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True crime. Casually done.

Charles Manson: The Most Dangerous Cult Leader



It’s December 1969, the last gasp of the swinging sixties. Bombs are falling in Vietnam, secret wars are being fought in Cambodia and Laos, and Nixon’s in the White House. JFK’s been assassinated, as have Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X, and Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers has been murdered by police. Just a few months prior, the world watched awestruck as NASA astronauts landed on the moon (yes, of course they actually did). The prison island of Alcatraz is being held by an armed group of American Indian Movement (AIM) members, who will end up holding the authorities at bay for the next eighteen months as a protest against the forced dispossession of First Nations peoples across America. It feels like the world’s been spinning out of control for a good decade or so and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. And in Los Angeles, the police are wondering what could possibly connect a dead music teacher, a mansion full of brutally murdered Hollywood royalty, and the bloodied corpses of a couple who made it big in the grocery business, savagely butchered in their own home.

By mid-1970, all would be revealed. Charles Manson – Charlie to his devotees in what came to be known as “The Family” – would rise to prominence as an emblem of the dark side of sixties counterculture.

Charles Manson. FOTO/AP

Often called “the man who ended the sixties”, his crimes – mostly committed by his brainwashed followers on his behalf – would come to represent a turning point in American history, and the end of America’s cultural innocence.


To understand the Manson murders, we need to understand the times in which they were committed. With the appalling destruction of WWII and subsequent anti-Communist panics still in living memory, an unusually strong and persistent counterculture developed, first through the Beatnik movement – think black leather jackets, heroin, and anti-establishment poetry – and then with luminaries like Ken Kesey [KEE-zee] of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fame setting up an ‘alternative lifestyle’ commune in La Honda, on the outskirts of San Francisco. This is usually considered one of the birthplaces of the Hippie movement. This La Honda commune attracted more than fifteen thousand counterculture types to nearby Haight-Ashbury [hate-ashbury], where they experimented with alternative lifestyles, New Age philosophy, and various forms of anarcho-communism, often with the aid of hallucinogens and promiscuous sex.

This general attack on traditionalism also took the form of rejection of class, race, and gender discrimination loosely grouped under the banner of the Civil Rights Movement. The New Left Movement, amongst many others, campaigned stridently for African American and Native American rights; protesters, some armed, took over the campus of Berkely University and other locations in pursuit of free speech and equal hiring practices, the million man march laid bare the brutality of racial segregation and the Yippies – a political offshoot of the Hippies – organised protests and pulled stunts like putting a pig up as a candidate for President of the United States. All over the country and indeed, the world, rebellion, protest, and sometimes violent attempts to overthrow the established order

convulsed governments and outraged respectable citizens and Daily Mail readers as they pored over their morning papers.

And somewhere in the middle of all this, there’s the Spahn [sparn] Movie Ranch, a cowboy-themed tourist trap offering pony rides and a look around a real-life movie set, and where the blind and ageing owner has agreed to let Charlie and his Family stay in exchange for labour and running the site.

The members of the Family, overwhelmingly female and a floating population of between twenty and twenty five individuals, sit sprawled on rickety chairs, beanbags, and the floor, eyes glazed from LSD and marijuana while the short-statured, bearded figure of Charles Manson paces up and delivering the

after-dinner lecture on his psychic connection to John Lennon and the ‘hidden’ meaning of the song Helter Skelter. Outside, various other members of The Family conduct armed patrols of the compound, checking on camouflaged installations and chatting quietly about how lucky they are to have found a man who was so clearly an embodiment of the Messiah.

Where other Haight-Ashbury gurus talked about women’s liberation, Manson spewed mediaeval misogyny. Where the La Honda Hippies used psychedelics to connect to native spirits and have mumbled conversations about pan-human equality, Manson would use the same drugs to hammer home a garbled and deluded race theory. And where the Yippies concocted schemes to bring about a revolution by peaceful electoral means, Manson and his cultists expressed impatience with the current lack of bloody social collapse and plotted murders to get it started. And while this all might sound like the absolute opposite of the sixties counterculture – a sort of counter-counterculture – it actually wasn’t. In the same way the extreme left can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from the extreme right, possibly the most disturbing thing about Manson’s ideas is just how seamlessly they fitted into the more extreme facets of the alternative radicalism of the sixties.


