The Shadow Over Santa Susana
Interview with author Adam Gorightly
Interview by Ronnie

Since this month we are examining the music of Charles Manson in our rock 'n roll case study article, I decided to touch upon the subject with author Adam Gorightly. His book about Manson, THE SHADOW OVER SANTA SUSANA is one of the best books on Manson that I've read in some time.

E.C.: First, I wanted to ask you about the origins of your Manson book. Why did you feel there was a need for another Manson book? What did you think was missing from the Bugliosi (HELTER SKELTER) and Sanders (THE FAMILY) books that needed to be told?

Adam Gorightly: I think both HELTER SKELTER and THE FAMILY are great books in their own right. They both have their shortcomings, but I owe a lot to the work of both Sanders and Bugliosi. Particularly Sanders, and the colorful late 60's writing style he used in THE FAMILY, which I, in turn, kind of co-opted for THE SHADOW OVER SANTA SUSANA. I tried to create a hip, conversational style for the book, oozing with dark psychedelia, which some love and others hate. Whatever the case, this approach was obviously influenced, to a great degree, by Mr. Sanders.

My initial motivation for writing THE SHADOW OVER SANTA SUSANA was due to Manson Family conspiracy theories I'd heard over the years that had not really been addressed in other books. So I began my research basically as a means to find out if there were any truth to these conspiracy theories, which I found immensely intriguing, such as: was the Manson Family the product of an MK-ULTRA government sponsored mind control experiment?

Such conspiracy theories as this and others are what initially prompted me to look into the case. Somewhere along the line I decided I needed to look at Manson's whole life to put the story into context. From that point the book took on a life of its own, 3 years and nearly 600 pages later! I think THE SHADOW OVER SANTA SUSANA is different from the majority of books on the case in that I didn't have an agenda going in, as did Sanders, Bugliosi and so many others. I tried to approach the whole thing with an open mind.

E.C.: I'm just curious - after all these years have passed, how do you find accurate new information about the murders?

Adam Gorightly: I don't know if I ever came across any "accurate new information". What I did was just take all the available information on hand regarding the case, then tried to connect a few dots. Then from connecting these dots I presented various theories, then let the reader decide if they had any value. At the least, I hope THE SHADOW OVER SANTA SUSANA provides my readers with some entertainment value.

E.C.: In your research for your book, was there anything that surprised you, i.e. any 'relevations' relating to the Charles Manson case?

Adam Gorightly: No major revelations, just a handful of strange anecdotes that seemed to portend to a greater conspiracy lurking behind the Tate/LaBianca murders. For instance, during Manson's childhood in West Virginia, his mother was a prostitute, and Charlie's mom was a friend of another prostitute who just so happened to be the mother of Sara Jane Moore, who later attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford. In fact, Charlie and Sara Jane Moore were childhood friends. Later Manson Family member Squeaky Fromme attempted to assassinate Ford, as well. These were just many of the strange coincidences, synchronicities, or, dare I say it, conspiracies that I happened upon during the course of my research. By itself, this odd little anecdote probably wouldn't mean that much, but when you start lining up all the other seeming "coincidences" that make up the Manson story, one starts to see a pattern emerge, which appears to point in the direction of certain conspiracies revolving around the case. Coincidence or conspiracy? You decide!

E.C.: At 600 pages, did you have to leave anything out?

Adam Gorightly: Well, it's actually 576 pages, but who's counting. No, I didn't leave anything out, although I reached a point where I felt enough was enough. You see, researching the Manson Family could go on forever, there's so many leads and avenues someone could follow if they wanted to go there. My project actually started out quite simple, then got out of control. I originally envisioned a small volume dedicated to Manson Family conspiracies. What THE SHADOW OVER SANTA SUSANA turned into is arguably one of the most comprehensive books on the case.

E.C.: What was the inspiration for the cool cover for the book?

