Monday, May 14, 2007

The summer of 1969

Tonight, M and I hung out with D and ate pizza. (So much for my diet... :)

Anyway, we had a discussion about things we will never forget. M asked me if I was able to remember the first time I was absolutely terrified.

Simple. August 9, 1969.

I was 17 years old. The night before, I'd come home a bit late and wanted to get to bed right away. I was due to get up early to go somewhere.

When I got up, I heard a lot of activity outside. Police sirens. Ambulances. Police cars from multiple jurisdictions lined the streets; our city police, the LAPD and the Sheriff's Department. The neighborhood security patrol. News media. All sorts of strange people wandering around everywhere. They began knocking on doors.

Phones rang throughout the neighborhood, people calling each other to find out what had happened, if anyone knew. It was obviously something serious. We didn't usually experience things like that in our part of the world. We were fairly insulated from the crime in Los Angeles.

"There has been a multiple murder on Cielo ...."

Several people had been slaughtered. Bodies were in the house and in the yard. It's an infamous case and when I mention the names involved, it will become obvious.

That night, there was another murder in the city a few miles away.

For weeks after the murders, the police presence was unbelievable in our neighborhood. Anyone caught walking around was stopped and questioned. I was stopped several times in my little Toyota and was required to show proof that I lived there. My brother was stopped without his driver's license and was handcuffed on the side of the street. We weren't targets. It was happening to many people, especially young people. The security patrol was increased. It wasn't unusual at all to see red lights of police cars flashing from the front window of our house. I remember seeing them through the stained glass windows to our foyer.

The hardest part was not knowing what in the world was going on, whether it was random or deliberate. We didn't know if someone had targeted our neighborhood, putting all of us in danger. I didn't feel safe going outside at night and I didn't feel safe getting the newspaper in the morning. I didn't feel safe. Period. Anywhere. I don't think it was so much a fear of being murdered as the fear of coming home to a crime scene. I got that feeling in my gut, each time I drove up to the house and especially when I unlocked the door.

The murders that took place in my neighborhood as a teenager were not random, of course. They were deliberate. However, we didn't know that since the perpetrators weren't caught for three or four months.

It was some time in early Autumn when we learned what had happened and why. We learned that it had been a deliberate act of the so-called "Manson family", a ragtag group of hippies and druggies who had a beef with one of the members of the Tate/Polanski household.

What really changed for me personally is that I never felt safe in a house at night again. To this day, I have to check and double-check all the locks on the windows and doors. I am not a fun housemate during the summer because it still completely freaks me out to be in a house that is not secured.

I wonder if that will ever go away completely.




Pam said...

I haven't thought about that time in so long. I read the book "Helter Skelter" soon after it was published. It is impossible to understand the minds of violent, unconscionable people, they leave such fear and destruction in their wake, such loss and confusion.

As for your not feeling safe, I can relate to a degree. I was living on the 3rd floor of an old walk up when a fireman crashed through my door and helped me to grab my babies and get out of the building because there was a fire raging in the walls, ready to break out. From that time on, every place I lived had to have a number of easy ways out.

slouching mom said...

Wow, Chani. That must have been horrifying. Those murders have become the stuff of legend, so it's easy to think of them as fiction.

But hell. They were real. And you were there.

caro said...

It's a horrific story. I believe Sharon Tate was 8 months pregnant. I have never felt unsafe. Even when I sleep alone. Perhaps it's because I don't sleep well to begin with!

jen said...

wow. i think things like that leave an impression on all of us, but being that

i was young when the night stalker started doing his thing near my community - and i remember being absolutely terrified every single night. during summer nights now i still am reminded of him, all these years later. and sometimes i close my windows.

fear. talk about a powerfully controlling emotion, huh?

meno said...

No wonder you are scared. How unbelievable that you happened to be so close to such a gruesome scene. I am getting the creeps just from reading this. Think i'll go lock the doors.

Julie Pippert said...

Innocence lost is just that: lost.

There is always that point in maturation when you realize you aren't invulnerable, immortal, or the exception to the rule. The key is to use the fear courageously and wisely, rather than letting the fear use you.

As for your terrifying. Wow.

QT said...

Chani - I can't even imagine. Many nightmares I have revolve around the concept of someone breaking into my house at night, so I have an idea of how you feel.

But to be that close to something like this, the not knowing? That would have pushed me to the brink.

thailandchani said...

Pam, I can certainly understand that! The idea of being trapped in a fire is enough to give me a stroke!

I also read Helter Skelter when it came out. It started giving me the willies though. I prefer true crime books that take place where I don't know most of the street names! :)


SM, yeah.. who would have thought something like that could happen in a reasonably peaceful and safe neighborhood? When I think about driving home that night, probably as the murders were occurring, it's just frightening!


Caro, yes.. Sharon Tate was 8 months pregnant.

I simply don't feel safe unless the house is secured as much as humanly possible.

When I was still living there, I would hear every sound outside. A cat going through the bushes.. or the wind blowing a tree. It was a horrible few months! I had a sliding glass door in my bedroom which I loved to leave open in the summer. It was always closed after that.


Jen, yeah.. it's fear of the unknown mostly. I remember reading later that the Manson group had done several "recon missions" and had lurked around the neighborhood for a few weeks before the murders. (shudder)

I remember the Night Stalker as well. That was a very hot summer that year.. and everything had to be closed up because he was so mobile, going from LA to SF in a matter of hours.


Meno... oh, definitely keep the doors locked. Home invasions are becoming fairly common now.

