coffee cake, before driving back to Spahn Ranch.
Mary testified against Bobby during his 1970 trial and won immunity for her role. That immunity was overturned when she perjured herself during the penalty phase, however she was never prosecuted for the death of Gary Hinman.
Bobby Beausoleil, Charles Manson and Bruce Davis were each convicted of murder in the death of Gary Hinman.
Susan Atkins was also convicted of murder for the death of Hinman. To be clear, here is what she was responsible for that terrible weekend:
- Aiding and abetting a crime: by entering Gary’s home and signalling to Bobby that Hinman was alone and therefore, encouraging a crime to commence
- Holding the gun on Gary while he fought with Bobby
- Failing to call for help for an injured man
- False imprisonment — keeping Gary there against his will
- Impersonation — pretending to be someone else when a phone call came in for Gary and not alerting the callers that he was in danger
- Cleaning up a crime scene and tampering with evidence
- Attempted murder — holding the pillow over Gary’s face
- The commission of a crime during a murder — the theft of Gary’s car and other items
Mary was also guilty of most of these crimes as well, but again, she was not prosecuted. Susan also, notably, did try to help Gary when she hitchhiked to the store to buy thread to stitch his ear back.
In the next post, we’ll talk about Susan’s activities on the night of August 9th, when five people were murdered at Cielo Drive.