In the annals of crime, there might never have
been a more bizarre motive for killing than that
revealed in the 1970-71 trial of four Manson "Family"
members. In the twisted mind of
Manson, a wave of bloody killings of high-society
types in Los Angeles would be the spark that would set
off a revolution by blacks against the white
establishment. When "blackie," as Manson called
black people, proved unable to govern, they would turn
to Manson and his tribe of followers, who would have
survived "Helter Skelter" by hiding out in an
underground cave in the Death Valley area of California
while the chaos raged above.
Manson's vision never materialized. Instead, he
and several of his followers found themselves
convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced 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 heavy drinking, promiscuous
sixteen-year-old girl from Cincinnati--who would enter
prison for armed robbery when Charles was five--,
Manson spent most of his life in institutions.
By age thirteen, he had committed his first crime, the
burglary of a grocery store. The next nineteen
years were a parade of crimes, apprehensions,
incarcerations, escapes, and paroles. 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
youth," "slick" but "extremely sensitive" (1951),
"dangerous" with "homosexual and assaultive
tendencies" (1952), having "an unstable personality"
but being potentially able "to straighten himself out"
(1955), being "unable to control himself" 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 book case of a correctional
institution inmate" (1958), as an "energetic person"
who hides "his loneliness, resentment and hostility
behind a facade of superficial ingratiation" (1961),
being "emotionally insecure" and tending to "involve
himself in various fanatical interests" (1963), and,
finally, 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,
following completion of a ten-year sentence for
forging a Treasury check. Manson begged prison
officials to allow him to stay--prison, he told them,
was his home. Unable to comply, the State of
California released Charles Manson. He headed
north to the Haight-Ashbury section of San
Francisco. Within months of his arrival, "the
Family" had begun to form around him.
The activities of the Family included sexual orgies,
hallucinogenic drug trips, and frequent sermons by
Manson on the meaning
Beatles' music and the coming of Helter
Skelter. Manson dominated Family life, even to
the extent of telling members who they could have sex
with. No one questioned his authority.
Many Family members seemed even to see Manson as
having "Christ-like" characteristics, a perception
Manson encouraged by often asking, "Don't you know who
After traveling a circuitous route around the
American West in an old school bus for nearly eighteen
months, the Family moved into a series of residences
in the Los Angeles area in 1969. It was at Spahn
Ranch, a ramshackle collection of movie-set
buildings in the Simi Hills northwest of Los Angeles,
where Manson developed his murderous plan to set off
THE TATE-LABIANCA MURDERS
On the afternoon of August 8, 1969, Manson set his
plan in motion. Calling together several Family
members, Manson announced, "Now is the time for Helter
Skelter." That evening he told three female
members of the Family--Susan
Krenwinkel, and Linda
Kasabian--to get an additional change of
clothes, a knife, and a driver's license. Manson
discussed details of his plan with a fourth Family
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 mission fully, the three women knew
neither their destination nor that the night was
destined for murder.
Forty-five minutes or so later, shortly after
midnight on August 9, 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 Dolls. 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 the Dolphin. In his absence, two
friends were staying at the large home at 10050
Drive, including coffee heiress Abigail
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, the four scrambled over the fence at the bottom
of the property and began heading up the hill leading
to the residence. A car pulled up the
driveway. Tex leaped forward, stuck his hand
through the car window, aimed at the driver's head,
and pulled the trigger four times. The first
victim in the Tate-LaBianca killings was
Parent, in the wrong place at the wrong
time. While Kasabian waited below by the car,
the other three Family members entered the Tate
home. Within minutes, the screams began.
Watson would later describe the next four victims "as
running around the place like chickens with their
heads cut off."
In all, the four victims received 102 stab
wounds. Sharon Tate 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 used it to scrawl, on
the porch wall, "PIG."
The next morning, a maid arriving at the Tate home
left screaming, "Murder! Death! Bodies! Blood!"
