Episode 2: Crazy Charlie | Young Charlie podcast (Transcript)
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On the morning of August 9, 1969, the bodies of actress Sharon Tate and four other people were discovered at the sprawling Benedict Canyon home of Miss Tate and her husband, film director Roman Polanski. The victims had all been brutally murdered. The next day, the bodies of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were discovered at their home in Los Feliz. They had been murdered in a similar, gruesome fashion.
In 1939, young Charlie Manson‚Äôs mother Kathleen is arrested in Charleston, West Virginia and jailed for robbery. After her release, she is unable to control her son and has him sent to the Gibault School for Boys in Indiana. Charlie runs away after only ten months. Then, after being arrested for burglary, he is given a second chance when a kindly judge sends him to the famous Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska. After just four days, he escapes from there as well.
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Tracy Pattin: Roman Polanski wandered through the house, touching things that should have seemed familiar but now appeared as apparitional features of a waking dream that wouldn‚Äôt end. Sunday, August 17, 1969, was the first time he‚Äôd been to the house on Cielo Drive since the murders eight days earlier. For a long time, he looked down at the bed he‚Äôd shared with his pregnant wife. The pillows were still bunched at the center, something Sharon did when he was away, hugging him in spirit as she drifted off to sleep. In the living room, a large, red stain showed where she died, lying on her side with nothing to comfort her. The filmmaker could imagine the blade driving into her body again and again until there was nothing left of her and the son inside her but ravaged flesh. ‚ÄúWhy?‚Äù he muttered as he walked around the house slowly, ‚ÄúWhy? Why? Why?‚Äù
Following the director were a writer and photographer from Life Magazine there to document his return. Along with them, was Peter Hurkos, a self-styled psychic hired by friends of Jay Sebring on the belief that his ‚Äúreadings‚Äù might aid the police in their search for the killers. He would later inform the press that three men were responsible for the carnage. They were friends of Sharon and had ingested massive doses of LSD, which had turned them into frenzied homicidal maniacs. The murders took place during a black magic ceremony known as ‚ÄúGuna Guna.‚Äù
Though police knew better than to take Hurkos‚Äô gibberish seriously, the press showed little restraint. They described details derived entirely from rumor and fevered speculation, that the house was the site of frequent orgies and drug parties, that Sharon dabbled in the dark arts, that Polanski was somehow involved in the killings.
Roman Polanski: The house is open now. The police has released it and you can see‚Ä¶ You can go and see the orgy place. You‚Äôll see a lot of blood all over the place and baby clothes and that‚Äôs all. I‚Äôm sorry for‚Ä¶
TP: Outraged at the macabre fantasies foisted on the public by an out of control media, the director called a press conference on August 19 to deny the lurid allegations. Some present felt Polanski‚Äôs grief-stricken words were undermined by the exclusive he‚Äôd just given Life Magazine, complete with photo spread of the death house.
From Wondery, I‚Äôm Tracy Pattin with Stephen Lang. Today, Hollywood & Crime presents: Young Charlie. If you‚Äôre joining us for the first time, we recommend you go back and listen to the previous episode. We‚Äôll be waiting for you. Today‚Äôs episode, Crazy Charlie. Here‚Äôs my co-host, Stephen Lang.
Stephen Lang: February 1951. Three 16-year-olds drive down a road outside Beaver, Utah, when one of them points through the windshield at something up ahead. By the time they realize it‚Äôs a roadblock, it‚Äôs too late. Hanging a quick U-turn will have the cops on their tail in no time. The only thing to do is pull over and hope for the best and, for a moment, it seems luck is on their side. Turns out the cops are looking for an adult robbery suspect, not three teenage reformatory runaways. But wouldn‚Äôt you know it? They run a check on the plates anyway. Charlie sighs and gives that little smile of his. He knows what they‚Äôre going to find. Since breaking out of the Indiana School for Boys with Wiley Senteney and Oren Rust, hot-wiring cars has been their preferred mode of getting around. Burglarizing gas stations provided the cash for what they hoped would be a trip to California, at least until now. Looks like Beaver, Utah is about as far as they‚Äôre going to get. Sitting in that car on that cold February day waiting for the cops to find what they‚Äôre going to find, Charlie closes his eyes and relaxes into his fate.
During his three years in Plainfield, he‚Äôs learned a lifetime‚Äôs worth of surviving. From the beginning, he knew he wasn‚Äôt going to make it on his size or strength, but he had a feel for how to play people. Do what you can for those who can help you, do what you want to those who can‚Äôt; and when his way with words wasn‚Äôt enough to protect him from the bigger tougher kids, he‚Äôd start screaming and flapping his arms and bugging his eyes like a crazed wounded animal. Most of the time it worked and the aggressor would back off. When it didn‚Äôt, well, it was just in the way of things that the weak submit to the strong. And if it came to rape, as it often did in places like that, well, you let it happen and you got yourself up and that was the end of it. Something that‚Äôs done to you isn‚Äôt you. Shake it off and move on.
When the police bring the three boys in, it‚Äôs not long before they learn they‚Äôre not going back to Plainfield. Charlie is just fine with that, but when they‚Äôre sent back to Indiana, it‚Äôs to face charges of violating the Dyer Act. Taking a stolen car across state lines is a federal crime and federal time is hard time. Charlie is sent to the National Training School for Boys in Washington, DC and he won‚Äôt be getting out until he turns 21.
TP: On Sunday, August 17, the Los Angeles Times published an in-depth article on the Tate killings under the headline ‚ÄúAnatomy of a Mass Murder in Hollywood.‚Äù Though little was yet know beyond the facts of who had died and how, or perhaps because the lack of information only fueled the public‚Äôs interest, Americans consumed everything they could about the grizzly crime. Garnering far less interest, but equally inexplicable, were the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, whose story appeared on the same page, titled ‚ÄúLA Couple Victims of Slayer Given Final Rites.‚Äù The article noted similarities with the Cielo Drive murders only the night before and that police were working on the assumption that the Los Feliz crime was the work of a copycat killer.
What readers that Sunday might have easily missed was a third, much smaller, article that appeared beside the Tate story. It detailed a crime of vastly different proportions, ‚ÄúPolice Raid Ranch, Arrest 26 Suspects in Auto Theft Ring.‚Äù The piece described how the 26 were living in an abandoned western movie set on an isolated Chatsworth ranch. Sheriff‚Äôs deputies, believing the group was converting stolen Volkswagen‚Äôs into dune buggies, made the arrest in a daybreak raid Saturday. A cache of weapons was also seized. The owner of the ranch, 80-year-old George Spahn, was described as a nearly blind invalid who lived in a house on the property. Deputies said Spahn knew there were people living on his land, but claimed no knowledge of their activities. He said he was afraid of them. No names of the suspects were mentioned. When all 26 were released days later due to a misdated warrant, the Times did not see fit to report it.
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