Scene: A cell in a maximum-security cell block at San Quentin prison in California. The cell is furnished with a single cot, and its permanent occupant, Robert Beausoleil, and his visitor are required to sit on it in rather cramped positions. The cell is neat, uncluttered; a well-waxed guitar stands in one corner. But it is late on a winter afternoon, and in the air lingers a chill, even a hint of mist, as though fog from San Francisco Bay had infiltrated the prison itself.
Despite the chill, Beausoleil is shirtless, wearing only a pair of prison-issue denim trousers, and it is clear that he is satisfied with his appearance, his body particularly, which is lithe, feline, in well-toned shape considering that he has been incarcerated more than a decade. His chest and arms are a panorama of tattooed emblems: feisty dragons, coiled chrysanthemums, uncoiled serpents. He is thought by some to be exceptionally good-looking; he is, but in a rather hustlerish camp-macho style. Not surprisingly, he worked as an actor as a child and appeared in several Hollywood films; later, as a very young man, he was for a while the protege of Kenneth Anger, the experimental film-maker (Scorpio Rising) and author (Hollywood Babylon); indeed, Anger cast him in the title role of Lucifer Rising, an unfinished film.
Robert Beausoleil, who is now thirty-one, is the real mystery figure of the Charles Manson cult; more to the pointand it’s a point that has never been clearly brought forth in accounts of that tribe-he is the key to the mystery of the homicidal escapades of the so-called Manson family, notably the Sharon Tate-Lo Bianca murders.
It all began with the murder of Gary Hinman, a middle-aged professional musician who had befriended various members of the Manson brethren and who, unfortunately for him, lived alone in a small isolated house in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles County. Hinman had been tied up and tortured for several days (among other indignities, one of his ears had been severed) before his throat had been mercifully and lastingly slashed. When Hinman’s body, bloated and abuzz with August flies, was discovered, police found bloody graffiti on the walls of his modest house (“Death to Pigs!”)graffiti similar to the sort soon to be found in the households of Miss Tate and Mr, and Mrs. Lo Bianco.
However, just a few days prior to the Tate-Lo Bianco slayings, Robert Beausoleil, caught driving a car that had been the property of the victim, was under arrest and in jail, accused of having murdered the helpless Mr. Hinman. It was then that Manson and his chums, in the hopes of freeing Beausoleil, conceived the notion of committing a series of homicides similar to the Hinman affair; if Beausoleil was still incarcerated at the time of these killings, then how could he be guilty of the Hinman atrocity? Or so the Manson brood reasoned. That is to say, it was out of devotion to “Bobby” Beausoleil that Tex Watson and those cutthroat young ladies, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Hooten, sallied forth on their satanic errands.
RB: Strange. Beausoleil. That’s French. My name is French. It means Beautiful Sun. Fuck. Nobody sees much sun inside this resort. Listen to the foghorns. Like train whistles. Moan, moan. And they’re worse in the summer. Maybe it must be there’s more fog in summer than in winter. Weather. Fuck it, I’m not going anywhere. But just listen. Moan, moan. So what’ve you been up to today?
TC: Just around. Had a little talk with Sirhan.
RB (laughs): Sirhan B. Sirhan. I knew him when they had me up on the Row. He’s a sick guy. He don’t belong here. He ought to be in Atascadero. Want some gum? Yeah, well, you seem to know your way around here pretty good. I was watching you out on the yard. I was surprised the warden lets you walk around the yard by yourself. Somebody might cut you.
RB: For the hell of it. But you’ve been here a lot, huh? Some of the guys were telling me.
TC: Maybe half a dozen times on different research projects.
RB: There’s just one thing here I’ve never seen. But I’d like to see that little apple-green room. When they railroaded me on that Hinman deal and I got the death sentence, well, they had me up on the Row a good spell. Right up to when the court abolished the death penalty. So I used to wonder about the little green room.
TC: Actually, it’s more like three rooms.
RB: I thought it was a little round room with a sort of glass sealed igloo hut set in the center. With windows in the igloo so the witnesses standing outside can see the guys choking to death on that peach perfume.
