Charles Manson was, at the age of 36, about to return to jail, an environment he already knew only too well – though the man due to be locked up for the rest of his life was not the same person who had spent 23 years of his formative life incarcerated. The diminutive petty crook (he was only 5ft 2) who was jailed in his teens and 20s for robbing petrol stations and stealing cars had grown into something infinitely more powerful. The Charles Manson entering California’s correctional system at the start of the 1970s was one of the most famous, and feared, men on earth, complete with a small army of followers who were prepared to stop at nothing to secure his freedom and obey his crazed desires.
The story of the Manson Family has fascinated Americans, and much of the rest of the world, for more than half a century, spawning dozens of books, TV series and movies, with the tale most recently being given a completely fictional dénouement by Quentin Tarantino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Living on a semi-derelict Californian movie set called Spahn Ranch, Manson and his followers were responsible for the brutal murder of heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four of her friends in her Hollywood Hills home alongside similarly viscous killings of successful Beverly Hills businesswoman Rosemary LaBianca and her husband Leno over the course of the summer of 1969.
With Beatles song titles Helter Skelter and Piggies written on the walls of the murder scenes in their victim’s blood, the Family were the ultimate manifestation of the dark underbelly of 1960s counter-culture. Ideals of flower power and anti-capitalistic future utopias were gruesomely inverted by Manson and his burgeoning group of mainly female, maniacal drop-outs, all of whom were completely under the spell of a man capable of imposing messianic powers over his acolytes.
For most of the outside world, the arrest of Manson and key members of the Family marked the end of the murderous activities of the group. The truth, however, was infinitely more murky, confusing and dangerous.
Now all but forgotten by history, Manson’s murder trial almost resulted in a killing inside the court room itself when, on 5 October 1970, Manson leapt over his lawyer’s table with a sharpened pencil and attempted to stab Judge Charles H. Older. His female followers inside the court house began chanting in Latin as Manson was led from the room, screaming “in the name of Christian justice, someone should cut your head off!”
Despite the intervention of President Richard Nixon, who publically declared that he thought Manson was guilty “either directly or indirectly” before the trial had even concluded, pleas for a mistrial by Manson’s lawyers were rejected. In his testimony, Manson voiced a directed culpability for his actions onto wider society: “These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up. Most of the people at the ranch that you call the Family were just people that you did not want.”
Judge Older was now sitting with a pistol concealed on his person. And although he wasn’t hurt in Manson’s court room attack, the attorney Ronald Hughes was less fortunate. Acting for Family member Leslie Van Houten, Hughes argued with Manson that his client shouldn’t attempt to protect the Family leader by claiming, as she was being pressured to in her upcoming testimony, that Manson had nothing to do with either the Sharon Tate or LaBianca murders.
Hughes’ decomposed body was found wedged between two boulders by fishermen in March 1971, over four months after he disappeared. To this day nobody has been charged in connection with his death, yet Manson follower Sandra Good has stated that “Hughes was the first of the retaliation murders.”
Found guilty on seven counts of first degree murder, Manson’s death penalty sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, the State of California abolishing the death penalty in 1972.
Manson and the leading members of the Family may now have been behind bars, but there were still plenty of devotees willing to complete his work on the outside. Moving to live near Folsom prison so she could regularly visit Manson, Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme waited four years before making her next move on behalf of the deranged beliefs of the Family. Dressed entirely in red and standing barely a foot away from President Gerald Ford, she fired a Colt.45 pistol at the US head of state while he walked across the grounds of the California State Capital building in Sacramento on the morning of 5 September 1975. Incredibly, it seemed that Froome wasn’t aware that her gun didn’t include a round in the gun’s chamber. Failing to pull back the gun slide to insert a cartridge into the pistol’s chamber, the only sound on firing was an empty metallic click. Froome was swiftly jailed for attempted murder. But her attempts to reach her leader Manson wouldn’t be over yet.
