Los Angeles Times

Manson follower, key trial witness

- By Elaine Woo

In 1969, 20-year-old Linda Kasabian came to California to find God. Instead, she found Charles Manson. Just weeks after joining his ragtag “family” of lost and damaged souls, Kasabian was entwined in the bloodbath that became known as the Tate-LaBianca murders. Actress Sharon Tate and six others were killed under orders from Manson during a two-night rampage that would terrify Los Angeles and bring the 1960s to an abrupt and grisly end.

Kasabian, who served as the chief prosecutio­n witness in the sensationa­l 1970 trial that sent Manson and three followers to prison for life, died Jan. 21 at a hospital in Tacoma, Wash., the Washington Post reported. The Times obtained a copy of her death certificat­e, which identified her as Linda Chiochios, one of various names she used after the Manson trials. No cause was listed. She was 73.

Like many of the era’s youthful seekers, Kasabian drifted around the country taking drugs, living in communes and practicing free love. In

the summer of 1969, she went to Los Angeles to reconcile with her husband, Bob Kasabian, who was staying at a friend’s trailer in Topanga Canyon, but he wound up leaving her.

Stranded with her 1-yearold daughter, Tanya, and pregnant with her second child, she was excited when a new acquaintan­ce, Catherine “Gypsy” Share, invited her to Spahn Ranch, a sprawling property in the San Fernando Valley where “this beautiful man named Charlie” had establishe­d a commune.

On her first night at the ranch, she slept with Charles “Tex” Watson, a high-ranking member of the Manson clan. He talked Kasabian into stealing $5,000 from her husband’s friend in Topanga, justifying the crime by telling her “that she could do no wrong and that everything should be shared,” Vincent Bugliosi, the L.A. County deputy district attorney who led the prosecutio­n of the Manson killers, wrote in “Helter Skelter,” his bestsellin­g book about the case.

Kasabian returned to Topanga the next day and absconded with the money, which she turned over to the clan. She went on to have sex with the other men in the commune, but it was Manson whom she fell in love with. She was in thrall to the scrawny ex-con, who threw LSD orgies, was paranoid about Black people and warned of a coming race war he called “Helter Skelter.” Kasabian testified that she believed he was the Messiah and learned to obey him.

When Manson summoned Kasabian on the afternoon of Aug. 8, 1969, she thought he wanted to send her on one of his “creepycraw­ly” raids, which entailed breaking into mansions in Beverly Hills and Bel-Air while the residents slept. This time, he instructed her to grab a knife, a change of clothes and her driver’s license. “Go with Tex, and do whatever Tex tells you to do,” he said, according to Bugliosi’s account.

She drove with Watkins, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel to the secluded Benedict Canyon estate where Tate lived with her husband, director Roman Polanski, who was out of the country filming.

Kasabian testified that she saw Watkins shoot into a car that was coming down the driveway and kill the driver, Steven Parent, 18, a friend of the property’s caretaker. She remained outside as the lookout while the others entered the house, and within minutes heard the “horrifying sounds” of Tate and her houseguest­s pleading for their lives.

When Atkins emerged from the house, Kasabian begged her to stop the bloodshed. She saw Watson chase a bleeding man — Polanski friend Voytek Frykowski, 32 — into the bushes and knife him repeatedly. She saw Krenwinkel with an upraised knife pursue a woman — Frykowski’s girlfriend, Abigail Folger, 25 — across the lawn.

Inside, stabbed and hanged, was Tate, 26, who was eight months pregnant. The fifth victim was hairstylis­t Jay Sebring, 35.

Kasabian went back to the car and waited. “My thoughts went to going to get help. I didn’t do it, because I was afraid they would kill me and they would kill my daughter,” she said in the 2009 History Channel documentar­y “Manson.”

The next night, Manson joined the deadly foray to the Los Feliz home of grocer Leno LaBianca, 42, and his wife, Rosemary, 38. Manson tied up the couple, then ordered Watkins, Atkins, Krenwinkel and a fourth clan member, Leslie Van Houten, into the house. They stabbed the LaBiancas, then used the couple’s blood to scrawl the phrases “Death to Pigs” and “Rise” on the walls. While the slaughter unfolded, Manson returned to the car where Kasabian was waiting.

After leaving the LaBianca house, Manson ordered Kasabian and another follower, Steven “Clem” Grogan, to kill an actor friend who lived in Venice, but Kasabian thwarted the plan by deliberate­ly knocking on the wrong door.

Two days later, Manson told Kasabian to visit Bobby Beausoleil, the clan member who had been arrested a few days earlier for killing Manson associate Gary Hinman. She used the opportunit­y to escape, leaving her daughter Tanya behind. She returned for the child a few months later after the ranch was raided and Tanya was placed in foster care.

Kasabian hitchhiked across the country, ending up at her mother’s home in New Hampshire. When she learned she was wanted on a fugitive warrant, she surrendere­d to local authoritie­s.

In Los Angeles, she was charged with seven counts of murder but was given immunity from prosecutio­n after she testified against Manson and the others.

Born Linda Drouin in Maine on June 21, 1949, she grew up in Milford, N.H., in an unstable home. After dropping out of high school, she married, divorced and remarried, and drifted from commune to commune. She became a mother at 19.

During her 18 days on the witness stand, she held firm against attacks by the defense team and intimidati­on tactics by Manson.

She also was a prosecutio­n witness at Watson’s trial. He also was convicted and sentenced to death, which changed to life in prison after the California Supreme Court briefly ruled the death penalty unconstitu­tional in 1972.

After the trials, Kasabian went into hiding and changed her name. She lived in New Hampshire and later in Washington, where she had run-ins with the law for drug possession. She raised four children.

 ?? Ben Olender Los Angeles Times ?? STAR WITNESS
Kasabian’s testimony in the 1970 trial helped send Charles Manson and three followers to prison.
Ben Olender Los Angeles Times STAR WITNESS Kasabian’s testimony in the 1970 trial helped send Charles Manson and three followers to prison.

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