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258 – The Ghosts of Charles Manson: Music, Mind Control, and Murder

Years after his demise in a California prison, Charles Manson is back in the news. First of all, the crimes of his “Family” provide the backdrop to the latest Quentin Tarantino film, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood and second, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the murders, providing a grim reminder to the world of one of the twentieth century’s most brutal, infamous, and ultimately pointless killing sprees.

While the title of Tarantino’s film is yet another homage to the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western aesthetic that he aped in Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, it’s also fitting. His movie is about the end of an era for an actor, who enjoyed fame and popularity in the 60s but whose star was fading, just as Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns at the end of the decade reinvented a genre to give us violent anti-heroes and a more complicated morality of the American West than was shown in the earlier white hat versus black hat Lone Ranger-style films.

Weird figure and picture of Manson left at the site of the Spahn Ranch where his Family lived. Photo credit: Scott Markus

And that’s the symbolism of the murders committed by the Manson Family. The ’60s were such a cultural milestone because of the 60 million people born in the Baby Boom after World War II. It’s the biggest generation in American history and it’s the first generation to come to prominence with the United States being a political and economic superpower. The culture war was at its peak. It was the hippies vs. the squares, fighting the repressive sexual Puritanism of their parents, fighting against the war in Vietnam that seemed like a useless waste of life, fighting the racism and segregation laws that kept communities apart based on the color of their skin, fighting the corporate excesses and dehumanization of unbridled capitalism, etc…

Charles Manson ran a free love psychedelic cult and worked with the Beach Boys, he had long hair and a beard, spoke in poetic peacenik vocabulary, played folk songs on guitar, and claimed religious and apocalyptic revelation. He represented everything that ever terrified the parents of the Baby Boomers. He prostituted out the girls of his Family for access to Hollywood elite, he did massive amounts of drugs, and he was an ex-convict. He was the über-hippie and knowing that he engineered such carnage and waste of lives seemed to vindicate exactly what they believed about the movement. Americans celebrated a unique human and distinctly American achievement a few weeks earlier with the moon landing, now we mourned the violent ends that years of debauchery, drugs, and fornication had lead to. New Year’s Eve wasn’t for another four months, but Sharon Tate’s murder was the real end of the 60s. Charles Manson was proof that everything your square parents or local sheriff told you about hippies was right.

The abandoned home of The Family in 1969. Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

The thing about Charles Manson is that we picture him as the crazy guy with the swastika on his forehead from all the jailhouse interviews he has done since being convicted. We don’t hear the honey-voiced singer playing songs about peace, love, and “submission” on his acoustic guitar around a California campfire for impressionable young women, made even more suggestible through their rampant psychedelic drug use. He sounds terrifying and volatile, not anything like the person who dropped to his knees and kissed Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys’ feet the first time they had met and said, “Do you think I would ever hurt you, brother?”

That’s the Charles Manson who could draw people to him, that’s the “Charlie” who could convince people that he was a manifestation of Jesus Christ. After all, it was Jesus who famously washed his disciples’ feet in his most famous act of humility. And that’s the Charlie who killed nine people while never pulling a trigger or wielding a knife himself. Not a madman, but a charismatic leader of 100 souls, who could hob nob with music industry elite like the Mamas and the Papas and Neil Young or at Hollywood parties with Michael Caine, who all describe meeting him and his family members.

Here’s an important quote from former Manson Family member, Catherine Share, who didn’t engage in the murders, but did try to intimidate witnesses during Manson’s trial and eventually served five years in prison for Armed Robbery:

Never let anybody else do your thinking for you. Get your self-worth from God and from inside. If someone tells you to do everything they say and claims to have all the answers, and you find yourself nodding a lot, then you’re probably in a cult, whether it has a church’s name or is the Manson Family.

