The Manson Family Murders: Helter Skelter, Part 2

Charles Manson was the chemical formula for crazy. His messianic influence over his mostly female followers drove them to commit some of the most egregious crimes.

Read Part 1: The Manson Murders: Helter Skelter and the Master of Chaos

In Part 1, we discussed the sordid details of the Manson Family attack on Sharon Tate and her friends. Today we explore the weapons involved as well as the aftermath of these infamous killings.

The Manson Family Guns

When police raided the Spahn Ranch they discovered a modest arsenal of weapons.

The arsenal back at the Spahn Ranch was actually fairly impressive. When the cops finally dismantled the place they cataloged a variety of handguns and shotguns as well as a pair of M1 Carbines and a German MP40 submachine gun. One Carbine sported a GI wood stock, while the other was adorned with an aftermarket civilian under folder common at the time.

John Browning’s brother Ed was an esteemed firearms designer in his own right.

The M1 Carbine began as the brainchild of Ed Browning, John Moses Browning’s brother. After Ed Browning died in 1939 the project was taken up by David “Carbine” Williams, a colorful ex-con who developed the short-stroke gas piston-driven firearm action. The actual Carbine prototype was completed in a mere thirteen days.

The light and handy Carbine became a GI favorite during the Second World War.

The M1 Carbine was intended to replace the M1911A1 handgun for second-line support troops but became popular with combat grunts for its modest weight and fast handling. Scads of GIs came home from WW2 in love with the little rifle. Countless thousands of these tidy little weapons were sold freely through the mail prior to the 1968 Gun Control Act.

One of the Carbines seized from the Manson Family sported a civilian underfolding stock like this one.


The folding stocked Carbine seized at the Spahn Ranch sported an underfolding buttstock patterned after that of the MP40.

Charles Manson’s MP40 caused a bit of a stir when it was discovered. Apparently he was saving it for his coming cataclysmic race war.

The Manson MP40 was kept in a music case. In the late 1960s, the country was covered in a thin patina of WW2 bring back guns to include a not insubstantial number of automatic weapons. The 30-day amnesty in 1968 caught a few, but many to most of these old souvenirs still languish in grandpas’ attics all across the country.

The MP40 revolutionized the way the world made military weapons.

The MP40 began life as the MP38 in, you guessed it, 1938. The two weapons were very similar except that the earlier gun featured a machined steel tubular receiver whereas the MP40’s receiver was pressed out of sheet steel. The MP40 was the first mass-produced military long arm to utilize a stamped steel receiver and dispense with wooden furniture altogether.

The German MP40 is an exceptionally controllable submachine gun.

The MP40 cycles at around 500 rounds per minute and remains one of my all-time favorite automatic weapons.

The High Standard Double Nine Longhorn Buntline .22LR revolver carried nine rounds and featured a 9.5-inch barrel.

The pistol used in the Sharon Tate murders was a cheap .22-caliber revolver called the High Standard Double Nine Longhorn Buntline. High Standard’s first revolver debuted as the Sentinel in 1955. These inexpensive Western-style weapons were widely sold over the counter through Sears stores and elsewhere across the country. America was not so skittish about firearms then as is the case today, so Sears owned a large stake in the High Standard gun company at the time.

The High Standard Longhorn was sold over the counter at department stores across America. Rumor has it that the one Tex Watson used was traded for an old beater car.     

America was enamored with Western lore, so cowboy revolvers were all the rage. Various models of the basic aluminum-framed 9-shot High Standard were marketed under names like “Longhorn,” “Natchez,” and “Posse.” Later versions went by “Marshal,” “Durango,” and “Hombre.” While simple and cheap these inexpensive mass-produced plinkers clearly shot just fine.

Contrary to legend, Wyatt Earp likely packed a Smith and Wesson Model 3 during his most famous gunfight.

There is a legend that Wyatt Earp carried a long-barreled Colt Buntline revolver, but this has been reliably discredited. Earp likely packed a Smith and Wesson Model 3 for his fateful appointment at the OK Corral. The first connection between Earp and a long-barreled Colt occurred in 1931 in the highly fictionalized novel Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal.

It has long been rumored that legendary lawman Wyatt Earp carried a long-barreled Colt Single Action Army Buntline revolver. I grew up with that misconception as foundational dogma. Apparently such was not the case.

