I was a teenager when the Manson murders went down, in the autumn of 1969 – of course, the cruel and inexplicable murder of a movie star and several of her friends made all the headlines, and had lots of law-abiding citizens looking over their shoulders and being very careful about locking the doors and windows of their homes at night. It wasn’t until some time later that the associated murders of an elderly retired couple also hit the headlines of the LA Times, and other national newspapers. A blood-drenched, hippy cult with a weirdly charismatic leader had committed those murders in order – so they claimed – to trigger a devastating racial war, which they termed ‘helter-skelter’ from a Beatles song moderately popular at the time. Well, it was the late 1960ies; after assassinations, race riots and anti-war protests, ordinary citizens were pretty shell-shocked. A lot of extremely deranged people held equally deranged beliefs back then, and continued to do so for a good few years – cults and communes like Jim Jones’ Peoples’ Temple, for instance. My parents often resignedly repeated the truism about the US having been tilted at a steep angle, and all the unmoored nutcases, nonconformists and grifters sliding west and ending up in California. Having both been born there, and with recollections of how it used to be, they would grumble about how they wished such people would slide the hell back to where they came from, and stop embarrassing hard-working and relatively conservative citizens of the Golden State.

Helter-skelter didn’t happen – well, not then, anyway. Reading this week about Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD cop and former Navy reserve officer, with a chip on his shoulder the size of an an aircraft carrier and a string of revenge murders on his slate … now, I could see helter-skelter happening now, forty years later. A lot of things have happened over forty years in Los Angeles, not many of them for the better. One of them is that the LAPD are nowhere near as respected now as they were formerly. It might very well be that they were no more or less competent or corrupt then than they are now, but it is the public perception of them now that sets the bitter tone. Corruptions scandals like the slow train-wreck of Rampart division, the beating of Rodney King, the perception of racism among police officers which allowed OJ Simpson’s legal team to plead for acquittal on those grounds … all of those incidents and accidents have blotted the LAPD’s reputation in the eyes of ordinary citizens of all races.

So, is Christopher Dorner a good and moral man driven mad by the system, or a race-card pulling manipulator with a very hot temper? Big boastful talker or a cold and calculating planner of a campaign of murder? The various stories in the news about the matter have it both ways and every gradation in between. One can take away anything that one wishes to see in his posted manifesto; in any case, the man has gone Rambo, and gone to ground, leaving at least fifty families under police protection, and three people – who looked nothing at all like him, but merely had the misfortune to be driving pickup trucks with a likeness to his vehicle – injured by panicky LAPD officers opening fire. Where is he now? Lost and dying of exposure in the woods at Big Bear, or blending into the background in a comfortable hide-out in Compton. Heading into Canada, or into Mexico, or just laying low until the row dies down? When and if he emerges again, and encounters the LAPD – or any other law enforcement body – the chances of it ending quietly with an uncontested arrest are pretty small. And should it end quietly or not – what are the chances of riots breaking out, regardless?

9 thoughts on “Helter-Skelter”

  1. Officer Alinsky? long gone, his chartered flight to Cairo via Caracas lifted off just as the gas tank on the Nissan was heating up. Who knows? in Hope n’ Changeland damn near anything is possible. The manifesto touched on a lot of very familiar themes, curiously so. With luck he’ll expire in a hail of lead and save the state multiple millions. Alive, he’ll be martyred, Johnny Cochran conjured from the lake of fire to once again take on the police, “the man” et al…

  2. I think big city cops have, for the most part, a thankless job. A job few of us would want. But then in the hunt for Dorner, when you read about this


    Makes you wonder.

    I think – in a lot of ways, the LAPD has gotten their bad rep though selective editing and “journalism” – to see the entire Rodney King video – instead of what was edited for time – gives one a very different impression.

    And of course these days anyone with a smart phone is a journalist.

    ‘ 69 was a crazy year in a lot of ways.

  3. re: the Rodney King video.

    Stacey Koon, who saved Rodney King’s life by taking him down and away from the gun of CHP officer Melanie Singer, spent several years in prison as thanks for his efforts. I sent money to his family while he was in prison. Melanie Singer, who actually made the traffic stop on King along with her husband, rewarded Koon by testifying against him and the other LAPD cops. Thereafter, she retired on a nice disability award which shows the level of justice in the Clinton era.

    Had Koon not been there, Singer, who was preparing to shoot King as he wiggled his butt at her, probably would have been let off easy because she is a woman. King of course would be dead, as he is now.

    I banned my kids from reading Bugliosi’s book, “Helter-Skelter,” which insured that they all snuck it from the bookcase and read it thoroughly. My oldest was four at the time of the murders. A friend of mine, a well known ear surgeon named Howard House, lived next door to the LaBiancas. Manson was actually aiming for a house on the other side of Howard’s where he had once entertained the owners at a party. Howard was very fortunate to be away that night.

    Dorner has attracted quite a devoted following on Huffington Post.

  4. Mike-As you point out, cops are just people. I do find a big difference between big city cops and small town cops, the city boys being, on the whole, brighter.
    Being a long-haired, dope smoking hippie in my youth, initial encounters with the law were not encouraging. In my late 20s I had occasion to work fairly closely with some veterans on the force and found them to be a gutsy and funny group, if a little wary of strangers. But once you were accepted, it was OK. BTW, those guys could really drink.
    Also BTW: Check out the Second City Cop blog. Great source of info. Rumor there says Dorner may be on his way here.

  5. Looks like he is cornered at a location in Big Bear, and making a last stand of it. Well, I figured on the ‘last stand’ – but the exact location of it was up for grabs.

  6. I don’t know about cornered.

    One of the Sheriff’s deputies has died from the shootout today. The location that is being focused on is the back road to Big Bear and is the same road (I think) that had the bus crash a week ago.

    I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.

  7. We had maternal cousins who had a cabin at Big Bear – one of those built on a slope, so there were about two or three levels of bedrooms below the main floor and a lot of twisty roads to get in and out. I remember spending a good few weekends with them; how we went sledding, and how my father absolutely forbade us to go on a toboggen. Can’t recall that we actually ever set eyes on Big Bear Lake, though.
    Still, I look forward about more information being available about him. A Naval reserve officer and a police-officer trainee suddenly going all mad-dog… my daughter says that likely, the people who only superficially knew him would be quite bland in their opinions. People who knew him well … might not be so diplomatic.

  8. The cabin is on fire and we will probably have another Symbionese Liberation Army Gotterdamerung moment. I watched that standoff and the cops were in no hurry to put it out. Now they say a single gunshot was heard as the fire got going.

    It may be over. Glad it’s not my cabin and hope it’s insured.

  9. You can see from reading his manifesto that he has serious problems. So the first question is whether these are recent problems, or were there people in the LAPD or Navy who were aware of them but didn’t do anything. If the latter case is what happened then perhaps Dorner is like Nidal Hassan, though it seems not unlikely that Dorner’s problems are what got him booted from the LAPD, which would make things different in his case. More information is needed. I doubt that he’ll make it to trial, but if he does more of his background will come out. It would be interesting to find out if he was hired despite his issues. Even the best run system will occasionally hire a very bad person, so how the system handles such people is important.

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