Charles Manson obituary
Cult leader and convicted killer responsible for the Sharon Tate murders in 1969
Monday 20 November 2017 06.20 GMT Last modified on Monday 20 November 2017 07.09 GMT
The American criminal Charles Manson, who has died aged 83, was responsible for one of the most infamous mass murders of the 20th century, yet the head of the notorious “Family” cult was never convicted of killing anyone personally.
It was partly this, and the bloody nature of the slaughter in Los Angeles on successive nights in the summer of 1969, that led to his name achieving a wider standing – though he had a following of only a dozen pseudo-hippies at the time of the murders. Nearly fifty years after the horrific events, he retains a morbid fascination for many.
Prisoner No B-33920 was originally sentenced to death for the murders of the actor Sharon Tate, the wife of the film director Roman Polanski and eight months pregnant at the time; the coffee heiress Abigail Folger; Polanski’s friend Wojciech Frykowski; Jay Sebring, a Hollywood hairdresser; and Steven Parent, who had the misfortune to pass through the grounds of the Polanski mansion in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, on 9 August 1969.
The night after what became known as “the Tate murders”, the deaths of a wealthy couple, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, were added to the Family’s toll. A month before, the body of an LA drug dealer and musician, Gary Hinman, had been discovered. LA panicked.
The killings, and the wall scrawlings in blood of “Death to pigs”, and the misspelled “Healter Skealter” – Manson’s song title borrowed from the Beatles in which he described the apocalyptic racial war he wanted to create – produced lurid headlines. Guns sold out in Beverly Hills and security firms trebled their business.
The Manson murders occurred in a late 1960s atmosphere of social upheaval, and stirred up moral panic. Neil Armstrong may have landed on the moon, but on Earth the then US president, Richard Nixon, saw the period as one in which “drugs, crime, campus revolution, racial discord and draft resistance” challenged the very basis of “civilisation’s continuity”.
Although at the time of Manson’s trial hippy culture and its attendant drugs were blamed, it was Manson’s failed musical career that seemed to be one key to the killings. In California in the early 60s he had befriended the Beach Boys’ drummer, Dennis Wilson, and the group had retitled a song by Manson, Cease to Exist, as Never Learn Not to Love on their 20/20 album. But Manson, who had been living on Wilson’s ranch until the musician threw him out, had received no recognition for the song.
He had also been rejected in 1968 by a record producer who had originally occupied the Benedict Canyon house. Manson either did not know or did not care who lived there by August the following year.
Three months after the killings Manson was arrested with his cult: five middle-class young women and two men. Although it was these followers who had committed the brutalities, it was Manson who had ordered the killings, and, at the LaBianca home, had tied up the couple before leaving his followers to their butchery.
The ensuing long trial was equally bizarre. Manson and the women carved Xs on their foreheads and, sitting with their backs to the bench, insulted the judge. Once Manson, who converted his sign to a swastika, lunged at the bench. One of the defending lawyers, Ronald Hughes, disappeared mid-trial during a 10-day court recess and his body was found on the day the women were due to be sentenced. The prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, made a fortune with his bestselling book on the case, Helter Skelter (1974). Newspaper articles continued for decades.
In a further trial, Family members were also found guilty of the murders of Hinman and Donald Shea, a stuntman and hired hand at the Family ranch who was killed at the end of August 1969, but whose body was not recovered for another eight years.
Manson and the group were sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life imprisonment when California’s supreme court abolished the death penalty in 1972. Three years later one of Manson’s followers, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, was given a life sentence following an assassination attempt on the then president, Gerald Ford. She was released in 2009.
In the 90s the rock group Guns N’ Roses recorded a Manson song, Look at Your Game, Girl. It seemed Manson might become rich from the royalties, but Frykowski’s son, Bartek, sued successfully for the payments as reparation for the death of his father, who was stabbed 51 times.
Although some found Manson charismatic, others saw little to impress. His rambling conversation, bizarre references and non sequiturs revealed his inauspicious beginnings. Born to Kathleen Maddox when she was 16 in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was initially called “no name Maddox”, but after a few weeks was named Charles Milles.
