B.C. reporter reflects on covering Charles Manson

Charles Manson, leader of a murderous cult, died on Sunday at 83

A retired Penticton reporter is reflecting on the impact Charles Manson’s murderous cult left behind after authorities announced his death Sunday evening.

Manson became the hypnotic-eyed face of evil across America after orchestrating the gruesome murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles during the summer of 1969. He died Sunday after nearly a half-century in prison. He was 83.

Related: Charles Manson, leader of murderous ’60s cult, dead at 83

Deb Pfeiffer spent the majority of her reporting career covering California news, entering the media business in the 1980s, years after Manson was arrested and put in jail.

But the impact that story had was felt even decades later when Pfeiffer set out to work on a 40th-anniversary story.

In May 2009, the isolated Barker Ranch cabin in Death Valley where Manson was arrested was gutted by a fire.

Later that year, while working for the San Bernardino Sun, Pfeiffer reached out to those affected by Manson’s crimes.

She managed to snag an interview with Vincent Bugliosi – chief prosecutor in the Manson case and author of Helter Skelter, the story of the Manson murders.

“I thought I would never get a hold of him, but he actually called me back,” said Pfeiffer.

“It was so vivid in his memory. What struck me was that this was 2009 when I was interviewing him and yet the memory was very fresh in his mind. What happened, 40 years later, was still fresh in the minds of those who met him. It stuck with people because it was so awful.”

“He convinced them that he was the second coming of Christ and the devil all wrapped up in one,” Bugliosi told Pfeiffer in the 2009 San Bernardino Sun article. “He was also a racist who believed that by committing the crimes, then blaming it on black men, he could create an apocalyptic race war known as Helter Skelter, while the family hid out at Barker Ranch.”

Pfeiffer said she cannot imagine the impact the case must have had on those immersed in it.

“How horrifying it must of been for him (Bugliosi), for anyone involved with it back then. It was such a terrible crime – they stabbed a pregnant actress to death.”

The slayings horrified the world and, together with the deadly violence that erupted later in 1969 during a Rolling Stones concert at California’s Altamont Speedway, exposed the dangerous, drugged-out underside of the counterculture movement. Pfeiffer said this case seemed to mark the end of the era of peace and love.

“It happened right at the end of the 60s, the hippy-dippy time was really over when that happened,” said Pfeiffer.

“The country was going in such a negative direction, so many people led astray by Charles Manson.”

After a trial that lasted nearly a year, Manson and three followers — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — were all found guilty of murder.

“It was one of the worst crimes ever in Southern California. It really did mark the end of an era, a time that was supposed to be about changing the direction of the US and instead, there was this horrific crime that struck with people, that marked people for the rest of their lives. It had a far-reaching impact on so many people,” said Pfeiffer.

— With files from The Canadian Press

To report a typo, email:


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


Just Posted

Riverdale fans line up outside Langley nightclub hoping to meet show’s stars

Filming continues at Gabby’s Country Cabaret for the popular teen television series.

Olympics spark rekindles Langley’s interest in curling

A series of open houses at the curling centre this week help introduce people to the sport.

Aldergrove Blazers win in Aldergrove Arena’s final game

Aldergrove Bantam C2 Blazers won in the last ever ice hockey game in the old Aldergrove arena

LANGLEY’S GREEN THUMB: Is it really a weed, or a plant?

Advance columnist Pam Erikson talks about weeds versus plants, and offers some plant sale dates.

Counting down to Earth Hour in Langley

This Saturday, Township residents are being asked to turn off their non-essential items for an hour.

Ottawa proposes restricted pot labels, packages

Packaging will include red stop sign with marijuana leaf and ‘THC’

Well-known former B.C. radio personality and politician Barrie Clark dies

Clark remembered as a fair-minded ‘statesman,’ who always saw the big picture

Celebrate Easter with Aldergrove zoo critters

Greater Vancouver Zoo offers family fun this Easter weekend

Police officers injured in Trans Mountain pipeline arrests: RCMP

One suffered a head injury after being kicked, another hurt a knee, and a third hurt a hand

Horgan promises new school funding formula in B.C.

Premier addresses B.C. Teachers Federation AGM ahead of contract negotiations starting next year

Reader Photos: First day of spring around British Columbia

Our loyal viewers sent us some of their favourite Spring photos from all corners of the province

Five Canadian kids charged with making school threats

Police say online threats are on the rise

Not even Ellen DeGeneres can get Virtue, Moir to say they’re more than friends

Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Tuesday

RCMP warn public to stop pouring gas on fires after three incidents

Police responded to three recent incidents that sent seven people to hospital

Most Read