With the 50th anniversaries upon us both of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and San Francisco’s “Summer of Love,” the celebration of 1967’s psychedelic culture is being largely celebrated with only passing mention of the inspiration behind so much of it: Lysergic acid diethylamide — LSD, for short.
Since its invention in 1938 and its explosive popularity in the 1960s, the powerful hallucinogen has been a nonstop topic of debate. Some deem the chemical compound mind-expanding and even spiritual. Others maintain that LSD is too dangerous to tangle with and too often causes permanent damage.
Such talk continues at present, and even seems to be getting more intense. For example, much attention is being paid to the phenomenon of depression sufferers reportedly finding relief by “microdosing” the drug to alleviate symptoms.
Then again, just last year, a University of Washington student claimed he killed his girlfriend as a result of becoming paranoid while they both “tripped” on acid.
You won’t find any conclusive answers here. However, just as LSD (also commonly called “acid”) may or may not elevated the consciousness of users, it also may or may not have impacted the murderous mindset of the following five killers who — under varying circumstances — tuned in, turned on, and went off.
1. WHITEY BULGER: MOB BOSS TURNED ALLEGED LSD GUINEA PIG FOR THE CIA
As the leader of Boston’s White Hill Gang, psychotically violent James “Whitey” Bulger loomed as a legendary organized-crime figure even before he disappeared in 1994 and successfully eluded authorities for more than 17 years.
After being captured in 2011, Bulger’s story took on even larger dimensions, as he told of a long run as an FBI informant, and gruesome details emerged about the 19 murders with which he was eventually charged.
More recently, Bulger wrote a piece published in OZY magazine in which he claims that, in 1957, the CIA experimented on him as part of their hugely controversial MK-ULTRA program.
In the piece, Bulger describes the experience thusly:
“Eight convicts in a panic and paranoid state. Total loss of appetite. Hallucinating. The room would change shape. Hours of paranoia and feeling violent. We experienced horrible periods of living nightmares and even blood coming out of the walls. Guys turning to skeletons in front of me. I saw a camera change into the head of a dog. I felt like I was going insane.”
There’s no knowing if LSD actually damaged Whitey Bulger. Still, toward the end of the piece, Bulger writes:
“The government used us and never tried to help us out after injecting us with government LSD. I’ve had brain scans that told me I was damaged by the tests. The government did a number on us and walked. If anybody opened a shop selling LSD in my neighborhood he would have lost his life.”
Clearly, White Bulger has an opinion as to the “harmless” nature of acid. Nonetheless, you have to consider: How trustworthy is Whitey Bulger? [OZY]
2. CHARLES MANSON AND THE MANSON FAMILY
In criminal terms, iconic madman Charles Manson and his homicidal hippie cult the Manson Family effectively serve as poster children for the terrifying perils of LSD abuse.
Manson used psychedelic drugs to psychotically escalate his own mesmerizing charisma. Charlie also reportedly distributed it to his followers as a virtual daily “sacrament” that only made his claims of being God, Satan, and a cosmic superpower unto himself make sense in their chemically altered state.
During the late 1960s, literally millions of other American teenagers experimented and even overdid it with LSD. Many others fell under the spell of crackpot gurus and self-anointed shamans. Only the members of the Manson Family pushed each scenario to the extremes that resulted in the August 1969 Tate-LaBianca bloodbaths.
Would such savagery have been possible without lysergic acid diethylamide in the mix? It’s not something that’s knowable — although, if asked, Charles Manson would likely give an insanely definitive answer (and then change it two seconds later). [Cielo Drive]
3. RICKY KASSO, “THE ACID KING”
Mid-1980s Long Island was a hotbed of “heshers” — long-haired teenage burnouts who blasted their brains with heavy metal music and whatever hallucinogen made its way out to that lengthy strip of New York City area suburbs.
In 1984, 17-year-old Ricky Kasso dominated that dirtbag scene in the town of Northport. The hard rocker and his headbanger crew regularly vandalized local playgrounds with spray-painted tributes to metal bands and, as they spelled it, “Satin.” Kasso also peddled drugs for a living, specializing in one item so specifically he became known as “The Acid King.”
On June 16, Kasso accused his fellow 17-year-old hesher Gary Lauwers of swiping drugs and cash from him. With their pals gathered around a campfire in the woods, and many involved thought to be flying as usual on Kasso’s signature product, The Acid King savagely gouged out Lauwers’ eyes and beat him to death.
Police arrested Kasso the next day. He wore an AC/DC T-shirt and bore his eyes into press cameras with such hair-raising intensity he instantly recalled the original LSD boogeyman, Charles Manson.