All the while, Manson was being shuffled around various US prisons, now with a swastika tattooed between his eyes and seemingly determined to cause as much trouble as possible.“Suffice it to say that he cannot be described as a model prisoner,” said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2017, by which time Manson’s violations numbered well into the hundreds.
A mail order catalogue for hot air balloons was found in Manson’s cell in 1982 along with nylon rope, a hacksaw blade and LSD tabs, advancing theories and conspiracies that leaked well beyond prison walls that Manson would, one day, mount an escape. These plans, fanciful as they may have been, were dealt a severe blow two years later when Manson was doused with a flammable liquid and set ablaze by a Hare Krishna devotee who claimed Manson had threatened him for practising his faith in the same penitentiary in Vacaville. Manson was treated for second- and third-degree burns, and his scalp, hair and beard were singed.
Incredibly, despite a rap sheet of inmate offences that also included setting fire to mattresses and attacking guards and fellow inmates, Manson was given permission to take part in a series of high-profile TV interviews to US stations in the 1980s and 1990s, where he was allowed to vent at length on his theories. He bragged to ABC News that he was a “gangster” and, with his prominent swastika tattoo and full, greying beard and hair on show, he stated to journalist Penny Daniels in 1989 that: “we use the word God. God hooks all the other words up. I’m the Pope. I’m 10 times the Pope. I’m 50 times the Pope. But I’m the Pope in the hills and in the mountains.”
Manson’s unhinged proclamations seemed designed to ensure that he would never be paroled. And there is a school of thought that suggests that prison was the environment Manson actually wanted to inhabit all along. Able to prolong his fame from behind bars, Manson became even more enigmatic, winning over new converts such as Gray Wolf.
Formerly known as Craig Hammond, the McDonald’s employee quit his job and moved to California in order to be close to the man he called his “hero”. It is believed that it was Wolf who managed to smuggle cell phones to Manson, who was regularly caught with mobile devices in his cell until 2016. Continuing to communicate with various female members of the Family, both old and new, the Manson rumour mill went into overdrive in 2014 when Charles became engaged to Afton ‘Star’ Burton, a Mississippi woman five decades his junior.
Burton visited the famous inmate every day as well as running his website. But despite obtaining a marriage license, they never became officially wed with Manson later claiming to the press that the reason the nuptials were never concluded was due to him discovering that Burton planned on taking possession of his corpse when he died and charging members of the public to view it.
By this time, Manson was in his 80s and becoming seriously ill. Having long stopped attending his own parole hearings, deeming them a “waste of time”, he was admitted to Bakersfield Hospital in January 2017 with gastrointestinal bleeding. Considered too weak for surgery, the diagnosis was kept from the public, as were pictures of the dying Manson. Knowing his time was running out, there was a conspicuous lack of info from both Manson and prison officials in the final months of his life with both parties having vastly differing reasons for not wanting to draw attention to the imminent end of the darkest of cult figures.
Charles Manson died aged 83 on 19 November 2017 of cardiac arrest and respiratory failure connected to colon cancer, having spent almost half of the last century in prison. His body was cremated in the California desert with rumours continuing to persist that surviving, freed members of the Family, plus new converts to Manson, were there to see Charles’s remains perish to ash.
Former Manson Family member Dianne Lake gave a TV interview at the time of his death, stating that Charlie was “cute, impish, fun” at first but that she wanted to commit suicide after he later raped her. “If they [the surviving imprisoned Family members] really had remorse,” said Lake, in a separate interview, “they would waive their parole hearings so that the families of the victims don’t have to relive this experience over and over.”
As of now, key Manson Family members, including Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, are both still behind bars, while Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, who described himself as Manson’s right-hand man, has become an ordained minister while still serving jail time in San Diego. He has been denied parole 17 times.
As for Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Froome; she escaped from prison in 1987 after receiving a life sentence for the assassination attempt on President Ford. Attempting to reach Manson in his cell, she was found two miles from the jail she’d fled in West Virginia after a 48-hour man hunt.
