Who’s afraid of Charles Manson?Â Me — ever since the murders occurred, in 1969, when I was eight years old, living in Newport Beach.Â Manson was the ultimate boogieman.Â I’ve been haunted by the image of one of his victims,Â coffee heiress Abigail Folger, in a long white nightgown running across the lawn being chased by an assailant with a knife.
About two years ago, I said to my mother, “If I were Mrs. Folger, I’d be highly annoyed.Â My daughter was brutally slain as well as Sharon Tate, and yet nobody remembers Abigail.”
“Wealthy people don’t like that sort of attention, darling.Â If that had happened to you, your father and I would have done the same thing.”
“And what was that?”
What did Abigail’s parents do?Â That question ignited my imagination.Â The answers that I foundÂ became the many scenes of my play, California Dreamin’.Â Senseless, random slayings ““ perhaps”¦Â But what if Manson actually knew one of his victims?
I re-read Vincent Bugliosi’s bestseller, Helter Skelter.Â This time, instead of reading about Sharon Tate, I read about Abigail Folger, and the more I read, the more I found: “William Tennant” (Roman Polanski’s business manager) “told police whenever he visited” the Polanski/Tate residence on Cielo Drive, which would become the scene of the crime in which Folger was killed, “Abigail always seemed to be in a stupor from narcotics.”Â Bugliosi writes, “She was also disturbed about the way her affair with [Polish actor Wojciech] Frykowski was going, and with their use of drugs, which had passed the point of experimentation.”
Abigail Folger’s mother “Mrs. Ines Folger had performed volunteer work for the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic drug treatment program”¦” She also gave cocktail parties for its patrons.Â “The Manson Family hopped in and out of the H-A Medical Clinic in 1968.”
In Ed Sanders’ book The Family, Layne Wooten, who lived in Topanga Canyon, “spoke of a long conversation he said he’d held with Manson in the summer of ’69 at the Topanga shopping center.Â He had seen Manson driving a red Ferrari; he was with a woman wearing a scarf on her head, and sunglasses.Â The time was Julyish.”Â Abigail Folger and Frykowski were house-sitting for Polanski and Sharon Tate during the month of July.Â Tate owned a red Ferrari, but she was in Europe.
In the same book, Sanders also states that Manson visited the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, on Sunday August 3, 1969.Â “Manson had brought his guitar to the Esalen Institute, and later, during his murder trail, told one of the defense attorneys he had been ‘rejected’ in some way at the Institute””¦ “Abigail Folger had attended seminars at Esalen, and someone at the house on Cielo Drive had phoned Esalen on the afternoon of July 30, 1969.”
In his memoir Will You Die For Me?, Manson “Family” member and convicted murderer Tex Watson writes: “Charlie disappeared for a couple of days up to Big Sur, something very unusual for him.Â When he got back, he called us all together.Â It was the afternoon of August 8, 1969, and his message was simple.Â ‘Now is the time for Helter Skelter’.”
In his book, Watson disputes the theory that Manson had actually meant to send his “Family” to kill a former resident of the Cielo Drive house, Terry MelcherÂ (a record producer who had not signed Manson for a record deal).
Manson In His Own Words, a book drawn from unrecorded interviews with Manson, indicates that Manson already knew that Melcher had moved to Malibu. And Watson writes: “I told the girls we were going to the house where Terry Melcher used to live.”
Sanders, in The Family, alleged that later “Peter Folger, father of Abigail Folger, had spent $500,000 paying people off in this case.”
I am not ““ repeat NOT ““ trying to make Charles Manson into anything less dangerous than he really is, but I am also not trying to make him into some comic book villain who owns the title of most dangerous criminal in the world.
Do I think Charles Manson should be paroled? Absolutely, emphatically, not! He is where he should be. But let’s not forget, Charles Manson is a human being. If anyone had covered up inside knowledge to protect a daughter’s reputation, he or she might have inadvertently created the mystique of a monster, not just a murderer — a man capable of taking down the world with a Bible and a group of hippies.
So, who’s afraid of Charles Manson?Â Not me ““ not any longer.
California Dreamin’. Produced by Paul Koslo and Gabrieal Griego. Presented by the MET Theatre. Plays Thurs.-Sat. 8 pm; Sun. 3 pm. Dark on February 26. Through March 11. Tickets: $20. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., LA. 800-838-3006. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/221462.
***All California Dreamin’ photos by Irene Hovey
Jill Charlotte Thomas previously saw three of her short plays produced at the MET: David, Autobiography, and Audition. She served as casting director on the MET’s production of Window of Opportunity and is currently writing a musical, Summer Holiday. The literary review On The Bus will publish two of her poems in its next issue.