July 31, 2009— -- The news came from Phil Spector himself in a telephone call from prison. California's most notorious killer, Charles Manson, wants to hang with the legendary record producer, maybe pick up a few songwriting tips, perhaps even collaborate on a song or two.
At least that's the story the New York Post broke July 26. It's a story that has taken on a life of its own, picked up by reliable media from Albuquerque, N.M., to Baltimore to Great Britain, and such respected news organizations as the BBC. Only problem is the story is mostly fiction.
But it's still a great story. After all, Manson was once a wannabe rock star. He even wrote a song that was recorded by the Beach Boys. And, it's weirdly logical that Manson would be drawn to Spector, now a fellow murder convict, who also stands to spend the rest of his life in prison for second-degree murder in the 2003 death of Lana Clarkson.
Manson supposedly indicated that he thinks Spector is "the greatest music producer who ever lived." But for those who like more than a little truth in their news, the Manson-Spector story unfortunately doesn't scan.
The story can be traced to a mid-July phone call from inmate Spector to his 29-year-old wife Rachelle, who reported that he told her he had received a handwritten note saying, "Come over to my house," and signed, "Charles Manson."
Rachelle Spector described her husband's reaction as being "upset" by the note. But that didn't stop some newspapers from adding a little embroidery to their story to flesh it out.
Ludicrous, we thought, upon reading that perhaps a joint Manson-Spector recording may be in the wind. But with bastions of journalism around the world reporting it, we decided to check out the story.
Murder Convicts Separated by Guards, Razor Wire, but Connected by Music?
One would think that for any inquiring mind, the place to go first would be the California Department of Corrections, which houses all of the state's several thousand convicted murderers. So, we called CDC spokeswoman Terry Thornton.
"I've only received two phone calls from the media on this," said an almost-exasperated Thornton. "Newspapers in Albuquerque, Birmingham, Baltimore, overseas, everywhere -- even The Guardian in the U.K. is reporting it. Doesn't anybody check anything anymore?"
Indeed, the facts aren't nearly as interesting as the story. It turns out Spector isn't even in the same prison as Manson. Thornton said Spector is housed in the state's largest prison, The California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility, while Manson is about two miles away in Corcoran State Prison. They are separated by cell bars, walls, razor wire, guard towers, more than a mile of open terrain, more razor wire, more walls and more cell bars.
There's no way for one inmate to contact by phone -- or other electronic means -- an inmate in the other prison. In addition, Manson is in protective custody, which functions almost as a prison-within-a-prison. Thornton said it would have required several staff members in multiple departments and levels to pass a note all the way from Manson to Spector.
"It would be impossible for Manson to pass a note to an inmate in the other prison," Thornton said.
Nevertheless, Thornton reported that the CDC launched an investigation into possible staff misconduct. The investigation concluded that no employee brought such a note to Spector and that it was likely "an inmate made the note," she said.
The CDC investigation apparently failed to answer one question for which inquiring minds would like an answer. Does Charlie Manson want to collaborate on a song with Phil Spector?
Thornton said, "You're welcome to write Manson a letter and ask him that question yourself."