Tc: Yes, that’s the gas-chamber room. But when the prisoner is brought down from Death Row he steps from the elevator directly into a “holding” room that adjoins the witness room. There are two cells in this “holding” room, two, in case it’s a double execution. They’re ordinary cells, just like this one, and the prisoner spends his last night there before his execution in the morning, reading, listening to the radio, playing cards with the guards. But the interesting thing I discovered was that there’s a third room in this little suite. It’s behind a closed door right next to the “holding” cell. I just opened the door and walked in and none of the guards that were with me tried to stop me. And it was the most haunting room I’ve ever seen. Because you know what’s in it? All the leftovers, all the paraphernalia that the different condemned men had had with them in the “holding” cells. Books. Bibles and Western paperbacks and Erle Stanley Gardner, James Bond. Old brown newspapers. Some of them twenty years old. Unfinished crossword puzzles. Unfinished letters. Sweetheart snapshots. Dim, crumbling little Kodak children. Pathetic.
RB : You ever seen a guy gassed?
TC: Once. But he made it look like a lark. He was happy to go, he wanted to get it over with; he sat down in that chair like he was going to the dentist to have his teeth cleaned. But in Kansas, I saw two men hanged.
RB: Perry Smith? And what’s his name-Dick Hickock? Well, once they hit the end of the rope, I guess they don’t feel anything.
TC: So we’re told. But after the drop, they go on living-fifteen, twenty minutes. Struggling. Gasping for breath, the body still battling for life. I couldn’t help it, I vomited. ns: Maybe you’re not so cool, huh? You seem cool. So, did Sirhan beef about being kept in Special Security?
RB: Sort of. He’s lonesome. He wants to mix with the other prisoners, join the general population.
RB: He don’t know what’s good for him. Outside, somebody’d snuff him for sure.
RB: For the same reason he snuffed Kennedy. Recognition. Half the people who snuff people, that’s what they want: recognition. Get their picture in the paper.
TC: That’s not why you killed Gary Hinman.
TC: That was because you and Manson wanted Hinman to give you money and his car, and when he wouldn’t-well …
TC: I was thinking. I know Sirhan, and I knew Robert Kennedy. I knew Lee Harvey Oswald, and I knew Jack Kennedy. The odds against that-one person knowing all four of those men-must be astounding.
RB: Oswald? You knew Oswald? Really?
TC: I met him in Moscow just after he defected. One night I was having dinner with a friend, an Italian newspaper correspondent, and when he came by to pick me up he asked me if I’d mind going with him first to talk to a young American defector, one Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was staying at the Metropole, an old Czarist hotel just off Kremlin Square. The Metropole has a big gloomy loRB y full of shadows and dead palm trees. And there he was, sitting in the dark under a dead palm tree. Thin and pale, thin-lipped, starved-looking. He was wearing chinos and tennis shoes and a lumberjack shirt. And right away he was angry-he was grinding his teeth, and his eyes were jumping every which way. He was boiling over about everything: the American ambassador; the Russians-he was mad at them because they wouldn’t let him stay in Moscow. We talked to him for about half an hour, and my Italian friend didn’t think the guy was worth filing a story about. Just another paranoid hysteric; the Moscow woods were rampant with those. I never thought about him again, not until many years later. Not until after the assassination when I saw his picture flashed on television.
RB: Does that make you the only one that knew both of them, Oswald and Kennedy?
TC: No. There was an American girl, Priscilla Johnson. She worked for U.P. in Moscow. She knew Kennedy, and she met Oswald around the same time I did. But I can tell you something else almost as curious. About some of those people your friends murdered.
TC: I knew them. At least, out of the five people killed in the Tate house that night, I knew four of them. I’d met Sharon Tate at the Cannes Film Festival. Jay Sebring cut my hair a couple of times. I’d had lunch once in San Francisco with Abigail Folger and her boyfriend, Frykowski. In other words, I’d known them independently of each other. And yet one night there they were, all gathered together in the same house waiting for your friends to arrive. Quite a coincidence.
RB (lights a cigarette; smiles): Know what I’d say? I’d say you’re not such a lucky guy to know. Shit. Listen to that. Moan, moan. I’m cold. You cold?
TC: Why don’t you put on your shirt?
TC: It’s odd about tattoos. I’ve talked to several hundred men convicted of homicide-multiple homicide, in most cases. The only common denominate- I could find among them was tattoos. A good eighty percent of them were heavily tattooed. Richard Speck. York and Latham. Smith and Hickock.
RB: I’ll put on my sweater.
