Child of Satan, Child of God
By Susan Atkins with Bob Slosser
I have read Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi twice. I have seen countless documentaries, movies, interviews with all kinds of people involved in the case, either directly or indirectly. So, when I came across this book by one of the top Manson girls, I was naturally curious.
In 1971, Susan Atkins was convicted, along with others, for the murders of eight people. The most famously known are young actress Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary Labianca. These murders are referred to as the Helter Skelter murders or the Tate/Labianca murders.
The basic story is this:
Charles Manson was a very charismatic and persuasive tiny, little criminal who convinced a number of young, lost hippies in search of a sense of belonging to be his followers, known as The Family. They lived in a commune type setting, their major locations being Spahn’s Movie Ranch and Barker Ranch, both in California. He convinced them he was Jesus Christ. He used sex and drugs along with depriving them of various things in order to control their thoughts and behaviors, much like a cult leader would. He banned things like clocks for instance, Charlie would tout that the only time was now and that there was no need for clocks or time keeping. He would dole out LSD and marijuana, among other things, always giving his followers more than he would take himself, if he took any at all. He would sit, often on a rock or chair (something higher up than the rest of the flock) and would preach about his hippie philosophy, his interpretation of the Bible and his idea of the end of the world. Eventually, like most cult leaders, his prophecy type statements didn’t come true and he became impatient, deciding to hurry things along himself…so to speak. To do this, he told some of his most loyal followers to kill the people at the Tate residence on April 8, 1969 and the Labiancas the following night. His plan was to somehow use the murders of people in an upper-class white community to start a race war, during which, according to Manson, the black would wipe out the whites and then, needing someone to lead them, Charlie and his followers would come out of their hiding place in the desert and Charlie would assume his position as the new world leader.
It didn’t quite happen the way Charlie planned.
Even listening to the theory over and over again, it still sounds absolutely ridiculous and ignorant, not to mention incredibly narcissistic. I mean, Charlie is a man who, by 1969, had spent a little over half of his life in prison or reformatories. Obviously, he wasn’t a very smart criminal nor was he very good at it. Yet, the man was, in fact, very manipulative. He knew how to target the weak and disenfranchised and pinpoint what they needed, then give it to them.
For Susan Atkins, Charlie realized she needed a father figure, a man in her life that loved her unconditionally. So, he fed on that. He showered her with love and affection, telling her how perfect and beautiful she was, playing on her low self-image and self-esteem and yet, at the same time, he would pull away from her and deprive her of that affection in order to make her more pliable to his needs.
Susan talks a lot in this book about herself, of course. She talks about how she felt about a number of things, including Charlie. Her image that she puts out in this book, which was written in 1974, three years after her convictions, is that she is this very sensitive and frail, meek little victim of a girl who was not accountable for anything she did during any of the time she spent with Charlie and The Family. Interestingly though, she repeatedly admits throughout the whole book to a number of things she did. However, like any criminal that’s been caught for something so heinous, she minimizes her involvement as much as she can.
Her account of the Tate murders varies in a number of details from what she testified to in front of the grand jury prior to the trials. She has left out a number of things that were admitted to evidence in court and corroborated by multiple people. Perhaps, like a friend of mine said, maybe she was trying to make herself look better for future parole hearings. That is quite possible. In the book she even talks about how, sitting on death row that first month, that she didn’t really comprehend fully that THIS was the rest of her life until “they killed her”.
Do you believe that? She makes it sound like the state is wrong not only for seeking the death penalty but, also for putting her on death row. She complains about how she’s in the same section as Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, two of her co-defendants whom she refers to as “colleagues”. She was concerned for her safety because she had originally turned state’s evidence against her cohorts and then she was housed with them in prison. How apropos.
She also complains about only getting to go outside for an hour a day in the beginning months of her sentence, being considered a high-risk inmate and the fact that there was only one television shared among the three of them (herself, Pat and Leslie).
You can hear her disconnection from reality in the way she writes, almost as if she’s floating through life, like her brain is on “perma-stone” from all the drugs she did. It’s got an eerie almost childlike quality to it.
And what would be more appropriate than to finish the book with her proclaiming that she had become a faithful follower of God. That happens so often. The eleventh-hour believers. Jailhouse conversions. I’m not sure I buy all that coming from her as everything she wrote prior to that was all about how the crimes weren’t as bad as they were made out to be and trying to shirk as much responsibility as possible.
Still, although a little disconcerting and perhaps even a little annoying, this was an interesting perspective on the same story that I have come to know so well. I can’t say that any horror lover would like this book but, any true crime or cult buff would find it worth the read.