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New Book on Manson Killings and the Intelligence Community (UPDATED on 7/23/’19)

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COMMENT: A new book about the Man­son Fam­i­ly and their killings high­lights the prob­a­bil­i­ty that ele­ments of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty may have had involve­ment with the group and its devel­op­ment.

In FTR #809, we high­light­ed evi­den­tiary trib­u­taries run­ning between the assas­si­na­tions of both Kennedy broth­ers and the Man­son crimes, the assas­si­na­tion of Robert F. Kennedy, in par­tic­u­lar. The Reeve Whit­son con­nec­tion may have some con­nec­tion to the infor­ma­tion dis­cussed in that pro­gram.

One of the most strik­ing of the appar­ent intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty con­nec­tions to the Man­son inves­ti­ga­tion is the afore­men­tioned Reeve Whit­son.

Reeve Whit­son:

    1. Was alleged by Iran­ian immi­grant Shahrokh Hata­mi to have phoned him with knowl­edge of the Killings of Sharon Tate, et al, before the crime was report­ed by the news media and before law enforce­ment even arrived at the crime scene!
    2. Was alleged by the LAPD’s top inves­ti­ga­tor and Sharon Tate’s father (a Colonel in Army intel­li­gence) to have been deeply involved with the Man­son inves­ti­ga­tion.
    3. Was alleged by attor­ney Neil Cum­mings to have main­tained some kind of sur­veil­lance on the Cielo Dri­ve home, as part of some sort of work he was doing for the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty.
    4. Was con­firmed as an offi­cer of the CIA by his own ex-wife.
    5. Was known to have felt that he was–in the end–betrayed by the fac­tion of the CIA for which he worked.
    6. Was asso­ci­at­ed, through his intel­li­gence work with Otto Sko­rzeny and his wife Ilse.
    7. Was the spe­cial advis­er to the chair­man of the board of the Thyssen firm, also as part of his intel­li­gence work.
    8. Was appar­ent­ly a close asso­ciate of retired Gen­er­al Cur­tis LeMay, George Wal­lace’s Vice-Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 1968.
    9. Was asso­ci­at­ed with LeMay when the lat­ter became vice-pres­i­dent of a mis­sile parts man­u­fac­tur­er, which was head­ed by Mihai Patrichi.  Patrichi was a for­mer Roman­ian army gen­er­al and a mem­ber of the Roman­ian Iron Guard, whom we have spo­ken about and writ­ten about in many pro­grams and posts. The Iron Guard was part of the Gehglen “Org,” the ABN and the GOP.

1.   Chaos: Charles Man­son, the CIA, and the Secret His­to­ry of the Six­ties by Tom O’Neill; Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny [HC]; Copy­right 2019 by Tom O’Neill; 978–0‑316–47755‑0; pp.184–187.

. . . . I want­ed to see . . . if Man­son had any cred­i­ble con­nec­tions to the gov­ern­ment or law enforce­ment, and if I could link him to the police infil­tra­tions of left­ist groups I’d read about. Then, as if I’d con­jured him from thin air, some­one emerged who fit into the puz­zle. He seemed to have wan­dered into South­ern Cal­i­for­nia from the pages of a spy nov­el . . . . His name was Reeve Whit­son, and his inter­sec­tions with the Man­son inves­ti­ga­tion sug­gest­ed a dimen­sion to the Tate-LaBi­an­ca mur­ders that had been wiped from the offi­cial record.

It start­ed with Shahrokh Hata­mi, Sharon Tate’s friend and per­son­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er. When I spoke with Hata­mi over the phone in 1999, he’d nev­er giv­en an inter­view about the mur­ders. Sort­ing through his mem­o­ries, he recalled some­thing he’d nev­er been able to explain.

