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Because God, the Devil, and humanity are all one, Charles Manson reasoned, it really doesn’t matter if you kill someone.
Trouble came looking for Charles Manson on the day he was born. His unwed mother was a teenaged hustler named Kathleen Maddox, who shortly after Charlie’s birth on November 11, 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio, was convicted, along with her brother, for mugging a number of the men she had solicited. Although only sixteen years old, she was sent to prison.
With his mother jailed, baby Charlie was sent to live with his grandmother in West Virginia. Later he lived with a quarrelsome uncle and aunt who spent their time fighting. Neighbors recalled Manson as “a poor little kid who never received any love or affection.” Charlie never met his father, a “Colonel Scott,” who lived in Ashland, Kentucky.
When Manson was eight years old, his mother was released from prison. Charlie trailed along with her as she drank heavily and hustled a steady succession of men. They lived in rundown apartments on the ugly side of the city. By 1945 his mother had found a traveling salesman to live with and she took Charlie along with her to Indianapolis. The authorities there took a cold look at the boy’s lack of home life and made him a ward of the county. Charlie was sent to the Gibault School for Boys, a custodial institution for homeless or wayward boys. He escaped after ten months. This began a cycle of tougher and stricter reform schools from which Charlie, by his own count, escaped twenty-eight times.
Charles Manson was thirty-five years old when he was arrested for the Tate-LaBianca murders of August 9 and 10, 1969. Brown-haired, brown-eyed, and slender, he had spent twenty-two years of his life in state or federal prisons. Uneducated, untrained, and scarcely able to read, he had been in and out of prison for almost a quarter of a century. The only things he learned while incarcerated were how to steal cars, pass bad checks, and pimp. On those rare occasions when Manson was out of prison on parole, he found time to marry twice and to father two children. In 1955 Rosalie Willis became his bride and begat Charles Jr. After the divorce and three years in prison, Manson became a pimp and married a nineteen-year-old hustler who delivered Charles Luther Manson shortly before Manson was arrested in Laredo, Texas, in 1960.
Early on the morning of August 9, 1969, the housekeeper, Winifred Chapman, arrived at the Sharon Tate–Roman Polanski mansion on 10050 Cielo Drive. She first became suspicious about a white Rambler Ambassador automobile blocking the driveway. Approaching the vehicle, she was shocked to see the driver, Steven Parent, nineteen, a friend of William Garretson, the caretaker, dead, shot in the head, slumped over in the front seat. Chapman walked farther onto the grounds and discovered the bodies of Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski, two guests of Sharon Tate, sprawled on the lawn. The front entrance was covered in blood. “PIG!” was scrawled in blood across the front door.
The police rushed to the mansion, checked the corpses on the lawn, then dashed inside to find the bodies of Sharon Tate, who had been several months pregnant, and her friend Jay Sebring. The officers interrogated Garretson because they assumed that he had been present when the five people were viciously butchered. The caretaker soon convinced them that he knew nothing about the massacre of the celebrity victims.
Thirty-five-year-old Jay Sebring (birth name Thomas John Kummer) came to Hollywood in 1958 and established a hairstyling salon in Hollywood. Within a short time his clients included the most famous stars in filmdom. He styled hair for Sammy Davis Jr., Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Eddie Fisher, Paul Newman, Frank Sinatra, and Henry Fonda.
Known as “Gibby” to her friends, Abigail Folger was a Radcliffe-educated coffee heiress who became bored with a career in bookselling in New York and sought more excitement in Hollywood. She had money, education, and the daring to compete with the most beautiful women in Hollywood for favors and attention. She lived in an apartment in Laurel Canyon with Frykowski, a noted film producer in his homeland of Poland.
