Update on Helter Skelter Safehouse

Charles Winans, an Air Force serviceman who became an agent provocateur posing as a hippie artist, set up a safehouse in Carmel, California from which the Helter Skelter plot was planned and orchestrated. He was the one who supplied drugs to the Manson gang. See the article “Helter Skelter Safehouse in Carmel.”

Additional information about the safehouse comes from comments made by Mae Brussell on two Dialogue Conspiracy programs and recent emails from Mae’s daughter Barbara Brussell.

Louise James, a Peace and Freedom Party activist, lived in a squarish shaped bungalow that faced Carmel Valley Road. Living in a larger house next door was a family involved in the military.

She knew them. She talked to them all the time. They had a friendly neighborhood relationship.” [1]

The bungalow and the larger house were rentals belonging to a man serving in military intelligence. Most of the time he was stationed with his family overseas, principally Korea and other parts of Asia. Sloping up from behind the rentals was a hill, and on top of the hill was the home of Louise’s friend Mae Brussell. Her house was among a group of homes surrounding a hilltop cul-de-sac. The two women were within an easy five-minute walking distance of one another by means of a footpath that led through a narrow tract of oak trees growing on the hillside.

 “Around November [1967], the family [next door] all of a sudden moved out, very fast. They didn’t tell Louise James they were moving out.”

They just completely moved out, which floored her . . .

Louise had little time to digest the fact that her neighbors were gone before a military truck pulled into the driveway delivering the belongings of the next occupants.

This family had a military truck. Louise saw them move their things in, which isn’t unusual because the home was owned by a military family, and on the Peninsula they do rent houses to people going to Fort Ord or the Navy Postgraduate School and so forth. [2]

. . . then an Army van moved in, a dark green type of khaki van with an identification of some Army base. [3]

Out of this van came this hippie man and hippie wife and their four hippie kids. [4]

They were dressed as hippies, and for all the world looked like the California variety of a 1960s-1970s hippie. [5]

The incongruity of the Army helping hippies was suspicious to both James and Brussell. They soon learned that the husband’s name was Charles Winans.

At the time (one day one family moved out so fast, and the other one moved in so quickly with the Army helping them) Louise and I were very concerned about this, and we watched them. We were observing them, just because we were active politically.

So in a sense we were playing spy, because we thought the Winans were too close to us. We thought that, for things that they did immediately – their outward appearance versus how they came in – that they were agents or agent provocateurs. We were watching them very closely.

But we both were having contact with the Winans – she, living within fifteen feet away, and I, socializing with them, making a point to know them and actually liking them. Their children and our children played together. [6]

In fact we were so close, I drove them to the hospital when they had their last baby, Carlotta. I got to know them quite well, and Diane [Mae’s youngest daughter] was friendly with their daughter Michelle. We always called her “spy baby.” [7]

As Brussell and James kept an eye on the Winans, they noticed strange things.

We were watching the system and how it operated and managed. We were watching the use of doubles in the house, of late-night meetings, of sources of income that were unexplained, the separation of a husband and wife with low-key visibility similar to Lee and Marina Oswald, mail drops, guests, trips in the dark that didn’t take place at night, and the kind of people going in and out of the house, because, as I say, Louise was very political, and she wanted to see and observe the operations over at the Winans house.  [8]

Some of the guests were members of the Manson family.

She recognized some of the members of the Manson Family. She saw when Charles Watson’s name came out, she recognized Charles Watson, and she recognized some of the women. I don’t remember which ones they were, whether it was Squeaky Fromme, or Sue Atkins, or Leslie Van Houten, or Patricia Krenwinkel, or Sandra Good. She recognized some of the women from the Manson Family, and Charles Watson specifically, over at Charles Winans’s home, her next-door neighbor. That was in 1969. . . .  So Louise was close to the scene from 1967 to 1969, when the photographs of the members of the Manson Family came down.

The Winans were not only strange characters in the neighborhood. About four houses east of the Winans was the home of Mr. Campisi.

He bought the house on the corner. We lived on a cul-de-sac where you can’t pass it without somebody seeing where you go, whether you go left or right or however you travel. From his point of view his house faces both the street that I was on and the highway, Carmel Valley Road. The neighbors began to call him the “Sentinel” because he was there night and day. [9]

Mr. Campisi bought his house in 1965, shortly after Mae Brussell and her children moved into the neighborhood.