At sev­en in the morn­ing on August 9, 1969, Hata­mi got a fran­tic phone call from a friend. Rub­bing sleep from his eyes, he lis­tened as the caller deliv­ered the ter­ri­ble news: Sharon Tate and four oth­ers had been mur­dered in her home on Cielo Dri­ve. After­ward, in numb ter­ror, he and his girl­friend switched on the radio and lis­tened all morn­ing for fur­ther reports. They had to wait a while. As Hata­mi lat­er learned, that call came nine­ty min­utes before the Polan­skis’ maid had arrived at the house, dis­cov­ered the bod­ies, and ran scream­ing to the neigh­bors, who called the police. Unwit­ting­ly, Hata­mi had become one of the first peo­ple in the world to hear about the murders—all because of his friend.

Charles Man­son

That “friend” was Reeve Whit­son, whom Hata­mi char­ac­ter­ized as “a mys­tery man”—a phrase I’d hear a lot as I researched him in earnest. A close friend of Tate and Polan­s­ki, Whit­son had a tal­ent for dis­cre­tion. When peo­ple remem­bered him at all, he was usu­al­ly on the periph­ery, com­ing and going, his pur­pose unknown, his pur­pose unknown, his motives inscrutable. . . .

. . . . To get some sense of Whitson’s role in the case, I looked his name up in the tri­al tran­script. It appeared four times, all dur­ing Hatami’s tes­ti­mo­ny. It was Whit­son, he con­firmed on the stand, who brought him to [Vin­cent] Bugliosi dur­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion. And yet Whit­son nev­er appeared in Hel­ter Skel­ter, which gave an oth­er­wise detailed account of Hatami’s sto­ry.

As well it should. Hatami’s tes­ti­mo­ny was a dra­mat­ic high point. Before the packed court­room, he explained that five months before the mur­ders, he’d been vis­it­ing Sharon Tate when he noticed some­one on the prop­er­ty. Hus­tling toward the front door, he found a short, scrag­gly Man­son stand­ing there. Man­son asked if Ter­ry Melch­er was around. Hata­mi want­i­ng, to be rid of him, sent Man­son around back. He knew that Rudi Alto­bel­li ligved in the guest-house, and could tell him where to find Melch­er.

Hatami’s sto­ry proved that Man­son knew where the house on Cielo Dri­ve was, and how to get there. And it added some trag­ic fore­shad­ow­ing: since Tate, Sebring, Fol­ger, and Frykows­ki were in the room behind Hata­mi, this would be the one and only time Man­son laid eyes on his future vic­tims.

The prob­lem, Hata­mi revealed to me, was that he’d nev­er been con­fi­dent that it was Man­son he saw that day. His uncer­tain­ty meant noth­ing to Bugliosi and Reeve Whit­son, who coerced his tes­ti­mo­ny any­way. “The cir­cum­stances I was put through to become a wit­ness,” Hata­mi said, “I didn’t like at all.” Whit­son told him “‘Hata­mi, you saw that guy, Alto­bel­li said so, we need anoth­er per­son to cor­rob­o­rate it.’” . . . .

Hata­mi demurred, and Whit­son turned the screws, effec­tive­ly threat­en­ing him with deportation—he said he’d ensure that Hata­mi, an Iran­ian with­out U.S. cit­i­zen­ship, wouldn’t be able to get anoth­er visa. If he want­ed to stay in Amer­i­ca, all he had to do was say he’s seen Man­son that day at Tate’s house. Not long after, Whit­son brought Hata­mi to his car and showed him his gun. Although Hata­mi didn’t know Whit­son too well, he took the threat seriously—he believed that Whit­son real­ly had the means to deport him.

“I was framed by Mr. Whit­son,” Hata­mi told me. “I was nev­er sure it hap­pened that way. I had to save my ass.” Bugliosi and I were still speak­ing then, so I asked him if he knew Whit­son at all. Hata­mi thought that was “rub­bish.” “Bugliosi knows him very well, “ he said. “I could not have been a wit­ness with­out Reeve.”

