In the annals of crime, there might never have been a
bizarre motive for killing than that revealed in the 1970-71 trial of
Manson "Family" members. In the twisted mind of
Manson, a wave of bloody killings of high-society types in Los
would be the spark that would set off a revolution by blacks against
white establishment. When "blackie," as Manson called black
proved unable to govern, they would turn to Manson and his tribe of
who would have survived "Helter Skelter" by hiding out in an
cave in the Death Valley area of California while the chaos raged
Manson's vision never materialized. Instead, he and
his followers found themselves convicted of first-degree murder and
to death in one of the strangest trials the strange state of California
has ever witnessed.
THE ROAD TO SPAHN RANCH
life marked him for trouble. The illegitimate son of a a
drinking, promiscuous sixteen-year-old girl from Cincinnati--who would
enter prison for armed robbery when Charles was five--, Manson spent
of his life in institutions. By age thirteen, he had committed
first crime, the burglary of a grocery store. The next nineteen
were a parade of crimes, apprehensions, incarcerations, escapes, and
Most of the crimes were non-violent, the major exception being Manson's
1952 sodomization of a boy while holding a razor to his throat.
Psychiatrists saw Manson as "a very emotionally upset
but "extremely sensitive" (1951), "dangerous" with "homosexual and
tendencies" (1952), having "an unstable personality" but being
able "to straighten himself out" (1955), being "unable to control
with "a tendency to cut up" (1956), having "work habits that range from
good to poor" (1957), being "erratic and moody" and "a classic text
case of a correctional institution inmate" (1958), as an "energetic
who hides "his loneliness, resentment and hostility behind a facade of
superficial ingratiation" (1961), being "emotionally insecure" and
to "involve himself in various fanatical interests" (1963), and,
as "in need of a great deal of help in the transition from institution
to the free world" (1966).
Manson was scheduled for release on March 21, 1967,
of a ten-year sentence for forging a Treasury check. Manson
prison officials to allow him to stay--prison, he told them, was his
Unable to comply, the State of California released Charles
He headed north to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco.
months of his arrival, "the Family" had begun to form around him.
The activities of the Family included sexual orgies,
drug trips, and frequent sermons by Manson on the meaning
of Beatles' music and the coming of Helter Skelter. Manson
Family life, even to the extent of telling members who they could have
sex with. No one questioned his authority. Many Family
seemed even to see Manson as having "Christ-like" characteristics, a
Manson encouraged by often asking, "Don't you know who I am?"
After traveling a circuitous route around the American West
in an old
school bus for nearly eighteen months, the Family moved into a series
residences in the Los Angeles area in 1969. It was at Spahn
Ranch, a ramshackle collection of movie-set buildings in the Simi
northwest of Los Angeles, where Manson developed his murderous plan to
set off Helter Skelter.
THE TATE-LABIANCA MURDERS
On the afternoon of August 8, 1969, Manson set his plan in
Calling together several Family members, Manson announced, "Now is the
time for Helter Skelter." That evening he told three female
of the Family--Susan
Krenwinkel, and Linda
Kasabian--to get an additional change of clothes, a knife, and a
license. Manson discussed details of his plan with a fourth
"Tex" Watson before all four piled into an old Ford. As they
drove down the driveway of the ranch, Manson stuck his head in the car
window and told them "to leave a sign." He said, "You girls know
what I mean, something witchy." Although Tex understood his
fully, the three women knew neither their destination nor that the
was destined for murder.
Forty-five minutes or so later, shortly after midnight on
the group pulled up in front of the Bel Air residence of actress Sharon
Tate, famous for her recent role in the movie Valley of the
Tate shared the home with her husband, director Roman Polanski, who was
in London at the time working on his next film project, The Day of
Dolphin. In his absence, two friends were staying at the
home at 10050
Cielo Drive, including coffee heiress Abigail
Folger and her lover, Voytek Frykowski. Also in the home that
night was hair stylist Jay
Sebring, a friend of Tate's.
After Tex cut the telephone wires leading to the Tate home,
scrambled over the fence at the bottom of the property and began
up the hill leading to the residence. A car pulled up the
Tex leaped forward, stuck his hand through the car window, aimed at the
driver's head, and pulled the trigger four times. The first
in the Tate-LaBianca killings was eighteen-year-old Steven
Parent, in the wrong place at the wrong time. While Kasabian
waited below by the car, the other three Family members entered the
home. Within minutes, the screams began. Watson would later
describe the next four victims "as running around the place like
with their heads cut off."
