by Jude Southerland Kessler
Our 318Central Summer Book Read for June!!!
In August of 1969, no one was better positioned to research Charles Manson’s followers than sharp and savvy reporter, Ivor Davis. As Foreign Correspondent for the London Daily Express, Davis was living in Los Angeles, only miles from the Manson Family’s “home” at the Spahn Movie Ranch on the outskirts of Hollywood. And for a decade, Davis had had his finger on the very pulse of The Sixties; he had been an integral part of every major event.
Davis had toured with The Beatles on both the 1964 and 1965 North American Tours and was with The Beatles on that momentous evening when they met Elvis. He was also right beside Bobby Kennedy when Kennedy was tragically assassinated in the Summer of l968. As one of Ronald Regan’s “Boys on the Bus,” Davis was assigned to travel with the actor who ended up with a starring role — as President of the United States! And, back in the early Sixties he was smuggled onto campus (disguised as a student since the press corps was banned) to witness the riots and bloodshed as James Meredith became the first African American admitted to the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
So, it wasn’t surprising that in December l969, Davis made his way to the Spahn Ranch to investigate the sordid proceedings that led up to the Manson Family’s grisly Tate/La Bianca murders. Then, he presented the facts that he uncovered in the chilling, award-winning work, Five to Die, the first book to chronicle life with Manson and his killer band.
Now, 50 years later, Ivor Davis has released a completely new and expanded work on the subject entitled, Manson Exposed: A Reporter’s 50-Year Journey into Madness and Murder which landed as an Amazon e-book best seller the first week it was released! I was thrilled to be able to sit down with Ivor and talk about what he’s experienced and discovered about the case in the five decades since the horrific events occurred.
Jude Southerland Kessler: Ivor, please take us back to 1969, when you were living in Los Angeles and heard about the gruesome atrocities committed by the Manson Family. What did you do at that point? And what did you find out?
Ivor Davis: Jude, don’t forget that communications back in l969 were not what they are today. News did not flash around the world in a nanosecond as happens with the internet today. So, all I knew in August l969 was that there had been some murders in a quiet, supposedly safe canyon neighborhood in the privileged enclaves of Beverly Hills. And so, as a foreign correspondent for a big overseas daily newspaper, I rushed to the scene to try and find out what had happened. It took almost a full day before the facts emerged — and we learned of the true carnage that had unfolded in the hilltop mansion, with one of the victims the beautiful actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant when she was killed and who was the wife of the famous film director Roman Polanski.
Kessler: So, after days of gathering facts from the Manson Family members at the ranch, you sat down to write your first book on the subject, Five to Die. Is it true that this book was so meticulously researched and so factual that it was accepted as part of the official court record? And if so, how did this come about?
Davis: Here’s what happened. For four months I pursued the case — as the police tried in vain to solve those heinous murders. In Hollywood, movie stars like Steve McQueen, Warren Beatty, and Frank Sinatra were terrified. Many rushed out and bought guns and hired security guards. No one felt safe. It wasn’t until December 1 st 1969 that Los Angeles Police Chief Edward Davis revealed the names of the suspects – and said their leader was a man named Manson who lived with his “Family” on an old movie ranch called The Spahn Ranch.
Hearing this, I immediately rushed to Spahn Ranch, a decrepit old place, where much to my surprise I was able to interview several members of the Manson Family — members who were not involved in the killings. And the story they spun was beyond belief! Just before the trial began, I wrote that quick book Five to Die — and then later learned that most of the details from the book were used by the prosecution as the motive of the murders: a blueprint for the district attorney.
Kessler: What were those shocking details?
Davis: Manson Family members (Brooks Poston and Paul Watkins) told me that Manson brainwashed his followers by insisting that the lyrics from some songs off The Beatles 1968 White Album, (“Helter Skelter,” “Revolution,” and “Rocky Racoon”) were, in fact, secret messages ….. messages sent to Manson by The Beatles, warning him of an impending race war in America. In fact, Manson played The Beatles’ music ten times a day as he handed out LSD and mescaline to his programmed disciples.
Well, knowing The Beatles’ songs, I quickly realized that Manson’s thesis was utter rubbish. And it was. Yet, much to my surprise, when the trial began, Vincent Bugliosi, the deputy district attorney, fed that motive to the jury. And they believed it. Because after a year-long trial Manson and his gang of killers were convicted of first-degree murder!
Kessler: Now, 50 years later, you’ve released a greatly-expanded new work on Charles Manson and the horrific murders, Manson Exposed. What is new and different in this volume?