In August 2009, after serving 34 years in jail, Froome was released. Now in her early 70s, her whereabouts are unknown; just another former Family member now living in an America no longer containing Manson but where similarly deranged cults celebrating violence, conspiracy and white supremacy continue to persist.
As Linda Deutsch, who has covered the Manson Family story for more than half a century for US newspapers recently observed: “Manson had a streak of pure evil. The story is that it persists until now. He’s dead, finally, and yet it’s as if the curse has not yet disappeared. And it hangs over everyone who was ever involved with him.”
California abolished the death penalty in 1972, so the members of the Manson Family on death row received life sentences instead. As of 2017, the Family Manson patriarch died at 83. Van Houten, who was 19 when she was sentenced to life in prison, has been denied parole 19 times.What was the purpose of the Manson Family cult? ›
According to group member Susan Atkins, the members of the Family became convinced that Manson was a manifestation of Jesus Christ and believed in his prophecies concerning an imminent, apocalyptic race war.Who was the leader of the Manson Family cult? ›
Charles Manson, (born November 12, 1934, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.—died November 19, 2017, Kern county, California), American criminal and cult leader whose followers carried out several notorious murders in the late 1960s. Their crimes inspired the best-selling book Helter Skelter (1974).How did Charles Manson control his family? ›
The key to Manson's control, as with all cult leaders, was to ensure that followers not only saw him as an all-powerful, messiah-like figure, but that followers see themselves as members of a superior elite that has the answer to the world's problems – even if that means killing the rest of the world along the way.Did any of the Manson Family get out? ›
Only one member of the Manson Family has been convicted of murder and later released: Steve "Clem" Grogan. Grogan, convicted and given a death sentence by the jury for the torture-murder of Donald Shea with Manson, was freed in 1985.Why did the Manson Family start killing? ›
However, there is some evidence to the contrary. In late 1969 Manson Family member Susan Atkins—a participant in the Tate murders—claimed that the cult murdered Tate “because we wanted to do a crime that would shock the world, that the world would have to stand up and take notice.” Watson made similar claims.What was the main belief of the Manson Family? ›
Manson claimed that he was Jesus and believed the string of murders would help hasten an apocalyptic race war. His cult of about 100 followers was deeply engaged in drug use and included many naive young girls lured in to help carry out his mission.When did the Manson Family cult start? ›
Charles Milles Manson (né Maddox; November 12, 1934 – November 19, 2017) was an American criminal and musician who led the Manson Family, a cult based in California, in the late 1960s. Some of the members committed a series of nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969.Who owned the land the Manson Family lived on? ›
After a decline in use for filming by the 1950s, its owner George Spahn established a stable for renting horses for riding on the varied acres. It became known in the late 20th century as the primary headquarters of Charles Manson and his cult followers, the "Manson Family", for much of 1968 and 1969.How did the Manson Family get caught? ›
Manson and his followers were arrested at this remote location, called Barker Ranch, on suspicion of auto theft. Police did not immediately connect them to the murders. A break in the case came when Susan Atkins, already in jail, told a fellow inmate about the Tate murders.
In Los Angeles, California, cult leader Charles Manson is convicted, along with followers Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, and Patricia Krenwinkle, of the brutal 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others.Who was the first official member of the Manson Family? ›
Charles Manson was born in 1934 to a teenage mother in Ohio who, by all accounts, never wanted him. He was prone to stealing and had spent most of his life in jail by the time he met Mary Brunner, essentially the first member of his "family," in Berkeley in 1967.Who did Charles Manson leave his estate to? ›
Part of Freeman's case involves proving he is legally Manson's heir. Through birth certificates and a prior court order that awarded Freeman's mother child support from Manson Jr., the California court agreed that Freeman is Manson's grandson. In 2018, the court awarded Manson's remains to Freeman.How did Charles Manson change the world? ›
Charles Manson Changed the World by Making Homicide — and Himself — Part of Popular Culture.How many children were born in the Manson Family? ›
But what about cult leader Charles Manson's actual family — and specifically, his children? Manson, who died in 2017, had at least three biological sons, according to Newsweek: Charles Manson Jr., Charles Luther Manson, and Valentine Michael Manson.Who was snake in the Manson Family? ›
Dianne Lake (AKA: Snake, Dianne Elizabeth Bluestein
Dianne Lake was 14 when she met Charles Manson after her family moved to California to participate in the hippy counterculture movement overtaking the area in 1967. Dianne Lake was born on February 28, 1953 in Hennepin, Minnesota.