In all, the four victims received 102 stab wounds.
was the last to die, knived by Watson while she was held down by Susan
Atkins. Atkins said later that she tasted Tate's blood and found
it to be "warm and sticky." She took some of Tate's blood and
it to scrawl, on the porch wall, "PIG."
The next morning, a maid arriving at the Tate home left
Death! Bodies! Blood!" Within hours, investigators discovered two
badly mutilated bodies on the lawn of the Tate residence, those of
and Frykowski. Inside, near a couch in the living room, they
the bloody pregnant body of Tate and, with a rope around his neck and a
bloody towel over his face, Jay Sebring.
Manson, meanwhile, expressed his displeasure with the attack
Tate residence. Too messy, he thought. He decided to
the next Helter Skelter mission, which he scheduled for that very
In addition to the four Family members from the previous night's
Manson was joined by Clem Tufts and Leslie Van Houten. Manson
Kasabian to cruise the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, in search for
victims, before settling on the home of Leno and and Rosemary
Watson, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten were the killers chosen by
As they left the car, Manson told them: "Don't let them know you are
to kill them."
Police found Leno
LaBianca with a knife lodged in his throat, twelve stab wounds, and
seven pairs of fork wounds. The word "WAR" had been carved on his
LaBianca was found with multiple stab wounds in her chest and
On the LaBianca's living room wall, written in blood, were the words "DEATH
TO PIGS" and "RISE." On the refrigerator door was
INVESTIGATION AND ARRESTS
On September 1, 1969, a ten-year-old boy in Sherman Oaks
a .22 caliber Longhorn revolver under a bush near his home. His
notified the LAPD, who picked up the gun, but failed to make any
between it and the Tate murders.
In October, Inyo County officers raided Barker Ranch, in a
south of Death Valley National Monument. Twenty-four members of
Manson Family were arrested, on charges of arson and grand theft.
Cult leader Charles Manson (dressed entirely in buckskins) and Susan
were among those arrested.
After her arrest, Atkins was housed at Dormitory 8000 in Los
On November 6, she told another inmate, Virginia Graham, an almost
tale. She told of "a beautiful cat" named Charles Manson.
told of murder: of finding Sharon Tate, in bed with her bikini bra and
underpants, of her victim's futile cries for help, of tasting Tate's
Atkins expressed no remorse at all over the killings. She even
Graham a list of celebrities that she and other Family members planned
to kill in the future, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Tom
Jones, Steve McQueen, and Frank Sinatra. Through an inmate friend
of Graham's, Ronnie Howard, word of Atkins's amazing story soon reached
About the same time, detectives on the LaBianca case
Springer, a member of the Straight Satan biker's group that Manson had
tried to recruit into the Family. Word had leaked to police that
the Straight Satans might have some knowledge about who was responsible
for another recent murder with several similarities to the LaBianca
Springer told detectives that Manson had bragged to him in August at
Ranch--after offering him his pick from among the eighteen or so "naked
girls" scattered around the ranch--about "knocking off" five
When Springer told detectives that Manson had said the Tate killers
something on the...refrigerator in blood"--"something about pigs"--,
detectives knew they might be onto something. Still, it struck
as odd that anyone would confess to several murders to someone that
barely knew. It took another member of the Straight Satans, Danny
DeCarlo, to move the focus of the investigation decisively to Charles
DeCarlo told police he heard a Manson Family member brag, "We got five
piggies," and that Manson had asked him what to use "to decompose a
On November 18, 1969, the District Attorney and his staff
Bugliosi to be the chief prosecutor in the Tate-LaBianca
The choice was no doubt influenced by Bugliosi's impressive record of
103 convictions in 104 felony trials. The day after getting the
assignment, Bugliosi joined in a search of the Spahn Movie Ranch, where
police gathered .22 caliber bullets and shell casings from a canyon
by Family members for target practice. The next day, the search
moved on to isolated Barker Ranch, the most recent home of the Family,
on the edge of Death Valley. In the small house at Barker Ranch,
Bugliosi saw the small cabinet under the sink where Manson was found
during the October raid. On an abandoned bus in a gully,
discovered magazines from World War II, all containing articles about
Based on Ronnie Howard's account of Susan Atkin's jailhouse
and interviews conducted with various Manson Family members, the LAPD
identified the five persons who participated in the actual Tate and
murders. The suspects consisted of four women, all in their early
twenties, and one man in his mid-twenties: Susan Atkins, Patricia
Leslie Van Houten, Linda Kasabian, and Charles "Tex" Watson.
remained in custody at Dormitory 8000. Van Houten was picked up
questioning in California. Watson was arrested by a local sheriff in
Patricia Krenwinkel was apprehended in Mobile, Alabama. Kasabian
voluntarily surrendered to local police in Concord, New Hampshire.