Sharon Tate’s husband, film producer Roman Polanski, was in London, attending a party to celebrate the completion of his new movie, A Day at the Beach. Tate and Polanski had met when she accepted a role in one of his motion pictures, The Fearless Vampire Slayers. After they were married, Sharon appeared in a number of Polanski’s films, and she allowed him to photograph her for a photo layout in Playboy. Polanski grieved not only for his wife, but for their unborn child.
Considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, Sharon Tate won the coveted role of “Jennifer” in the highly promoted film Valley of the Dolls. When she was not making films, she often joined Abigail Folger and the actress Mia Farrow for philosophical discussions or spirit séances at Farrow’s home near Malibu Beach.
Ironically, in 1967, while Sharon Tate was receiving international attention for her role in Valley of the Dolls, Charles Manson was released after serving seven years of a ten-year prison term on federal Mann Act charges. It was while he was doing time in the U.S. prison at McNeil Island, Washington, that he began studying the occult. Manson was also inspired by the music of the Beatles, and he learned to play a steel guitar. He trained his voice and began to write songs.
Music and mysticism were his two chief interests when he walked out of prison in March 1967. A whole new world had been born while he was behind bars. The flower children had launched the hippie movement. At that time, the Haight-Ashbury section San Francisco was the promised land for the hippies, so Charlie got a hillside pad and started to collect his followers.
One of his first recruits was an attractive nineteen-year-old brunette named Patricia Krenwinkel. She had graduated from Los Angeles High in 1966 and was considered a reserved, conservative young woman until she met Charles Manson. Manson called himself Satan the All-Powerful, and Patricia joined Satan’s harem so fast that she abandoned her automobile in a parking lot and left without picking up her paycheck at her job.
Manson collected a number of young, female dropouts, seemingly drawn to the mystical minstrel by some weird spell. A few young men joined his clan and the group became known as the Manson Family. Gullible, emotionally disturbed, and often immature, his young followers believed that Manson was a messiah of the new age. Manson led his cult in weird chants. He adopted mystical rites and began to make prophecies. Anyone who doubted his God-like stature was threatened with expulsion from the group. Some of his disciples were convinced that Manson was a being from another planet, so wise, so ageless.
Led by their mystical guru, the Manson Family converted an old school bus into a rolling pad. In May 1968, with the San Francisco scene dying out and hippies scattering in every direction, Manson and his clan of subservient young women and men headed south toward Los Angeles. The bearded, long-haired cultist was certain that he would make a fortune there as a songwriter and musician.
In the film capital, Manson and his nomads met and moved in with Gary Hinman, thirty-four, a musician. The Hinman home was labeled “the pig farm,” a place where anyone might find refuge.
In December 1968, when the Beatles released their White Album with the song “Helter Skelter” among the tracks, Manson became even more obsessed with the notion that he deserved a break in the music business. He believed that there was a large audience for his songs about the racial Armageddon that was bearing down on society. The countdown had begun: Across the nation, blacks were going to begin to slaughter whites.
Manson believed that Terry Melcher, a record-producer acquaintance who was the singer and actress Doris Day’s son, could open doors for him, and he became incensed when he felt that Melcher had given him false promises. He found out that Melcher lived at 10050 Cielo Drive, and he resolved to one day pay him a visit. On March 23, 1969, Manson arrived at the home he believed to be Melcher’s, not realizing that the house had been sold to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. He met with a rather rude brush-off by a Tate staff member and left outraged at the manner in which he had been treated.
On July 31 Gary Hinman was discovered slashed to death, the bloody words “political piggy” scrawled on the walls of his house. Hinman is believed to be the first murder victim of the Manson Family.
About this time, Manson began to order his family members on nighttime maneuvers that the girls called “creepy crawlies,” during which they donned black costumes and “creepy-crawled” around people’s houses. The purpose of the exercises, Manson explained, was to allow them to experience and overcome fear.
On August 8 Manson told family members Susan Atkins, Charles “Tex” Watson, Linda Kasabian, and Pat Krenwinkel to get their knives and their changes of clothing. Tonight was the time for Helter Skelter.
