They Wanted to Free Charles Manson

the story of the Hawthorne Army-Surplus Shootout

Image for post
Image for post
Two members of the Manson Family on their way to trial

Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Bobby Beausoleil, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were all convicted of first degree murder between 1970–1971, each were sentenced to die. Other trials were ongoing that would later convict three more members of this bloodthirsty gang.

But several members of Manson’s so-called Family were free. Most still supported Charlie and his codefendants and some were willing to go to any lengths to try to free their leader.

On this day 49 years ago, members of the Manson Family committed armed robbery in an attempt to free Charlie.

Charlie had served several years in prison and claimed that it was the only place he really felt like home. But after Charlie was sent to death row, he was terrified.

“When Manson was found guilty, it was reported that he was greatly depressed over impending transfer to death row. Maybe he was projecting his own hostilities over to potential black cellmates, but the story is that he felt in danger because of the racial issues… {he} was seen practicing karate in the holding tank, preparing in case Black Muslims… attacked him on the row at San Quentin… Not only had he planned a race war but he had been convicted of ordering the death of a pregnant woman. Manson… negotiated with the anti-black, all white prison society known as the Aryan Brotherhood to protect him.” — “The Squeaky Fromme Story” by Ed Sanders ©March 1976 OUI magazine

Image for post
Image for post
Charles Manson carved an X in his forehead during the Tate/LaBianca trials. During sentencing he transformed the X into a swastika. Later, after he was sentenced to death row he made the swastika permanent with a tattoo

The Aryan Brotherhood is a whites-only prison gang, affiliated with the Aryan Nation — a Neo-Nazi, white supremacist organization operating throughout the U.S. The Aryan Brotherhood (AB) is involved in many criminal activities within the penal system, including the targeting and murder of black and Latino prisoners.

In exchange for their protection, Manson promised that his women would befriend AB members in prison, sending them masturbatory photos of themselves. Those women also would indenture themselves to AB members once released from jail.

One member of the Aryan Brotherhood was actually scheduled to testify at Manson’s trial for the murders of Gary Hinman and Donald Shea. Kenneth Como was recommended by the Aryan Brotherhood, as a strong candidate to help organize the Family in Manson’s absence. Manson corresponded secretly with Como but had not met the younger man before agreeing to the AB’s terms.

Como aka Curly was serving time on unrelated matters. As a named witness in a murder trial, he was transported to Los Angeles where he promptly escaped, fleeing authorities. It was all a ruse — the plan was for Como to break Manson out of the courtroom but Como never made it that far.

He was picked up just outside the Hall of Records by members of Manson’s Family.

“Manson must have thought it was tactically smart to join forces with the Aryan Brotherhood, because in addition to his personal safety, he could keep track of wobbling followers on the outside. The move turned out to be a great blunder, however, because… the Aryan Brotherhood (particularly Kenneth Como) was subsequently able to split the remnants of the Manson group into two bitter factions.” — “The Squeaky Fromme Story” by Ed Sanders ©March 1976 OUI magazine

Kenneth Como now led the Manson Family but he had an ambitious partner in Dennis Rice. Rice, a self-described anarchist, joined the Family the summer before after he saw footage of Manson on the news and was intrigued. He said that he thought that the Tate/LaBianca murders might ‘set off a revolution in America.’ He visited Charlie in jail, and then moved himself and his four young children to Spahn Ranch.

On August 21st, Como and Dennis Rice led Gypsy, Mary, Little Larry (true name Lawrence Giddings) and Chuck Lovett (aka Chuckleberry) to the Western Surplus store in Hawthorne, California. This was an Army/Navy retailer which stocked weapons of many calibers. There, they held up staff and customers at gunpoint and gathered more than 140 rifles, to be used (ostensibly) to break Manson out of prison. But someone tripped a silent alarm, bringing police to the scene. A shootout began and when it was over, both Mary and Gypsy were wounded and everyone was arrested with the exception of 19-year old Lovett, who managed to flee, undetected (he was found a few weeks later).

