Most everyone is familiar with the term “six degrees of separation,” the notion that any two people can be connected to each other (or Kevin Bacon) in no more than six steps. So we decided to put the theory to the test and find out how many steps it takes to connect the Vineyard to one of America’s most notorious serial killers, Charles Manson. Not that you’d want to. But here’s how it works:
The trail begins with Terry Melcher, the son of Doris Day and her first husband, Al Jorden. During the ’60s, Melcher was making a big name for himself in the West Coast music scene. At 22, he was the youngest staff producer ever hired by Columbia Records. He worked with Ry Cooder, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds, for whom he produced “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.”
In his memoir, “Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy,” Mike Love writes about how his fellow Beach Boy, Dennis Wilson, developed an “inexplicable friendship” with Charles Manson. Wilson and Melcher were friends, and soon Manson began hanging out with them and hitting the clubs. In 1969, Melcher even visited Manson where he and his cult were living, at Spahn Ranch.
Love writes that Manson desperately wanted to be a rock star, and saw Melcher as someone who could launch his career. Except Melcher didn’t want to have anything to do with it. This didn’t sit well with Manson, who was clearly someone you didn’t want to be on the wrong side of.
Melcher, who was very close to his mother, told her about Manson and all the bizarre goings-on out at Spahn Ranch, and that, incidentally, Manson knew where Melcher lived — in Benedict Canyon with his then girlfriend, Candice Bergen. Ms. Day insisted that Melcher immediately move out of that house, which, unbeknownst to Manson, he did. Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate moved in in his place.
In his book, Love theorizes that the brutal attack by the Manson “family” on August 8, 1969, that resulted in the death of 8-months-pregnant Sharon Tate and four others was actually intended for Melcher.
During the ’90s, Terry Melcher, his wife Jacqueline, and their son Ryan had a home on Stonewall Road in Chilmark.
In the liner notes to the Beach Boys album “Summer in Paradise,” which Melcher produced, Mike Love wrote:
The summer of ’91 found Terry and I literally walking in the sand on Martha’s Vineyard, discussing ideas that would ultimately result in creating this album, seeing all the people on the beach taking full advantage of the sun, sand, and surf. We couldn’t help but observe that this was truly Summer in Paradise.
Holly Nadler, longtime Vineyard resident and frequent MV TImes contributor, had her own Manson moment, which still gives her pause to this day:
“It was in the spring of ’69 as I left a big peace protest at UCLA. This dude coming out of the campus put up his thumb for a ride. (We all picked each other up in those days.) The minute his butt hit the passenger seat and the car started rolling, I knew I’d made a mistake. This will sound like the fake wisdom of hindsight, but I knew it right away: This guy with his long, greasy dark hair and flashing dark eyes was starkers. ‘They’re following us!’ he snarled. ‘Do you see them?’ He kept jerking his head around to look out the rear window.
“I didn’t care if a platoon of aliens with octopus arms was following us, I wasn’t buying into this creep’s paranoia. All I was paranoid of was him, but the car was in motion, and all I could do was pray to my guardian angels to help me unload this horrific hippy bum.
“When we reached Sunset, he barked at me to head west toward the beach. Now I really had to pray: This wasn’t the way I was going, and moreover, this creepy man wasn’t the boss of me. Nonetheless, I turned left. I figured if I stopped the car and told him to get out, he’d throttle me or pull out a knife. Some miles down the road, he ordered me to turn right into the hundreds of acres of Will Rogers Park. ‘This is it, I’m gonna die,’ I thought, and prayed harder. About a mile into the park, he pointed to a hill: ‘Stop right here. I’ll find the highest point and see if they’re still on our tail.’
“He must’ve thought I was potential Manson-girl material, and would do whatever he said. I did, of course, with great joy in my heart, stop for him. I waited for him to scrabble halfway up the hill before I va-va-vroomed away in my car with the sound of screeching rubber. It wasn’t until I was back on Sunset, heading east this time, that I gradually stopped shaking.
“When the Tate murders happened the following August, no one knew, of course, who’d orchestrated the evil deed, but then in the fall when the entire Manson family was apprehended, with Charles’ vicious mug splashed over the news, I had my first shock of, ‘Oh my God! That’s the scary jerk I picked up outside the school, and ditched in the hills!’”
If you have any interesting Vineyard connections you’d like us to explore or you’d like to share with us, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.