Armed with knives, a change of clothes, and a gun, Tex Watson drove the team to the Tate mansion. Watson parked the vehicle and snipped the telephone wires. The cultists were surprised when Steven Parent walked down the driveway from the caretaker’s cottage and got into his automobile. Watson rushed to the boy’s Rambler, fired twice, and killed him.
Watson forced open a window of the mansion, crawled inside, and opened the door for his companions. Wojciech Frykowski was asleep on a couch in the living room, but he awakened and began to shout at the intruders. Watson pulled out his pistol and told the film director that he was the devil and that they were there to do his business.
The disturbance alarmed Sharon Tate and the other guests. Jay Sebring stared at the four armed strangers and began to fight. He was shot, stabbed, and fell dead in the living room. Although Frykowski had been tied, he broke the nylon cords that bound him. One of the girls stabbed him several times as he raced out of the house screaming for help. Watson pursued the wounded man, clubbed him with the pistol, then shot him in the back. Abigail Folger was stabbed as she tried to run toward the caretaker’s house on the southern edge of the grounds. She was caught, slashed and stabbed to death on the lawn.
Sharon Tate battled two of the girls until she was overpowered and forced back onto a couch. She told them that all she wanted to do was to have her baby. She was stabbed to death.
When they returned, Manson berated his family members for doing such a messy job of slaughter. That night he accompanied Patricia Krenwinkel, Tex Watson, Leslie Van Houten, and Linda Kasabian as they drove around deciding upon the next victims to sacrifice in order to announce the coming bloodbath between blacks and whites.
In the early morning hours, Krenwinkel, Van Houten, Kasabian, and Watson pulled up in front of the LaBianca home. Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, wealthy business owners in Los Angeles, were seized by the cultists and tied up. They pleaded for their lives to the group, who were “tripped out” on LSD. The LaBiancas were stabbed to death. Before they left, the murderers scrawled “Death to Pigs” and “Healter [sic] Skelter” on a wall and a refrigerator door.
Manson was arrested and jailed on October 12 for grand theft auto. After following numerous leads, the Los Angeles police able to implicate him and certain members of his family in the Tate-LaBianca murders. On July 24, 1970, the trial began in Los Angeles with the defendants Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten. Linda Kasabian was granted immunity in return for appearing as the prosecution’s star witness. Tex Watson, the principal killer in the murders, had returned to Texas and was arrested on November 30, 1969. He was tried separately in 1971 and convicted of seven counts of first-degree murder.
Throughout their arraignments and trials, Manson’s female followers claimed that their self-styled guru was innocent of any blame in the slayings. Patricia Krenwinkel described life in Manson’s nomadic family as an ideal existence.
On January 25, 1971, Manson and his female codefendants were convicted of first-degree murder, and on March 29, 1971, all four were given the death penalty. Manson claimed that he and all of humanity were God and devil at the same time. He also professed that every human is a part of all others, meaning that individual human life is of no consequence. Kill a person and you are just murdering a part of yourself, so that makes everything all right.
On February 18, 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional. Death sentences were automatically reduced to life in prison.
In 2005 Manson was held in Corcoran Prison. He was refused parole the eleventh time in 2007 and, as of this writing, was scheduled for another hearing in 2012.
Susan Atkins, along with her female family members, was serving her life sentence at the California Institution for Women at Frontera. She had been denied parole ten times.
In spite of an exemplary prison record, Leslie Van Houten was denied her fourteenth parole appeal. She has earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and works in the chaplain’s office. She was denied parole for the nineteenth time in 2010.
As of 2011, Patricia Krenwinkel has been denied parole thirteen times.
Tex Watson resides at the Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. In 1975 he became a born-again Christian, and in 1983 an ordained minister.
Linda Kasabian, who was granted immunity, left California, and her present whereabouts are unknown.
In 1994 the mansion at 10050 Cielo Drive was demolished.