Alas, Kasso hanged himself in his cell shortly thereafter, dramatically cutting short the rest of his trip. [Metal Injection]
4. PETER WOODCOCK: CONVICTED CHILD KILLER GIVEN LSD TREATMENTS, THEN KILLED AGAIN
Peter Woodcock was just 17 in September 1956 when he strangled seven-year-old Wayne Mallette to death in Toronto. Three weeks later, Woodcock fatally beat and strangled nine-year-old Gary Morris. That following January, Woodcock sexually brutalized four-year-old Carole Voyce, killing the child by inserting a tree branch into her vagina.
After the last crime, witnesses spotted Woodcock peddling away on a flashy red-and-white bicycle. Investigators would soon discover that Woodcock had long been using the bike to lure children out of sight where he would choke and molest them in incidents that escalated up to his murder spree.
Woodcock had suffered from severe mental illness his entire life. Even given the infuriatingly cruel nature of his crimes, few protested when a court ruled him not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced the teenager to life inside Ontario’s maximum-security psychiatric facility, the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre.
Once locked up, authorities subjected Woodcock to numerous experimental treatments, the most extreme of which have since been abandoned and disavowed. LSD proved to be a major aspect of these trial therapies.
The Total Encounter Capsule was once such a doozy. As designed by psychiatrist Elliot Barker, doctors placed Woodcock in an enclosed 8×10 chamber and pumped him full of LSD, amphetamines, and sodium pentothal (“truth serum”) in hope it all might unscramble his brain. Clearly, it did not.
After 24 years locked up, in 1991 Woodcock got a day pass that enabled him to go out in public. On his very first day outside, Woodcock met up with Bruce Hamill, another former resident. The two friends then hunted down and attacked Dennis Kerr, another ex-inmate who apparently turned down Woodcock’s sexual advances.
Woodcock lethally beat, stabbed, and mutilated Kerr. Then, soaked in blood but cool as a cucumber, Woodcock strolled into a police station and surrendered. He went back to Penetanguishene and died there, from natural causes, in 2010. During those final years, nobody is known to have given Woodcock any more acid. [New York Daily News]
5. DR. JEFFREY R. MACDONALD AND THE “FATAL VISION” MURDERS
In the wee hours of February 17, 1970, a quartet of kill-crazed hippies invaded the Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of Captain Jeffrey MacDonald and slaughtered Collette MacDonald, his pregnant wife, and the couple’s two daughters, Kimberly, age five, and Kristin, age two. The killers consisted of three men — two black, one white — and a blonde female who wore high heeled boots and a floppy hat while holding a candle and chanting, “Acid is groovy! Kill the pigs!”
In a barbaric blood orgy highly reminiscent of the Manson Family murders, the LSD freaks bludgeoned and stabbed Collette and both children dozens upon dozens of time with knives and ice picks. On the headboard of the couple’s bed, scrawled in blood, was the word, “PIG.”
Awakened by the horror, Jeffrey MacDonald jumped out of bed and struggled with the intruders. They beat him unconscious, giving him a concussion, and stabbed him once, puncturing his lung. Then the murderers fled.
Now here’s the thing: This is the version of the events according to Jeffrey MacDonald himself, and it did not fly in court.
The Army launched an investigation into the once highly esteemed physician and U.S. Army Green Beret that was so massively expansive and meticulously detail-exploring that it took nearly a decade for him to go to trial. On August 29, 1979, a jury convicted MacDonald of first-degree murder.
In 1983, the case became forever after known as “the Fatal Vision murders” after journalist Joe McGinnis published Fatal Vision, a true-crime best-seller based on the case. The following year, NBC adapted the book into a hit mini-series.
In Fatal Vision, McGinnis definitively claims that MacDonald committed the murders — but his approach to acquiring information and making certain leaps of logic have both been challenged repeatedly through the years. For one, MacDonald himself sued McGinnis for fraud in 1987. The author settled out of court with the convicted killer for $325,000.
In addition, a multitude of law-enforcement officers, journalists, and other investigators — including noted documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) — have criticized both Fatal Vision’s reporting and the original case built by prosecutors against MacDonald.
To date, MacDonald maintains his innocence and, from behind bars, he continues to fight for a new trial. His many supporters believe that four acid-heads got away with ghastly murder and pinned the blame on an upstanding servant of his country and family.
In 2016, MacDonald’s lawyers successfully won an appeals court hearing to present new evidence — a victory in itself. This past January, the attorneys argued before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. A decision is expected later this year.
Also later in 2017, Investigation Discovery is set to reexamine the case with an updated version of Fatal Vision starring Scott Foley as Jeffrey MacDonald. [People]
To learn more about the Jeffrey MacDonald case, watch Investigation Discovery’s “The Accused” episode of People Magazine Investigates on ID GO.
Main photo: Charles Manson mug shot [California Department of Corrections]