This month, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a member of the Charles Manson family, is scheduled to be released on parole from a federal prison in Texas after serving 34 years behind bars for the attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford in 1975. Squeaky did not participate in the Tate/LaBianca killings, which I began investigating in 1971.
Manson was on Death Row -- before capital punishment was repealed (and later reinstated, but not retroactively) in California -- so I was unable to meet with him. Reporters had to settle for an interview with any prisoner awaiting the gas chamber, and it was unlikely that Charlie would be selected at random for me.
In the course of our correspondence, there was a letter from Manson consisting of a few pages of gibberish about Christ and the Devil, but at one point, right in the middle, he wrote in tiny letters, "Call Squeaky," with her phone number. I called, and we arranged to meet at her apartment in Los Angeles. On an impulse, I brought several tabs of acid with me on the plane.
Squeaky resembled a typical redheaded, freckle-faced waitress who sneaks a few tokes of pot in the lavatory, a regular girl-next-door except perhaps for the unusually challenging nature of her personality, plus the scar of an X that she had gouged and burned into her forehead as a visual reminder of her commitment to Charlie. That same symbol also covered the third eyes of her roommates, Manson family members Sandra Good and Brenda McCann.
"We've crossed ourselves out of this entire system," Squeaky explained.
They all had short hairstyles growing in now, after having completely shaved their heads. They continued to sit on the sidewalk near the Hall of Justice every day, like a coven of faithful nuns bearing witness to Manson's martyrdom.
Sandy Good had seen me perform at The Committee Theater in San Francisco a few years previously. Now she told me that when she first met Charlie and people asked her what he was like, she had compared him to Lenny Bruce and me. It was the weirdest compliment I ever got, but I began to understand Manson's peculiar charisma.
With his sardonic rap, mixed with psychedelic drugs and real-life theater games such as "creepy-crawling" and stealing, he had deprogrammed his family from the values of mainstream society, but reprogrammed them with his own perverted philosophy, a cosmic version of the racism perpetuated by the prison system that had served as his family.
Manson had stepped on Sandy's eyeglasses, thrown away her birth control pills, and inculcated her with racist insensibility. Although she had once been a civil rights activist, she was now asking me to tell John Lennon that he should get rid of Yoko Ono and stay with "his own kind."
"But," I said, "they really love each other."
"If Yoko really loved the Japanese people," Sandy replied, "she would not want to mix their blood."
The four of us ingested those little white tablets containing 300 micrograms of LSD, then took a walk to the office of Laurence Merrick, who had been associated with schlock biker exploitation movies as the prerequisite to directing a sensationalist documentary, Manson.
Squeaky's basic vulnerability emerged as she kept pacing around and telling Merrick that she was afraid of him. He didn't know we were tripping, but he must have sensed the vibes. He may even have gotten a touch of contact high. I engaged him in conversation about movies. We discussed the fascistic implications of The French Connection.
He said, "You're pretty articulate--"
"For a bum," I finished his sentence, and we laughed.
Next we went to the home of some friends of the family, smoked a few joints of soothing grass, and listened to music. They sang along with the lyrics of "The Horse With No Name" -- which I figured was about heroin -- "In the desert you can't remember your name, 'cause there ain't no one there to give you no pain." I was basking in the afterglow of the Moody Blues' "Om" song when Sandy began to speak of "the gray people" -- regular citizens going about their daily business -- that she had been observing from her vantage point on the corner near the Hall of Justice.
"We were just sitting there," she said, "and they were walking along, kind of avoiding us. It's like watching a live movie in front of you. Sometimes I just wanted to kill the gray people, because that was the only way they would be able to experience the total Now."
That was an expression that Manson had borrowed from Scientology. When ranch-hand Shorty Shea was killed, he was first tied up, a few of the girls gave him blowjobs, and when he climaxed, his head was chopped off because he had reached the Now.
Later, Sandy said, "I didn't mean it literally about killing the gray people. I was speaking from another dimension."
She told me that prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi once snarled at her as she kept her vigil outside the courthouse: "We're gonna get you because you sucked Charlie Manson's dick." Bugliosi also accused Squeaky of threatening him during the trial, although reporters who witnessed a confrontation between them on that streetcorner heard him threaten to send her to the gas chamber. The girls just sat there on the sidewalk and laughed. They knew that oral-genital relations did not constitute a capital offense.
When we returned to their apartment, Sandy asked if I wanted to take a hot bath. I felt ambivalent. One of the defense attorneys had told me that he participated in a memorable threesome with Squeaky and Sandy, but I had also been told by a reporter, "It certainly levels the high to worry about getting stabbed while fucking the Manson ladies in the bunkhouse at the Spahn Ranch -- I've found that the only satisfactory position is sitting up, back to the wall, facing the door."
Visions of the classic shower scene in Psycho flashed through my mind, but despite the shrill self-righteousness that infected their True Believer Syndrome, these women had charmed me with their apparent honesty and humor, not to mention their distorted sense of compassion. They sensed my hesitation, and Squeaky, not Sandy, confronted me.
"You're afraid of me," she said, "aren't you?"
"Not really. Should I be?"
Sandy tried to reassure me: "She's beautiful, Paul. Just look into her eyes. Isn't she beautiful?"
Squeaky and I stared silently at each other for a while -- I recalled that Manson had written, "I never picked up anyone who had not already been discarded by society" -- and eventually my eyes began to tear. There were tears in Squeaky's eyes too. She asked me to try on Charlie's vest. It felt like a bizarre honor to participate in this family ceremony. The corduroy vest was a solid inch thick with embroidery -- snakes and dragons and devilish designs including human hair that had been woven into the multi-colored patterns.
Sandy took her bath, but instead of getting into the tub with her -- assuming her invitation had included that -- I sat fully dressed on the toilet and we talked, while I tried not to ogle her pert nipples.
"What's that scar on your back?" I asked.
"It's from a lung operation."
Later, Brenda asked for another tab of acid to send Manson in prison. She ground it into powder which she glued to the stationery with vegetable dye, adding the notation, "Words fly fast," explaining that Charlie would know what it meant. She stayed up late that night, writing letters to several prisoners with the dedication of a polygamous war wife.
Squeaky visited me a few times in San Francisco. On the way to lunch one day, she lit a cigarette, and I told her about the series of advertisements by which women were originally conditioned into smoking: a woman standing next to a man who was smoking; next, a woman saying to the man, "Blow some my way"; and finally a woman smoking her own cigarette. Squeaky simply smiled, said, "Okay," and dropped her cigarette on the sidewalk, crushing it out with her shoe.
Another time, when I attempted to point out a certain fallacy in her logic, she responded, "Well, what do you expect from me? I'm crazy!"
She told me that she had been beaten up by members of the Mel Lyman family from Boston because she wouldn't switch her allegiance to them, even though they'd had plans to break Manson out of jail by means of a helicopter while his trial was taking place.
"They're well organized," she said.
Squeaky mailed me her drawing in red ink of a woman's face with a pair of hands coming out of her mouth. Written in script was the song lyric, "Makes me wanna holler, throw up both my hands...."
Paul Krassner's latest book is Who's to Say What's Obscene: Politics, Culture & Comedy in America Today, with a foreword by Arianna Huffington, available at paulkrassner.com