Image for post
Image for post
A newspaper article about the Hawthorne shootout

The robbers planned to steal the rifles, use them to break Manson out of jail then hijack a plane to fly him out of the country. They also robbed a beer store in Covina a week earlier, making off with $2600 in cash.

Image for post
Image for post
The van used in the Hawthorne shootout, riddled with bullet holes

HAWTHORNE, Calif., Aug. 23 — “At least three of five armed suspects captured after a shootout that accompanied the attempted robbery of a Hawthorne war surplus store have been identified as members of Charles Manson’s hippie-cult ‘family’, Hawthorne police said Sunday.

The 20-minute gun battle at the Western Surplus Store, 13423 Hawthorne Blvd., that left three of the suspects seriously wounded, erupted at about 9 p.m. Saturday. No police were injured…

The possibility that several of those arrested were members of the Manson cult came to light when one of the two women suspects wounded in the gun battle said she was Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share, 18, of Glendale.

The other wounded woman, who first gave her name as ‘Jerry Sherwin’ then was identified as Mary Brunner, 26, wanted on a warrant for failure to appear as a witness in the Shea-Hinman case.

This is the case in which the 36-year-old Manson, 20-year-old Steve Grogan, and 27-year-old Bruce Davis are on trial in connection with the slayings of movie stuntman Donald ‘Shorty” Shea and musician Gary Hinman.

The male suspect wounded in the gun battle, who told police he was ‘Joseph Jones’ was identified as Lawrence Edward Bailey, 22, no known address. There was a possibility he was a member of the Manson family known as ‘Larry Jones’. The two other suspects captured were Kenneth Como, 31, and Dennis Rice, 29.

Como escaped from a holding facility at the Old Hall of Records last July 23 as he was waiting to testify in court on the Shea-Hinman case. He had been returned to Los Angeles from Folsom Prison, where he was serving a term for robbery.

Rice was a Manson family member who served a short jail term along with Miss Share after they pleaded no contest to charges of feeding a witness in the Tate-LaBianca trial a hamburger laced with LSD.

Miss Share testified during the penalty phase of the Tate-LaBianca trial as a defense witness for the Manson cult.

The suspect who escaped was believed to be Charles Lovette, 19-year-old. member of the Manson family. He has short brown hair, brown eyes, a goatee, and an ‘X’ marked on his forehead.

Miss Share, Miss Brunner and Bailey were taken to the jail ward at County-USC Medical Center. Como and Rice were held at Hawthorne police station, Miss Share was wounded in the left side and back and Miss Brunner suffered a hand wound. Bailey’s kneecap was shattered by gunfire.

Officers said four men and a woman entered the store armed with pistols and a shotgun. They forced two women customers and three male employees to lie on the floor while they gathered up about 200 guns to be carried out to a van waiting in the alley with a woman driver.

One of the employees managed to trigger a silent alarm which brought about 30 officers from Hawthorne, El Segundo, Redondo Reach, and the Lennox Sheriff’s Station.

When the suspects saw the officers surround the store they opened fire. One police car was riddled with 33 bullet holes.” — “Manson Cultists Captured After Blazing Gun Battle” by Stan Leppard, Monday, August 23rd, 1971 © Los Angeles Times

Dennis Rice, Kenneth Como and Lawrence Giddings arrive at trial for the Hawthorne shootout

All six were sentenced to their role in the Hawthorne Shootout. Mary and Gypsy actually served their time at the California Institute for Women in Frontera, where the three women convicted of the Tate/LaBianca murders were incarcerated.

Image for post
Image for post
Mary Brunner, Susan Atkins and Catherine Share while serving at Frontera

Charles Manson was spared the death penalty in 1972 when the California Supreme Court (temporarily) abolished the death penalty. He served the rest of his life in prison. He died in 2017 from colon cancer.

You can read about other Family-related connections here:

And read about another Family member here:

H. Allegra Lansing is author of the true crime book The Manson Family; More to the Story (published 2019)

Written by

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store