Catherine Share, Los Angeles Magazine, July 1, 2009
The LaBianca House in Los Feliz. Photo credit: Scott Markus

And of course, in a truly modern twist, Ghost Adventures’ star Zak Bagans decided to purchase one of the Manson crime scenes, the LaBianca house where a couple was killed by Family members the night after the Sharon Tate/Cielo Drive murders. He was already interested in Charles Manson, because he featured several “artifacts” like Manson’s hospital gown he died in, the TV he had in prison, and bone fragments from his ashes in his Haunted Museum in Las Vegas. Bagans purchased the house for 1.8 million dollars and hasn’t yet expressed what he’s going to do with it, but announcing the purchase the same week as the Tarantino movie and just weeks before the 50th anniversary means that he timed the purchase for maximum public relations effect.

Now Zak believes these places affected by the Manson Family are haunted and we bring Scott Markus from WhatsYourGhostStory.com and formerly the guide of Los Angeles Hauntings Ghost Tours to discuss the ghost stories surrounding the Spahn Movie Ranch, the Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski house at Cielo Drive (since torn down), and the LaBianca house that Bagans just purchased. Scott has investigated these areas himself and delivers his own impressions of the site in this episode. We talked with Scott about the strange premonitions that Sharon Tate herself received before her murder in Episode 230 and you can check that out right here.

It’s singalong time with Charlie…

One of the things that is often overlooked in people’s examinations of Manson is his music. Musicians were such a dominant force in the culture in the 1960s, they were considered heroes and truth tellers and that’s really where we get the idea of the “Rock Star” from. They weren’t just celebrities and artists, they were deified and their fanbase was maniacal. Manson used music to entice his followers. The subtle properties of subliminal influence in the guise of “peace and love” in his songs is insidious. We talk about that before we play our own version of the song that Manson sold to the Beach Boys, “Cease to Exist.” They recorded it as “Never Learn Not to Love You” and Manson was so incensed that they changed some of his words, he left a bullet in Dennis Wilson’s bed, so we didn’t mess with it too much!

V Is For Valentino: The Ghost of Hollywood’s Original Sex Symbol

I created and ran the LA Hauntings Ghost Tours where I trucked a van-load of tourists, curiosity-seekers, thrill-seekers and paranormal enthusiasts from West Hollywood, through downtown and then down Hollywood Blvd. Whether I was talking about a site we were visiting or filling the time stuck in ‘normal’ LA traffic, one name came up above all others. One might assume I would be talking about Marilyn Monroe or Charlie Chaplin, whose ghosts are reported at multiple locations, but perhaps the most well-traveled ghost I’ve ever heard of is the silent era Casanova, Rudolph Valentino.

Valentino was Hollywood’s first sex symbol. This was at a time when the concept of seeing a person move, larger than life, on screen was a new concept. The blurring of the lines between film and reality, while still tenuous where we feel we ‘know’ celebrities in some way thanks to the familiarity of seeing them repeatedly on screen, must have been even more extreme in this new era of motion pictures. That’s why his sudden and unexpected death in 1926 at the age of just 31 hit fans so hard that suicides were reported, including two girls in Japan who jumped into a volcano as a means to avoid living in a Valentino-less world. Even to this day, funeral services are held on the anniversary of his passing, some 93 years later.

With 13 of his 37 films considered ‘lost,’ we will never have a complete library of Valentino’s work, though his iconic role of the titular character of The Sheik in 1921 has transcended movie history and been the face of everything from Sheik condoms to the current mascot of Hollywood High School.

Unfortunately, Valentino’s reign as one of the top draws in all of film came to a quick end when he died in New York due to series of complications that started with punctured ulcers.

Valentino made an enormous mark on this world and this larger than life figure appears to still have more life left to experience. So, we will now take you through some of the many places Valentino still enjoys.

Though he’s so associated with Hollywood history, Valentino actually shot many of his films in New York. The Famous Players-Lasky studio commissary from the 1920s is currently open as a public restaurant called George’s. It is here that people have spied Valentino sitting at the bar, sipping martinis. The location is still a film studio, now called Kaufman Astoria Studios. This independent lot has been the long time home of Sesame Street and boasts Birdman and Orange is the New Black as some of its recent high-profile productions. If Valentino wants to stay near the action, he’s found a great place to do it!

