Like Forrest Gump, I seem to be placed in historic moments. In the wee hours of the morning of Aug. 11, 1969, the Los Angeles Police stopped my travel companions and me. We were on our way out of town in my 1948 Cadillac hearse. It was the morning after the LaBianca murders, and just two days beyond the Sharon Tate massacre.
They searched the 22-foot-long vehicle and checked out its hirsute occupants. At the time, we had no idea why they had stopped us. They released us, to continue on our way to, oh yeah, Woodstock.
Our path through history had also taken us through Eureka, California the morning the Apollo 11 crew took their first giant step for mankind just a month earlier. My post “Moon Landing is Backdrop to Song” captures the irony of that moment.
Actually, we all seem to be reliving these events as 40th anniversaries abound. But this post isn’t my “On the Road” chronicle. It’s about the Manson clan and their quest for freedom.
My take is simple: no. No parole. No freedom. No leniency. Not for Susan Atkins. Not for Leslie Van Houten.
I’ve never been big on the death penalty, but I’m sorry the Manson team wasn’t fried. Their original death sentences were commuted to life behind bars, when the Supreme Court struck down death penalty laws in 1972. Consequently, now the families of Sharon Tate, her murdered friends and the LaBiancas must suffer the pain of further hearings, of impassioned pleas for mercy from the famous and the infamous, and of the possibility that one or more of the clan — specifically Atkins and Van Houten — could be set free.
True, Atkins, 61, is paralyzed and has terminal brain cancer. According to CNN, in her 1993 parole board hearing, Atkins said Tate:
asked me to let her baby live. … I told her I didn’t have any mercy on her.
But, according to Time.com (Time Warner owns CNN), Atkins really said:
Look bitch, I don’t care about you. I don’t care if you are having a baby. You are going to die and I don’t feel a thing about it.
The latter account is just a tad bit different in the evil department. Maybe Atkins’ reinvented, kind persona just “can’t handle the truth.”
Sharon’s sister, Debra Tate told CNN this spring that Manson family members convicted of murder should remain behind bars. She said the slayings were:
so vicious, so inhumane, so depraved, that there is no turning back. The ‘Manson Family’ murderers are sociopaths, and from that, they can never be rehabilitated. They should all stay right where they are — in prison — until they die. There will never be true justice for my sister Sharon and the other victims of the ‘Manson Family.’ Keeping the murderers in prison is the least we, as a society who values justice, can do.
Meanwhile, Van Houten continues her request for release. Her latest supporter is filmmaker John Waters. In a recent piece on Huffpost, he says, believe it or not:
I have a really good friend who was convicted of killing two innocent people when she was nineteen years old on a horrible night of 1969 cult madness. Her name is Leslie Van Houten and I think you would like her as much as I do.
CNN’s Erica Hill featured Waters on a show earlier this week. He pitched his latest book, “Crackpot,” and attempted to explain his friendship with Van Houten. CNN’s AC360 is doing a weeklong special on the Manson murders.
Water’s sense of justice is misplaced at best. Maybe he’s just trying to reclaim his past celebrity. He’s always courted the outrageous, so why should his appeal hold, uh, water.
So I’ll think of the victims of the Tate-LaBianca murders on this anniversary and forget once again the evil clan who took their lives in such cruel fashion. Then, I’ll move on to celebrate Woodstock as I did when I pulled away from the Los Angeles police back in 1969.