Adam Gorightly: Well, THE SHADOW OVER SANTA SUSANA itself was the inspiration for the cover. The artwork was done by Ashleigh Talbot, who read the book and then came up with her great cover. To learn more about Madame Talbot set your web browser to

E.C.: This next question has quite a few parts to it…I have wondered about the 'musical motive' behind the murders. Your book quotes Manson as saying that his musical career was never of great importance to him. Yet, he spent a lot of time and effort trying to get signed and he had at least three recording sessions (Universal in 1967, Van Nuys in 1968 and Brian Wilson's home studio in 1968).

Adam Gorightly: I think the music career WAS important to Charlie. I think he just had trouble staying focused, or couldn't figure out what it took to make it, and so when things didn't turn out the way he wanted, he put up this front that it wasn't that important to him.

E.C.: In your research, did you listen to Manson's music for any kind of clues to his motives?

Adam Gorightly: No, I didn't find any direct clues to the crimes in Manson's music. However, I suspect he used many of his songs to indoctrinate his followers. For instance, the lyrics to one song called YOUR HOME IS WHERE YOU ARE HAPPY go: "So burn all your bridges/leave the old life behind/you can do what you want to do/'Cause your strong in your mind". At first glance, this song is like many another hippy dippy anthem from the period, but if you look at it more closely you can see the subtle programming Charlie used on his girls. He would first separate them from their old lives and families, and then he would become their new father and bring them into his Family. Music was a means that Charlie used to build a bond within his Family. Manson Family members always adopted new names, and practiced a form of ego loss through LSD experimentation, role playing and group sex. Through these different practices Manson was able to strip his disciples of their identities, and then build new identities. In this way, some would argue, Charlie created his own army of killers. First with peace and love, then later with buck knives and bad vibes.

E.C.: There are so many music-people that are tied to Manson in some way or another: Terry Melcher, Dennis Wilson, Gregg Jakobson, Mama Cass Eliot, John Phillips and Neil Young. Do you think that he was just envious of the power of rock stars, or do you think that he perhaps thought he would have power over the youth once they 'dug' the messages in his songs?

Adam Gorightly: Yes, he was envious. I mean, who doesn't want to be a rock star?

As far as having power over the youth with his songs, who knows what really went on in Charlie's head. But former Family member Paul Watkins certainly felt that Charlie had plans of influencing the counterculture with his music on a widespread level. He'd already surrounded himself with a group of followers, so what's to say that he couldn't have attracted a cult following with his music. Certainly Manson must have entertained these thoughts. At least that's what Watkins suggests in his book MY LIFE WITH CHARLES MANSON.

E.C.: I didn't hear Charlie's music until many years after I had read about him. I've got to admit that it was definitely anti-climatic. You are expecting some dark, heavy music and what you hear is basically a folkie. And while his lyrics could be interesting, he was nowhere close to being Dylan. However, from what I've heard (the LIE album and the '67 demos)- Charlie definitely HAD talent. And evidently, several people saw 'something' in him (Gregg Jakobson thought Charlie would come across better on film-hence his ideas about a documentary). But just how much of this had to do with his female entourage I guess we'll never know. I just think that Charlie lacked the discipline necessary for the recording studio - I mean, bringing 20 family members in is not conducive to recording, plus Charlie refused to do overdubs. Getting a good recording meant that he had to play by 'someone else's rules', i.e. follow instructions (or 'orders' as he would have probably seen it) by an experienced sound engineer to get a proper recording. I know that becoming a 'hit' takes more than talent, it is a lot of luck, too. But, do you think that IF he could have got it together, listened to the sound engineer and gotten a decent recording that Charlie would have been a hit?

Adam Gorightly: Sure, Charlie could have been successful. There were a lot of recording artists during the late 60's who made it who were a lot less talented than Manson. Perhaps, if Charlie'd been successful, we would have written history a little differently.

E.C.: Also, if he was so concerned about getting signed, why don't you think he spent more effort in contacting the Beatles? In 1968 their newly formed Apple records was advertising for 'new talent'. Plus, he sent Bruce Davis to England that year (I'm hazy on the reason-was it concerning The Process or was it drug related?) - why didn't Davis visit Apple Records?

Adam Gorightly: Manson did try calling the Beatles a few times, but they never accepted his call. Of course, Charlie felt he was in telepathic communication with the Beatles, so once again we can only guess what music was going on in Charlie's brain.