Purportedly dime novelist Edward Zane Carroll Judson commissioned five 1873 Colt Single Action Army revolvers with 12-inch barrels as gifts for various Old West lawmen. Judson wrote under the pseudonym Ed Buntline, hence the name. However, when Earp purportedly received his gun he was actually under indictment for murder in Dodge City and in no position to be receiving firearms as gifts. Additionally, Judson, the supposed originator of the guns, only traveled west of the Mississippi river once and that was in 1869.

Watson’s High Standard Buntline was damaged fairly badly during the assault.

The particular Buntline version of the High Standard Longhorn that Tex Watson wielded had a long 9.5-inch barrel and carried nine rounds. During the course of the pistol-whipping Watson gave Frykowski, the gun’s trigger guard and right grip were broken. The ejector rod was also bent slightly.

The High Standard Model 10 shotgun was a radically advanced Law Enforcement weapon for its day.

Though this mass-produced recreational pistol was not renowned for its quality, High Standard did produce superb .22 target pistols as well as M2 .50-caliber machineguns during WW2. Their later lineup included the revolutionary Model 10 gas-operated bullpup police shotgun.

The Convoluted Tale of the Gun

The killers discarded their bloody clothing at intervals as they drove away from the crime scene. This is Tex Watson’s bloodstained velour shirt.

Watson threw the battered pistol along with the killers’ bloody clothes out of his car window while driving away. The murderers actually stopped at a nearby house and commandeered a garden hose to tidy up. The following month, an 11-year-old boy named Steven Weiss found the mangled High Standard revolver while out playing.

An 11-year-boy out playing happened upon Tex Watson’s discarded pistol.

Sensing that it might be important, the kid carefully lifted the weapon so as to preserve fingerprints. However, the responding officer pawed all over it, removing seven empty cases and two live rounds from the gun at the boy’s home. The forensic investigation later determined that there had been a total of seven rounds fired at the murder scene that evening.

Boy Scouts scoured the countryside looking for evidence, while the gun for which they searched languished in a police evidence locker.

 Steven’s find remained inside an envelope at the Van Nuys police station while groups of Boy Scouts mustered out all across the area searching for discarded clothing or other evidence to support the investigation. Throughout it all, young Steven remained convinced that the gun he found must have been connected. Only after the young man contacted the police again 3 and ½ months later did investigators finally realize that the gun in their evidence room was the one they had been seeking all along.

The Encore Event

This Manson Family rocket scientist is Clem Grogan. His fellow cult members called him “Scramblehead” because of his remarkable stupidity.

The night after the Tate murders, Manson took the three original killers along with other family members Leslie Van Houten and Clem Grogan, out for a drive. Manson was concerned that the Tate job had been sloppy, and he wanted to “show them how to do it.”

Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were randomly targeted.

Manson picked a local supermarket executive named Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary essentially at random and bound them up in their home. When the dust settled Leno had been stabbed twelve times and had the word “War” carved into his abdomen. Investigators later found a carving fork jutting from his belly. Rosemary was stabbed a total of forty-one times.

The Rest of the Story

Leslie Van Houten assisted in the killing of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and remains in prison today.

All three of the original killers were eventually apprehended, convicted, and sentenced to death. In 1972 the US Supreme Court ruled that California’s death penalty was unconstitutional. As a result, the sentences for these three family members as well as Manson himself and Leslie Van Houten who was present for the LaBianca killings were commuted to life in prison. This opened up the possibility of parole.

This image was taken of convicted killer Susan Atkins at her final parole hearing just weeks before her death. Susan found Jesus in prison and became active in prison ministries. Her final public statement was “My God is an amazing God.”

Susan Atkins remained incarcerated until she died of brain cancer at age 61 in 2009. She was at the time the longest-serving female inmate in the California penal system. She had been denied parole fourteen times.

Patricia Krenwinkel is currently the longest-serving female inmate in the California penal system.

Patricia Krenwinkel is still incarcerated. With the death of Susan Atkins, she earned the dubious distinction of being California’s longest-serving female inmate. As of 2017, she had been considered for parole fourteen times.

This 2014 picture shows Tex Watson in prison. He is currently an ordained minister behind bars.

Charles “Tex” Watson remains in prison today as well. He has been denied parole seventeen times. Watson claims to have become a born-again Christian. Considering that true grace has no bounds I have no reason to doubt his claim. Since his arrest, he has been married, fathered four children and divorced.

Squeaky Fromme was the second member of Manson’s Family. She tried to kill President Ford and once escaped from prison in an effort at reuniting with Charles Manson.

