Consider the criminal history of Bobby Beausoleil, 67, the latest follower of Charles Manson to come up for an automatic parole hearing.
Among the lesser-known members of the murderous so-called Manson “Family,” Beausoleil was a Manson henchman who fled Los Angeles after the 1969 murders of musician Gary Hinman and movie stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea. Caught near San Luis Obispo and jailed, he could not participate in the group’s notorious slayings of actress Sharon Tate and grocer Leno LaBianca a few days later.
Beausoleil was up for a routine, periodic parole hearing late this winter, with Gov. Jerry Brown yet to decide his fate. As it did with fellow Manson acolyte Bruce Davis last year, there was every likelihood the state Parole Board would order him released on the basis of advanced age and good behavior while in prison.
The Manson cases raise the question of whether some crimes are sufficiently heinous to merit a special classification, one amounting to locking them up and throwing away the key without ever holding parole hearings like those given Davis, Beausoleil and Manson himself every few years.
The question takes on urgency because this will likely be the last time the fate of either Beausoleil or Davis will be decided by Brown, who will likely be the last California governor with any personal recall of the horror of their crimes and the wave of fear and panic they spawned across wide parts of the state. The current front-runner to succeed Brown, for example, is Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor and a former San Francisco mayor who was two years old when Manson & Co. spread the chopped body parts of Hinman and Shea across the Spahn Movie Ranch in Chatsworth.
It’s an open question whether an old crime story like this would have the same impact on him that Brown’s memories do on his actions. Brown lived in Los Angeles at the time.
The Hinman and Shea murders marked the beginning of the Manson Family’s campaign of killings. Years after he was convicted, Beausoleil said he went to Hinman’s residence in the Santa Monica Mountains with two “Manson girls,” one of them Susan Denise Atkins, who would die in prison after being convicted in the Tate-LaBianca slayings.
His alleged mission: To recover money previously paid to Hinman for mescaline which had later been sold to the Straight Satans motorcycle gang, operating in the Los Angeles area. The bikers demanded their money back when they discovered the drug was flawed. Beausoleil said Manson ordered him to hold Hinman at gunpoint until he arrived and began trying to extort money from Hinman by cutting his ear off with a sword, among other tactics. Eventually, Beausoleil told authorities, Manson told him to kill Hinman and he did, Davis also being convicted in the murder. They scrawled “Political Piggy” on a wall with Hinman’s blood, hoping to make police believe the slaying was done by political radicals. The scene presaged what Atkins and others wrote on the walls at the gruesome LaBianca murder scene.
Eventually, Hinman was chopped up along with Shea, who Manson allegedly feared would turn him in to Los Angeles police. Parts of their bodies were found on the Spahn Ranch, the scene of many early Western movies.
Few relatives of the victims survive today. A Hinman cousin living in Denver regularly opposes parole for anyone who participated in his murder. The same for Tate’s sister Debra, her lone surviving family member.
Few doubt that Beausoleil, Manson and other in their grisly crew deserved the death sentences they first received, later changed to life in prison.
In his message denying parole last year to Davis, Gov. Brown clumsily but accurately opined that “In rare circumstances, a murder is so heinous that it provides evidence of current dangerousness by itself.” That is also true for Beausoleil, whose role in Hinman’s death was larger than Davis’.
There are a few other killers who could fit the same category, like Richard Ramirez, the recently deceased Night Stalker whose crime spree terrorized both the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas.
People like these, as Brown implied, should never be freed. So it’s high time legislators create a new category of convict beyond the reach of parole, taking their eventual fate away from politicians who might not even remember them and their misdeeds.