Within hours, investigators discovered two badly
mutilated bodies on the lawn of the Tate residence,
those of Folger and Frykowski. Inside, near a
couch in the living room, they discovered 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 at the Tate residence. Too messy, he
thought. He decided to accompany the next Helter
Skelter mission, which he scheduled for that very
night. In addition to the four Family members
from the previous night's mission, Manson was joined
by Clem Tufts and Leslie Van Houten. Manson
ordered Kasabian to cruise the neighborhoods of Los
Angeles, in search for potential victims, before
settling on the home of Leno and and Rosemary
LaBianca. Watson, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten
were the killers chosen by Manson. As they left
the car, Manson told them: "Don't let them know you
are going 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 neck. On the LaBianca's living
room wall, written in blood, were the words "DEATH
PIGS" and "RISE." On the
refrigerator door was written, "HEALTER SKELTER."
INVESTIGATION AND ARRESTS
On September 1, 1969, a ten-year-old boy in Sherman
Oaks discovered a .22 caliber Longhorn revolver under
a bush near his home. His parents notified the
LAPD, who picked up the gun, but failed to make any
connection between it and the Tate murders.
In October, Inyo County officers raided Barker Ranch,
in a remote area south of Death Valley National
Monument. Twenty-four members of the Manson
Family were arrested, on charges of arson and grand
theft. Cult leader Charles Manson (dressed
entirely in buckskins) and Susan Atkins were among
After her arrest, Atkins was housed at Dormitory 8000
in Los Angeles. On November 6, she told another
inmate, Virginia Graham, an almost unbelievable
tale. She told of "a beautiful cat" named
Charles Manson. She 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 blood. Atkins expressed no
remorse at all over the killings. She even told
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 the LAPD.
About the same time, detectives on the LaBianca case
interviewed Al 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 killings.
Springer told detectives that Manson had bragged to
him in August at Spahn Ranch--after offering him his
pick from among the eighteen or so "naked girls"
scattered around the ranch--about "knocking off" five
people. When Springer told detectives that
Manson had said the Tate killers "wrote something on
the...refrigerator in blood"--"something about
pigs"--, the detectives knew they might be onto
something. Still, it struck them as odd that
anyone would confess to several murders to someone
that they barely knew. It took another member of
the Straight Satans, Danny DeCarlo, to move the focus
of the investigation decisively to Charles
Manson. 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 selected Vincent
Bugliosi to be the chief prosecutor in the
Tate-LaBianca case. The choice was no doubt
influenced by Bugliosi's impressive record of winning
103 convictions in 104 felony trials. The day
after getting the Tate-LaBianca assignment, Bugliosi
joined in a search of the Spahn Movie Ranch, where
police gathered .22 caliber bullets and shell casings
from a canyon used by Family members for target
practice. The next day, the search party 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 hiding
during the October raid. On an abandoned bus in
a gully, investigators discovered magazines from World
War II, all containing articles about Hitler.
Based on Ronnie Howard's account of Susan Atkin's
jailhouse confession and interviews conducted with
various Manson Family members, the LAPD eventually
identified the five persons who participated in the
actual Tate and LaBianca murders. The suspects
consisted of four women, all in their early twenties,
and one man in his mid-twenties: Susan Atkins,
Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, Linda
Kasabian, and Charles "Tex" Watson. Atkins
remained in custody at Dormitory 8000. Van
Houten was picked up for questioning in California.
Watson was arrested by a local sheriff in Texas.
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 require testimony from one of those persons
present at the murders, the D. A.'s office first
reached a deal with the attorney for Susan Atkins: a
promise not to seek the death penalty in return for
testimony before the grand jury, plus consideration of
a further reduction in charges for her continued
cooperation during the trial. Atkins appeared
before the Grand Jury on December 5. She told
the grand jury she was "in love with the reflection"
of Charles Manson and that there was "no limit" to
what she would do for him. 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 have my baby." She
described the actual murders, told of returning to the
car and stopping along a side street to wash off
bloody clothes with a garden house, and of Manson's
reaction on their return to Spahn Ranch. 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,
Krenwinkel, Atkins, Kasabian, and Van Houten.