Another of Manson’s followers named Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme unsuccessfully attempted to assassinated President Gerald Ford in 1975 and spent 34 years in prison.

At the time of his arrest, Charles Manson was defiant and bold. His followers took credit for the killings in an effort at deflecting blame from him.

The psychopath Charles Manson had a colorful prison stay. During his trial, he inexplicably carved an X into his forehead. He later transformed the X into a swastika that he carried with him to his grave.

Charles Manson was one of the most notorious convicts in America.

Manson was denied parole twelve times and gave four interviews. The second, recorded by Charlie Rose for CBS News Nightwatch in 1986, won an Emmy. Manson granted an interview to Geraldo Rivera in 1986 during an investigative special on satanism. His last formal communication with the outside world occurred in 1989.

In the 1980’s a fellow inmate set Manson on fire over a jailhouse noise complaint.

In September of 1984, Manson complained about the Hare Krishna chants of a fellow inmate named Jan Holmstrom. There resulted in a verbal threat by Manson. Holmstrom subsequently doused Manson in paint thinner and set him alight. Manson suffered 2d and 3d-degree burns over 20% of his body. I suppose the message there is that one should choose one’s friends carefully.

Somebody was illicitly talking to Charles Manson on an illegal cell phone in 2009.

In 1997 Manson was disciplined for trafficking drugs in prison. In 2009 he was caught with a cell phone. Lord only knows who he was talking to on it.

This guy made a little music with Charles Manson while he was incarcerated.

While in prison Charles Manson, ever the musician, recorded an album of pop songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Only five copies were known to exist. Two went to activist and actor Henry Rollins. The other three remained with Manson.

Charles Manson died of colon cancer at age 83. As near as I could tell he never showed remorse for his crimes.

On New Year’s Day 2017 Manson was taken to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield with GI bleeding and was diagnosed with colon cancer. In November of that same year, he died of cardiac arrest secondary to respiratory failure stemming from his GI malignancy. The demised precipitator of Helter Skelter was 83 years old.

This was the folding Buck knife used in the Sharon Tate killings.
Before Charles Manson became a full-time serial killer he briefly had a fairly normal life working as a janitor, marrying a real person, and fathering a child. Sadly, this obviously didn’t last.

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About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Stonelaker April 7, 2021, 11:48 am

    In Jan.1969 i moved to the Simi Hills of Chatsworth to begin my year of Calif.tuition free eligibility. My Boston cop Dad had worked for George Spahn before he was drafted. I lived in an Indian name development across the street and over the hill from Spahn. Manson’s group had been kicked off the ranch but reappeared in March. They stayed at the back ranch house about 1/4 mile west of the movie set. I used the corral payphone frequently and became friendly with Cappy Gillis. LSD destroyed their minds. After the Dec 1969 arrests the ridership fell off. George and Ruby started selling props and guns to feed the horses. I own several old revolvers and a suitcase of blanks for the filming used at Spahn. Scramblehead couldn’t talk right but was released in the 1980’s. I covered the trial in June/July 1970. It was a dark time in country of 205 million at the time. I am a retired anthropologist and was a judge for two terms plus I set up the first VW program in the District Attorney Office of Plymouth County Mass in 1977.

  • Et May 11, 2020, 6:55 pm

    The last picture was a little surprising. I was in a different state of mind before seeing it. I didn’t realize he had been married and lived a normal life. It’s a sad statement and says a lot about how we ultimately choose our path in life, despite our dire circumstances.

  • Mike in a Truck May 11, 2020, 11:33 am

    What lessons from all this? 1) have a gun.2) know how to use it.3) learn empty hand skills. 4)Theres no such thing as a “safe place”. 5) See number 1.

  • Henry Marconi May 11, 2020, 11:11 am

    Carbine Williams only developed the gas system. The rest of the M1 carbine was developed by a large team of Winchester developers. The “carbine” Williams developing the rifle from a jail cell is a well pushed myth.

  • MQ May 11, 2020, 8:50 am

    The book Chaos by Tom O’Neill was recently released about Manson and tells a much different story than the book Helter Skelter. I highly recommend reading it and forming your own opinion on the subject or subjects.,_the_CIA,_and_the_Secret_History_of_the_Sixties

    • Bob Clark May 11, 2020, 1:25 pm

      Form our own opinion? Why? Mainstream media does that for us and they wouldn’t lie, would they?

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