He was right. Because the defense sus­pect­ed that Bugliosi and Whit­son had, indeed, coerced Hatami’s sto­ry, they called on Bugliosi to explain him­self at the tri­al. Under oath, but out of the pres­ence of the jury, Bugliosi tried to answer for the fact that he’s inter­viewed with­out a tape recorder or a stenog­ra­ph­er. Who was in the room when Hata­mi talked? “Just Reeve Whit­son, myself, and Mr. Hata­mi,” Bugliosi replied. the judge decid­ed that Hata­mi could­n’t tes­ti­fy to hav­ing seen Man­son. The jury heard only that hhe house when a man came to the door, and that he sent the man to the guest­house.

But of course, Bugliosi had for­got­ten that he’d sup­plied Whit­son’s name under oath. Whit­son want­ed it that way. He served his pur­pose and then dis­ap­peared, Hata­mi said, like “a piece in a chess game.”

If Whit­son was a chess piece, who was mov­ing him around? He’d died in 1994, so I couldn’t ask him. Hata­mi gave me the names of peo­ple who might’ve known him Almost invari­ably they told me the same thing: that Whit­son had been an under­cov­er agent of some kind. Some said he was in the FBI, oth­ers the Secret Ser­vice. The rough con­sen­sus, though, was that he was part of the CIA, or an off­shoot spe­cial-oper­a­tions group con­nect­ed to it.

2.   Chaos: Charles Man­son, the CIA, and the Secret His­to­ry of the Six­ties by Tom O’Neill; Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny [HC]; Copy­right 2019 by Tom O’Neill; 978–0‑316–47755‑0; p.199.

. . . . I’d already spo­ken to Frenchie LaJe­unesse, the FBI agent who’d con­tributed to Five Down on Cielo Dri­ve. I called him again to ask whether Wal­ter Kern was real­ly Reeve Whit­son.

His answer: “Yes.” In fact, the pub­lish­ing deal couldn’t have hap­pened with­out Whit­son, LaJe­unesse said. “Reeve Whit­son was a part of putting the book togeth­er, the linch­pin between all of us.”

It was Lieu­tenant Helder, the lead inves­ti­ga­tor for the LAPD who’d assigned Whit­son the pseu­do­nym of Wal­ter Kern, to pro­tect his under­cov­er status—hardly a step one would take with an ordi­nary “ama­teur sleuth.” “Reeve didn’t want his name asso­ci­at­ed with a book,” La Jeunesse said, even long after the Man­son case had been solved. “Not on the jack­et, not even in contracts—he didn’t even want mon­ey.”

In effect, I now had writ­ten proof from the LAPD’s head inves­ti­ga­tor, and from Sharon Tate’s own father, that Reeve Whit­son was smack in the mid­dle of the Man­son inves­ti­ga­tion from the start. . . .

3.   Chaos: Charles Man­son, the CIA, and the Secret His­to­ry of the Six­ties by Tom O’Neill; Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny [HC]; Copy­right 2019 by Tom O’Neill; 978–0‑316–47755‑0; pp.190–191.

Maybe the most com­pelling evi­dence came from Neil Cum­mings, a lawyer who’d known Whit­son since ’84. Sev­er­al peo­ple had told me he was among Reeve’s clos­est con­fi­dants, so I took him to lunch. I hadn’t told him about Hatami’s claim–that Whit­son had called him before the bod­ies were even identified–but he cor­rob­o­rat­ed it inde­pen­dent­ly.

Accord­ing to Cum­mings, Whit­son was in a top-secret arm of the CIA, even more secre­tive than most of the agency. He talked a lot about his train­ing in killing peo­ple, imply­ing that he’d done it at least a few times. And when it came to Man­son, he “was clos­er to it than any­body,” Cum­mings avowed:

“He was active­ly involved with some sort of inves­ti­ga­tion when it hap­pened. He worked close­ly with a law enforce­ment per­son and talked quite a bit about events lead­ing up to the mur­ders, but I don’t remem­ber what they were. He had regrets for not stop­ping them, for doing some­thing about it.

He had rea­son to believe some­thing weird was about to hap­pen at the [Tate] house. He might have been there when it hap­pened, right before or after–the regret was maybe that he wasn’t there when it hap­pened. He told me he was there after the mur­ders, but before the police got there. He said there were screw ups before and after. I believe he said he knew who did it, and it took him a long time to lead police to who did it. 