Heading across the country to LA, Valentino found his dream home perched atop a ridge along Benedict Canyon. In 1925 he and his spiritualist costume designer wife Natacha Rambova moved into the home he would name Falcon Lair after a script that Rambova wrote, which he hoped to star in. The house looks out over Beverly Hills, but the view immediately west would’ve looked considerable different on one summer night in 1969 as the vantage point looks across Cielo Drive and into the Polanski/Tate estate where the Manson family committed one of the most famous mass murders in US history. This is irrelevant to Valentino, but fascinating to point out, nonetheless. This area is also considered a geomagnetic anomaly zone as there is unusually high amounts of EM energy emanating from the earth at this site. Those with an interest in the paranormal speculate that it’s due to all of this energy that allows for spirits to visit more easily from the other side. Perhaps this is why Valentino has been seen at this property by multiple owners and across several decades, starting immediately after his death. Caretakers were surprised to hear phantom footsteps, see door knobs turn and doors open and close by themselves. The only thing more surprising was that the normally alert dogs didn’t seem to notice or care. Perhaps to them, nothing was surprising… their owner was just walking through the house. The last person to publically acknowledge seeing the movie star was tobacco heir Doris Duke and her butler, Bernard Lefferty who saw him on multiple occasions from the 1950s through ‘80s. According to her, his appearances became less frequent as her time there drew on. She passed away in 1993 and the house itself was tragically leveled in 2006. Some remnants still exist, but the hose is essentially lost. Have later tenants experienced anything? We do not know. However, as of this writing, the home on Valentino’s property is up for sale, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the future homeowners will be interested in ghost hunting.

When Duke and Lefferty saw Valentino, he was wearing his horse riding attire. Just down the hill from the house stood the horse stables. Valentino’s ghost has been seen there petting and tending to living horses. One encounter was so surprising that is prompted a stable hand to quit on the spot. Though the stables are currently gone, Valentino’s ghost has still been seen in this area, sometimes accompanied by a phantom horse. Other times, it’s only the sound of a horse that’s heard.

There are stories that Valentino would ride his white horse into downtown Hollywood to drink and tango the night away at the new and swanky Knickerbocker Hotel on Ivar. Once his martini consumption became one-too-many, Valentino would get back up on his trusty steed and pass out. The well-trained horse would then walk back to Valentino’s house. How’s that for a a designated driver? It is said that Valentino can still be seen dancing the night away in the former lounge, now a Russian Restaurant. The only problem with this story is that Valentino died before this building was constructed. That said, in Chicago, we have seen the ballroom ghost Resurrection Mary relocate once her original ballroom closed down. So maybe it is possible to continue exploring new sites after death. Another unique footnote of the Knickerbocker is that this was the site of the famous Holloween night rooftop séance where Bess Houdini attempted to make contact with her late magician husband.

The other possibility is that the Knickerbocker is being confused for the nearby Hudson Apartments on Hollywood Blvd where it is rumored Valentino was involved in the operation of a speakeasy.

The corner of Hollywood and Highland is now the enormous megaplex that houses the Dolby Theter and has hosted every Academy Award ceremony since 2002. However, the location used to house a much more modest Hollywood Hotel. It is at this hotel that, after Valentino’s death, women in room 264 would report a surprise visitation and even get a phantom kiss from Valentino himself. This, or similar stories, is actually associated with a number of locations including Casa Valentino in Oxnard, CA and the Santa Maria Inn in Santa Maria, CA.

A more frightening version of the story took place in 1988 at a site that was rumored to be haunted by the Latin Lover. A woman heard someone else in the room breathing, though she knew she was alone. In moments, someone jumped into bed with her. Fearing the worst, she turned on the lights to find that she was, in fact, still alone. At this point, separated by generations, perhaps the new encounters with Valentino’s amorous ghost won’t be as welcome as they once were. This more frightening encounter, once an apartment building, is now part of the Paramount Studios complex, on 716 Valentino Pl. Since we’re talking about Paramount, it should be noted that the iconic Paramount Gates were constructed specifically to keep out Valentino’s crowds. However, he passed away before construction was complete, so they were never put to their intended use.