Davis: My first book never covered the trial. My new book covers the whole Big Picture — right up until Manson’s death in 2017. And over the years, I’ve interviewed dozens of people involved in the case. For example, I’ve talked extensively with Vincent Bugliosi’s deputy, deputy district attorney Stephen Kay who has, since the trial, devoted his life to making sure the Manson disciples are not given parole. I’ve spoken at great length with Roman Polanski, the Oscar-winning film director who lost not only his wife but also his unborn son. I’ve also spent time with Doris Day’s son, Terry Melcher. Terry was a hotshot Hollywood record producer, who was persuaded to audition Charles Manson, who desperately wanted to be a rock star. But Melcher decided Manson didn’t have what it took to become a star — and dropped him. Now, most people don’t realize this shocking important fact: Melcher and his girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen, lived in the Cielo Drive murder house! However, they had moved out three months before Sharon Tate and her husband Polanski moved in. Melcher said that for a long time he was terrified that Manson had sent his gang out to kill him … in revenge … because Manson was furious at being rejected by the record producer. But that wasn’t the case.
Kessler: As you just mentioned, Manson firmly asserted, in court, that The Beatles’ song, “Helter Skelter” inspired him to plan and direct the Tate/La Bianca murders. What was Manson’s exact claim? For those who aren’t Beatles fans, please tell them what the song entails.
Davis: Yes, let me elaborate a bit on that vitally important issue. “Helter Skelter” is not — and I repeat not about suggesting people go out to kill. Listen to the lyrics! It’s Paul McCartney’s song about the magical, frantic feeling of a British fairground ride. John Lennon told me years afterwards that Manson was a maniac — and again, John suggested that everyone listen carefully to the words in his own song “Revolution.” “Revolution” clearly states: “If you want money for people with minds that hate/ All I can tell you is, brother, you have to wait!” So, “Revolution” is a song about peaceful and organized change. Moreover, it’s a song about changing yourself. “I ask you,” Lennon said to me, “What has that song to do with stabbing people?”
Kessler: One of the incidents that you didn’t discuss in your first book Five to Die is the threat on your life that occurred as a result of your investigation into the Manson case. And you do go into that in Manson Exposed. Please tell us a bit about what happened, if you don’t mind.
Davis: Very simply, on the first day of the murder trial in July 1970, Lynn “Squeaky” Fromme – one of Manson’s most devoted followers who was not involved in the murders – was sitting on the sidewalk outside the Los Angeles Hall of Justice, where the trial was playing out. She recognized me immediately as the author of Five to Die — a book that had slammed Manson and his dangerously crazy lifestyle. (I had met her at the Spahn Ranch in December 1969.)
That day in the summer of 1970, in a sweet, little girl voice, she called out, “Hello Ivor … do you know what it feels like to have a sharp knife slid down your throat?”
I was not amused—and took it as a threat. I called my wife and told her to take our daughter Rebecca, who was one year old, and move out of our house into a friend’s house. I knew what horrendous things the Manson gang was capable of.
Kessler: Ivor, in 2020, moviegoers were treated to the cinematic story of that 1969 summer in Hollywood in which the Manson murders occurred. It was chronicled in a film called Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. How close to the truth was the film?
Davis: The movie was fascinating. It captured l969 and the mood, the music, and atmosphere in Hollywood so perfectly. It also captured the atmosphere at the Spahn Movie Ranch – an eerie place full of young women who did whatever Manson ordered – including murder. But the actual movie script is — well, a fairy story. It doesn’t portray the actual facts of those killings. But I don’t want to elaborate or spoil it for those who haven’t seen the Quentin Tarantino film. And I don’t want to minimize, in any way, the superb acting of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt … and Margot Robbie (as Best Supporting Actress) who plays Sharon Tate. Furthermore, Manson has a very, very brief walk-on role! But the facts of the Manson murders are not presented accurately.
Kessler: Well, Ivor, I sincerely appreciate the gift of your time in setting the record straight about The Beatles’ role in this awful event as well as the gift of your expertise in delving into the facts in the Manson Case. I’ve read both of your books, and both are superb. However, to get the complete story of Manson from the objective perspective of 50 years after the event, I highly recommend Manson Exposed! And therefore, it’s our first “318Central Summer Book Read” selection for 2022!
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And you can hear Ivor talking candidly about his book, Manson Exposed, on the latest “She Said She Said” podcast with author Lanea Stagg of The Recipe Records Series and Jude Southerland Kessler of The John Lennon Series here: https://shesaidshesaid.podbean.com/e/ivor-davis-tells-the-real-story-of-the-manson-murders/
Or view this YouTube interview “Manson Exposed: Helter Skelter is Rubbish” with Ivor Davis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2LnVRxVmLo