When Killers Come to Your Church: Growing Up in the Church of Satan

OZY Incident 3 months ago

On an unusually mild summer evening, my friend Corey Parks, whom I hadn’t seen in years, came for a visit. Back in 2003, when music journalist Legs McNeil had approached me about writing my biography, Corey told me that I was “too young and inexperienced” to be the subject of a biography. Seven years later, in 2010, Charles Manson had a different opinion and asked his biographer, Marlin Marynick, to interview me for his only authorized biography, Charles Manson Now.

“Stanton’s story is a big part of the whole story — this book needs his story,” was the cryptic order Manson gave to Marynick. That was how I earned an entire chapter dedicated to my take on Manson, the so-called Manson murders and how they relate to my own personal mythology.

When Jesse Ventura quoted from my chapter on The Howard Stern Show, I knew I had hit on something. Some of the things I said in the book attracted the interest of the pro wrestler turned politician turned self-styled conspiracy guru.

I’ve never been able to figure out whether Atkins and Beausoleil, who later both took part in the Manson murders, met during this time.

Aiming to impress Corey with just how much had happened in my life since the last time we’d seen each other, I read her my chapter from Charles Manson Now. It began with my grandfather Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible, meeting Manson.

The meeting occurred at the giant, ornate Victorian house shared by my godfather, underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and his creative partner at the time, a handsome, charming young musician named Bobby Beausoleil. My grandfather was at his most flamboyantly satanic then and was known to wear a Dracula cape and drive one of any number of classic cars in his growing fleet.

My grandfather had formed the Satanic Church in 1966 and received lots of publicity. When Jayne Mansfield died in a car accident, tabloids reported that the crash happened as the result of a curse my grandfather, who knew Mansfield, placed on her boyfriend at the time, Sam Brody. It didn’t hurt the legend that my grandfather never claimed otherwise. While copy on the fatal car crash wasn’t enough to keep him in the news, the “nameless rites and unspeakable orgies” rumored to be taking place at his “Black House” certainly brought up the scum.

One such scumbag was Scandinavian photographer Leif Heilberg, who recruited 19-year-old Susan Atkins to pose nude with my grandfather at the Black House. Many of these photos were printed in the men’s magazines of the late 1960s that ran exposés on “LaVey’s Lustful Church” — the sex angle was exaggerated to sell Satanism to the public. Heilberg would sweep the streets of Haight-Ashbury for hippie runaways.


As long as they would pose nude, the girls had a paying job. Atkins made the cut because she didn’t just pose with my grandfather and my grandmother Diane once or twice, but many times, and always with badly done makeup. As my grandmother said, she looked like a clown because of her thick white lipstick and bright-blue eye shadow.

Atkins also played the role of “the vampire’s bride” in the campy strip club burlesque reviews my grandfather directed. She would emerge nude from a prop coffin, and Dracula would pick her up, raise her high and carry her offstage.

I’ve never been able to figure out whether Atkins and Beausoleil, who later both took part in the Manson murders, met during this time. What makes it even creepier, though, is the infamous photo of Beausoleil standing on the steps of the old Russian Embassy wearing a top hat and tails with Aleister Crowley’s words “Do what thou wilt …” scrawled in red paint that looked like blood. Just two years later, “pig” was painted on the door of actress Sharon Tate when she was murdered by Atkins.

Before Atkins and Beausoleil became killers, my grandmother was at home doing double duty raising her daughter, my mother, Zeena, and my grandfather’s daughter from a previous marriage, Karla. She also handled all Church of Satan business, which included correspondence.

One of the people she corresponded with was a prospective member, a merchant mariner who sent strange coded letters. When letters from the Zodiac Killer started appearing in newspapers, my grandmother was convinced the killer was the merchant mariner. She was terrified when she received a letter from him right after the Paul Stine murder. In the letter, he stated if he wasn’t only in town for one night, he’d stop by to see my grandfather. Not knowing what to do and not having proof, she approached my grandfather with the letter. While he didn’t dismiss my grandmother’s suspicions outright, he also didn’t believe the letter was from the Zodiac Killer.

So my grandfather let the merchant mariner visit the Black House. After he left, my grandmother noticed that his letters always arrived around dates when Zodiac crimes were occurring in and around San Francisco. Eventually, the man my grandmother pegged as the Zodiac Killer invited her and my grandfather to dinner. While dining, all my grandmother could think was: Is he or is he not the Zodiac Killer? She stayed alert to anything that might be a reveal. There was no reveal, nothing happened, and she gave up on her belief in the theory she’d become obsessed with.

The story became that Ramirez made his pilgrimage to meet my grandfather as a religious act of sorts before committing his atrocious crimes.

After that dinner, my grandmother never heard from the merchant mariner again. But when she later searched his name, a Southern California address came up. Without being certain of the current whereabouts of the man she believes to be the Zodiac, she’s reluctant to give more detail. She still fears for her safety, and for mine.

By 1983, business and life had slowed down quite a bit for my grandfather. And that’s when Richard Ramirez, the so-called Night Stalker, started coming to the Black House on some sort of anti-Christian pilgrimage to meet my grandfather.

The house had become the subject of a lot of vandalism and frequent trespassing, so my grandfather had a high fence with razor wire installed. Wooden slats were slid between the folds of the fence for more privacy — we could see who was outside without being seen ourselves. I was 5 when the 23-year-old Ramirez made his presence known to us.

He’d come up to San Francisco from Los Angeles, to “shake the hand of the great Dr. LaVey.” Tony, the house security guard, my grandfather’s driver and my occasional babysitter, confronted Ramirez after he noticed someone standing on the sidewalk and staring at the house.

When Grandpa got home.

The stranger told Tony that his name was Richie and he just wanted to meet “Dr. LaVey,” and would take only a minute of his time. Tony told him to scram. Ramirez then started walking in slow circles around the block, pausing whenever he reached our fence. After this had gone on for a couple of hours, Tony went back outside to get rid of him, bringing a pistol with him in case Ramirez tried anything. But Ramirez was around the corner and halfway down the block by the time Tony reached the gate.

Some hours passed and everyone forgot about him. But then he was back. This time my grandfather went outside, tucking one of his many handguns in the pocket of his long black trench coat. As he approached Ramirez, he asked, “What are you doing out here?”

“I just wanted to meet you, Dr. LaVey,” Ramirez said nervously, and stuck out his hand. My grandfather ignored it.

“Well, now you have, so now you can go, I don’t take unexpected visitors. Next time make an appointment.”

Ramirez said, “Thank you for everything you’re doing for us satanists,” as my grandfather walked back up the steps.

When Ramirez was caught, the story became that he made his pilgrimage to meet my grandfather as a religious act before committing his crimes in the name of Satan. Ramirez later said that my grandfather was impressed by his intelligence and manners.

What my grandfather actually said was that Ramirez seemed like a kook. He would usually add that Satanism doesn’t condone murder of any kind. This was my childhood. I don’t know if it’s more or less amazing that I turned out fine, but I did.

The author and his grandfather.

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