Knowing that convictions of at least some defendant would
from one of those persons present at the murders, the D. A.'s office
reached a deal with the attorney for Susan Atkins: a promise not to
the death penalty in return for testimony before the grand jury, plus
of a further reduction in charges for her continued cooperation during
the trial. Atkins appeared before the Grand Jury on December
She told the grand jury she was "in love with the reflection" of
Manson and that there was "no limit" to what she would do for
In an emotionless voice, she described the horrific events in the early
morning hours of August 9 at the Tate residence. She told of Tate
pleading for her life: "Please let me go. All I want to do is
my baby." She described the actual murders, told of returning to
the car and stopping along a side street to wash off bloody clothes
a garden house, and of Manson's reaction on their return to Spahn
Atkins said that on returning to Spahn Ranch she "felt dead." She
added, "I feel dead now." After twenty minutes of deliberations,
the grand jury returned murder indictments against Manson, Watson,
Atkins, Kasabian, and Van Houten.
When efforts to extradite Tex Watson from became bogged down
Texas politics, the District Attorney's Office decided to proceed
the four persons indicted for the Tate-LaBianca murders who were in
in California. Jury selection began on June 15, 1970 in the
floor courtroom of Judge Charles Older in the Hall of Justice in Los
Manson's request to ask potential jurors "a few simple, childlike
that are real to me in my reality" was denied. During the voir
Manson fixed his penetrating stare for hours, first on Judge Older and
then one day on Prosecutor Bugliosi. After getting Manson's stare
treatment, Bugliosi took advantage of a recess to slide his chair next
to Manson and ask, "What are you trembling about Charlie? Are you
afraid of me?" Manson responded, "Bugliosi, you think I'm bad and
I'm not." He went on to tell Manson that Atkins was "just a
little bitch" you told a story "to get attention." After a month
of voir dire, a jury of seven men and five women was selected.
jury knew it would be sequestered for a long time, but it didn't know
long. As it turned out, their sequestration would last 225 days,
longer than any previous jury in history.
Opening statements began on July 24. Manson entered
sporting a freshly cut, bloody "X" on his forehead--signifying, he said
in a statement, that "I have X'd myself from your world."
Bugliosi, in his opening statement for the prosecution,
his "principal witness" would be Linda Kasabian, a Manson Family member
who accompanied the killers to both the Tate and LaBianca
The prosecution turned to Kasabian, with a promise of prosecutorial
for her testimony, when Susan Atkins--probably in response to threats
Manson--announced that she would not testify at the trial.
promised the jury that the evidence would show Manson had a motive for
the murders that was "perhaps even more bizarre than the murders
On July 27, Bugliosi announced, "The People call Linda
attorney, fabled obstructionist Irving
Kanarek, immediately sprung up with an objection, "Object, Your
on the grounds this witness is not competent and is insane!"
Kanarek to the bench and telling him his conduct was "outrageous,"
Older denied the objection and Kasabian was sworn
as a witness. She would remain on the stand for an astounding
eighteen days, including seven days of cross-examination by Kanarek.
Kasabian told the jury that no Family member ever refused an
Charles Manson: "We always wanted to do anything and everything for
After describing what she saw of the Tate murders, Kasabian was asked
about the return to Spahn Ranch:
"Was there anyone in the parking area at
Spahn Ranch as
you drove in the Spahn Ranch area?"
"Who was there?"
"Was there anyone there other than
"Not that I know of"
"Where was Charlie when you arrived at
"About the same spot he was in when he
"What happened after you pulled the car
parking area and parked the car?"
"Sadie said she saw a spot of blood on
of the car when we were at the gas station."
"Who was present at that time when she
"The four of us and Charlie."
"What is the next thing that happened?"
"Well, Charlie told us to go into the
get a sponge, wipe the blood off, and he also instructed Katie and I to
go all through the car and wipe off the blood
"What is the next thing that happened
Manson told you and Katie to check out the car and remove the blood?"
"He told us to go into the bunk room and
which we did."
Kasabian also offered her account of the night of the
She testified that she didn't want to go, but went anyway "because
asked me and I was afraid to say no."