When efforts to extradite Tex Watson from became
bogged down in local Texas politics, the District
Attorney's Office decided to proceed against the four
persons indicted for the Tate-LaBianca murders who
were in custody in California. Jury selection
began on June 15, 1970 in the eighth floor courtroom
of Judge Charles Older in the Hall of Justice in Los
Angeles. Manson's request to ask potential jurors "a
few simple, childlike questions that are real to me in
my reality" was denied. During the voir dire,
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 stupid 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. The jury knew it would be sequestered
for a long time, but it didn't know how 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 the courtroom 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, indicated that his "principal witness"
would be Linda Kasabian, a Manson Family member who
accompanied the killers to both the Tate and LaBianca
residences. The prosecution turned to Kasabian,
with a promise of prosecutorial immunity for her
testimony, when Susan Atkins--probably in response to
threats from Manson--announced that she would not
testify at the trial. Bugliosi promised the jury
that the evidence would show Manson had a motive for
the murders that was "perhaps even more bizarre than
the murders themselves."
On July 27, Bugliosi announced, "The People call
Linda Kasabian." Manson's attorney, fabled
Kanarek, immediately sprung up with an
objection, "Object, Your Honor, on the grounds this
witness is not competent and is insane!" Calling
Kanarek to the bench and telling him his conduct was
"outrageous," Judge Older denied the objection and
Kasabian was sworn
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 order from Charles Manson: "We always
wanted to do anything and everything for him."
After describing what she saw of the Tate murders,
Kasabian was asked by Bugliosi about the return to
"Was there anyone in the parking area
at Spahn Ranch as you drove in the Spahn Ranch
"Who was there?"
"Was there anyone there other
"Not that I know of"
"Where was Charlie when you
arrived at the premises?"
"About the same spot he was in
when he first drove away."
"What happened after you pulled
the car onto the parking area and parked the car?"
"Sadie said she saw a spot of
blood on the outside of the car when we were at the
"Who was present at that time
when she said that?"
"The four of us and Charlie."
"What is the next thing that
"Well, Charlie told us to go
into the kitchen, 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 after Mr. Manson told you and Katie to
check out the car and remove the blood?"
"He told us to go into the bunk
room and wait, which we did."
Kasabian also offered her account of the night of the
LaBianca murders. She testified that she didn't
want to go, but went anyway "because Charlie asked me
and I was afraid to say no."
Kasabian proved a very credible witness, despite the
best efforts during cross-examination of defense
attorneys to make her appear a spaced-out
hippie. After admitting that she took LSD about
fifty times, Kasabian was asked by Kanarek, "Describe
what happened on trip number 23." Other defense
questions explored her beliefs in ESP and witchcraft
or focused on the "vibrations" she claimed to receive
A major distraction from Kasabian's testimony came on
August 3, when Manson stood before the jury and held
up a copy of the Los Angeles Times with the
headline, "MANSON GUILTY, NIXON DECLARES." The
defense moved for a mistrial on the grounds that the
headline prejudiced the jury against 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 reported declaration of guilt.
Testimony corroborating that of Kasabian came from
several other prosecution witnesses, most notably the
woman Atkins confided in at Dormitory 8000, Virginia
Graham. Other witnesses described
receiving threats from Manson, evidence of Manson's
total control over the lives of family members, or
conversations in which Manson had told of the coming
Watkins, Manson's foremost recruiter of young
women, provided key testimony about the strange motive
for the Tate-LaBianca murders--including its link
the Bible's Book of Revelation. Watkins
testified that Manson 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 district
and just really wipe some people out, just cut
bodies up and smear blood 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 words, all the other white people
would be afraid that this would happen to them, so
out of their fear they would go into the ghetto and
just start shooting 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 that it was coming
"Helter Skelter was coming down?"
