November is a momentous month in the life of Charles Manson. It is when he was born and when he died. In the true spirit of “timing is everything,” two books by bestselling Westchester authors are out on bookshelves now that resurrect the 20th Century’s most notorious criminal.
Katonah’s Wendy Corsi Staub and Larchmont’s Lis Wiehl explore Manson and his Family in their latest books, both the first of trilogies. While Staub uses Manson as the inspiration for the murderer in Little Girl Lost, former federal prosecutor Wiehl — the only reporter to attend Tex Watson’s most recent parole hearing — provides new information and the latest research (with cowriter Caitlin Rother) in her nonfiction book, Hunting Charles Manson: The Quest for Justice in the Days of Helter Skelter. We spoke with both, to learn more about the crimes and criminals this country just can’t get past.
Why do you think the Manson murders have inspiredso many books, movies, and other media?
Because people are fascinated by the charisma of this man. I think Manson set the playbook [for a] charismatic figure who lures in women from all sorts of [backgrounds]…and gets them to the point where they will give up their names, their birthdays, their money. They call him Jesus Christ, guru, God, and he comes up with an idea that there is going to be a race war, and he’ll come in and save the world. That’s pretty scary, but it’s a playbook — [in] certain gyrations, tweaks, iterations — that we’ve seen used again and again.
You’ve said previously that Manson robbed America of its innocence. Please explain.
It’s innocent to think you can walk away from your house and not lock your door. The LaBiancas did that. That’s innocence, and that was gone. You’re not safe in your house anymore. And because of two horrible nights in LA, America lost its innocence.
What is the main reason someone should read this book?
I bring new information to an old case. Of course, many readers will know about Manson because they lived through that summer, “The Summer of Love,” nearly 50 years ago, and I look at it from a cold-case perspective and bring new light and perspective to the case. I look at what it was about Manson that kept the Family going and what about it is relevant to us today? I think it is so important from a historical perspective that we read this book. We want to learn from the Manson playbook so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
Where did you get the inspiration for the characters Amelia and Oran?
[Regarding Amelia,] I wanted to write about abandoned babies. I had seen something on 20/20 about grownups looking for parents, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it make sense. My editor said, “Charles Manson has children out there somewhere who don’t know that he’s their father, so what if it was about somebody trying to find out who [their parent is], but they’re not the ideal parent. Oran came out of Manson himself.
How do you write from the perspective of a serial killer?
Nobody is all good or all bad, so you have to accept that the heroes in your story are flawed. I have to find some good in the killer, so I can get into his or her head. I also remember that people were once innocent babies, damaged along the way. I try to find some redeeming characteristic and accept that this person was not always a horrible human being.
Little Girl Lost is the first in the Foundlings Trilogy. What new literary possibility does this trilogy allow you to explore?
I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. [The story] moves back and forth in time, not in the time-travel sense, but it opens in the late 1960s, and we meet the characters again in 1987, so the whole thing is in the past. Some might laugh if I call 1987 a historical novel, but in a sense it is. It shows different parts of these characters’ lives. You see where they come from and where they’re going, but you don’t get the whole picture at once.