E.C.: Then there are musical links to both murder sites. Terry Melcher (who Manson claims made promises to him about his musical career) once lived at 10050 Cielo Drive (although Charlie knew that Terry had long since moved out). Susan Atkins once claimed, "The reason Charlie picked the house was to instill fear into Terry Melcher because Terry had given his word on a few things and never came through with them." Phil Kaufman (who met Charlie in prison and gave him his first musical industry contacts) and Charlie used to hang out at the home of Harold True, who lived next door to the LaBianca home. Just coincidence? How does Charlie's musical motives actually fit into the case?

Adam Gorightly: That's the 64,000 dollar question. Your guess is as good as mine. It depends on how you want to connect the dots. All I can really say is that the murders didn't seem random to me. Messy, yes, but random, probably not. How much of it had to do with the music industry is another story. It could have just as easily been over a drug burn. Or as a way to undermine the 60's counterculture, ala one of the many conspiracy theories I throw out in my book. Maybe all of these things and more come into play. Or maybe it was just a bunch of crazy fucks with knives.

E.C.: Vincent Bugliosi of course had his "Helter Skelter" motive and Ed Sanders has his mix of "The Process/drug burn" motives. You have added the "conspiracy" angle. Your book quotes Mae Brussell as saying; "The so-called Manson murders were actually orchestrated by military intelligence in order to destroy the counterculture movement." While I accept there is a conspiracy in the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and RFK, for some reason I find myself a little skeptical about military intelligence being involved in the downfall of the hippy. I do like the way you approach the subject in your book; you say they are 'possibilities', you do not state them as gospel truths. However, there was one fact that you brought up in your book that makes me consider the "conspiracy" theory: if Manson was a parole violator, why was no action taken for so long? Especially with the rapes, underage girls and drugs. We are talking about a man who did several years for a $37 counterfeit check! How much of the conspiracy angle do you believe?

Adam Gorightly: How much I believe in any one thing is constantly subject to change. I certainly give some weight to the conspiracy theory angle, but "belief" is loaded word. When some one believes in any given concept 100 percent, then they immediately eliminate from their minds an infinite number of other possibilities. So I can't say I really believe in ANYTHING. This may sound like a cop out, but it's the way I've wired my brain. Life is more interesting this way.

E.C.: Speaking of conspiracy theories, what do you think Dennis Wilson knew about the murders? He once said, "I know why Manson did what he did. Someday I'll tell the world. I'll write a book and explain why he did it." Until I read your book, I wasn't aware of the nasty gash discovered on Dennis' forehead after the drowning. Do you think his death was a simply drowning?

Adam Gorightly: Wilson's death certainly seemed curious to me, but trying to answer that question would probably take another book in itself. Too many unanswered questions, which only leads to speculation. Of course, it's loads of fun to speculate.

E.C.: I've got a few various questions that I want to get your input into…
You mentioned the large amount of cash that the family obtained. What do you think they spent this on? With the garbage runs, it certainly wasn't for food. Was it front money for drugs? This of course brings in the drug angle motive.

Adam Gorightly: I would assume it was used as front money for drugs. That makes the most sense to me.

E.C.: Was Rosemary LaBianca a drug dealer who crossed The Family?

Adam Gorightly: That's a rumor put out there by researchers Bill Nelson and Maury Terry. It hasn't been confirmed, and I really don't know anymore about it than that. My gut tells me, though, that the murders weren't random. I SUSPECT that the LaBianca's might have gotten over their heads in the criminal world and it came back to bite them.

E.C.: Did the Family have any connections to Frykowski; did Linda Kasabian get burned on an MDA drug deal (or was this just another fanciful story by Sadie? Did she read about it in the newspaper or was there more to the story?)

Adam Gorightly: It seems likely that the Manson Family crossed paths with Frykowski. But this is purely speculation on my part. In THE SHADOW OVER SANTA SUSANA I throw a lot of dangling threads out there, but as always it's ultimately up to the reader to tie them together in their own minds and come to their own conclusions.