The legendary Musso & Frank Grill, also on Hollywood Blvd deserves its own lengthy post (if not a full feature length documentary), so, for now, I will skim over nearly all the history of this, Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, with connections to Charlie Chaplin (and his ghost), Douglas Fairbanks, Johnny Depp, Mickey Cohen, F. Scott Fitzgerald & Charles Bukowski to instead say that Valentino’s charming ghost is still on the scene, catching eyes and smiling warmly at women near the back of the restaurant.

Even Valentino’s dog, Kabar, continues to make his presence known at the Calabasas Pet Cemetery. The same cemetery that holds the remains of the MGM lion and Charlie Chaplin’s cat, visitor’s to Kabar’s grave have reported having their hands licked by a phantom dog.

And now we’re finally up to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Valentino’s final resting. As one might expect, his funeral was an incredible affair with a procession that started in New York. Much like Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train, crowds gathered from coast to coast to watch it past, including “hundreds of cowboys and Indians” in Yuma, AZ and a horde of onlookers that broke through police lines according to the Oakland Tribune. However, the crowds had diminished by the time the funeral train reached Los Angeles. Only an estimated 200 were gathered to see the casket removed from the train in LA. The funeral was small and invite-only, however hundreds of fans lined the street for the procession from the church to the cemetery where thousands more were waiting. Flowers were dropped by an airplane over the proceedings.

Due to the shocking and sudden nature of Valentino’s death, funeral arrangements had not been made. Valentino was placed, temporarily into a crypt owned by June Mathis, who was a writer who discovered Valentino when she cast him in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. However, within a year Mathis had also died suddenly at age 40 due to a heart ailment. The plan was for Valentino to eventually be placed into a memorial designed for him. However, the high spending Valentino died in debt and the stock market crash sealed the fate. There are reports that Valentino has been seen walking from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery over to Paramount Studios next door, however, Valentino is just one of many reports of many entities making that trek back to work from the cemetery.

The tiny De Longpre Park, houses one of the monuments that was originally designed for Valentino’s memorial. There are claims of paranormal activity at this location, but that pay also be associated with two deaths that have also happened here.

While Valentino may have been struck down at the height of his popularity, it seems that death has not been the end of Rudolph Valentino’s adventures!

L Is For Los Angeles: Haunting Pioneers of L.A.

When you think of Los Angeles, images of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood surely come to mind, alongside imagery of traffic and paparazzi. When considering LA’s older ghost stories, you may think of Marilyn Monroe, or silent era icons like Charlie Chaplin or Rudolph Valentino, but LA’s roots go back much further, which some very old structures still remaining, cared for by the watchful spirits of those who helped build (as Steve Martin would misquote in LA Story), “This other Eden… demi-paradise… this ground… this Los Angeles.”

Olvera Street is a marvelously restored, historic section of Los Angeles, just a few blocks from the heart of downtown LA. Spain was aware of the land that would become California and, in 1781, decided to send 11 Mexican families to establish a community here. Russia had already conquered the area we now know as Alaska and the fear was that they would work their way down the Pacific Coast. The first settlements in LA ended up getting washed away by the LA river, but the first community that stuck is this area, originally named (translated) Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels, or Los Angeles for short.

Avila Adobe

Located on the North end of Olvera Street, the Avila Adobe is the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles. The house was built in 1818 by former mayor Francisco Avila. It was built traditionally for the time and culture, originally featuring a flat, tarred roof, utilizing tar from the La Brea Tar Pits, which was grazing land Avila’s cattle.

This house was Avila’s family’s home, though he himself only visited on weekends. However, it was also a grand house to entertain friends, which the Avila family did frequently. Though, no battle took place here, American troops did take over the house for use as a headquarters until the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed, thus ending the Mexican-American War.

Massive earthquakes in 1870 and 1971 damaged the frail house, making it uninhabitable for large stretches of time. Today, thanks to tremendous preservation efforts, a seven-room portion of the house has been restored and can be visited daily for free.

Today, the home is not only frequented by guests, but also by original owner Francisco Avila, who is said to talk the halls and plaza, continuing to look over his impressive homestead and the village he once presided over as mayor. In addition to being seen clearly in the house, in the courtyard and in front of the house, people have also heard his heavy boots as he invisibly wanders the halls of the house. People have also observed shadow people throughout the structure.