Kasabian proved a very credible witness, despite the best
cross-examination of defense attorneys to make her appear a spaced-out
hippie. After admitting that she took LSD about fifty times,
was asked by Kanarek, "Describe what happened on trip number 23."
Other defense questions explored her beliefs in ESP and witchcraft or
on the "vibrations" she claimed to receive from Manson.
A major distraction from Kasabian's testimony came on August
Manson stood before the jury and held up a copy of the Los Angeles Times
with the headline, "MANSON GUILTY, NIXON DECLARES." The defense
for a mistrial on the grounds that the headline prejudiced the jury
the defense, but Judge Older denied the motion after each juror stated
under oath that he or she would not be influenced by the President's
declaration of guilt.
Testimony corroborating that of Kasabian came from several
witnesses, most notably the woman Atkins confided in at Dormitory 8000,
Graham. Other witnesses described receiving threats from
evidence of Manson's total control over the lives of family members, or
conversations in which Manson had told of the coming Helter Skelter.
Watkins, Manson's foremost recruiter of young women, provided key
about the strange motive for the Tate-LaBianca murders--including its link
to the Bible's Book of Revelation. Watkins testified that
discussed Helter Skelter "constantly." Bugliosi asked Watkins how
Helter Skelter would start:
"There would be some atrocious murders; that
some of the
spades from Watts would come up into the Bel-Air and Beverly Hills
and just really wipe some people out, just cut bodies up and smear
and write things on the wall in blood, and cut little boys up and make
parents watch. So, in retaliation-this would scare; in other
all the other white people would be afraid that this would happen to
so out of their fear they would go into the ghetto and just start
black people like crazy. But all they would shoot would be the garbage
man and Uncle Toms, and all the ones that were with Whitey in the first
place. And underneath it all, the Black Muslims would-he would know
it was coming down."
"Helter Skelter was coming down?"
"Yes. So, after Whitey goes in the ghettoes
all the Uncle Toms, then the Black Muslims come out and appeal to the
by saying, 'Look what you have done to my people.' And this would split
Whitey down the middle, between all the hippies and the liberals and
the up-tight piggies. This would split them in the middle and a big
war would start and really split them up in all these different
and they would just kill each other off in the meantime through their
And after they killed each other off, then there would be a few of them
left who supposedly won."
"A few of who left?"
"A few white people left who supposedly won.
Black Muslims would come out of hiding and wipe them all out."
"Wipe the white people out?"
"Yes. By sneaking around and slitting their
"Did Charlie say anything about where he and
would be during this Helter Skelter?"
"Yes. When we was [sic] in the desert the
Charlie used to walk around in the desert and say-you see, there are
where water would come up to the top of the ground and then it would go
down and there wouldn't be no more water, and then it would come up
and go down again. He would look at that and say, 'There has got to be
a hole somewhere, somewhere here, a big old lake.' And it just really
far out, that there was a hole underneath there somewhere where you
drive a speedboat across it, a big underground city. Then we started
the 'Revolution 9' song on the Beatles album which was interpreted by
to mean the Revelation 9. So-"
"The last book of the New Testament?"
"Just the book of Revelation and the song
would be 'Revelations
9: So, in this book it says, there is a part about, in Revelations 9,
talks of the bottomless pit. Then later on, I believe it is in 10."
"Yes. It talks about there will be a city
will be no sun and there will be no moon."
"Manson spoke about this?"
"Yes, many times. That there would be a city
but there would be no life, and there would be a tree there that bears
twelve different kinds of fruit that changed every month. And this was
interpreted to mean-this was the hole down under Death Valley."
"Did he talk about the twelve tribes of
"Yes. That was in there, too. It was
supposed to get back
to the 144,000 people. The Family was to grow to this number."
"The twelve tribes of Israel being 144,000
"And Manson said that the Family would
to 144,000 people?"
"Did he say when this would take place?"
"Oh, yes. See, it was all happening
other words, as we are making the music and it is drawing all the young
love to the desert, the Family increases in ranks, and at the same time
this sets off Helter Skelter. So then the Family finds the hole in the
meantime and gets down in the hole and lives there until the whole
"Until Helter Skelter comes down?"
"Did he say who would win this Helter
"The karma would have completely reversed,
the black men would be on top and the white race would be wiped out;
would be none except for the Family."
"Except for Manson and the Family?"
"Did he say what the black man would do once
he was all
"Well, according to Charlie, he would clean
up the mess,
just like he always has done. He is supposed to be the servant, see. He
will clean up the mess that he made, that the white man made, and build
the world back up a little bit, build the cities back up, but then he
know what to do with it, he couldn't handle it."
