Peace. Love. Murder.

The argument has been made that 1968 was the most tumultuous years in modern U.S. history. It is tough to disagree. The year marked seismic shift in American life and nothing would never be the same

The changes didn’t occur overnight, although it seemed that way. It was no accident that the changes coincided with the first wave of Baby Boomers hitting their teen years. The music of the late 1960s was as eclectic and schizophrenic as the time. A pseudo-group called the Archies had a smash hit with Sugar, Sugar, but the music that would come to define the era was flying under the radar of the Billboard Top 100. Woodstock changed that. A couple of notes into Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner and you knew the Earth had shifted on its axis.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968 lit the fuse of the bomb that would blow society apart in what remained of the decade. The smoke and ash rained down throughout the 1970s and ripples from the initial explosion are felt today.

January 1969 gave subtle hints of things to come. Richard M. Nixon was sworn in as the 37th President of the United States on January 20, 1969. His election meant more young men would die in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  Elvis Presley recorded “Long Black Limousine” in Memphis, Tennessee which kicked off his comeback. Jimi Hendrix appeared on a BBC1 show, “Happening for Lulu” and Led Zeppelin released their debut album.  The BEATLES performed for the last time in public on the roof of the Apple building at 3 Saville Row in London.

Reflecting on 1969 is mind bending. Consider a year in which the U.S. put a man on the moon, and the era later dubbed the “Golden Age of Porn” (1969-1984)  began.  Sexuality explicit films shown in public on the big screen instead of on a bedsheet in someone’s dingy basement became reality with Andy Warhol’s 1969 film “Blue Movie.”  The only X-rated film to win an Oscar®, “Midnight Cowboy” was released. At the time the X-rating didn’t mean the film was hardcore porn, all it meant was that the subject matter was unsuitable for underage people.

No retrospective of the 1960s is complete without addressing the Hippie aka Flower Power movement which reached a zenith during the summer of 1967 in San Francisco. The Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967  paved the way for the Summer of Love. The local underground newspaper, the San Francisco Oracle, offered the following description of the Be-In:  “A new concept of celebrations beneath the human underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared, so a revolution can be formed with a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind.”  A beautiful sentiment. It was an illusion.

The people who wandered the streets of San Francisco during the summer of 1967 smoking dope, dropping acid, tucking flowers into their hair and anointing themselves with Patchouli oil didn’t know that the Hippie movement was already on life support and about to flatline.

The cancer of drug dealers, pimps and others preying on the naivete of lost children looking for love and acceptance in Haight/Ashbury grew into an inoperable tumor. One cell of the malignancy had a name which, in two years’ time would become infamous, Charles Manson.

Charles Manson in court. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

The summer of 1969 had a few of the trappings of the Summer of Love, and it turned into a nightmare of violence and terror when word of  murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca hit newsstands in mid-August.

For the next few months, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the brutal Tate/LaBianca murders, Deranged L.A. Crimes will intermittently look at some of the crimes that made news during 1969.

So, put on your love beads, memorize the lyrics to “Fixin’ to Die Rag,” and don’t bogart that joint.   See you in the ’60s.

The Devil in Orange County

 

flower_power

Groovy, baby.

Beginning with the Summer of Love in 1967 the Baby Boomers felt that they were on to something profound — all you had to do was wear a garland of flowers around your head, smoke a few joints, flash the Peace Sign, and major changes in society would follow. If only it had been that simple.

bombing for peace If you were in your teens or twenties during that time, life was a contact high; everywhere you went it seemed like there was great music and free dope, but no high lasts forever. Eventually a decent buzz becomes harder to sustain.  At first you chase the high in the bright sunlight with energy and enthusiasm because it feels so damned good; but there comes a time when the high proves elusive — you catch glimpses of it as it disappears down deeper and darker alleyways.

