by Win McCormack
Written for Tin House magazine issue #31 - Spring 2007
Win McCormack interviews "Juanita Wildebush".
Wildebush lived with Paul Watkins, Brooks Poston and Paul Crockett at Barker Ranch from October of 1968 - June 1969.
“Juanita” (not her actual name) was on a road trip from San Jose, California, to Mexico via Phoenix, Arizona. In Mexico she was going to try to reunite with her fiancé, from whom she was estranged. By her account, she had had a “harrowing afternoon” the day before, because her van had been broken into and her very expensive stereo system, which she had felt the immediate need to replace before the long trip ahead, stolen. Because of that and because of the state of her romantic relationship, she was, as are most people at the point they are inducted into cult organizations, in an emotionally fragile and vulnerable state. South of San Jose, she stopped to pick up a pregnant-looking hitchhiker who turned out to be accompanied by two men. All three were from the Manson Family. The woman was Susan Atkins, later one of the Tate-LaBianca killers.
The essence of Juanita’s story is this: she got into the Manson cult by accident, and she got out, nine months later, not long before the murders, by another stroke of fate, in that case probably a stroke of great luck as well. The interview was conducted circa 1984–85. At that time, Juanita was happily married and a successfully practicing professional.
Win McCormack: So, Susan Atkins was the first Manson Family member you met, when you picked her and two male companions up hitchhiking in Northern California. What was she like?
Juanita: I knew her as Sadie Mae Glutz. Sadie was a kid, a twenty-something-year-old kid. I have lots of real fond memories of her. It destroys me when I think about what happened to her, because she tried real hard to do the right thing. Sort of screwed up all along the line in her choices. Sadie was in the passenger’s seat, and the guys were in the back. I remember her talking about their musical group. That was their story. They were all members of a band, and their band’s name was the Family Jams.
I remember TJ [Thomas Walleman, or “TJ the Terrible”] saying, “Oh yes, we record with Dennis Wilson and the Beach Boys and we use their studios.” Dennis Wilson was very much a part of the “peripheral family.” I remember Sadie telling me very intently what a wonderful group it was and how neat, how much it meant to her, and how it really worked as her family. I talked to her about Mexico and how I was engaged to a guy living there. This was the end of September 1968. I was going to be twenty-four the next month. She talked to me about how wonderful this place was where they lived near Los Angeles. She talked with the fervor of somebody who’d been converted.
WM: Tell me about your first encounter with Charles Manson.
Juanita: My intention had been to drop the three of them off and to drive on to Phoenix on the way to Mexico to hook up with my fiancé. I totally misjudged how long it would take to drive the length of California, and so by the time we drove into Spahn’s Movie Ranch near Los Angeles, I was exhausted. They said, “Why don’t you stay here?” There was a whole sort of facade of Western town buildings and then off to the right was a trailer with its lights on. Everybody said, “Let’s go get Charlie, let’s wake up Charlie,” and everyone went running in. Charlie came out naked. He had been making love to a woman named Gypsy, and she also came out naked. Nobody reacted to that. Nobody thought anything of this. It seemed like the most noticeable thing to me. Everyone was hugging each other, everybody was so happy to see everybody else. They said, “Oh, look what we found, look who we found,” and introduced me to Charlie. And he came over and put his arms around me and said how glad he was. Of course, this was the ’60s, when everybody was hugging, but there really was a lot of love around that trailer. There was real bonding. It’s that same kind of stuff, that same kind of open and unthinking love that you see in the face of a Moonie. Charlie got a guitar out and everybody started singing. It was just wonderful fun, but it was very clear that nobody had any talent. I felt perfectly comfortable with them. That night, Charlie asked if he could spend the night with me in the camper and I told him no. He let me know that I was being selfish and self-centered and that there was a deficit in my character.
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