Kathleen married William Manson, a labourer, and Charles took his surname. His biological father was Colonel Walker Scott, against whom Kathleen won a paternity suit in 1937, but Charles never knew him. Brought up by foster parents and institutions, Charles was soon involved in crime – as a conman, pimp, forger and thief. At 13 years old he was convicted of armed robbery, and at 17 of raping a fellow inmate. By the time he was 32, he had spent 17 years behind bars and would later say: “Policemen raised me, convicts raised me, administrators raised me.”
In 1967 he travelled to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, then in its early days as a hippy haven. There he smoked cannabis, ingested LSD and began to seek a female following, particularly among middle-class young women seeking rebellion against their “bourgeois” backgrounds. He also gathered a succession of minor film actors, Texan drifters and outlaw bikers and moved his “Family” to an abandoned holding north of Los Angeles, where they would collect and sort supermarket rubbish, then to a dusty ranch on the edge of Death Valley. The scene was set for the slaughters in LA.
After almost a lifetime in prisons, including 11 years in solitary, Manson had only a tenuous grip on reality, and spent his time plucking his guitar at his final institution, Corcoran state prison, 170 miles north of Los Angeles. In 2009 he reportedly attempted to contact the music producer Phil Spector, who is incarcerated at a facility in the same city, in order to make music with him, according to Spector’s wife, Rachelle – an assertion later disputed by California’s department of corrections. “It was creepy,” Rachelle said at the time. “Phillip didn’t respond.”
But the producer and Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins did, admitting in 2010 that Manson had contacted him in the 80s asking for help mixing an album of acoustic pop songs. Rollins agreed, finishing a never-released record called Completion.
In 2012 Manson’s final request for parole was denied. Manson did not appear at the hearing but was quoted as having said to one of his prison psychologists: “I’m special. I’m not like the average inmate. I have spent my life in prison. I have put five people in the grave. I am a very dangerous man.”
His son by his first wife, Rosalie (nee Willis), Charles Manson Jr, killed himself in 1993. Manson’s brief second marriage, to Leona “Candy” Stevens, produced a son, Charles Luther, and he had another son, Valentine, by Mary Brunner, the first member of the Family. In November 2015 Manson applied for a licence to marry Afton Elaine Burton, a 26-year-old follower, but the marriage did not take place.
• Charles Milles Manson, cult leader and convicted murderer, born 12 November 1934; died 19 November 2017
Charles Manson Dies at 83
By Dave McNary @Variety_DMcNary Dave McNary
Charles Manson Dies at 83
Charles Manson, the notorious leader of the Manson Family cult that murdered actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969, died Sunday in a Bakersfield, Calif., hospital. He was 83.
The California Department of Corrections released a statement reading, “Inmate Charles Manson, 83, died of natural causes at 8:13 p.m. on Sunday, November 19, 2017, at a Kern County hospital.”
Manson returned to the hospital in mid-November after being hospitalized in January. He was transferred out of Corcoran State Prison, where he had been serving nine life sentences. He had been denied parole 12 times.
The shocking murders brought the carefree hippie era of the late 1960s to a dark end, with Manson and his followers becoming infamous cultural figures. Though he didn’t commit the Tate and LaBianca murders himself, the Corrections Department said “On December 13, 1971, Manson received a first-degree murder conviction from Los Angeles County for the July 25, 1969, death of Gary Hinman and another first-degree murder conviction for the August 1969 death of Donald Shea.”
Though the murders took place nearly 50 years ago, they continued to have a hold over the popular imagination. Quentin Tarantino agreed with Sony Pictures on Nov. 17 to develop his 1969-based movie project that has the events surrounding Manson as a background. The current season of “American Horror Story” portrayed the Manson family in the “Charles (Manson) in Charge” episode.
A career criminal from an impoverished and abusive background, Manson was first incarcerated in 1951 and by age 32 had spent half of his life behind bars.