Less than a year after the Summer of Love, on April 4,1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. People barely had a chance to process the pain and horror of his death when, on June 6,1968, Robert Kennedy was gunned down in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The Age of Aquarius was on life support.

Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

The ultimate perversion of the hippie ethos occurred on August 9, 1969, with the cruel and senseless torture and slaughter of Sharon Tate and her unborn son, Abigail Folger, Wojciejk Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent. The next night, Leno and Rosemary LaBiana were brutally murdered. The cryptic blood-scrawled words “Rise”, “Pig” and “Healter (sic) Skelter” at the crime scenes had terrified everyone. Had Satan had taken up residence in Los Angeles?  Maybe Hollywood was Sodom after all.

A raid on the Spahn Ranch in mid-August 1969 by L.A. County Sheriffs uncovered stolen car parts, teen-age runaways, drugs and weapons. While the raid was being conducted Woodstock (“Three days of Peace & Music”) was in full swing on Yasgur’s farm in New York.

By December 2, 1969 the Manson Family was being exposed for what they really were, remorseless killers. The month of December had started out bad and it wasn’t going to get any better.

Hell's Angels attacking a concert goer at Altamont.

Hell’s Angels attacking a concert goer at Altamont.

The final fuck you to the hippie dreams of Flower Power came at a free concert at Altamont in Northern California on December 6, 1969. The concert was meant to be Woodstock West, but instead it became an ugly confrontation between the Hell’s Angels, who had been hired as security for the event, and the musicians and concert goers. The night ended with three accidental deaths and the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter.

Despite its early promise of peace & love, the ’60s had died a terrible death — bathed in blood, choking on shattered dreams and littered with acid casualties.

Maybe the ’70s would be better.

BEHIND THE ORANGE CURTAIN

Orange County, California, a collection of quiet suburbs, has long had a reputation for political and social conservatism. The inhabitants of Orange County are described as living behind “The Orange Curtain” a play on the infamous Iron Curtain which once separated communist and capitalist Europe.

orange_groveI grew up behind the Orange Curtain in Garden Grove, a middle-class suburb close enough to Disneyland for my family to be able to watch the summer fireworks from our living room window. There were orange groves and strawberry fields near our home and the smell of orange blossoms, not easy to find anymore, brings back memories. The city’s claim to fame was as the home of the Garden Grove Community Church (the “drive-in” church) designed by the visionary architect Richard Neutra.

Garden Grove Community Church.

Garden Grove Community Church.

The first summer of the 70s was just beginning, and my brother’s best friend and I were driving around in my 1964 VW Beetle. We were headed home when we noticed Craig Hulse, whom we hadn’t seen in ages, hitch-hiking at the side of the road. I pulled over and Craig got into the car.

Craig was sixteen years old, a big kid, at least six feet tall and well over 200 lbs. We’d known him for years, he and my brother had gone to junior high school together. My brother is cursed with the Renner mouth — it’s an affliction I share — we seem to lack a necessary filter between the brain and mouth so we often say exactly what we’re thinking — and that isn’t always wise. A sense of humor and the ability to take a wicked joke at your expense was de rigueur in my family, but my brother’s quick wit and missing filter caused him a few problems in school.  However Craig, who had earned the nickname “Moose”, occasionally came to his rescue.

It was no surprise to find Craig hitch-hiking, everyone did in those days. We heard that he’d dropped out of school, run away from home and was heavy into Seconal and booze. Once he was in the car we asked him how he was doing and if he was okay. He said that things weren’t going well and that he was thinking about enlisting in the military to try to get his life in order. Enlisting would have had him on a plane to Vietnam before the year was over, but we figured maybe his life was bad enough to warrant drastic action. We dropped him off a few miles down the road and wished him well.

Days later, as the Manson jury was being selected, we heard that Craig had been arrested in connection with two brutal murders. One of slayings was rumored to have been part of a Satanic ritual.

The 70s were off to a scary start.

NEXT: Two murders and the dark side of an old friend.