Luckily, I never saw the scene itself but it's not because I had the sense to stay away. A few of us walked in that direction but the police sent us back.

I can't imagine doing such a thing these days but at 17, you know, it's just a big event.

(rolling eyes)


Julie, that's a good point. There was sort of a collective fear all over the whole neighborhood for a while and I think we fed each other's fears a lot. Naturally, it was the main topic of conversation.. and then the exaggerations start... you know, it has a permanent impact.

There was nothing more we could do for security. We had the security patrol and the burglar alarm system in the house but... did they....


QT, it did push a lot of us to the brink. It was definitely the unknowing and the constant, relentless media coverage. The speculating.. the sensationalizing... none of us felt safe in our homes.

Now that I am older and don't have the physical capability of defending myself against an intruder, I do sleep with pepper spray on the nightstand.

I also own a gun.

I don't like it.. but don't see any other option.




Anonymous said...

Why your country seems to be a country of guns, murders, and blood?

Pam said...

Re: your comment on Helter Skelter. I don't blame you, I would feel the same way. It's hard when the horrible deeds happen near our space.

MsLittlePea said...

I feel that way too but I have no good reason. I was a latch-key kid so my parents were all the time scaring me about all the things that could happen if I forgot to lock the door or forgot to close a window and it stuck. Funny you should post about this because I was just watching a documentary on the hippy movement and those murders were mentioned as perhaps one of the reasons the hippies lost what popularity they had. This indeed must have been very traumatic for you happening so close to your home.

Tabba said...

Chani, as I read this, it is palpable. And I wasn't born in that time period. But I can feel it like I was there.
I do believe something like that leaves a mark equivalent to something physical.
Feeling safe is a basic need. And when that is taken any is forever in us.
What a post. What a feeling and an experience.

thailandchani said...

G, it's a pretty sick culture. I think that's what I've been yapping about for the past 9 months. :)


Pam, yeah.. and with it being Los Angeles, you'd think it would be expected.. but nothing like that had happened in our neighborhood. Occasionally there was a burglary.. or someone getting drunk and driving on the winding roads. People liked to go up on Mulholland and get smashed or smoke pot but .. mass murder? No.


MsPea, I would have liked to have seen that documentary. It sounds interesting. They make a point. It does seem like that was the end of the hippie era.


Tabba, I agree. It does leave a physical impact. My belief is that those things store up in the muscles and can make us very sick. The problem is that unless someone wants to go live on Gili Meno, there's really no way to escape it entirely.

Coming from L.A., I have plenty of these stories though. It was always something! :)




My heart runneth over... said...

Just reading your post I felt the fear well up in me.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to be a mere distance away from such a horrid crime.

Wishing you peace from such a horrible memory.

All the best,

heartinsanfrancisco said...

The horror of those murders remains one of the worst ever. I can imagine the long-term effects of being there and being questioned, a classic loss of innocence.

I was in New York when Son of Sam was doing his thing, and I was a young woman with long brown hair, his specialty. Those were scary times for everyone in the city.

It's hard to imagine what Sharon Tate, her baby and her friends suffered. Or what makes people as colossally messed up as the Manson family.

thailandchani said...

M, thank you. So many people are subjected to things that are so much worse than that on a consistent basis. That is how I make peace with it, I guess.

Can you begin to imagine the trauma of living in Kosovo.. or Darfur?

It kind of puts it in perspective.


Susan, oh.. geez! I remember the Son of Sam, too. Maybe one day you can post about that? What kind of alerts did they put out in the news? Did they give anyone warnings at all? Did you know what areas to avoid?

Sharon Tate... all I can say is she must have worked off ten lifetimes of karma in about fifteen minutes.

I can't begin to imagine what that poor woman experienced!

Charles Manson: it seems like he is someone who completely lost touch with his own soul.. and his own humanity. He was just a shell with consciousness.




Anonymous said...

"it's a pretty sick culture. I think that's what I've been yapping about for the past 9 months. :)"

Nine months? So, soon a renaissance?

KC said...

It's amazing how events like that can sear us and never make us the same. I think my fearfulness does keep me safe, but it can be overbearing some times. And I never even had an experience close to yours.

thailandchani said...

G... :) Probably not. I'll continue to gripe about it but there's not a bloody thing I can do to change it.

I'll sit on the balcony of a rented house in Khon Kaen with a diet Coke and a laptop, likely continuing to gripe about it.. and nothing will change then, either.


KC, it can definitely be overbearing. Sometimes I know it's unreasonable for me to be as security-conscious as I am.. and know it relates back to that.. but logically I know there's not enough security in the world. Evil things will always happen.

What was it Solomon said about that? :)




Laurie said...

I was raped when I was 17 and even though (most of the time) I feel like I'm over it, certain sounds and smells bring it all back. I can relate.

thailandchani said...

Laurie ~ my experience is nowhere near that kind of horror. I am so sorry you experienced that.

Maybe there's some truth to the adage that God never gives us more than we can handle.

I couldn't have. I bow to you.



flutter said...

This is one story that when I begin to read about, I can't quite shake

Laurie said...

Chani, it shaped who I am and I honestly believe I'm a better person because of it. I think I'm more compassionate and caring. I can't explain why I think that, but I really do.

And I don't think it was worse than what you went through, not at all. I lived, I knew who raped me and I didn't have to live in fear wondering who had done such a thing.


liv said...

That is a really chilling account. I guess one thing that really strikes me is that we hear about murders/crimes but we never really think about how it ripples fear into a community.

I hope you sleep well tonight. Namaste, liv