"Blackie couldn't handle it?"
"Yes, and this is when the Family would come
out of the
hole, and being that he would have completed the white man's karma,
he would no longer have this vicious want to kill."
"When you say 'he,' you mean Blackie?"
"Blackie then would come to Charlie and say,
'I did my thing, I killed them all and, you know, I am tired of killing
now. It is all over.' And Charlie would scratch his fuzzy head and kick
him in the butt and tell him to go pick the cotton and go be a good
and he would live happily ever after."
On November 16, 1970, after twenty-two weeks of testimony,
rested its case.
When the trial resumed three days later, the defense
spectators and the prosecution by announcing, without calling a single
witness, "The defense rests." Suddenly, the three female
began shouting that they wanted to testify. In chambers,
for the women explained that although their clients wanted to testify,
they were strongly opposed, believing that they would--still under the
powerful influence of Manson--testify that they planned and committed
murders without Manson's help. Returning to the courtroom, Judge
Older declared that the right to testify took precedence and said that
the defendants could testify over the objections of their
Atkins was then sworn as a witness, but her attorney, Daye Shinn,
to question her. Returning to chambers, one defense attorney
that questioning their clients on the stand would be like "aiding and
The next day came another surprise. Charles Manson
he, too, wished to testify--before his co-defendants did. He
first without the jury being present, so that potentially excludable
relating to evidence incriminating co-defendants might be identified
it prejudiced the jury. His over one-hour of testimony,
full of digressions, fascinated observers:
"I never went to school, so I never growed
up to read
and write too good, so I have stayed in jail and I have stayed
and I have stayed a child while I have watched your world grow up, and
then I look at the things that you do and I don't
. . .
"You eat meat and you kill things that are
you are, and then you say how bad, and even killers, your children are.
You made your children what they are. . . .
"These children that come at you with
knives. they are
your children. You taught them. I didn't teach them. I just tried to
them stand up. . .
"Most of the people at the ranch that you
call the Family
were just people that you did not want, people that were alongside the
road, that their parents had kicked out, that did not want to go to
Hall. So I did the best I could and I took them up on my garbage dump
I told them this: that in love there is no wrong. . . .
"I told them that anything they do for their
and sisters is good if they do it with a good thought. . . .
"I don't understand you, but I don't try. I
to judge nobody. I know that the only person I can judge is me . . .
I know this: that in your hearts and your own souls, you are as much
for the Vietnam war as I am for killing these people. . . .
"I can't judge any of you. I have no malice
and no ribbons for you. But I think that it is high time that you all
looking at yourselves, and judging the lie that you live in.
"I can't dislike you, but I will say this to
haven't got long before you are all going to kill yourselves, because
are all crazy. And you can project it back at me . . . but I am only
lives inside each and everyone of you.
"My father is the jailhouse. My father is
. . I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.
"I have ate out of your garbage cans to stay
out of jail.
I have wore your second-hand clothes. . . I have done my best to get
in your world and now you want to kill me, and I look at you, and then
I say to myself, You want to kill me? Ha! I'm already dead, have
been all my life. I've spent twenty-three years in tombs that you built.
"Sometimes I think about giving it back to
I think about just jumping on you and letting you shoot me . . . If I
I would jerk this microphone off and beat your brains out with it,
that is what you deserve, that is what you deserve. . . .
"These children [indicating the female
finding themselves. What they did, if they did whatever they did, is up
to them. They will have to explain that to you. . . .
"You expect to break me? Impossible! You
broke me years
ago. You killed me years ago. . . .
"Mr. Bugliosi is a hard-driving prosecutor,
a master of words, semantics. He is a genius. He has got everything
every lawyer would want to have except one thing: a case. He doesn't
a case. Were I allowed to defend myself, I could have
this to you. . .The evidence in this case is a gun. There was a gun
laid around the ranch. It belonged to everybody. Anybody could have
that gun up and done anything they wanted to do with it. I don't deny
that gun. That gun has been in my possession many times. Like the rope
was there because you need rope on a ranch. . . .It is really
that Mr. Baggot found those clothes. I imagine he got a little taste of
money for that. . . .They put the hideous bodies on [photographic]
and they imply: If he gets out, see what will happen to you. . .
Skelter] means confusion, literally. It doesn't mean any war with
It doesn't mean that some people are going to kill other people. . .
