I was nine years old in August 1969 when the Tate-LaBianca murders were committed, and I have a vague recollection of hearing a radio news story about it at the time. In December ’69, I watched a TV newscast about a “hippie cult” arrested in the desert. I’d always thought of hippies as these colorful, fun-loving figures, and I dressed like a miniature hippie in bright neon-colored clothes, headbands, and Nehru-collared dresses.
But the black and white news clip under this text shows a barren, grey desert, a scary, washed-out hippie girl and talk about murder. It frightened me and the barren desert looked more like Mars than the promised land of California.
In October 1969, the Weathermen (the militant faction of the Students for a Democratic Society) organized the Days of Rage, a series of protests in downtown Chicago. They smashed windows and vandalized buildings. I asked my Dad “Are they gonna stay downtown, or are they going to come to our neighborhood?” That was the first time I’d been scared of hippies.
This talk about a hippie cult in California was so far removed from my suburban Chicago home I didn’t feel threatened, just fascinated and scared in a middle-of-the-road kind of way. Then the trial began, and I was hooked. I tuned into the news every night and saved newspaper clippings about the trial. I couldn’t believe the girls in this cult were the same age as some of my babysitters, neighbors, and teachers.
The girls were scary enough, but Charlie, well, I couldn’t even look at him.