E.C.: Do you think (or know) if certain detectives actually found celebrity porn at Cielo Drive? It seems to me that it would have shown up with the advent of the internet if it really existed. Also, do you think Frykowski actually sexually assaulted Billy Doyle? Or is that another 'after the fact' legend like the multitude of Hollywood's elite that was "almost at the Tate house that night, but [insert your reason here] kept me from death at the hands of Charlie's minions"?

Adam Gorightly: One would think if there was actually all this celebrity porn associated with the Manson Family out there, that it would have shown up by now. Of course, it may have been destroyed to hide an association with the Manson family to the Hollywood beautiful people scene. But on the chance that somebody out there has any of this celebrity porn you can contact me at and I'd be happy to analyze it for you!

E.C.: William Garretson was on TV a few years ago; changing his story about what he saw the night of the Tate murders. Now he claims to have seen Katie as she chased Abigail on the lawn where she was finally taken down. My question is what happened after Tex, Sadie, Katie and Linda left? Especially since there is a probability that Charlie himself went back to the house ("I went back to see what my children did") and re-arranged the scene (which is why there is Sharon Tate's blood pooled on the porch, the 'hood' over Sebring and the glasses that were planted) and wiped it of prints. If Charlie went back to the scene, I find it hard to believe that he wouldn't have checked the guesthouse, especially with his knowledge of the layout of the premises. Also, I've read a few different accounts on who accompanied Charlie back to the Tate house - some stories have Clem, while others have Brenda McCann or Bruce Davis. What do you think happened between the time the murderers arrived back at Spahn and dawn the next morning?

Adam Gorightly: Charlie has said that he went back to the scene of the crime, although he later denied it. Personally, I suspect he did go back, to collect and/or rearrange evidence. Who went with him we can only guess, but I think he must have had at least one accomplice. Charlie pulled the strings of his Family, but the question must be asked: was someone pulling Charlie's strings?

As for Garretson, his story stinks to high heaven. I don't think he's ever been totally forthcoming about what happened to him that night, and what he witnessed.

E.C.: What are your thoughts about the TV re-make of "Helter Skelter"?

Adam Gorightly: For a few years now there's been talk in Hollywood about a Manson Family movie. From what I've heard, there were two projects in the works at one time, each in competition with the other. One was this new version of HELTER SKELTER, which originally was going to be a theatre released motion picture. The other project was based on Sander's THE FAMILY and was to be directed by Don Murphy, producer of FROM HELL and NATURAL BORN KILLERS. Apparently, Murphy is a major Manson freak and quite knowledgeable about the subject, and was working on getting Johnny Depp in the lead role, as Manson. Depp himself, I've heard, is a bit of a Mansonphile, with an interest in Manson collectibles. For whatever reasons, the bottom fell out of the Murphy project, and now all we have is this remake of HELTER SKELTER, which now I hear is going to be a made for TV movie, which probably means its going to be just a cut above a b-movie. So I'm not expecting much out of this remake. In fact, I'm still quite fond of the original version starring Steve Railsback, and his masterful portrayal of Manson.

E.C.: Besides your Manson book, what other current projects do you have?

Adam Gorightly: My latest book, a biography of Kerry Thornley, is due out on Nov 1 and will be published by Paraview Press. It's title is THE PRANKSTER AND THE CONSPIRACY: THE LIFE OF KERRY THORNLEY, HOW HE MET OSWALD, AND INSPIRED THE COUNTERCULTURE.

E.C.: I think that one of the fascinations of the Manson story is that there are still lots of questions. With so many people involved and varying stories, do you think the ultimate truth of WHY the murders were committed will ever be answered?

Adam Gorightly: It's like the Kennedy assassination--we'll probably never get to the bottom of it all. We have some pieces of the puzzle that seem to form a bigger picture, but still there are some important pieces missing, in both the Manson story and the JFK assassination. By the time we ever totally figure any of this stuff out, it will probably be too late anyhow--all the principles will be dead. The perpetrators of the Kennedy assassination seem to have been doing a good job covering their tracks. On the same note, many of the Hollywood people that the Family associated with in the late 60's have conveniently forgotten about that whole episode.

Conspiracies can and do happen.

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