Originally published Augist 1, 2013
Over four decades after the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, Charles “Tex” Watson is commonly known as the man who “murdered for Charles Manson.” Many people perceive Watson as having been utterly subservient to Manson, so subservient that Watson committed mass murder at Manson’s commands. However, in Watson’s memoirs, Will You Die For Me?, he specifically mentions incidents in which he circumvented Manson’s wishes. Along with others at Spahn Ranch, Watson kept a cache of amphetamines (“speed”) secret from Manson because the latter “for all his use of acid, was totally against the use of speed” because he believed it harmed a user’s health.
Perplexed by the above, I wrote to Watson in July 2012. That letter said, in part:
“I read your interesting memoirs Will You Die For Me? I feel that some basic questions were left unanswered. According to your book, both your childhood and adolescence were fairly normal and happy. Yet you were willing and able to slaughter seven people. This can’t be explained by Charles Manson’s influence since, again according to this book, you were willing to circumvent his desires by keeping a cache of “speed” secret from him.
In your opinion, what was lacking in your personality that permitted you to mercilessly murder other people?
And what was the reason for this lack?”
First Watson letter
Watson wrote, “I liked your questions so much that I have spent quite a bit of time answering [them].” He said his usual practice when questioned is to refer people to the website friends keep of his writings, aboundinglove.org
, but he decided to use my questions as a “kick off” to an essay he would write for that website. He continued that he would try to answer less from a “psychological” viewpoint than from a “spiritual” perspective in keeping with his deep Christian faith. In that first letter, he included Christian brochures he had previously authored.
A friend of Watson’s who is not imprisoned, mailed the essay Watson wrote for his website that was based on my questions. That essay, which appears on his website as “Monthly View – August 2013,” states that Watson’s keeping his amphetamine use secret from Manson reflects that it is “in our fallen nature to keep things from our authority figures.”
My letter pointed out that his memoirs depict a childhood that was “normal and happy” and asked what was “lacking” in Watson that allowed him to commit such vicious murders. The essay suggests he “was lacking a sense of power, unconditional love, and a sound mind.” It quotes from the Bible on the importance of these things. He also writes that while his parents were caring, Watson “felt their love was conditioned upon my performance.” As a result, he had a “fear of failure” that he tried to medicate with alcohol and drugs.
I wrote a second letter to Watson in which I said I was pleased he was “impressed by my questions.” I suggested he at least consider the possibility of an explanation for his being able to murder “not so much psychological or spiritual as physical.” I suggested that, at least at the time the murders were committed, Watson must have had “an absence of empathy” in order to murder people, particular since he had “no personal grudge” against them. I discussed the findings of neuroscientists Kent A. Kiehl and Joshua W. Buckholtz that psychopaths possess brain abnormalities. Together with the letter, I included copies of a cover article for Scientific American Mind by Kiehl and Buckholtz on psychopaths.
Second Watson letter page 1
In Watson’s next letter to me, he thanked me for my “caring letter.” He went on to suggest that the findings of Kiehl and Buckholtz on psychopaths are unlikely to apply to Watson as he lacks the continuous record of callousness characteristic of psychopaths. Watson cared about other people as a child, as a teenager and young man he was “a gentleman to my girlfriends,” and has showed “empathy” with his fellow prisoners. He made the point that he is remorseful about the murders and has empathy with the families of the victims. Thus, he believes his brain is not physically abnormal.
However, Watson conceded that his brain may have been abnormal at the time of the murders. Since he had been taking several different mind-altering drugs, he believes it possible they adversely affected his brain. He mentioned corresponding with a man who postulated that Watson suffered a temporary “chemical insanity” when he committed the crimes.
Second Watson letter page 2
My third letter to Watson concerned diet. I know that Watson has been a vegetarian for many years. This is also true of Charles Manson and most of those associated with him prior to the murders. In my letter I told Watson that I have a younger brother who has been a vegetarian for many years and that my mother is primarily vegetarian. I told Watson that it seems to me people adopt vegetarian diets for three major reasons, those being ethical concerns about animals, health concerns, and religious reasons. There are also people who just don’t like the way meat tastes. I asked him what his reasons were for being a vegetarian.
Watson wrote back, joking about being a vegetarian “to help my psychopathic brain.” On a serious level, he stated he is a vegetarian “solely for health reasons.” He is not the strictest of vegetarians as he will take fish oil and eat fish, milk products, and eggs.
In other letters, I told Watson that although I am not religious, I respect the Bible for its great cultural, historical, and literary value. I told him that I had made it a project to read the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, cover to cover from the first “In the beginning” of Genesis to the final “Amen” of Revelation. My Bible reading inspired me to write several essays and poems on Biblical themes and I sent some of these writings to Watson.
Third Watson letter
He did not write back for a long time. I was disappointed because I had been looking forward to reading any thoughts he might have on my Biblically inspired work. I was also puzzled. Christians have read these works and commented on how they demonstrated a good understanding of the Bible even though I am not a believer. I wondered if Watson found my work derogatory of Christianity. He sent an aboundinglove.org
Christmas card in which he reassured me that I had not offended him but that he was “swamped with mail.” He signed off, “Keep writing. You’ll touch someone with love.”
I hope he is right about that.
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