Sunday, May 01, 2016

Meeting Charles Manson: Montrealer on knowing the '60s hippie murder cult leader

   Here is an account of meeting murder cult leader Charles Manson, as recounted by Montreal street performer Greg Dunlevy who worked as a Military Police in the Canadian Army from 1960-64. In 1963 Dunlevy was sent to serve for a year with UN peacekeeping forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as the Belgian Congo and later known as Zaire. He was stationed in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) and Elizabethville (now Lumumbashi).
   Dunlevy left the army in 1964 and worked with Bell Telephone as a lineman and then a cable splicer before quitting in 1967 to pursue the spirit of the sixties.
   While still with Bell, I worked evenings in the Totem Pole Coffee House, on Stanley Street, which was run by Native American singer songwriter Willie Dunn and folksinger Shimon Ash. There I met a Californian named Lane Wooten, who had come to Montreal for Expo ’67 and was looking for a place to stay. So he stayed with me and said that if I was in California I could stay with him.
   That summer I went down to Woodstock NY, with a friend who was from there, and stayed there until February 1968, when I left for California and ended up at Lane’s place, a commune, in Topanga Canyon. We did odd jobs around the Canyon, and one day he said, “I need a few things and there’s another commune where I know they can help us out and give us what we need”
   So we drove over. It was a five or ten minute drive away. The person who met us at the door was bearded and slightly smaller than Lane and I, but he recognized Lane immediately and introduced himself to me.

Meeting Charles Manson  

 “Welcome Brother, I’m Charlie. Come on in. Everything we have here is yours and you’re free to partake of whatever we have,” said Charles Manson.
Topanga Corral where Manson would go dancing
   We talked together, but I can’t remember anything unusual about the conversation.
   At the time he seemed like any number of hippies who would welcome you and offer hospitality.
   It was after that meeting that I began to notice him coming into The Corral, an old country and western bar near the top of Topanga Canyon, which had been transformed into a psychedelic (for lack of a better word) music bar.
   Bands like Buffalo Springfield and Canned Heat, both of who lived in the Canyon, would often come and jam there. Charles Manson would come in with his band of women, his family, and sit down. When he would sit, they would all sit and when he would get up, so would they.
   You could see the control he had over these people.
   I saw them there several times; they’d come in at least once every week or two. They enjoyed the music; he would get up to dance and half of his girls would get up and dance with him.
   Nobody in the bar really paid that much attention to him.
   I left California almost half a year later, but returned in December 1969, this time with Jill, the future mother of my kids. We ended up visiting Lane again and he asked, “did you hear Charlie was arrested?”
   Since there were two Charlies that I knew from the Canyon, I though he meant the other one, a fellow we called “Bible Charlie”, since he always carried a bible with him. Lane said, “No, the one who lived on Ocean Pacific avenue” (After Topanga Canyon, Manson and his “family” moved to Box Canyon and then, apparently spent some time in the desert … Death Valley). Lane continued,”He was charged with the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends.”

Canyon hippies divided over Manson's guilt

Manson Family
   At the time, about half of the people in Topanga Canyon did not believe he was responsible for the murders, while the other half believed that it was very plausible that he was. I saw Charles Manson often in the Canyon, knew him in passing and had the occasional exchange with him, but didn’t really know him well or know that much about him. But some people knew him better than I and liked him, while still others had had some bad experiences with him.
   The divisiveness in the Canyon was obvious, between those who believed he was guilty and those who believed he was not guilty.
   And you could feel the tension mounting and the sides forming. Those who didn’t believe he was guilty thought that it was a plot by the establishment to undermine the whole hippy movement.
   It reminds me of the line from the Buffalo Springfield song For What It’s Worth, “Paranoia strikes deep, into your mind it will creep, step out of line the man comes and takes you away”
   The other Charlie, Bible Charlie, had recently received an inheritance and was thinking of using it to take a group of friends to Mexico to start up a commune there.
   One of them was a girl named Gypsy, who actually, unknown to Bible Charlie, was connected with the Manson Family. When she found out about the inheritance, she found a way to steal it and bring it all to Charlie Manson.
   Shortly after hearing about Manson’s imprisonment, Jill and I, while looking for a place to stay, wandered up to this small ranch where I had stayed for a couple of months with a Free School teacher I had met during my first stay in the Canyon. It was a couple of miles back up in the hills behind the Corral.
Susan Atkins
   When we got there, I asked the person who came to the door if the woman I knew was still there. She was not but when he heard we were looking for a place to stay, he offered us to share the house with him and his young daughter.
   So we did.
   His neighbor, who lived in the bunkhouse next door, was called Rory. One day Rory was going into LA and asked us if we wanted to go in with him, so we did. When we got to LA, he said, “Look, I just have to stop off at the prison. My girlfriend has been arrested in this Manson thing.”
   His girlfriend called. Rory was madly in love with her, since before the killings, and she had told him that she had nothing to do with it all. He had advised her to turn states evidence against Charlie, which she was going to do.
   At this point we went into Los Angeles and he goes to see Susan and comes out totally shattered. Since Charlie didn’t want a lawyer, he had the right to act as his own counsel, thus giving him the right to interrogate any witnesses against him. So he talked to Susan and convinced her not to testify against him. Rory at that point said, “Look, if you do this I can’t deal with this any more and I can’t see you any more. That’s that!”

Drug testing on hippies

   During those times, Topanga Canyon was a place where many top dealers went, directly from the chemists labs in LA, to test their drugs. They’d drop off bags of powder and boxes of gelatin capsules at different communes and say, “Check this out and tell us what it’s about … we’ll be back in about a week.”
   People on many different communes were testing these drugs … they were pure, uncut with any questionable products. Charlie Manson’s commune was no different than the rest.
   But I noticed that some people, who used them regularly, got into real power trips with people who had little or no experience with them, and would easily manipulate some of these newcomers while both of them were on it. LSD is like any other drug, or medicine, the more you take the less effect it has on you, so some people have a tendency to take more, or are more in control of themselves when on it.
Charlie  Manson
   At that point, especially when taking it with other people who have little experience with the drug, you basically have two choices; you can watch out for your “trip partner”, and if they begin to get into trouble (lose themselves within the drug) and guide them out gently, or you can use it “power trip on the other person. And the latter is exactly what Charlie Manson did. He gained a tolerance for LSD, went on a power trip and was able to manipulate others while on it with them.
   Lots of young runaways, at the time, would come to Topanga Canyon looking for a place to hide and basically disappear. They would show up at a place called the Canyon Center,
a few stores, a restaurant and a post office.
   That’s where Manson would find some of these young girls, take them up to his commune, turn them on to LSD, which he took with them, and convince them that he was the ultimate answer to all, a prophet sent by god … the reincarnation of Jesus. And he was there to take out retribution on the evil society in the name of god.
   Manson and three or four other people I met were like that, and it turned me right off. At the time, I recognized it for what it was; an abuse of knowledge and power. Fortunately, the Charlie Mansons were a very small minority of the hippy counter culture and were outweighed by the vast number of good people.    


  1. Interesting first hand view of aspects of the ever fascinating 1960s (Californian) counter culture.

  2. ...i wonder if Ronald Sutherland heard this story before writing "Where do the Macdonalds Bury their Dead"?

  3. Fascinating article. In reference to the picture (shown) of the Manson family huddled in the small cave, do you know if that cave is on the Red Rock trail in Topanga. I hiked that trail many times and am 99% sure it's the trail.


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