This is the second in our series about Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins and Leslie ‘Lulu’ Van Houten — identifying exactly what actions they took on the nights that they were later found guilty of murder.
In the last post, we outlined Susan’s actions during the weekend that Gary Hinman was killed. While Susan did not stab Gary, she did do the following:
- 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
As outlined in the book, Gary Hinman was killed in order to appease the Straight Satans — an outlaw motorcycle gang that Charlie befriended and hoped to use as his army, when Helter Skelter went down. Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil bought mescaline from his friend Hinman and sold it to the Straight Satans, who later claimed it was poison.
Gary was stabbed and murdered in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, July 28th, 1969. Bobby stabbed Gary, in part, because Charlie had badly cut Hinman with a cutlass sword (on loan to him from the bikers) and knew that Manson would come after him if Gary told anyone.
The murder scene at 964 Old Topanga Canyon Road, where Gary Hinman was killed. Bobby Beausoleil left the incriminating mark in Gary’s blood to throw suspicions on the Black Panthers.
It took more than two days for anyone to discover Gary’s decomposing body, in his modest Topanga Canyon home. At that point, Charlie got scared. He knew that, while he didn’t kill Hinman, the blame would fall on himself (as a parolee) and he decided to leave Spahn Ranch, where he and the Family were living that summer. Just three weeks before Hinman’s death, Charlie also shot a black drug dealer and believed that he had killed the man. He also believed the drug dealer was a Black Panther and that the entire Black Panther Party was coming for his white ass.
Charlie left on Sunday, August 3rd, heading first to Santa Barbara and then toward Big Sur. He planned to perform at the posh Esalen spa in Big Sur, and while en route met 17-year old Stephanie Schram, who was pregnant and aggravated with her boyfriend. Charlie got Stephanie to leave the other man and join him for his travels. He had told several people back at the ranch that he might be gone for a while — weeks or even months.
In fact, he was gone just three+ days before returning, with Stephanie, to the ranch. They had dinner there on the evening of Wednesday, August 6th and then departed for San Diego in the morning.
They returned in the late morning or early afternoon of Friday, August 8th. That’s when Charlie learned that Bobby Beausoleil had been arrested just days before for the murder of Gary Hinman. Panicked that Bobby might rat him out, and knowing that he had to flee to Death Valley to escape arrest, Charlie then sent Mary Brunner and Sandra Good to buy supplies.
The women bought several items at a Valley-area Sears store using a stolen credit card and were discovered. They tried to flee but the store manager, and then the police, raced after them. They were arrested and transported to Sybil Brand, the women’s jail for Los Angeles County. That night around 11pm, Sandy called the ranch and spoke to Charlie, and he lost his mind.
To throw doubt on Bobby’s suspicions as Hinman’s killer (and therefore, protect himself from being named by Beausoleil as an accomplice), Charlie decided to launch Helter Skelter that night. He gathered three of his longtime followers — Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel, Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins, along with new member Linda Kasabian. Kasabian was allegedly chosen because she was the only person at Spahn Ranch that evening with a valid driver’s license. Charlie gave explicit orders to Watson and told the girls to do what Tex told them, and to “leave something witchy”.
Watson drove Linda, Katie and Sadie to 10050 Cielo Drive — the home that had previously been rented by music producer Terry Melcher and was now rented to film director Roman Polanski and his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate. Polanski was in Europe that summer and Sharon entertained house guests Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski. That night, her ex-boyfriend and longtime friend Jay Sebring was also in attendance.
Watson pulled up at the Benedict Canyon property after midnight. The first person encountered by the killers was 18-year old Stephen Parent — a guest of the caretaker (who lived in a small cottage behind the main residence). Watson slashed Parent with a knife and then shot him several times, leaving his body lying on the front seat of the teen’s car.
They then approached the house. Finding no doorways open, Watson cut open a screen window on what would have been the baby’s nursery, and crept inside. Once inside, he let Sadie and Katie in through the front door.
The details of what occurred in 10050 Cielo in the early mornings of Saturday, August 9th, have been written about exhaustively, including in ‘The Manson Family: More to the Story’ so I will refrain from repeating the blow-by-blow here. However, by the time the killers left the property, five people were dead. Parent lay in his car. Folger and Frykowski lay on the front law. Sebring and Tate lay on the floor of the living room.
Three months later, in November 1969, Susan was in jail at Sybil Brand on charges stemming from the Hinman investigation. We don’t know exactly what she was thinking, but she has written that she felt intimidated by the other women and (based on advice she’d received from Charlie) decided to scare them by making them think she was something worse than she was. She spoke to numerous women, giving lurid and shocking details about the night that Sharon Tate and her friends were killed. Two of those women ultimately went to the authorities and reported Susan and the Family, leading to their indictments in December 1969.
But we know that what Susan told the women was only partially true. We know this because Tex Watson has verified Susan’s later statements that she told them a bunch of bullshit — verification that further implicated Watson, to give some perspective.
But on August 9th, this is what we know Susan did:
- Criminal trespass (entering the gated property at 10050 Cielo Drive with intent to do harm)
- Kidnapping (demanding that Folger, Tate and Sebring come out of their bedrooms and down to the living room, while she held a knife on them)
- Theft (taking $79 from Abigail Folger)
- Criminal restraint (tying Wojciech’s hands behind him with a towel)
- Attempted murder (stabbing Frykowski several times in the legs — ultimately he wrestled her and broke free and fled out the front door, where he was chased by Tex Watson who stabbed and shot him, killing the man)
- Entrapment (holding Sharon Tate in the living room waiting for Watson to come and kill the woman)
- Terrorism (obviously the events of that night were deliberately intended to scare the victims, but in particular Sharon who had to watch all her friends die while waiting to be killed herself — some of the things that Susan told Sharon were particularly callous and blood-thirsty like ‘I have no mercy on you’ and ‘Shut up you bitch, you’re going to die’)
- Defacement (writing the word ‘Pig’ in Sharon’s blood on the front door of the house)
Again, as in the case of the murder of Gary Hinman, Susan contributed to the death of these five individuals but she did not actually kill anyone. Being criminally responsible for murder is different than committing murder, although sometimes they will hold the same legal implications.
Susan Atkins did not actually stab Sharon Tate, despite her later claims. She did stab Wojciech Frykowski but he did not die directly from her wounds. She also did hold a pillow over Gary Hinman’s head, when he was stabbed by Bobby Beausoleil, although that too did not directly lead to his death.
Once the grand jury had concluded and Susan, Manson, Krenwinkel, Watson and Kasabian were indicted for their roles in the Tate murders (along with Leslie Van Houten, for the LaBianca murders) Susan tried to take back her lurid and false claims. But nobody believed her. She was found guilty of murder, sentenced to death in the gas chamber and later had her sentence commuted to life in prison. During her first decade in prison, Susan found Jesus and became a born-again Christian. Later, she converted to Roman Catholicism. But at parole hearings, she often was overly emotional, almost over-dramatic as she attempted to put a good face on and win herself the freedom she believed she deserved.
The truth is that Susan Atkins did not actually murder anyone. People died, in part, because of her actions but she did not kill any of the Manson Family victims. This author believes that Susan truly felt that accepting Christ would not only save her soul, but help her reveal the truth to parole boards and others.
It’s an important lesson in telling the truth. Once you tell a lie, no matter how many times you tell us the truth later, we’ll always remember the lie and we’ll continue to believe it.
In the next blog, we’ll talk about Leslie’s role in the LaBianca murders — what she did, and didn’t do.