TC: If you weren’t here, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be, doing anything you wanted to do, where would you be and what would you be doing?
RB: Tripping. Out on my Honda chugging along the Coast road, the fast curves, the waves and the water, plenty of sun. Out of San Fran, headed Mendocino way, riding through the redwoods. I’d be making love. I’d be on the beach by a bonfire making love. I’d be making music and balling and sucking some great Acapulco weed and watching the sun go down. Throw some driftwood on the fire. Good gash, good hash, just tripping right along.
TC: You can get hash in here.
RB: And everything else. Any kind of dope-for a price. There are dudes in here on everything but roller skates.
TC: Is that what your life was like before you were arrested? Just tripping? Didn’t you ever have a job?
RB: Once in a while. I played guitar in a couple of bars.
TC: I understand you were quite a cocks man. The ruler of a virtual seraglio. How many children have you fathered?
RB: (Silence-but shrugs, grins, smokes)
TC: I’m surprised you have a guitar. Some prisons don’t allow it because the strings can be detached and used as weapons. A garrote. How long have you been playing?
RB: Oh, since I was a kid. I was one of those Hollywood kids. I was in a couple of movies. But my folks were against it. They’re real straight people. Anyway, I never cared about the acting part. I just wanted to write music and play it and sing.
TC: But what about the film you made with Kenneth Anger-Lucifer Rising?
TC: How did you get along with Anger?
TC: Then why does Kenneth Anger wear a picture locket on a chain around his neck? On one side of the locket there is a picture of you; on the other there is an image of a frog with an inscription: “Bobby Beausoleil changed into a frog by Kenneth Anger.” A voodoo amulet, so to say. A curse he put on you because you’re supposed to have ripped him off. Left in the middle of the night with his car-and a few other things.
RB: (narrowed eyes): Did he tell you that?
TC: No, I’ve never met him. But I was told it by a number of other people.
RB (reaches for guitar, tunes it, strums it, sings): “This is my song, this is my song, this is my dark song, my dark song …” Everybody always wants to know how I got together with Manson. It was through our music. He plays some, too. One night I was driving around with a bunch of my ladies. Well, we came to this old roadhouse, beer place, with a lot of cars outside. So we went inside, and there was Charlie with some of his ladies. We all got to talking, played some together; the next day Charlie came to see me in my van, and we all, his people and my people, ended up camping out together. Brothers and sisters. A family.
TC: Did you see Manson as a leader? Did you feel influenced by him right away?
RB: Hell, no. He had his people, I had mine. If anybody was influenced, it was him. By me.
TC: Yes, he was attracted to you. Infatuated. Or so he says. You seem to have had that effect on a lot of people, men and women.
RB: Whatever happens, happens. It’s all good.
TC: Do you consider killing innocent people a good thing?
RB: Who said they were innocent?
TC: Well, we’ll return to that. But for now: What is your own sense of morality? How do you differentiate between good and bad?
RB: Good and bad? It’s all good. If it happens, it’s got to be good. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be happening. It’s just the way life flows. Moves together. I move with it. I don’t question it.
TC: In other words, you don’t question the act of murder. You consider it “good” because it “happens.” Justifiable.
RB: I have my own justice. I live by my own law, you know. I don’t respect the laws of this society. Because society doesn’t respect its own laws. I make my own laws and live by them. I have my own sense of justice.
TC: And what is your sense of justice?
RB: I believe that what goes around comes around. What goes up comes down. That’s how life flows, and I flow with it.
TC: You’re not making much sense-at least to me. And I don’t think you’re stupid. Let’s try again. In your opinion, it’s all right that Manson sent Tex Watson and those girls into that house to slaughter total strangers, innocent people
RB: I said: Who says they were innocent? They burned people on dope deals. Sharon Tate and that gang. They picked up kids on the Strip and took them home and whipped them. Made movies of it. Ask the cops; they found the movies. Not that they’d tell you the truth.
TC: The truth is, the Lo Biancos and Sharon Tate and her friends were killed to protect you. Their deaths were directly linked to the Gary Hinman murder.
RB: I hear you. I hear where you’re coming from.
TC: Those were all imitations of the Hinman murder-to prove that you couldn’t have killed Hinman. And thereby get you out of jail.
