Manson family tapes could shed new light on murders, LAPD says

Manson follower Charles "Tex" Watson.
(John Malmin / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Police Department detectives hope that audio tapes from more than four decades ago could shed new light on the Charles Manson murder spree.

The LAPD has been fighting to review the tapes for months.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas has ruled that LAPD can have access to taped conversations between one of Charles Manson‘s most fervent followers and his late attorney to see if it can help solve more murders.

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U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Schell ruled that Charles “Tex” Watson waived his right to attorney-client privilege when he allowed the lawyer to sell the tapes to an author who wrote a book on Watson.

LAPD robbery-homicide detectives are seeking the tapes because they believe during the several hours of conversations Watson “may have discussed additional unsolved murders committed by followers of Charles Manson.”

Investigators believe the so-called Manson family may have been responsible for more than the seven murders the members were convicted of four decades ago.

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Over the years, everyone from Manson himself to his prosecutors have said his followers were connected to more killings.

A bankruptcy judge ruled last year that the LAPD can have the tapes that were part of the lawyer’s estate. Watson, however, appealed that ruling, claiming they were privileged.


LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the department was preparing “to send our detectives out to Texas to pick up the tapes as soon as they are available.”

Smith said the department understands Watson has 30 days to appeal, so the LAPD will wait until that transpires before making the pickup.

“We are looking forward to getting these tapes and thoroughly analyzing their content,” he said. “The Manson crime spree is one of the most notorious cases in Southern California. We owe it to the victims and their families to ensure every facet of the case is thoroughly and completely investigated.”

Watson has denied the tapes will shed any new light on the killings. But the tapes could provide the first new clues concerning the murders in decades.

Watson is serving a life sentence for killing Sharon Tate and four others. Detectives until now had not been able to get the tapes, but Watson’s attorney died in 2009 and the attorney’s law firm filed for bankruptcy.

Watson’s decision to sell the tapes to a coauthor of his 1978 book “Will You Die for Me? The Man Who Killed for Charles Manson Tells His Own Story” waived his attorney-client privilege, the LAPD argued in court.


The ruling came as a follower of Manson, Craig Carlisle Hammond, on Sunday was arrested after allegedly trying to smuggle a cellphone into Corcoran State Prison for the 78-year-old inmate, who was again refused parole last year.

Manson prosecutor Stephen Kay has said Manson bragged about additional murders. Over the years, questions have persisted about a man’s apparent suicide in England, the drowning of an attorney in Ventura County and whether bodies are buried at the California ranches the cult called home.

Paul Dostie, now a retired Mammoth Lakes police detective who has studied the murders, said he came to believe bodies of victims of the Manson family could be buried under the Barker Ranch in Death Valley.

The murders for which the Manson family were convicted all occurred in the summer of 1969.

In late July, Gary Hinman, 34, a musician, was stabbed to death for refusing to turn over his money and property to Manson.

About a week later in early August, four Manson followers — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Watson and Linda Kasabian — dressed in dark clothing and carrying knives, made their way through the Hollywood Hills to the Benedict Canyon estate rented by Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski.



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