The Manson document Nutty scribblings: How a letter went from Hindland, Ky., to a California prison to a Monkton auction house.

April 08, 1996|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Just when you thought he had disappeared, Gil Griggs surfaces again. The rascally Colt "Super Fan" of days gone by retired to Monkton and quietly opened a small auction house specializing in valuable documents.

But Gil Griggs can't help but be in the middle of another story.

He was minding his own business last month, the business of holding an auction. He had mailed out his "Signature House" catalog, which is stockpiled with Civil War documents, presidential notes and macabre fare: Letters from James Earl Ray, artwork by mass murderer John Wayne Gacy and more than two dozen letters, drawings and "comments" from Charles Manson, imprisoned for the 1969 murder of actress Sharon Tate and others.

"The psychotic ramblings of the illiterate Manson offers some insight into a mind locked within its own netherworld reality," reads the Manson blurb from Mr. Griggs' catalog. (You can't keep a good salesman down.)

Mr. Griggs then gets a call from Hindland, Ky., of all places. Some guy from a weekly newspaper called the Troublesome Creek Times. What a great name. And what a strange little story its editor, Ron Daley, tells Gil Griggs.

Back in 1993, Mr. Daley decided to write a letter to Charles Manson asking him if he had any childhood memories of a long-defunct cafe.

"Dear Charles," Mr. Daley wrote, "I have heard that you visited Knott County, Kentucky the Blue Moon Inn or Blue Moon Cafe no longer exists, but I've been told you visited that vicinity.

"I would appreciate a response."

Right. Hundreds of people -- for healthy and sick reasons -- write Charles Manson, care of Corcoran Prison in California. Few people hear back from Manson, except perhaps those still wanting to have his children or record his songs. Some people are still crazy about Manson, who continues to be the subject of a kooky cottage industry.

California prison officials say there's evidence Manson sends his letters to a dealer who sells them to autograph collectors who sell them to, well, small-town newspaper editors. It's shocking to believe, we know, that Manson profits from his incarceration, but the fact is his letters sell.

Making contact

Anyway, Mr. Daley figures he'll never hear from Manson, and he doesn't. Then, last month, Mr. Daley was whipping through autograph catalogs when he ran across Mr. Griggs' "Signature House." On Page 62, Manson's snarling face is pictured over his words: "I will never surrender. I will never give up. 1944 to 1993 -- Right is still right." It's one of 25 Manson items for sale.

Deeper into the catalog, Mr. Daley sees mention of the Blue Moon Cafe. Manson's scribblings are all over Mr. Daley's letter. Manson had written him! Crazy Charlie had circled the words "Blue Moon Cafe" and had written: "Mom worked there after she got out of prison. I was 5 or 6. Law & order border town."

"It's true," Manson wrote, "you can't take the hills out of the boy."

Swelled with pride of ownership, Mr. Daley called Mr. Griggs to claim the letter. He doesn't bid on the letter because why bid on something that's yours? "Obviously, Manson wanted to respond to me," Mr. Daley says.

Mr. Griggs doesn't doubt Manson wrote Mr. Daley, but who can be sure it was mailed to Kentucky?

"I don't want to be involved in any legal disputes," Mr. Griggs says. "I'm just the middle man."

Truth is Mr. Griggs has been in the middle plenty. A former Hollywood actor and Pinkerton detective, he was a Colts fanatic who became a fixture in Baltimore in the 1980s. He even ran for city sheriff in 1986, but won only 2.7 percent of the vote.

After Mr. Daley's call from Kentucky, Mr. Griggs decided not to auction the Manson letters. He pulled the lot, which included Manson's review of "Earth in the Balance." Manson, noted book critic and psychotic killer, wrote of Vice President Al Gore's environmental treatise: "Good book. Change comes hard."

Mr. Griggs told the consignor of the Manson collection he could have the letters back. Mr. Daley asked who the consignor was, but Mr. Griggs refused to divulge his identity. There's some talk from Mr. Daley about checking with a lawyer familiar with the autograph business, and some mention of possibly complaining to the ethics board of the Universal Autograph Collectors Club -- we didn't know such a thing existed.

But Mr. Griggs is a good guy and later will help the man out. No need for lawyers this time.

Mr. Griggs' auction ended March 20. Went pretty well. He auctioned a Walter Johnson picture for $900 -- the famous Washington Senators pitcher looking lanky and dapper stepping off a train. For $360, he sold a prison form signed by Jeffrey Dahmer -- the infamous cannibal -- acknowledging receipt of 29-cent stamps. And the Benjamin Franklin document went for a decent $7,200.

But nothing sold from the Manson collection -- except one letter about some place called the Blue Moon Cafe.

Back in Kentucky

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