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Judge delays release of tapes that may have new Manson murder clues

June 29, 2012 | 12:08 pm

Charles Tex WatsonA federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked the release of tapes to the Los Angeles Police Department that investigators believe could shed new light on unsolved murders connected to Charles Manson and his followers.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Schell made the order after Charles Manson follower Charles "Tex" Watson appealed a bankruptcy judge's decision to release tapes of his conversations with his attorney.

Watson has insisted the recordings of him and an attorney made decades ago do not shed new light on the infamous cult murders.

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Watson filed a motion with a Texas bankruptcy court asking a judge to allow detectives to listen to--but not take--the tapes. In the motion, Watson says he did not discuss additional unsolved cases as police assert. Watson is serving a life term in connection with the Manson killings.

Among Manson murder experts, there is much debate about what new revelations the Watson tapes might yield. At least three deaths have been considered as possible murders by those involved in the Manson investigations.

A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Texas last month granted a request from the LAPD to review eight cassette tapes containing hours of conversations between Watson and his attorney, who has since died, after the LAPD argued it may shed light on unsolved murderers.

The lawyer made the recordings while interviewing Watson after he and other Manson "family members" had been arrested in 1969.

But in a motion filed June 7, Watson requested that the judge "revise" her order and direct a bankruptcy trustee that "all the recordings" be listened to by the LAPD and not turned over to the detectives and denied they would provide any information on additional murders.

 "In the LAPD's letter to the Trustee...the Chief states: 'THE LAPD has information that Mr. Watson discussed additional unsolved murders committed by the followers of Charles Manson.' If this be so, and it is not, the request of the LAPD can be satisfied by listening the Tapes without taking possession of them," Watson wrote.

Watson said the LAPD does not know what is on the tapes, and he and his late attorney Bill Boyd are the only ones with knowledge of their contents.

"In the eyes of justice, I am fully willing for the LAPD to listen to the tapes to satisfy their investigation," Watson wrote, adding he feared it would cause further pain to the victims' families.

In the motion, he asserts he did not waive attorney-client privilege, and the tapes should not be turned over to the LAPD "because they are not a Creditor to my late lawyer Bill Boyd. God rest his soul." Watson added that the court and parties did not consider "repercussions of the motion."

Watson is serving a life sentence for his role in killing actress Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, and four others at her Hollywood Hills home on Aug. 9, 1969. The next night, Watson and other Manson "family members" killed grocery store owners Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

Watson received the death penalty, but the sentence was commuted to life. A parole board rejected his release last November from Mule Creek State Prison. Detectives had until now not been able to get the tapes, but Watson's attorney died in 2009, and the law firm filed for bankruptcy.

The tapes possibly contain the first new clues in years concerning the Manson murders. That was enough for the LAPD to take another look at the case, and it has Manson scholars excited about the possibilities.

"Do we expect to find something in the recordings? We just don't know," said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith. "But we're going to check just like any good investigator would."


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--Richard Winton

Photo: Charles "Tex" Watson. Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.