"Yes. So, after Whitey goes in the
ghettoes and shoots all the Uncle Toms, then the
Black Muslims come out and appeal to the people 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 all the up-tight
piggies. This would split them in the middle and a
big civil war would start and really split them up
in all these different factions, and they would just
kill each other off in the meantime through their
war. And after they killed each other off, then
there would be a few of them left who supposedly
"A few of who left?"
"A few white people left who
supposedly won. Then the Black Muslims would come
out of hiding and wipe them all out."
"Wipe the white people out?"
"Yes. By sneaking around and slitting
"Did Charlie say anything about where
he and the Family would be during this Helter
"Yes. When we was [sic] in the desert
the first time, Charlie used to walk around in the
desert and say-you see, there are places 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 again 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 got far out, that there was a
hole underneath there somewhere where you could
drive a speedboat across it, a big underground city.
Then we started from the 'Revolution 9' song on the
Beatles album which was interpreted by Charlie 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, it
talks of the bottomless pit. Then later on, I
believe it is in 10."
"Yes. It talks about there will be a
city where there will be no sun and there will be no
"Manson spoke about this?"
"Yes, many times. That there would be
a city of gold, 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
"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
"And Manson said that the Family
would eventually increase to 144,000 people?"
"Did he say when this would take
"Oh, yes. See, it was all happening
simultaneously. In 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 thing
"Until Helter Skelter comes down?"
"Did he say who would win this Helter
"The karma would have completely
reversed, meaning that the black men would be on top
and the white race would be wiped out; there 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 by himself?"
"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 wouldn't 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, then he would
no longer have this vicious want to kill."
"When you say 'he,' you mean
"Blackie then would come to Charlie
and say, you know, '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 nigger, and he would live
happily ever after."
On November 16, 1970, after twenty-two weeks of
testimony, the prosecution rested its case.
When the trial resumed three days later, the defense
startled courtroom spectators and the prosecution by
announcing, without calling a single witness, "The
defense rests." Suddenly, the three female
defendants began shouting that they wanted to
testify. In chambers, attorneys 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 the
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
counsel. Atkins was then sworn as a witness, but
her attorney, Daye Shinn, refused to question
her. Returning to chambers, one defense attorney
complained that questioning their clients on the stand
would be like "aiding and abetting a suicide."
The next day came another surprise. Charles
Manson announced that he, too, wished to
testify--before his co-defendants did. He
testified first without the jury being present, so
that potentially excludable testimony relating to
evidence incriminating co-defendants might be
identified before 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 stupid, 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 understand. . . .
"You eat meat and you kill things
that are better than 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 help 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 Juvenile Hall. So I did the best I could and I
took them up on my garbage dump and I told them
this: that in love there is no wrong. . . .
"I told them that anything they do
for their brothers and sisters is good if they do it
with a good thought. . . .
"I don't understand you, but I don't
try. I don't try to judge nobody. I know that the
only person I can judge is me . . . But I know this:
that in your hearts and your own souls, you are as
much responsible for the Vietnam war as I am for
killing these people. . . .
"I can't judge any of you. I have no
malice against you and no ribbons for you. But I
think that it is high time that you all start
looking at yourselves, and judging the lie that you
"I can't dislike you, but I will say
this to you: you haven't got long before you are all
going to kill yourselves, because you are all crazy.
And you can project it back at me . . . but I am
only what lives inside each and everyone of you.
"My father is the jailhouse. My
father is your system. . . 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 along 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
"Sometimes I think about giving it
back to you; sometimes I think about just jumping on
you and letting you shoot me . . . If I could, I
would jerk this microphone off and beat your brains
out with it, because that is what you deserve, that
is what you deserve. . . .
"These children [indicating the
female defendants] were 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, polished education, a master of words,
semantics. He is a genius. He has got everything
that every lawyer would want to have except one
thing: a case. He doesn't have a case.
Were I allowed to defend myself, I could have proven
this to you. . .The evidence in this case is a gun.