Whit­son had the Tate house under  sur­veil­lance, Cum­mings added, which  is how he  knew some­thing was going to hap­pen. On the night of the mur­ders, he’d been there  and  left. . . . .

4.   Chaos: Charles Man­son, the CIA, and the Secret His­to­ry of the Six­ties by Tom O’Neill; Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny [HC]; Copy­right 2019 by Tom O’Neill; 978–0‑316–47755‑0; p.193.

. . . . Sure enough, I reached his ex-wife, Ellen Josef­son (Nee Nylund), by phone in Swe­den. Josef­son didn’t beat around the bush.

“He was work­ing for the CIA,” she said. “That is why I am wor­ried to talk to you.”

“Was she sure about that?”

“Yes, I am sure.” She and Reeve had met in Swe­den in ’61, she explained. They fell in love in an instant. Before the end of the year, they’d mar­ried and moved to New York. In those days, he was under­cov­er as a jour­nal­ist, pro­duc­ing pro-Com­mu­nist pieces as a ploy to meet rad­i­cals. This, he seems to have hoped, would lead to more con­tacts in Rus­sia. It was a scheme so elab­o­rate that some­one from the Pol­ish embassy was involved, she remem­bered, and in due time, Whit­son was bring­ing Rus­sians to their place.

“I got furi­ous with him,” she said. “I was very anti-Com­mu­nist.” How could she have mar­ried a pinko? That’s when Whit­son felt he had to pull the cur­tain back. He explained that it was just part of his work for the agency—something he was oth­er­wise ill inclined to dis­cuss. . . .

5.  Chaos: Charles Man­son, the CIA, and the Secret His­to­ry of the Six­ties by Tom O’Neill; Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny [HC]; Copy­right 2019 by Tom O’Neill; 978–0‑316–47755‑0; pp.203–205.

. . . . A British film direc­tor who him­self claimed to have ties to MI5, [John] Irvin said that Whit­son got meet­ings “with min­utes” at “the high­est lev­els of the defense industry—it was amaz­ing.” He was “on the fringes of very far-out research” for the gov­ern­ment, “not dis­cussed open­ly because it verges on the occult.” He added that Whit­son “had very good con­nec­tions with the Los Ange­les Sheriff’s Office” and pull with immi­gra­tion offi­cials, as Shahrokh Hata­mi had said. . . .

. . . . Then came Otto and Ilse Sko­rzeny, the most sin­is­ter of Whitson’s friends. They were Nazis—genuine, Ger­man, dyed-in-the wool Nazis. The Unit­ed Nations list­ed Otto Sko­rzeny as a war crim­i­nal. He’s been one of Hitler’s most trust­ed oper­a­tives, lead­ing the man­hunt of one of the Fuhrer’s would-be assas­sins and spear­head­ing a secret mis­sion to res­cue Mus­soli­ni. After the Third Reich fell, Sko­rzeny safe­guard­ed the wealth of count­less Nazis and helped dis­graced war crim­i­nals set­tle into new lives around the world. Brought to tri­al before a U.S. mil­i­tary court, Sko­rzeny was alleged to be “the most dan­ger­ous man in Europe”—but he was acquit­ted, hav­ing made him­self an asset to U.S. intel­li­gence. His wife, the Count­ess Ilse von Finkel­stein, was once a mem­ber of the Hitler Youth; a shrewd busi­ness­woman known for her beau­ty and charm, she nego­ti­at­ed arms deals and con­tracts for Ger­man engi­neer­ing com­pa­nies. Irvin had met Ilse many times through Whit­son. When she got drunk, he said, “she was always doing Heil Hitler salutes!” . . . .

. . . . His [Whitson’s] resume was scant from the fifties through the sev­en­ties, after which it cov­ered more ground than seemed pos­si­ble for a sin­gle life. He was the spe­cial advi­sor to the chair­man of the board of Thyssen, among the largest cor­po­ra­tions in Ger­many. . . .

