In Beach Boy Mike Love’s new memoir Good Vibrations, he recounts a story that fellow bandmate Dennis Wilson told him in the spring of 1969 about allegedly witnessing serial killer Charles Manson murder a man with an M-16 assault rifle then dispose of the body in a well.
If true, it would provide a dark new chapter to Manson’s already evil legacy.
But retired Los Angeles County prosecutor Stephen Kay, who helped convict Manson, now 81, of nine homicides, thinks otherwise.
In a chapter from Good Vibrations, Love details the shocking friendship Wilson forged with Manson and his followers – who lived in his spacious home and later slaughtered seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate, along with Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, in August 1969.
Months before the murders, Wilson, whose life had been turned upside down by drugs and alcohol, showed up at his brother Brian Wilson’s in-home recording studio after spending time at Spahn Ranch, where the Manson family lived in a commune located 30 miles from LA. Love was laying down tracks for a new album at the time when he noticed something looked wrong with his cousin.
“Dennis was visibly shaken,” Love writes, “and I asked what was wrong?”
Wilson, according to Love, allegedly replied, “I just saw Charlie take his M16 and blow this black cat [guy] in half and stuff him down the well.”
The experience, adds Love, left Wilson unnerved and paralyzed with fear. “Dennis was too frightened to go to the police,” he writes. “I think he was just hoping that Manson and his family would disappear.”
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Kay, however, isn’t convinced that Wilson actually witnessed a murder at the ranch.
“I’ve prosecuted four Tate-LaBianca murder trials and attended sixty parole hearings [of Manson family members] and I’ve never heard that story before,” Kay tells PEOPLE. “If it was true, I would have heard it before.”
For much more on the Beach Boys’ dark history with Charles Manson, pickup a copy of this week’s PEOPLE magazine, on newsstands Friday.
The only body found at the remote property was that of ranch hand Donald “Shorty” Shea, who Manson had his followers kill shortly after the Tate-LaBianca murders and whose skeletal remains were discovered in 1977.
“I don’t remember there actually being a well on the property,” recalls Kay. “And if there was one, I doubt they would have thrown a body down there. They would have buried him like they did Shorty.”
Kay also acknowledges that Wilson had a “serious drug problem” during this period and questions the accuracy of anything Dennis might have told Love. Instead, he believes psychedelic drugs may explain his comment.
“I would kind of suspect,” adds Kay, “it [the explanation behind Wilson’s comment to Love] was a tab of LSD that Dennis got at the ranch before he showed up and gave this fantastic story to Mike.”
When Love, now 75, was asked if he believes that Wilson actually witnessed a murder at the ranch, he replied, “That’s what he told me. He was so shaken up, which is understandable. Seeing that would unsettle anyone. He never divulged that story to anybody else to the best of my knowledge.”
What is clear, however, is that Wilson, who drowned in 1983, could never fully shake the dark memories of his time with Manson and the role he inadvertently played in the carnage that he and his followers unleashed on Los Angeles.
“Dennis carried that guilt with him,” says Love, “for the last 14 years of his life.”