By Natalie Fowler, GSI Investigator, Researcher and History Geek
Our trip to L.A. came together pretty fast, and seemed to fall together relatively easy. Especially considering we were working with 10+ artist/author/filmmaker schedules, including NYC Time best selling author, Mr. Jay Asher, who is in the middle of a 50 state tour. I believe that means serendipity was at work and it was meant to be.
However, as I started telling people where we were going and what we were doing, I noticed something in their reaction. People physically recoil when the name Charles Manson is even mentioned. I had people step back, away from me. I had someone utter the words, “That’s disgusting,” without even realizing they’d said them.
Maybe this should have made me run away. But it didn’t. More than anything, it made me wonder why. Why, after all this time, does the mention of a name still have that much power? So I did what I do best. I started reading.
They say hindsight is 20/20 and that couldn’t be more true. As I read, I tried to imagine what it was like in the days and weeks leading up to and following the horrific murders, watching as the gruesome truth unfolded. And after the arrests, the enormous job the prosecution had in front of them to make sure justice was served. This included a media frenzy at any small leak or mention, and two different police departments that weren’t exactly cooperating.
I also realized that in the quest to understand events that are so random, and so inexplicable, it is difficult not to sensationalize what happened on those terrible nights. Can you even imagine if they’d had the internet back then? Holy Hannah.
In the days, weeks and years that followed, puzzle pieces began to fit together. The story of a broken, sociopathic man emerged. Those victims were truly in the wrong place at the wrong time. And his so-called family was brainwashed to the point, in some cases, of no return. And I realized, there are so many lessons to be learned.
Lessons that we completely miss if we recoil in fear at the mention of his name. Lessons about parenting, lessons about our our institutions, lessons about reform. Lessons about bureaucratic politics, lessons about journalistic integrity, and yes, even lessons about religion. But most important are the lessons about free will, and not handing it over to the crazy guy preaching hippie love and handing out drugs.
History, no matter how horrible, can at least be good for the lessons to be learned.
As for our investigation, I wasn’t sure what we would find at the house on Cielo drive. But I knew that no matter what, that street and whatever secrets it might still be hiding deserved respect. And at the end of the night, I walked to the gate at the end of the road. And I thought about the horrific murders that happened one night in August on the other side of the tall fence. I was raised Catholic, so it seemed like a good time to say a prayer. I prayed for the victims. Victims, whose names will forever be tied to one of the most horrific crimes in American history. Victims who deserve to be remembered for more than just that. And I prayed that those evil serendipitous stars that lined up to become Helter Skelter don’t ever line up like that again.
It might have been my imagination. It might have been the lack of sleep due to an early flight combined with a late night of ghost hunting. It might have been the build-up of excitement and anticipation about investigating in such a powerful location. But I swear I felt the energy shift. And I have never, in my life, felt so much power in a prayer before.
So don’t recoil in fear at the mention of Charles Manson, that gives him power that he doesn’t deserve. And in the quest for understanding, be careful not to sensationalize, as that can glorify the violence. Instead, listen and learn from the echoes of history.