6.  Chaos: Charles Man­son, the CIA, and the Secret His­to­ry of the Six­ties by Tom O’Neill; Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny [HC]; Copy­right 2019 by Tom O’Neill; 978–0‑316–47755‑0; p. 203.

. . . . Colonel Tate was just one of his friends in high places. Usu­al­ly, in the same breath, Whitson’s friends named anoth­er mil­i­tary big­wig: Gen­er­al Cur­tis LeMay.

. . . . LeMay, a for­mer Air-Force offi­cer nick­named “Bombs Away LeMay,” had retired in ’65 and turned to defense con­tract­ing, where one crit­ic feared that he “could e more dan­ger­ous than when he was Air Force Chief of Staff.” He moved to L.A. to become the vice pres­i­dent of a mis­sile-parts man­u­fac­tur­er, but it fiz­zled, a did LeMay’s brief polit­i­cal career. After that, Mr. Bombs Away had spent his retire­ment roam­ing the city with Mr. Anony­mous [Reeve Whit­son.] . . . .

. . . . Though I nev­er fig­ured out what LeMay and Whit­son got up to togeth­er, it was plau­si­ble that they were tied up in Char­lie Baron’s cabal of right-wing Hol­ly­wood friends, the ones who, Lit­tle Joe told me, had “done ter­ri­ble things to black peo­ple.” (George Wal­lace, who’d cho­sen LeMay as his run­ning mate in his’68 pres­i­den­tial bid, as among the nation’s most noto­ri­ous racists.) . . . .

7.  Chaos: Charles Man­son, the CIA, and the Secret His­to­ry of the Six­ties by Tom O’Neill; Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny [HC]; Copy­right 2019 by Tom O’Neill; 978–0‑316–47755‑0; p. 463.

. . . . Le May was hired by Net­works Elec­tron­ic in 1865. The high-secu­ri­ty facil­i­ty, which had a con­tract with the Defense Depart­ment, was locat­ed in Chatsworth, California,less than five miles from the Spahn Ranch. The company’s founder and pres­i­dent, Mihai Patrichi, was a for­mer Roman­ian army gen­er­al who was a mem­ber of the Iron Guard . . . .

8.   Chaos: Charles Man­son, the CIA, and the Secret His­to­ry of the Six­ties by Tom O’Neill; Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny [HC]; Copy­right 2019 by Tom O’Neill; 978–0‑316–47755‑0; pp.205–206.

. . . . In his final years, Whit­son was des­ti­tute and dis­grun­tled, telling rue­ful sto­ries of the “Quarry”–his term for the sec­tion of the CIA he worked for–and trash-talk­ing the agency. Once you’re in, he told one friend, “You real­ly are a pawn.” In his dying days, the gov­ern­ment had said, “You did­n’t even exist to us.” . . . . About a year before he died, see­ing the thriller The Pel­i­can Brief, Whit­son leaned over in the dark of the cin­e­ma and told a friend, “I wrote the yel­low papers on every­thing that hap­pened.” With a hint of nos­tal­gia, he explained that “yel­low papers” detailed inter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques, includ­ing a pro­ce­dure in which a man had a plas­tic tube insert­ed in his rec­tum, peanut but­ter smeared on his scro­tum, and a rat dropped in the tube. . . .


One comment for “New Book on Manson Killings and the Intelligence Community (UPDATED on 7/23/’19)”

  1. Thanks for dis­till­ing all the mate­r­i­al on Reeve Whit­son into a sin­gle arti­cle. I’m fas­ci­nat­ed by this guy and the life he led. I recent­ly found some com­ments online from a year ago indi­cat­ing that Whit­son was also active in Indone­sia and Hong Kong at some point. I mes­saged Tom O’Neill last week­end and he said that plen­ty of mate­r­i­al on Whit­son and his ties to Sko­rzeny and Cur­tis LeMay did­n’t make it into the book. He’s hop­ing to do a fol­low-up or per­haps a pod­cast or doc­u­men­tary. Best, Jonathan

    Posted by Jon | July 21, 2019, 11:20 pm

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