It must have been around ’65, this when we moved up to the Carmel area. We left West Los Angeles and moved up here. There was a house across the street, a dentist lived in, he had just bought it and he had a small child and there were swings and slides. I was glad because my four children were in school, but Diane was just three years old [and not in school]. I was glad there were children in the neighborhood.

Well within one to two days after we moved in, the slides and swings came down, and the house was sold. The family of the dentist moved out, a wife and family, and in came a man whom I later accused of being military intelligence. His name is Mr. Campisi. . . . He has a big flagpole that he hangs [a flag] up. I always felt all the time I lived in that house . . . that he was the Sentinel on the road and still is. He sits there in the garden and waves.

I went to his house once to talk to him about it, because I did have my feelings that he was a plant from the military right at that particular cross-section. I went to talk to him about it.

I was sitting in the living room and he had a guest come in who didn’t know who I was and assuming, I guess, we’re all the same ilk. The person that came in was a black guy who had been down to Limekiln Creek in Big Sur and had been with the hippies in some tents and teepees for about two weeks and shared their grass and food. He had a beard and he was going back to Ford Ord to clean up and shave and go to the proper authorities. Then they were going to do a bust of them and arrest them and round them all up that befriended him. He was talking about getting ready for the bust. He stopped at Campisi’s to get some questions [answered] about his dog, because Campisi keeps these killer dogs, these police dogs, and trains them and sells them out for the police departments. This guy had one of these dogs and was just checking on his puppy and talking about his counterintelligence work with Campisi while I was there.

The Limekiln Creek bust occurred over Labor Day weekend, 1968. Monterey County sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Forest Service officials arrested hippies on a variety of charges, including illegal campfires, trespassing, and narcotics possession. At the same time other arrests were made at Big Sur State Park area, Salmon Creek, and Mill Creek. A total of 59 hippies were arrested.

I saw him [Campisi] at a party recently. He said, “Why don’t you wave to me every time you pass?” but usually I always make a point to give a great big wave to Campisi.

Confirming Brussell’s suspicion that Campisi was indeed a career military man was an incident that occurred in Carmel Village.

My best friend was parked in the village yesterday [October 26, 1978] and was next to a truck that had Fort Ord on it, and out came Campisi driving that car. There was an interesting article about him recently in the Monterey Herald, a long article about his being in the military.

The following obituary appeared in the Monterey Herald, May 24, 1995.

Orlando Angelo Campisi, 70, of Carmel died Wednesday at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Born Sept. 13, 1924, in Newton, Mass., he had lived in Carmel for 30 years. Mr. Campisi was a retired Army major and was a veteran of World War II and the Korean and the Vietnam wars. He retired in 1963 after 26 years of service. He was well known in Carmel for his gardening and landscaping prowess.

For someone secretly aspiring to be the neighborhood sentinel, having a garden and training dogs allowed extensive amounts of time outside the house. Of course, as time went on, neighbors eventually suspected that there was more to Campisi’s activities than just his hobbies and therefore dubbed him the Sentinel.

The military career that Campisi wanted to keep hidden included a stint in the Army Air Corps during World War II. In October 1944, he was among those volunteering for the highly dangerous work of flying C-47s over the “Hump,” the Himalayan foothills between India and China and dropping supplies for Allied forces fighting the Japanese. The mountainous mass required planes to climb to 14,000 feet to get over it. So many planes and crews were lost flying the 530 miles from Kunming to Dinjan due to icing and turbulence that the route was later called “the Aluminum Trail.”

During the Korean War, Lt. Campisi was a company commander in the 2nd Infantry Division. At the Battle of Bloody Ridge in August 1951, he lost his right thumb when he was hit by enemy machine gun fire. A story in the July 14, 1953 issue of Life magazine described how he got a new thumb. A surgeon at the Valley Forge Army Hospital removed his index finger and re-attached it at the site of the old thumb.

In the early 1960s he was a major in the 82nd Airborne Division’s Command and Control Battallion. In 1963 he retired from the military.

It seems odd that the military would take the trouble of expelling a dentist and his family (probably on lucrative terms) from a house he just bought and installing a retired Army officer there just to keep an eye on a single mother with five children, who was then quietly studying the Hearings and Exhibits of the Warren Commission. It was not until 1971 that Brussell emerged as a public figure with her Dialogue Conspiracy radio program. Perhaps the best way to explain the situation is to point to the national security establishment’s obsessive concern over a small number of people becoming Warren Commission critics. In 1964 and 1965 Brussell was networking with people who were uncovering new leads regarding the assassination of President Kennedy and getting closer to the truth. They included Maggie Field, Shirley Martin, Joachim Joesten, Penn Jones Jr., David Lifton, Mark Lane, Leo Sauvage, Raymond Marcus, Sylvia Meagher, Vincent Salandra, Harold and Irma Feldman, and Harold Weisberg.