Avila’s first wife, Maria, died in 1822. He later remarried to a woman named Encarnación. It is Encarnación’s ghost that is said to also inhabit the house long after her 1855 death. Some witnesses have seen a female form sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch while others have heard the sound of feminine crying within the home, apparently coming from the master bedroom. The belief is that her immense sorrow of learning of her husband’s death is the intense emotion that still plays out, in residual form.

One of Avila Adobe’s Haunted Bedrooms

Today, the home is not only frequented by guests, but also by original owner Francisco Avila, who is said to talk the halls and plaza, continuing to look over his impressive homestead and the village he once presided over as mayor. In addition to being seen clearly in the house, in the courtyard and in front of the house, people have also heard his heavy boots as he invisibly wanders the halls of the house. People have also observed shadow people throughout the structure.

Avila’s first wife, Maria, died in 1822. He later remarried to a woman named Encarnación. It is Encarnación’s ghost that is said to also inhabit the house long after her 1855 death. Some witnesses have seen a female form sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch while others have heard the sound of feminine crying within the home, apparently coming from the master bedroom. The belief is that her immense sorrow of learning of her husband’s death is the intense emotion that still plays out, in residual form.

Just 500 feet to the south, continuing down Olivera Street and through the plaza is the Pico House, a building once considered the most luxurious hotel in Los Angeles. The building was constructed in 1870 by successful businessman and the last governor of Los Angeles while under Mexican rule, Pio Pico.

The Pico House was an immediate success for years upon it’s opening. The 82-room hotel was in high demand through 1900, when the business center of the city shifted south. It was this shift that ended the glory days for this area.

However, even its glory days were not always so glorious. Just days after the city of Chicago burned to the ground in the great fire, a different kind of fire would rage in Los Angeles. A fire made up of vengeance and anger.

This location bordered the original Chinatown and two warring Chinese immigrant associations were battling each other when Jesus Bilderrain, one of only six police officers in Los Angeles, heard shots ring out. He found one Chinese gang member bleeding in the street when he was struck by a non-fatal bullet in the shoulder. Nearby tavern owner, Robert Thompson, came to aid and was eventually shot in the chest and killed. A city already rife with prejudice against the Chinese exploded. A mob stormed Chinatown, indiscriminately attacking any inhabitant they could find. Buildings and storefronts were damaged, easily hundreds of people were beat up and dozens more were hanged to death throughout Chinatown. The majority of the slayings took place just steps from the Pico House, on the land that is now LA’s Union Station.

In the end, at least 17 Chinese were killed, including young boys. Questions persist over Even Builderrain’s story. Was he a hero cop, shot in the line of duty, or was he merely a key member of a murderous lynch mob? Regardless of how it all went down, there is belief that some of those killed are still present at the Pico House. Some of the spirits are apparently vengeful, as an episode of “Ghost Adventures” talked to a security guard who claimed they were kicked in the back of the leg while walking down a staircase.

Additionally, Pio Pico himself is often seen looking over his land from the roof or upper windows of the Pico house. Much like Mayor Avila, he appears to be keeping tabs on the land he presided over in life. It’s also worth noting that, aside from the lit street lamps and the hum of nearby traffic, the setting is preserved, locked in time, so perhaps its this familiarity that makes Olvera Street, the Avila Adobe, the Pico House and a number of other nearby buildings such a desirable place for past tenants to remain, long after their deaths.

90 – Houdini & Doyle: The True Story Behind Their Paranormal Bromance

So, Wendy and I recorded this episode while on a trip to the sunny California Dream Factory and saw the previews for a show we’d talked about all the way back in Episode 36 – Paranormal Lit 101: Victorian Horror with Brian J. Showers. Houdini & Doyle is the show that turns the friendship between escape artist Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into a crime solving duo. We haven’t seen it yet, but we thought we’d talk about the real relationship between the two men, who were on very different sides of the Spiritualism equation in the 1920s.

