Son of Manson’s chilling meeting with cult member
MATTHEW Roberts was a natural musician from an early age.
He took drum lessons at the age of 12, and moved to Hollywood after graduating high school in the mid '80s to attend the vaulted Musicians Institute.
While there, he met Steve "Clem" Grogan, who was a key member of the Manson Family.
"Charlie's right-hand man," as Roberts describes him.
Although he had no idea about his own bloodline at the time, Roberts was nevertheless fascinated by Grogan's connection to Charles Manson.
Little did Roberts know, Manson was actually his father.
Grogan was one of the earliest members of the Manson Family, hooking up with them in 1967 after they took over the Spahn Ranch, where Grogan was working as a farmhand.
He was soon seduced by Manson's lifestyle and outlook on life, and rode with a number of fellow family members on that fateful night in August 1969 as they drove to Sharon Tate's house, and massacred five people.
Grogan, Manson and two others continued on to Malibu Beach that night on an ultimately aborted murder mission.
While Grogan did not kill that evening, a few weeks later he participated in the murder of fellow ranch hand, Donald "Shorty" Shea.
He was trialled and sentenced to death for the murder.
This was downgraded to life in prison after the judge declared "Grogan was too stupid and too hopped on drugs to decide anything on his own", claiming Manson alone "decided who lived or died".
Stupid or not, Grogan was a model prisoner, and even implemented a program aimed at deterring young prisoners with short sentences from continuing a life of crime.
He struck a further deal in which he drew a map to the body of Shea in exchange for parole.
Grogan spent a total of 17 years in jail for murder, and as a musician, part of his rehabilitation involved attending the Musicians Institute.
This is where he encountered Roberts, himself a spitting image for Manson.
"I had the opportunity to ask him how it was that he would come to follow somebody so crazy, and he said that he thought he was Jesus Christ," Roberts recalls.
Grogan claimed they witnessed Manson raise a bird from the dead, and guide a nearby bus over a canyon with a wave of his hand, preventing a wreck. He was adamant these events occurred, although Roberts obviously took this with a grain of salt.
"Me and my friends thought, wow, that must have been some good acid," he jokes.
"At that time, I didn't know anything about any possibility of relationship to Charlie. That was one of the many bizarre synchronicities in my life relative to him."
It would be a decade before he learned the uncomfortable truth, after deciding to find out his origins, at the behest of his new fiancee. His mother disclosed the tale in stages.
"The way I understand how my mother got hooked up with Charlie - and there has been much debate over its validity - is that Charlie and (Family member) Mary Brunner, and maybe a couple of others, took a VW bus trip across the country," Roberts explains.
The bus trip was depicted on the inner sleeve of Manson's album Lie, which contained songs he recorded in the late '60s.
"My mother was from (small Wisconsin town) Exland, which shared a post office with Eau Claire, where Mary was from. That's how close they were," Roberts says.
"So Mary wanted to take Charlie back to meet her family and friends, and gather attractive girls for their so-called Family. Mary and my mother were friends and she introduced him.
They hit it off right away. He was particularly fond of her, so much so that the other girls got jealous of my mother and Charlie bought her a bus ticket to go home.
"Some of his letters seem to suggest that he knew she was pregnant and that may have been another reason for sending her back.
He certainly entertained the idea, as he has songs he claimed to have written for me or someone like me. So she was able to avoid all of the murder and mayhem as she was not around for all of that."
Letters from Manson to Roberts filled in the details further.
"In one of my letters, he claimed her father - my grandfather who was a 6'4'' decorated marine who shot the Japanese out of the sky at (the Battle of) Midway - chased him away, calling him 'white trash biker bandit', which was consistent with what she told me, and led me to conclude that he at least had to have been there to have known certain information like that," Roberts says.
"I was born March 22nd, 1968, he went back to jail at the end of 1969 and has never been out since - so the timeline matches perfectly."
Sadly, Roberts never got to met his father, although they maintained contact until his death last November.
"At one point I asked him if I could come visit and he was suggesting that bad people were intercepting my mail - murderers and rapists that were threatening to do me harm once they got out of jail - and he suggested that these people were not people you would want knowing who I was," Roberts explains.
"So this, mind you, was Charles Manson telling me that these were bad people wishing to do me harm, so I took it to heart and chose not to go visit him."
Not surprisingly, a relationship with Manson has its ups and downs.
"Some of his letters are very heartfelt and kind of fatherly advice, and then others he gets mad at me," Roberts recalls, citing a song he wrote claiming Manson raped his mother, a claim she made later recanted.
"They don't treat people in prison very well who are accused of rape so I regret any problems that might have caused him. He also got upset when I called his girlfriend Star (Afton Burton) an opportunistic pariah; even though I was just kind of joking, it became a headline and went viral."
Although Roberts maintains he has never claimed that Manson is definitely his father, there is certainly a striking resemblance.
"When I looked in the mirror, I looked like his twin," he recalls of finding out Manson was most likely his father.
"It seems to me to be much more troubling a thought to find out it's not true than if it is true," he reasons.
"Because then I have to wonder how it was that I got led down this path in the first place."
Roberts nonetheless has a sympathetic view of Manson, and feels he was unfairly maligned for the murders.
"Obviously it was absolutely terrible what happened, and I think that he shouldn't have been blamed for what occurred," he says.
He argues Tex Watson, a central member of the Family often posited as the actual ringleader, was the true villain.
"I think that that is pretty well understood by most involved now," he says.
"There was a lot more going on in America at that time than people like to speak about.
"Extreme Left versus the extreme Right politically, and the Manson Family was not the only group that took a militant approach to politics at that time.
There was the Symbionese Liberation Army that kidnapped Patty Hearst and there was the Weather Underground, Black Panthers, etc.
It's all very surreal to me; it's like a Hollywood movie.
"I haven't really personalised it much, or allowed myself to have an emotional connection to it. Any of it."