On her program of October 27, 1978 Brussell said that a Freedom of Information Act request for any files dealing with her personally showed that the surveillance began at least as early as 1966. She then stated her belief that the surveillance actually began in the fall of 1964 when she wrote a letter to the Government Printing Office, requesting a set of the Warren Commission volumes for $75. She thought that the government was keeping track of private citizens purchasing the volumes.

Intelligence operations directed against the critics usually took the form of surveillance and occasionally of malicious acts. In September 1967, Mae Brussell’s son was given a mind-altering drug. Around the same time, Shirley Martin’s daughter was killed in a car accident on September 8, 1967. Suspecting that her daughter was murdered, Martin gave up on researching the Kennedy assassination. Three years later on December 15, 1970, Mae Brussell herself lost her daughter Bonnie and almost lost her daughter Barbara in a suspicious car accident. She considered giving up her research at that point but decided to press on. During the summer of 1972 her friend Louise James suffered from a surreptitious dose of a mind-altering drug.

Probably because of the menacing circumstances that beset her, Brussell decided to sell her house in 1972 and move to another house in Carmel Valley located at 25620 Via Crotalo, where she had a listing in the telephone directory. She often said that since her enemies demonstrated that they could always find her, she might as well live in a place where her friends could find her too.

The surveillance and harassment continued to the end of her life. The following article regarding a house across the street appeared in The Monterey Herald, October 3, 1988:

Sunday Morning Fire Guts House in Carmel Valley

An estimated $200,000 damage was done to a Carmel Valley house in a fire Sunday morning that started in the garage, and a Mid-Carmel Valley firefighter suffered a broken leg in a fall during the blaze.

The fire, reported at about 7:30 a.m., virtually gutted the house at 25615 Via Crotalo, according to a spokesman for the Mid-Carmel Valley Fire Department, who said that “very little was salvaged.”

Identity of the occupants of the house was withheld. It was not immediately known whether the house was a rental or owner-occupied.

The occupants were inside the house when the fire started in the garage, which is attached to the house, but they were able to get out unharmed, the fire department spokesman said.

The spokesman identified the injured fireman as Steve Crosswell.

Cause of the fire is under investigation.

Six fire trucks and 30 firefighters, including help from the Carmel Valley Fire Department, were on the scene a total of about three hours, the spokesman said.

Brussell died the following day, Monday afternoon on October 3 from a suspicious case of cancer. The house across the street, as well as any evidence of what the unidentified occupants were doing there, was completely destroyed. They might have been a surveillance team assigned to watch Brussell. A diagram and an aerial view shows Mae’s house (A) in relation to the house that burned down across the street (B).

Considering that both Charles Winans and Orlando Campisi were spies recruited by military intelligence and considering their close proximity to one another, it is probable that they knew each other and even worked together. How much Campisi knew, if anything, about the Helter Skelter plot is of course unknown.

My thanks go to Barbara Brussell who supplied me with important details for this article. She is currently working on the Mae Brussell Library, which will eventually digitize on the computer everything she filed, including all the articles she saved.

  1. Dialogue Conspiracy April 17. 1978
  2. Dialogue Conspiracy October 27. 1978
  3. Dialogue Conspiracy April 17. 1978
  4. Dialogue Conspiracy October 27. 1978
  5. Dialogue Conspiracy April 17. 1978
  6. Dialogue Conspiracy April 17. 1978
  7. Dialogue Conspiracy October 27. 1978
  8. Dialogue Conspiracy April 17. 1978
  9. Dialogue Conspiracy October 27. 1978

Author: William Weston

Researcher of conspiracies for over 25 years. Among articles written are "On the Death of JFK: Spider’s Web at the Trade Mart" and "The USS Indianapolis Conspiracy."

One thought on “Update on Helter Skelter Safehouse”

  1. Great article! Extremely important to tie together in a straightforward clear way all the information. This is especially true given how meandering and discursive Mae could be in her broadcasts, due mainly of course to the sheer volume of information she encompassed in her head and how much of it she needed to communicate to the audience.

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