Skelter is confusion. Confusion is coming down around you fast. If you
can't see the confusion coming down around you fast, you can call it
you wish. . Is it a conspiracy that the music is telling
youth to rise up against the establishment because the establishment is
rapidly destroying things? Is that a conspiracy? The music speaks to
every day, but you are too deaf, dumb, and blind to even listen to the
music. . . It is not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it
relates. It says "Rise," it says "Kill." Why blame it on me? I
write the music. . . .
"I haven't got any guilt about anything
because I have
never been able to see any wrong. . . I have always said: Do what your
love tells you, and I do what my love tells me . . . Is it my fault
your children do what you do? What about your children? You say there
just a few? There are many, many more, coming in the same direction.
are running in the streets-and they are coming right at you!"
At the conclusion of Bugliosi's brief cross-examination of
asked Manson if he now wished to testify before the jury. He replied,
have already relieved all the pressure I had." Manson left the
As he walked by the counsel table, he told his three co-defendants,
don't have to testify now."
There remained one last frightening surprise of the
trial. When the trial resumed on November 30 following Manson's
Hughes, defense attorney for Leslie Van Houten failed to
A subsequent investigation revealed he had disappeared over the weekend
while camping in the remote Sespe Hot Springs area northwest of Los
It is widely believed that Hughes was ordered murdered by Manson for
determination to pursue a defense strategy at odds with that favored by
Manson. Hughes had made clear his hope to show that Van Houten was not
acting independently--as Manson suggested--but was completely
in her actions by Manson.
Manson's defense attorney, Irving Kanarek, argued to the
jury that the
female defendants committed the Tate and LaBianca murders out of a love
of the crimes' true mastermind, the absent Tex Watson. Kanarek
that Manson was being persecuted because of his "life style." He
argued that the prosecution's theory of a motive was fanciful.
argument lasted seven days, prompting Judge Older to call it "no longer
an argument but a filibuster."
powerful summation described Charles Manson as "the Mephistophelean
guru" who "sent out from the fires of hell at Spahn Ranch three
bloodthirsty robots and--unfortunately for him--one human being, the
hippie girl Linda Kasabian." Bugliosi ended his summation with "a
roll call of the dead": "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Sharon
Tate...Abigail Folger...Voytek Frykowski...Jay Sebring...Steven
LaBianca...Rosemary LaBianca...are not here with us in this courtroom,
but from their graves they cry out for justice."
The jury deliberated a week before returning its verdict on
25, 1971. The jury found all defendants guilty on each count of
murder. After hearing additional evidence in the penalty phase of
the trial, the jury completed its work by sentencing each of the four
to death on March 29. As the clerk read the verdict, Manson shouted,
people have no authority over me." Patricia Krenwinkel declared,
"You have judged yourselves." Susan Atkins said, "Better lock
doors and watch your own kids." Leslie Van Houten complained,
whole system is a game." The trial was over. At over
it had been the longest and and most expensive in American history.
The death sentences imposed by the Tate-LaBianca jury would
imposed, thanks to a California Supreme Court ruling in 1972 declaring
the state's death penalty law unconstitutional. The death
for the four convicted defendants, as well as for Tex Watson who had
convicted and sentenced to death in a separate trial in 1971, were
to life in prison. All five currently remain in prison in
Charles Manson is incarcerated at in a maximum security
section of a
state penitentiary in Concoran, California. He has been denied parole
times, most recently in 2007. In prison, he has assaulted prison
staff a half dozen times. A search of his the prison chapel where
Manson took a job in 1980 revealed his hidden cache including
one hundred feet of nylon rope, and a mail-order catalog for hot air
In 1986, he published his story, Manson
in His Own Words. In his book, Manson claims: "My eyes
cameras. My mind is tuned to more television channels than exist
in your world. And it suffers no censorship. Through it, I
have a world and the universe as my own."
All three female defendants have expressed remorse for their
crimes, been exemplary inmates, and offered their time for charity
Yet none has been released by the California Parole Board, even though
each of them was young and clearly under Manson's powerful influence at
the time of their crimes. There is no question that but for their
unfortunate connection with Charles Manson, none would have committed
It is sad, but undoubtedly true, that parole boards are political
that base decisions as much upon anticipated public reaction to their
as on a careful review of a parole applicant's prison record and
Susan Atkins died in prison of terminal brain cancer in
September 2009. The remaining Manson family defendants (excluding
Charlie, of course) deserve release, but given the reality of politics,
might never again experience freedom.
2009 Update: CNN,
"Aging Manson Family Members Long for Freedom"