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
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.
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 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.
The folding stocked Carbine seized at the Spahn Ranch sported an underfolding buttstock patterned after that of the MP40.
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 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 MP40 cycles at around 500 rounds per minute and remains one of my all-time favorite automatic weapons.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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 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.
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.
Another of Manson’s followers named Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme unsuccessfully attempted to assassinated President Gerald Ford in 1975 and spent 34 years in prison.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.