Disclosure of what a once-member of the infamous Charles Manson Murder Cult said on audio recordings, now held by police, may be sought on behalf of another imprisoned former Manson follower, according to her attorney.
The recordings of convicted killer Charles "Tex" Watson were made four decades ago in Texas by an attorney who briefly represented Watson after he was arrested in connection with the brutal Tate-LaBianca murders of seven people in hillside homes over two nights in August of 1969.
The recordings were kept in a safe, and Los Angeles Police did not obtain them until last year.
LAPD had received information that Watson discussed killings beyond those for which he, Manson, and other associates in the so-called "Manson Family" had been prosecuted. In seeking possession of the tapes, department officials expressed hope the information could lead to the resolution of unsolved murders.
However, after Robbery-Homicide Division reviewed the recordings, LAPD Commander Andrew Smith said there is no new information worth pursuing, and Thursday reaffirmed that. But beyond what Watson did not say, the department has declined to reveal what he did say.
The possibity that information on the recordings could prove beneficial to Leslie Van Houten in her next bid for parole is being considered by her attorney, Richard Pfeiffer of Silverado. Prior to parole hearings, inmates are entitled access to favorable information in the government's possession, Pfeiffer said, and consequently he would weigh seeking a subpoena.
Existence of the tapes was unknown to Los Angeles authorities until after it was discovered by journalist Tom O'Neill, whose research for a book led him to contact Watson's first attorney, Bill Boyd.
During a phone conversation, O'Neill said, Boyd revealed that he recorded Watson talking about not only the Tate-LaBianca murders, but also others. What's more, Boyd recorded their discussion. And O'Neill recorded Boyd describing what Watson had told him four decades earlier.
"He was extremely candid and he told me about a bunch of other people Manson had killed," Boyd is heard to say on the recording O'Neill kept of their conversation and played back for NBC4.
But Boyd demurred when O'Neill asked if he could listen to the Watson recordings.
A year later, Boyd died suddenly of a heart attack, and his law firm went into bankruptcy. The firm's assets—including the Watson recordings—came into the possession of a trustee.
O'Neill did not become aware of this until 2011, he said. O'Neill shared the information with Debra Tate, sister of Sharon Tate, the actress who was among those murdered. Over the decades, Debra Tate has served as her family's advocate, traveling to parole hearings to speak against the release
of those convicted of the Tate-LaBianca murders.
Debra Tate shared the information with the District Attorney's Office. LAPD was brought on board, and initiated a process in which two federal courts became involved.
Watson, still imprisoned, sought to block the release. Ordinarily, attorney-client confidentiality precludes the release of such information, but in Watson's case it was ruled that he had waived it for the book, "Will You Die for Me?" that was written with his cooperation.
Professing to be a born-again Christian, Watson founded Abounding Live Ministries. On its website, during the time LAPD was seeking the tapes, Watson published a statement that he had no knowledge of other murders, and on that point, LAPD is not contradicting him.
Though authorities have repeatedly declined to publicly reveal any details, a private briefing was provided to Debra Tate and Anthony DiMaria, nephew of Jay Sebring, the prominent hairstylist who was also murdered in the Benedict Canyon attack.
"We were told at the briefing the tapes held no new information involving the known murders...or additional unknown murders," DiMaria stated in an email to NBC4.
Tate recalled there was also some discussion of Watson minimizing the homicidal role of the convicted women. Besides Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkle remains imprisoned. A third, Susan Atkins, died in prison in 2009.
Author O'Neill suspects there must be more of significance, and that authorities are withholding it. In on online article published by Medium, he criticizes news media for not pushing harder for it.
O'Neill noted the prolonged effort it took to obtain the tapes, then asked: "Doesn't the public have a right to know if that effort was worth it?"