For a fun little side note, we not only went back to visited with rock photographer Jimmy Steinfeldt, the Rock n’ Roll Lens (get his awesome book of rock photography here!) at his studio in Laurel Canyon . Fun fact, it was formerly the home of Gary Kurtz, a producer on Star Wars, but more importantly for us, producer on Return To Oz (which I’ve referenced in this podcast way too many times!)  So that was a nice little dose of extra nerdery for me.

And here’s the nice tribute to Prince that was on the Rock Walk at Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.

Lovely tribute to #Prince at the Rock Walk.

A photo posted by sunspotmike (@sunspotmike) on

Spiritualism was the movement that grew to massive heights in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. With so many people dying in the American Civil War and the massive loss of life that occurred in the First World War, people were desperate for ways to contact their deceased loved ones. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of these, he was always interested in the supernatural, but became obsessed after losing his first wife in 1906 and his son shortly before the end of World War I.

doyle & houdini
Here’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with that smoking walrus look that was so hot at the turn of the century.

Spiritualist mediums would hold séances where spirit faces would appear, strange knocks and sounds would respond as answers to questions, ectoplasm would manifest seemingly from nowhere, fingerprints would show up on the table that weren’t from any of the attendees. The mediums said that they could talk to the dead and Conan Doyle ate it right up.

Houdini & Doyle
Houdini gonna getcha!

Harry Houdini was the most famous magician in the world and it wasn’t uncommon for performers like himself to claim that they had real supernatural powers. But when his beloved mother passed away, Harry was desperate to talk to her again. He attended séance after séance to try and find some evidence of the paranormal, of a connection to the afterlife. But he knew the stage and he knew sleight of hand, he knew how to trick people and he knew when he was being tricked. Houdini debunked every one of the mediums he came into contact with.

houdini & doyle
Peanut butter and chocolate, at last!

They met in New York City in 1920 when the author was doing a weeklong stint of speeches at Carnegie Hall about Spiritualism. Houdini found Conan Doyle an intelligent counterpoint to his skepticism and Doyle thought that Houdini had magical powers and that he was just covering up his supernatural abilities by saying it was all illusion. They even went on a little jaunt to Atlantic City together where in the swimming pool, Houdini amazed the old Scotsman with how long he could hold his breath underwater.

Eventually things started going south when Sir Arthur had his wife do a special medium session where she claimed to be able to contact Harry’s mother through automatic writing (that’s where spirits take over the hand of the writer or influence their subconscious to communicate with the living .) It went on for hours but Houdini was just disappointed in the end when the mother wrote in perfect English (she was Hungarian and knew very little of the language of their American adopted home) and also when she made no mention of it being her birthday on the day she made contact (a fact that only Houdini knew in the room.)

Their relationship continued to cool off when Houdini was on a special investigation panel for Scientific American and he debunked a medium named Mina “Margery” Crandon that Conan Doyle championed.

But even the world’s most famous escape artist couldn’t escape the Grim Reaper. He died  on Halloween in 1926. His wife Bess held a séance every year on the anniversary of his death until after ten years she quit, believing that she never got the special message that Harry promised to send her from the other side.

Because this episode really is about being desperate to know that there’s something   wanting to contact the loved ones who have gone before them, we thought that our track, “Viking Funeral” would be appropriate because it’s a tribute to those we’ve left behind.

To the dearly departed,
and all the human sacrifice,
and to all the broken hearted,
who never got to roll the dice.

For tonight we ride,
with ghosts at our side,
of all the ones whom fate was so unkind.
All the promises unkept,
and the tears we never wept,
this one goes out to the left behind.

For all the broken arrows,
who never hit the mark,
We’ll see you on the flambeaus,
as we sing dirges in the dark.

For tonight we ride,
with ghosts at our side,
of all the ones whom fate was so unkind.
All the promises unkept,
and the tears we never wept,
this one goes out to the left behind.

For tonight we ride,
with ghosts at our side,
of all the ones whom fate was so unkind.
All the promises unkept,
and the tears we never wept,
this one goes out to the left behind.

For tonight we ride,
with ghosts at our side,
of all the ones whom fate was so unkind.
All the promises unkept,
and the tears we never wept,
this one goes out to the left behind.
credits