Mouth Press, 540 pages, $17.95
Ed Sanders has been working on The Family for more
than 30 years. The Woodstock poet and member of the legendary
folk-rock band the Fugs started gathering data about Charlie
Manson and his murderous followers back in 1970. During the
33 years since, Sanders has produced three iterations of the
The new version is the second updating of the 1971 book originally
put out in hardcover by Dutton. It is a further update of
Sandersí 1990 Signet paperback, which, with its mass-market
distribution, even made its way to local supermarket checkout
aisles. Time has unveiled new history and additional details
about the late-í60s murders by Manson and his ďfamily,Ē and
Sandersí latest further fleshes out and extends the chronology
for the Tate- LaBianca murders and the lives of those responsible.
In 1969, a series of what appeared to be ritualistic murders
that shook the nation took place around Hollywood. Among those
murdered were actress Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of filmmaker
Roman Polanski, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. At first,
evidence left behind indicated the possible involvement of
radical blacks in the murder spree. At one murder scene, a
panther was painted on a wall with the victimís blood, seeming
to implicate the Black Panthers, a radical political organization
that was strong in Southern California at the time.
But the trail of gruesome murders would not lead to a heavily
armed gang of black revolutionaries. It would lead instead
to a band of crazed lily-white hippies under the leadership
of a self-proclaimed savior who had a penchant for stealing
cars, slitting throats, sexually assaulting women and prophesying
a race war.
Drugs, orgies, Satanism, bloody rituals and serial killings
all titillated the American publicís interest. Suddenly the
long-haired, peace-love hippiedom of the late í60s was presented
with the dark cloud of a band of marauding murderers. A shudder
convulsed through what remained of the wilting Flower Power
In 1971, Sandersí first version of The Family, subtitled
The Story of Charles Mansonís Dune Buggy Attack Battalion,
was published soon after most of the Manson gangís murder
trials had concluded. This original version of The Family
took the story up to the point where Manson had been captured
in his desert hideaway and charged with murder. Many facts
about the case were revealed at the murder trials, which Sanders
attended as part of a reporting gig heíd landed with the L.A.
Sanders also did extensive research outside the courtroom,
spending time visiting the remote mining camps in the desert
outside of Los Angeles where the murderous band once hid out.
Interviewing group stragglers who remained free at the time
helped Sanders put together a picture of life during Mansonís
reign of fear over the band and of the bizarre cosmological
predictions he espoused. Interestingly, the range of investigative
skills Sanders honed on this case would later influence his
approach to poetry.
By the time the 1971 version of The Family was completed,
Manson and a number of his followers had been sentenced to
death in the California gas chamber. Their death sentences
later became life in prison when the stateís death penalty
was found unconstitutional.
It was not until Sandersí first revision of the book in 1989
that the trial, along with events of the subsequent 20 years,
were added. This second version was a major expansion of the
book that also presented updates on the lives of Manson, his
followers and others affected by the murders.
Sanders once noted that this is ďthe case that wonít go away.Ē
It certainly hasnít for Sanders, as attested to by this latest
rendition of The Family. The new book takes more time
to tell the parallel story of how Sanders got involved in
investigating the case. There are additional pictures and
some new chapters and edits of past materials, but much of
the text remains the same as that found in the 1989 revision.
One noticeable change in this new book is the chapter format.
It appears to be influenced by the short chapter structure
Sanders has incorporated into his long chronological poems
like America: A History in Verse. While the previous
iteration of The Family included 28 chapters generally
running between 20 and 30 pages, the latest version includes
116 chapters of one to 10 pages. This formatting actually
organizes the book into crisper chronological chunks, with
chapter headings that help to focus the readerís attention.
The book concludes with a chapter that updates people and
events from 1990 through 2002. Manson is still a resident
of the California prison system and periodically comes up
for a parole hearing, which heís ceased attending. It is not
expected that he will ever be released. Sanders notes that
in 1993 the group Guns Ní Roses recorded one of Mansonís songs,
which was followed by a successful court action against the
record company responsible by a son of one of the murder victims.
He also explains how Manson is reportedly bringing in big
bucks through Internet-based enterprises enabled by followers
on the outside. In this chapter Sanders adds updates about
former Family members, family members of victims and the attorneys
and investigators who worked on the case.
Family provides a detailed and well-researched description
of Mansonís family and the Tate-LaBianca murders. The book
also brings the reader into the investigative world of the
author as he describes the research skills brought to bear
and the risky situations encountered in order to gather information
and lay out the story. If youíve read the previous version
of the book, you will not find much new here. If you havenít,
you will find a well-told story that, unfortunately, is not