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 became entangled in the brutal carnage that came to be known around the world as the Tate-LaBianca murders. Actress Sharon Tate and six others were murdered on Manson’s orders in a two-night rampage that terrified Los Angeles and would bring the 1960s to an abrupt and horrific end.
Kasabian, who later acted as the lead 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, Washington, the Washington Post reported. The Post obtained a copy of her death certificate, which identified her as Linda Chiochios, one of several names she used after the Manson trials. No cause was stated. She turned 73.
Like many of the youthful seekers of the era, Kasabian roamed 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 in a friend’s trailer in Topanga Canyon, but he eventually left her.
Stranded with her 1-year-old daughter, Tanya, and pregnant with her second child, she was thrilled when a new acquaintance, Catherine “Gypsy” Share, invited her to Spahn Ranch, a sprawling, remote estate in the San Fernando Valley where “this beautiful man named Charlie” had founded a commune. She grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“I was like a little blind girl in the woods,” Kasabian said in her testimony at the 1970 trial, “and I took the first path that came to me.”
That path quickly led to chaos.
On her first night at the ranch, she slept with Charles “Tex” Watson, a high-ranking member of the Manson clan. He persuaded Kasabian to steal $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,” says Vincent Bugliosi, the deputy district attorney of Los Angeles County prosecuting the Manson killers, wrote in his bestselling book about the case, “Helter Skelter.”
Kasabian returned to Topanga the next day and disappeared with the money, which she turned over to the clan along with most of her belongings.
She proceeded to have sex with the other men in the commune, but it was Manson she fell in love with. She was enthralled by the scrawny, tousled-haired ex-con who staged LSD orgies, was paranoid about blacks, and warned of a coming race war he dubbed “Helter Skelter.” Kasabian testified that she believed he was the Messiah and learned to obey him.
“The girls,” she said, referring to Manson’s other wives, “always told me never to question Charlie. What Charlie said was right.’
So she agreed with his parenting philosophy that gave children “complete freedom” from their parents. “They wanted me to stay away from Tanya. They killed her ego,” she testified. She said she only dared to take care of and feed her daughter when Manson was not around.
She also took part in his “creepy” raids, breaking into mansions in Beverly Hills and Bel-Air while the residents slept, then rearranging and looting their belongings.
When Manson summoned Kasabian on the afternoon of August 8, 1969, she thought he wanted to send her on another night thief mission. This time, however, he told her to get a knife, clean clothes, and her driver’s license. “Go with Tex and do what Tex tells you to do,” he said, according to Bugliosi’s account.
She drove with Watkins, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel to the remote Benedict Canyon estate where Tate lived with her husband, director Roman Polanski, who was filming abroad. Once Manson’s crew arrived on Cielo Drive, the nightmare began.
Kasabian testified that she saw Watkins shoot into a car coming down the driveway, killing the driver, Steven Parent, 18, a friend of the property’s caretaker. She remained outside as a lookout as the others entered the house and within minutes she heard the “horrific noises” of Tate and her house guests begging for their lives.
When Atkins, who went by the nickname Sadie, came out of the house, Kasabian begged her to stop the bloodshed. “I just looked at her and I said, ‘Sadie, please make it stop.’ And she said, ‘I can’t, it’s too late,'” she told radio host Larry King in a 2009 interview.
She saw Watson chase a bleeding man — Polanski friend Voytek Frykowski, 32 — into the bushes and stab him repeatedly. She saw Krenwinkel with a raised knife chasing a woman in a white dress — Frykowski’s girlfriend, Abigail Folger, 25 — across the lawn.
Inside, stabbed and hanged was Tate, 26, who was 8 months pregnant. The fifth victim was 35-year-old Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring.
Kasabian went back to the car and waited. “My mind went looking for help. I didn’t do it because I was afraid they would kill me and my daughter,” she said in the 2009 History Channel documentary “Manson.”
The following night, Manson joined the deadly foray into the Los Feliz home of grocer Leno LaBianca, 42, and his wife, Rosemary, 38. Manson tied up the pair, then ordered Watkins, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and a fourth clan member, Leslie Van. Wooden, into the house. They stabbed the LaBiancas and then used the couple’s blood to scribble the phrases “Death to Pigs” and “Rise” on the walls. As the carnage took place, 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 living in Venice, but Kasabian thwarted the plan by deliberately knocking on the wrong door. “I just didn’t intend to kill anyone. If Charlie wanted to kill me, he would kill me,” she said in the movie “Manson.”
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 at Manson’s direction. Seizing the opportunity to escape, she left behind her daughter Tanya as the child had been taken to a remote location with other children of the Manson family. She came back for her a few months later, after the ranch was raided and Tanya was placed in foster care.
Kasabian hitchhiked across the country and ended 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 granted immunity from prosecution after testifying against Manson and the others.
Born Linda Drouin in Maine on June 21, 1949, she grew up in Milford, NH, in an unstable home and left when she was 16. After dropping out of high school, she got married, divorced and remarried, moving from commune to commune, practicing free love and dropping acid. She became a mother at the age of 19.
“She described all this with a candor that shocked me at times,” wrote Bugliosi, “but which I knew would be an asset on the witness stand. …I knew that if Linda testified truthfully about those two nights of murder, it wouldn’t matter if she’d been promiscuous, on drugs, or had stolen.
During her 18 days on the witness stand, she held her own against attacks from the defense team and Manson, whose attempts at intimidation included making throat-slitting gestures at her.
Although the jury foreman underestimated the importance of Kasabian’s testimony after guilty verdicts were handed down for Manson, Krenwinkel, Atkins and Van Houten, Bugliosi thought otherwise. “I doubt we would have convicted Manson without her,” he told The Observer in 2009.
She was also a witness for the prosecution at Watson’s trial. Like the others, he 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. Atkins and Manson died behind bars, in 2009 and 2017, respectively.
After the trials, Kasabian went into hiding and changed her name, but could not completely escape public attention.
She is often mentioned in connection with writer Joan Didion’s classic 1979 essay “The White Album,” in which Didion talks about buying a dress for Kasabian to wear on her first day at the booth. Two decades later, a British rock band, inspired by the fame of the former Manson follower, named themselves after her. And the 2019 Quentin Tarantino movie “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” which takes place in the year of the murders, features a character based on Kasabian named Flower Child.
Kasabian lived in New Hampshire and later Washington state, where she had run into drug possession laws. She raised four children, including a son who was born while she was in jail awaiting the start of the Manson trial.
She said she thought about the murders every day.
“I could never accept not being punished for my involvement in this tragedy,” she said in the 2009 film. “I felt then what I feel now, always and forever, that it was a waste of life that had no reason had no rhyme. It was wrong. And that hurt a lot of people.”
Woo is a former Times staff writer.