There was a gun that laid around the ranch. It
belonged to everybody. Anybody could have picked
that gun up and done anything they wanted to do with
it. I don't deny having 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
convenient that Mr. Baggot found those clothes. I
imagine he got a little taste of money for that. . .
.They put the hideous bodies on [photographic]
display and they imply: If he gets out, see what
will happen to you. . . .[Helter Skelter] means
confusion, literally. It doesn't mean any war with
anyone. It doesn't mean that some people are going
to kill other people. . . Helter 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 what you wish.
. Is it a conspiracy that the music is
telling the youth to rise up against the
establishment because the establishment is rapidly
destroying things? Is that a conspiracy? The music
speaks to you 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 didn't 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 that your children do what you do? What
about your children? You say there are just a few?
There are many, many more, coming in the same
direction. They are running in the streets-and they
are coming right at you!"
At the conclusion of Bugliosi's brief
cross-examination of Manson, Older asked Manson if he
now wished to testify before the jury. He replied, "I
have already relieved all the pressure I had." Manson
left the stand. As he walked by the counsel
table, he told his three co-defendants, "You don't
have to testify now."
There remained one last frightening surprise of the
Tate-LaBianca murder trial. When the trial
resumed on November 30 following Manson's testimony, Ronald
Hughes, defense attorney for Leslie Van Houten
failed to show. A subsequent investigation
revealed he had disappeared over the weekend while
camping in the remote Sespe Hot Springs area northwest
of Los Angeles. It is widely believed that
Hughes was ordered murdered by Manson for his
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
controlled 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
suggested that Manson was being persecuted because of
his "life style." He argued that the
prosecution's theory of a motive was fanciful.
His argument lasted seven days, prompting Judge Older
to call it "no longer an argument but a filibuster."
summation described Charles Manson as "the
Mephistophelean guru" who "sent out from the fires of
hell at Spahn Ranch three heartless, bloodthirsty
robots and--unfortunately for him--one human being,
the little 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 Parent...Leno 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 January 25, 1971. The jury found all
defendants guilty on each count of first-degree
murder. After hearing additional evidence in the
penalty phase of the trial, the jury completed its
work by sentencing each of the four defendants to
death on March 29. As the clerk read the verdict,
Manson shouted, "You people have no authority over
me." Patricia Krenwinkel declared, "You have
judged yourselves." Susan Atkins said, "Better
lock your doors and watch your own kids." Leslie
Van Houten complained, "The whole system is a
game." The trial was over. At over
nine-months, it had been the longest and and most
expensive in American history.
The death sentences imposed by the Tate-LaBianca jury
would never be imposed, thanks to a California Supreme
Court ruling in 1972 declaring the state's death
penalty law unconstitutional. The death
sentences for the four convicted defendants, as well
as for Tex Watson who had been convicted and sentenced
to death in a separate trial in 1971, were commuted to
life in prison. All five currently remain in
prison in California.
Charles Manson is incarcerated at in a maximum
security section of a state penitentiary in Concoran,
California. He has been denied parole eleven times,
most recently in 2012. 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
marijuana, one hundred feet of nylon rope, and a
mail-order catalog for hot air balloons. In
1986, he published his story, Manson
His Own Words. In his book, Manson
claims: "My eyes are 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
All three female defendants have expressed remorse
for their crimes, been exemplary inmates, and offered
their time for charity work. 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 murder. It is sad, but undoubtedly
true, that parole boards are political bodies that
base decisions as much upon anticipated public
reaction to their decisions 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.
In November 2014, the California Department of
Corrections announced that it had received a request
for a marriage license from their famous
eighty-year-old prisoner. Manson's bride-to-be
is Afton Elaine Burton, a twenty-six-year old woman
who has worked for Manson's release. Burton
said, "I love him. I'm with him. There's
all kind of things." Debra Tate, sister of the
slain actress Sharon Tate, had a different take.
"I think it's insane," Tate said. "The devil is
alive and well."
2009 Update: CNN,
Manson Family Members Long for Freedom"