'Restless Souls': The Tate Family's Crusade to Keep the Manson Killers Behind Bars

Howard Cohen
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

In August 1969 Charles Manson had maybe 100 followers. Today, thanks to a purloined cell phone and a Twitter account, he has more than 6,000 followers. Hence, this book, from members of SharonTate's family.

Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family's Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice

Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 400 pages
Author: Alisa R. Statman,Brie Tate
Price: $26.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-02

In August 1969 Charles Manson had maybe 100 followers. A handful of them were convicted of following his orders to kill six people, including Valley of the Dolls actress Sharon Tate, hairdresser-to-the-stars Jay Sebring and, the next night, grocery chain owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.

Today, thanks to a purloined cell phone and a Twitter account, Manson, 77, who is serving a life sentence at Corcoran Prison in California, has more than 6,000 followers, including Manson Family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, convicted for the 1975 attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford.

Manson’s ongoing reach and the fact he and the surviving Tate-LaBianca killers have parole hearings on a regular basis is one reason Tate family friend Alisa Statman and Brie Tate, Sharon’s niece, wrote Restless Souls.

There are more than 1,100 books on about Manson and the murders, many of them exploitative. The authors’ aim in this worthwhile if problematic addition to the growing library was to complete the memoirs of Tate’s late parents Doris and Paul (P.J.) and their daughter, Patti. They wanted to write about the effect the murders had on the Tates and to shift attention to the victims. Restless Souls is at its best when they stick to the plan. The book contains 47 family album photos and, unlike the others, not one features Manson or the killers.

Heartbreaking in its moving depiction of familial love and loss and unfortunately sometimes too strident for its own good, Restless Souls focuses on Doris Tate and daughter Patti, who was 11 when her eight-months’ pregnant sister Sharon, 26, was murdered inside her Benedict Canyon home. Mother and daughter reluctantly became nationally prominent advocates of victims’ rights before each lost their lives to cancer.

Initially, we learn that Doris clashed with her retired army intelligence officer husband when he began visiting the hippie hangouts of the era to ferret out the killers. Once they were apprehended, he became a fixture at their trial. “I don’t need to be there to prove I love Sharon. It’s in God’s hands to take care of those monsters,” Doris Tate cried during one argument in 1970.

In his 1974 best-seller Helter Skelter, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi wrote of Col. Tate’s months-long private investigation: “(D)espite his diligence, he had not come up with anything that was of use to us.”

Not surprisingly, Restless Souls suggests otherwise, insisting that P.J. was instrumental in finding the killers before the Los Angeles Police Department did thanks to his discovery of Spahn’s Movie Ranch, the camouflaged encampment of the Manson Family.

The book’s first half and its effective storytelling that traces the psychological impact the slayings and trial had on the Tates prove the most riveting, devastating and compulsively readable sections. None of the previous works on the subject — not Bugliosi’s masterful Helter Skelter (still the definitive examination of the crimes) nor Ed Sanders’ 1971 take The Family — recorded such wrenching, emotional detail on the aftermath.

Patti Tate, then 11 and still dazed, recalls gathering at a famed Hollywood producer’s house immediately after the Tate-Sebring funerals. A glimpse at forbidden television, a repeat of Bewitched playing inside a screening room a few yards away from where the adults mourned, caught and held her attention. “What better way to forget my troubles than to watch a show, that with a twitch of the nose anything could change.”

Nice detail. Yet a self-righteous tone overtakes Restless Souls' latter half when the narrative shifts to Doris Tate, who proved influential in the amendment of California laws relating to victims of violent crime. She was honored by President George H.W. Bush as one of his “thousand points of light” shortly before her death in 1992. She attended the parole hearings and reacted with anger upon learning that her daughter’s killer, Charles “Tex” Watson, had a cushy arrangement in prison and had earned the forgiveness of Rosemary LaBianca’s daughter, who found her mother’s body in the house riddled with 41 stab wounds.

Restless Souls offers a few tantalizing revelations, the biggest involving a curious plan by Watson to trick Sharon Tate’s sister into testifying in his defense at his parole hearing. But the book comes up short in its construction. Statman and Tate shift voices and time so often a reader can easily become confused. The writing lacks polish, too. Bugliosi, by comparison, chillingly set the stage in the first paragraph of Helter Skelter by showing, not telling: “It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.”

Statman and Tate occasionally lapse into cliché “a palace fit for any fairy-tale princess” and cancer “is a thief in the night” or such clunky prose as: “My inflamed opinion may have a biased tone, but the hippie trend is not my favorite culture.”

Toward the end, Statman and Brie Tate violate one of their objectives. One glaring passage, which seems to come out of nowhere, luridly lingers over the murder night, imagining dialogue between killers and victims and offers the exact post-mortem dimensions of the stab wounds. Perhaps the authors felt that shoehorning this last bit of emphasis of the killers’ savagery and cruelty would be crucial to ensuring readers’ empathy, but it was unnecessary. The powerful highlights of Restless Souls are so moving and detailed, the authors make their point without grandstanding or cheap theatrics.

One bit of noteworthy aftermath: Amid the publicity surrounding the book’s release, Manson’s Twitter posts have come to a halt. Type his name into Twitter’s TweetDeck application, and you are greeted with the message: “Oh dear, user has been suspended.” Doris and Patti Tate would approve.






PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.