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I first talked to Star in September 2012, and spoke to Manson on the phone two months later, after which he became increasingly squirrelly about seeing me, some days half-agreeing, some days saying no, some days berating me for being a media stooge. "I only meet people like you when I'm going to rob you. I don't talk to flunkies." When I went to visit Star this past September, Charlie once again made it clear he wouldn't see me. Williams wrote, "We, as a collective culture, looked into Manson's eyes and saw in those dark caves what we most feared within ourselves, the paranoia of what might happen if you go too far.But he changed his mind at the last minute and then, after our initial talk, asked me to come back the next day. He was the monster in the wilderness, the shadow in the night forest, the beast said to lurk in the Terra Incognita beyond the edges of the map." The point is, like that lurking beast, he's always here, always with us.He gave Kasabian immunity – she apparently was not present when any of the murders took place – and with her as his star witness, he was able to sell Helter Skelter not only to the jury but also to the rest of the country.In 1971, the defendants were all found guilty and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life when the state briefly did away with the death penalty.The way Bugliosi saw it, these things were meant to connect the crimes to blacks; the whites would go after the blacks; the blacks would rise up; and the revolution would be joined.
Charlie goes for a candy bar, washing it down with a soda. The girls flocked to his side, starting with librarian Mary Brunner, followed by pixie-cute Lynette Fromme, soon dubbed Squeaky, oversexed Susan Atkins and trust-funder Sandra Good. More than anything, according to Bugliosi, Manson wanted to be a rock star. They lived at Spahn Ranch, a sometime Hollywood backdrop for Westerns where Charlie let it be known he might be Jesus, and everyone treated him as such, which has led to the belief that he had some kind of super-duper hypnotic Svengali-on-blotter hold over the people there. Kids who'd never really had a home before now had one. In Bugliosi's account, Manson got tired of waiting for the war to start, so on August 9th, 1969, he decided to kick-start it by sending former star high school athlete Tex Watson, former Catholic-college student Patricia Krenwinkel, former church-choir singer Susan Atkins and a recent arrival named Linda Kasabian to a house some rich people were living in on Cielo Drive in Los Angeles – a house that Melcher had once rented – with the order to "totally destroy everyone in [it], as gruesome as you can." They were to leave "witchy" signs and portents behind that would make it look like the work of Black Panthers. Or at least no one did say no."I'm the devil and I'm here to do the devil's business," Watson announced upon entering the home.
"Yeah, well, people can think I'm crazy," she likes to say. They do this now, a standard peck and hug, then sit across from each other at a table. "I thought we'd have some popcorn," he says, making his way to a cabinet where inmates sometimes stash food.
The first thing you notice about Manson is the X (later changed to a swastika) he carved into his forehead during his trial, to protest his treatment at the hands of the law, an act that was soon copied by his co-defendants – and, all these years later, by the girl sitting across from him, Star, who recently cut an X into her forehead, too. Despite his age, there's none of that gross old-man stuff about him, no ear hair, no nose hair, no gunk collecting in the corners of his mouth, and his prison-approved blue shirt has not a wrinkle or a food stain on it. The third is how softly he speaks, so different from how he was in TV interviews during the Eighties and Nineties, when, for instance, he angled in on Diane Sawyer in her black turtleneck and pretty earrings, roaring, "I'm a gangster, woman. He bends down, looks inside, moves things and heaves up a great sigh of disappointment."Well," he says.
In California's San Joaquin Valley, about halfway between Bakersfield and Fresno, on the outskirts of the fly-infested, windblown, stink-soaked, dry-mouth town of Corcoran, sits the squat, sprawling expanse of Corcoran State Prison, where Charlie Manson is serving out the rest of a life sentence for his part in the peace-and-love-era-ending Tate-La Bianca slayings of 1969. He doesn't look how he used to look, of course, all resplendent in buckskin fringe, sometimes sporting an ascot or the Technicolor patchwork vest sewn by his girls, with his suave goatee and his mad Rasputin eyes and his fantastical ability to lunge out of his seat at the judge presiding over his trial, pencil at the ready to jam into the old guy's throat, before being subdued and thereby helping to cement a guilty verdict. He walks with a cane and lifts it now, in greeting to his visitors, one of whom is a slender, dark-haired woman he calls Star."Star! Star is 25 years old, comes from a town on the Mississippi River, was raised a Baptist, keeps a tidy home, is a prim dresser, has a fun sense of humor.
He's an old man with a nice head of gray hair but bad hearing, bad lungs, and chipped-and-fractured, prison-dispensed bad dentures. From a raised platform in the room's center, two guards armed with pepper spray and truncheons keep an eye on the couple.
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Watson, 67, is incarcerated in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. I mean, I couldn't get someone to go to the local Dairy Queen and get me a milkshake, OK? Since then, the books and stories have kept on coming.