An aspiring musician who first learned to play guitar in prison, Manson began gathering followers in San Francisco during the Summer of Love in 1967. In the short time between his 1967 prison release and his imprisonment in 1969, Manson skirted the fringes of show business, even briefly finding himself working with one of the top rock and roll bands in America, the Beach Boys.
He became intertwined with Hollywood in 1968, when he and more than a dozen of his followers lived at the Sunset Boulevard home of Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. Manson crossed paths with several entertainment business figures, including actors and film producers intrigued by his charismatic hold on his followers and his counterculture beliefs.
Manson recorded several songs and was introduced by Wilson to other show business acquaintances, including music producer Terry Melcher, the only son of Doris Day. One of Manson’s songs, “Cease to Exist,” was reworked by the Beach Boys as “Never Learn Not To Love,” and eventually released by the band with the writing credit attributed to Dennis Wilson.
The band’s changes to his song reportedly angered Manson, who allegedly threatened Dennis Wilson with murder.
In 1968, Manson and his followers were evicted from Dennis Wilson’s home and Manson relocated his group to Spahn Movie Ranch, near Chatsworth, Calif. The locale was rich with film and TV history, and films such as King Vidor’s “Duel in the Sun” and popular TV shows such as “Bonanza” and “Zorro” had filmed there.
From their Spahn Movie Ranch base, Manson launched a killing spree in 1969 with the goal of a sparking a race war he called “Helter Skelter,” based on his interpretation of a song from the Beatles’ “White Album.”
On Aug. 9, 1969, he directed his followers to kill the 26-year-old Tate — who was pregnant and married to director Roman Polanski — and four others at the home she was renting in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.
Polanski was out of the country at the time of the Cielo Drive killings. The other victims were celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, 35; Voytek Frykowski, 32; coffee heiress Abigail Folger, 25; and Steven Parent, 18, a friend of Tate’s caretaker. The word “Pig” was written on the front door in blood.
On the following night, Manson and his followers killed Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, at their home in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. “Death to Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” were scrawled in blood at the crime scene.
Manson and more than 20 of his followers were arrested at ranches in the California desert in the following months. He and three followers — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — were found guilty in a trial and sentenced to death in 1971. The death sentences were commuted to life in prison in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished in California. Van Houten was granted parole in September but her release must still be approved by Governor Jerry Brown.
Manson has been the subject of dozens of books and articles. Some, like musician-writer Ed Sanders’ 1971 tome “The Family,” have been investigative and rich in details of the cultural moment of the murders, but many have been simply cut and paste jobs published to satiate the public’s curiosity about the notorious killer.
The story of the trial was re-told in the 1976 TV film, “Helter Skelter,” based on the 1974 book by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. Steve Railsback portrayed Manson. The book was adapted for a second TV movie in 2004, directed by John Gray and starring Jeremy Davies as Manson.
The events surrounding the murders were explored in numerous other movies and TV shows including NBC series “Aquarius,” indie film “Manson Family Vacation” and on “South Park.”
In 2013, James Franco announced he would play hairdresser Sebring in “Beautiful People,” though the film was never put into production.
Over the decades, pop culture references to Manson and his murderous clan have abounded, from the name of goth rocker Marilyn Manson to the alt-rock band Kasabian, named after one of his followers, Linda Kasabian.
Manson’s impact was also seen with numerous Manson Family mentions in acclaimed novelist Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 bestseller set in ‘70s Los Angeles, “Inherent Vice,” while Joan Didion’s “White Album” includes an examination of the impact of Manson as well as an interview with Kasabian.
Manson again made headlines in 2015 when his fiancee at the time, Afton Elaine Burton, AKA “Star,” 53 years his junior, was reported to be planning their nuptials in order to secure a claim to his corpse, which she hoped to exploit as a commercial public display piece.
Since the murder convictions, Manson has been imprisoned at San Quentin; the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Folsom, and at Corcoran.
Steve Gaydos contributed to this report.