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A Psychedelic Hamburger Helped Convict Charles Manson

Ten hits of acid led to one powerful testimony.

One hamburger please, hold the LSD.
One hamburger please, hold the LSD. Elliot / CC BY 2.0

Charles Manson, the unhinged, racist mastermind and cult leader behind the notorious Tate-LaBianca murders, died on Sunday at age 83. The story of Manson and his California-based “family,” as well as the ensuing trial that put him behind bars for the rest of his life, forever altered popular culture: The killings have been cited as the moment when the 1960s-era countercultural movement lost its mojo, and the nonfiction book Helter Skelter, written by Manson’s chief prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, remains the best-selling true crime book of all time.

Why did Manson and his followers seep so deeply into the public consciousness, and become consistent fodder for television shows and books? Part of the fascination may stem from the inexplicable devotion of Manson’s disciples (his “family”). At his insistence, they adopted names like Sadie and Squeaky, and later, in court, were glib about their involvement in the gruesome murders of seven people over two nights in August 1969.

But not everyone succumbed to Manson’s charms. One former member of the family, Barbara Hoyt, had reservations about testifying against Manson—until one of his followers tried to kill her with a hamburger loaded with 10 hits of LSD.

An LSD blotter sheet dotted with ruby slippers.
An LSD blotter sheet dotted with ruby slippers. William Rafti / CC BY 2.5

International and local media alike watched closely as the Manson trial began in 1970. People that once orbited Manson, such as family members Linda Kasabian and Hoyt, became key witnesses in the trial.

While Hoyt was not part of the murders, she apparently heard family member Susan Atkins boasting about the crimes. While on the fence about testifying, she received an invitation from the Manson family. If she didn’t testify, they’d take her on an all-expenses trip to Hawaii. She accepted.

Hoyt arrived in Hawaii with Ruth Ann Moorehouse (known as “Ouish”) that September. A few days later, Moorehouse abruptly said that she had to go back to Los Angeles, but that Hoyt could stay. They took a cab to the airport, and there, Moorehouse bought her a burger, and said, “Just imagine if there were ten tabs of acid in your hamburger.” Hoyt began to feel funny, and collapsed a few minutes later, according to the podcast You Must Remember This. Just before losing consciousness, she cried out: “Call Mr. Bugliosi!”

In the 1960s, LSD evolved from a drug thought to have therapeutic properties into a recreational trend du jour. While there’s no known lethal dose for LSD, it’s a drug whose potency varies significantly depending on the user and, of course, knowing whether or not one has just ingested it. Yet 10 hits is enough to, as one intrepid Reddit user put it, be “one of the craziest things ever.”

The incident only made Hoyt more adamant about testifying, though. In Helter Skelter, Bugliosi writes that her account not only lent more credibility to the fact that Manson was involved in the murders, but also bolstered Linda Kasabian’s testimony. Manson and three family members (Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel) were found guilty of murder in the first degree in 1971. They initially received death sentences. But since California abolished the death penalty the next year, they instead served life in prison—thanks, in part, to one psychedelic burger.

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