RB: To get me out of jail. (He nods, smiles, sighs-complimented) None of that came out at any of the trials. The girls got on the stand and tried to really tell how it all came down, but nobody would listen. People couldn’t believe anything except what the media said. The media had them programmed to believe it all happened because we were out to start a race war. That it was mean niggers going around hurting all these good white folk. Only-it was like you say. The media, they called us a “family.” And it was the only true thing they said. We were a family. We were mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son. If a member of our family was in jeopardy, we didn’t abandon that person. And so for the love of a brother, a brother who was in jail on a murder rap, all those killings came down.
TC: And you don’t regret that?
RB: No. If my brothers and sisters did it, then it’s good. Everything in life is good. It all flows. It’s all good. It’s all music.
TC: When you were up on Death Row, if you’d been forced to flow down to the gas chamber and whiff the peaches, would you have given that your stamp of approval?
RB: If that’s how it came down. Everything that happens is good.
TC: War. Starving children. Pain. Cruelty. Blindness. Prisons. Desperation. Indifference. All good?
RB: What’s that look you’re giving me?
TC: Nothing. I was noticing how your face changes. One moment, with just the slightest shift of angle, you look so boyish, entirely innocent, a charmer. And then-well, one can see you as a sort of Forty-second Street Lucifer. Have you ever seen Night Must Fall? An old movie with Robert Montgomery? No? Well, it’s about an impish, innocent-looking delightful young man who travels about the English countryside charming old ladies, then cutting off their heads and carrying the heads around with him in leather hat-boxes.
RB: So what’s that got to do with me?
TC: I was thinking-if it was ever remade, if someone Americanized it, turned the Montgomery character into a young drifter with hazel eyes and a smoky voice, you’d be very good in the part.
RB: Are you trying to say I’m a psychopath? I’m not a nut. If I have to use violence, I’ll use it, but I don’t believe in killing.
TC: Then I must be deaf. Am I mistaken, or didn’t you just tell me that it didn’t matter what atrocity one person committed against another, it was good, all good?
TC: Tell me, Bobby, how do you view yourself?
RB: As a convict.
TC: But beyond that.
RB: As a man. A white man. And everything a white man stands for.
TC: Yes, one of the guards told me you were the ringleader of the Aryan Brotherhood.
RB (hostile): What do you know about the Brotherhood?
TC: That it’s composed of a bunch of hard-nosed white guys. That it’s a somewhat fascist-minded fraternity. That it started in California, and has spread throughout the American prison system, north, south, east, and west. That the prison authorities consider it a dangerous, troublemaking cult.
RB : A man has to defend himself. We’re outnumbered. You got no idea how rough it is. We’re all more scared of each other than we are of the pigs in here. You got to be on your toes every second if you don’t want a shiv in your back. The blacks and Chicanos, they got their own gangs. The Indians, too; or I should say the “Native Americans”-that’s how these redskins call themselves: what a laugh! Yes sir, rough. With all the racial tensions, politics, dope, gambling, and sex. The blacks really go for the young white kids. They like to shove those big black dicks up those tight white asses.
TC: Have you ever thought what you would do with your life if and when you were paroled out of here?
RB: That’s a tunnel I don’t see no end to. They’ll never let Charlie go.
TC: I hope you’re right, and I think you are. But it’s very likely that you’ll be paroled some day. Perhaps sooner than you imagine. Then what?
RB (strums guitar): I’d like to record some of my music. Get it played on the air.
TC: That was Perry Smith’s dream. And Charlie Manson’s, too. Maybe you fellows have more in common than mere tattoos.
RB: Just between us, Charlie doesn’t have a whole lot of talent. (Strumming chords) “This is my song, my dark song, my dark song.” I got my first guitar when I was eleven; I found it in my grandma’s attic and taught myself to play it, and I’ve been nuts about music ever since. My grandma was a sweet woman, and her attic was my favorite place. I liked to lie up there and listen to the rain. Or hide up there when my dad came looking for me with his belt. Shit. You hear that? Moan, moan. It’s enough to drive you crazy.
TC: Listen to me, Bobby. And answer carefully. Suppose, when you get out of here, somebody came to you-let’s say Charlie-and asked you to commit an act of violence, kill a man, would you do it?
RB (after lighting another cigarette, after smoking it half through): I might. It depends. I never meant to … to … hurt Gary Hinman. But one thing happened. And another. And then it all came down.
TC: And it was all good.
RB: It was all good.