Penticton reporter reflects on covering Charles Manson

Charles Manson, leader of a murderous cult, died on Sunday at 83

A retired Penticton reporter is reflecting on the impact Charles Manson’s murderous cult left behind after authorities announced his death Sunday evening.

Manson became the hypnotic-eyed face of evil across America after orchestrating the gruesome murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles during the summer of 1969. He died Sunday after nearly a half-century in prison. He was 83.

Related: Charles Manson, leader of murderous ’60s cult, dead at 83

Deb Pfeiffer spent the majority of her reporting career covering California news, entering the media business in the 1980s, years after Manson was arrested and put in jail.

But the impact that story had was felt even decades later when Pfeiffer set out to work on a 40th-anniversary story.

In May 2009, the isolated Barker Ranch cabin in Death Valley where Manson was arrested was gutted by a fire.

Later that year, while working for the San Bernardino Sun, Pfeiffer reached out to those affected by Manson’s crimes.

She managed to snag an interview with Vincent Bugliosi – chief prosecutor in the Manson case and author of Helter Skelter, the story of the Manson murders.

“I thought I would never get a hold of him, but he actually called me back,” said Pfeiffer.

“It was so vivid in his memory. What struck me was that this was 2009 when I was interviewing him and yet the memory was very fresh in his mind. What happened, 40 years later, was still fresh in the minds of those who met him. It stuck with people because it was so awful.”

“He convinced them that he was the second coming of Christ and the devil all wrapped up in one,” Bugliosi told Pfeiffer in the 2009 San Bernardino Sun article. “He was also a racist who believed that by committing the crimes, then blaming it on black men, he could create an apocalyptic race war known as Helter Skelter, while the family hid out at Barker Ranch.”

Pfeiffer said she cannot imagine the impact the case must have had on those immersed in it.

“How horrifying it must of been for him (Bugliosi), for anyone involved with it back then. It was such a terrible crime – they stabbed a pregnant actress to death.”

The slayings horrified the world and, together with the deadly violence that erupted later in 1969 during a Rolling Stones concert at California’s Altamont Speedway, exposed the dangerous, drugged-out underside of the counterculture movement. Pfeiffer said this case seemed to mark the end of the era of peace and love.

“It happened right at the end of the 60s, the hippy-dippy time was really over when that happened,” said Pfeiffer.

“The country was going in such a negative direction, so many people led astray by Charles Manson.”

After a trial that lasted nearly a year, Manson and three followers — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — were all found guilty of murder.

“It was one of the worst crimes ever in Southern California. It really did mark the end of an era, a time that was supposed to be about changing the direction of the US and instead, there was this horrific crime that struck with people, that marked people for the rest of their lives. It had a far-reaching impact on so many people,” said Pfeiffer.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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@carmenweld
carmen.weld@bpdigital.ca

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