The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash. This route takes you through the rocky, boulder-strewn Santa Susana Pass hills to the site of the historic Spahn Movie Ranch.How much is the Manson estate worth? ›
Charles Manson's estate is estimated to be over $400,000.
Forbes reports that Manson's musical works include the commercially recorded 1993 Guns N' Roses song "Look at Your Game, Girl" and the 1969 Beach Boys song, "Never Learn Not to Love.”
|Died||c. November 1970 (aged 35) Ventura County, California, U.S.|
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
Tate murders, the shocking and grisly murders of actress Sharon Tate and four other people by followers of cult leader Charles Manson on the night of August 8–9, 1969, in Los Angeles.How much was Charles Manson worth at his death? ›
More than half a century ago, Manson was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of seven people. At the time of his death, in 2017, most experts valued the estate at about $400,000, but some believe it could be worth millions.How much of Aquarius is true? ›
Aquarius is an American period crime drama television series. The series begins in 1967 Los Angeles. The story is inspired by actual people and events, but it is also made up of fictional characters and stories.What impact did Charles Manson have on society? ›
Manson's cultural impact was immediate and hard to overstate
Manson became one of the most infamous figures in US history. He shook Hollywood into a decade of anxiety, and effectively rang the death knell of '60s counterculture — all without directly carrying out any of the brutal murders committed in his name.
It all has to do with a couple of court cases that suspended the death penalty the year after Manson was sentenced. These cases effectively struck down all methods of state execution in the U.S. for four years, leaving Manson and his followers with the next harshest sentence at the time in California—life with parole.What is the helter skelter theory? ›
According to Watkins and Tex Watson, frightened White people would retaliate with a murderous rampage, and militant Black people would exploit it to provoke a war of near-extermination between racist White people and non-racist White people over the treatment of Black people.How many murders did the Manson Family commit? ›
Charles Milles Manson (né Maddox; November 12, 1934 – November 19, 2017) was an American criminal and musician who led the Manson Family, a cult based in California, in the late 1960s. Some of the members committed a series of nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969.What was Charles Manson's last words before he died? ›
It features phone conversations with Manson from prison in which he declares: 'I'm the most famous human being not only that is alive but the most famous human being that has ever lived. And I'm not even dead yet. ' He ominously adds: 'What do you think is gonna happen when I die?'Who are the most famous serial killers? ›
- Jack the Ripper. ...
- Jeffrey Dahmer. ...
- Harold Shipman. ...
- John Wayne Gacy. ...
- H.H. Holmes. ...
- Pedro Lopez. ...
- Ted Bundy.
- “I am about to die or I am going to die; either expression is used.” ...
- “I must go in, the fog is rising.” ...
- “It is very beautiful over there.” ...
- “Looks like a good night to fly.” ...
- “OH WOW. ...
- “I want nothing but death.” ...
- “Money can't buy life.” ...
- “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
- “I'll be fine” - Heath Ledger.
- “I'll be back in five minutes - alright?” - Paul Walker.
- “I'm losing it” - Frank Sinatra.
- “It's better to burn out than fade away” - Kurt Cobain.
- “Money can't buy life” - Bob Marley.
- “Yeah” - John Lennon.
“Please — please don't kill me — I don't want to die. I just want to have my baby.” -Sharon Tate.