Of course, someone like Charlie isn’t formed purely by sociological or cultural factors, and there’s a solid sprinkling of all the ‘classic’ ingredients found in the violent antisocial psychopath recipe in his early life and development.

On November the 12th, 1934, a sixteen-year-old runaway called Kathleen Maddox gave birth to Charles Milles [mills] Maddox in Cincinnati, Ohio. The identity of the father is unknown. Shortly after the birth, Kathleen married a certain William Manson and, despite the briefness of this union, her son Charles took his name and became Charles Milles Manson.

By all accounts, including Manson’s own, Kathleen was not interested in being a mother. He tells a story of being sold to a café waitress for a pitcher of beer, his uncle having to search the city for days to recover him after Kathleen had simply drunk the beer and left him with the waitress. Other accounts tell of Manson being forced to sleep in his mother’s bed, even when she was receiving other men for sex, and that he once attempted to have sex with her himself, for which he was brutalized. The majority of his

early childhood, however, was spent bouncing around various relatives, partly because of Kathleen’s neglect, and partly because of her own criminal activity. These de facto foster parents were also not ideal, his grandmother being a religious fanatic, one of his uncles abusing him for being effeminate, and another committed suicide while Manson was in his care when he found out his property was to be seized.

Unsurprisingly, Manson took to crime, with a special penchant for stealing cars, and when he wasn’t in the neglectful and abusive bosom of his extended family, he was in reformatories and juvenile detention facilities. He was also an escape artist, and his adolescent life was an endless cycle of absconding from an institution, stealing, and getting caught and sent back before escaping again. At seventeen, Charlie drove a stolen car across state lines – his first federal crime – and was locked up in a federal prison where he would rack up eight assault charges in a year before being transferred elsewhere. He also claims to have suffered intense sexual abuse at this and other institutions. It was here that he took the Carnegie

[kar-NEE-gee] course based on the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, which suggests an interest in manipulating others quite early in his career. This period of Charlie’s life is covered in greater detail in a fantastic video on the peerless Biographics channel, which I’m sure you’d all like to watch when you’ve finished this one.

After a couple of brief marriages in 1955 and 1958 respectively, the first to a seventeen year old waitress named Rosalie Willis and the second to a prostitute called Leona Stevens, who went by the name Candy, Charlie was given his first long stretch – seven years for ‘crossing state lines with the intent of prostitution’. He also had two sons, one by each wife – Charles Manson Jr and Charles Luther Manson.

Whether this arose from lack of imagination or a strong dynastic instinct, I suppose we’ll never know.

During his seven year stretch at Mcneil Island Penitentiary, Puget [PEW-jit] Sound, Charlie didn’t sign up for any of the formal academic or trade programs available, but nevertheless furthered his own education in Biblical ranting, steel guitar, and Scientology. Manson’s cell mate during this period was one Lafayette Raimer (aka Lanier [LAN-yay] Raimer), a ‘qualified’ Scientology ‘auditor’. Raimer reportedly gave Manson over one hundred and fifty hours of auditing – a set of processes designed to bring about a ‘theta’ state, the meaning of which isn’t remotely important. The important thing is that it’s an indoctrination process which delivers the main tenets of Scientology. Fellow inmates of Manson’s, including the bank robber Alvin “Creepy” Karpis who taught him how to play steel guitar, reported that Manson was interested in Scientology mainly for the elements which would “help him to do anything or be anything”. There’s also the fact that The Church was quite new at this time, and it was recorded in Manson’s file as a sign of rehabilitation that he was finding religion of some kind. One of Manson’s biographers, Jeff Guinn, speculated it might also have been the more manipulative techniques of Scientology – their recruitment and persuasion methods – which interested Charlie most.

It is very important to note that the Church of Scientology has declared repeatedly that Charles Manson was neveran official member of The Church and that their beliefs had nothingwhatsoeverto do with the murders. And given their propensity to sue, I for one believe them.

It was also during this time that Manson, whose playing didn’t really impress his teacher Karpis, became convinced that his special destiny after leaving prison was to become a world-famous rock star, bigger than The Beatles, whom he came to view as psychic collaborators and professional rivals, as all perfectly sane amateur musicians do. It’s interesting to note that Charlie asked if he could stay in prison instead of being released. I wonder if the officials involved ever think about how differently things might have turned out if they’d been able to grant him his wish.


Charlie left prison with the apparent intention of collecting a stable of devotees/sex workers in San Francisco before heading to LA to snag his recording contract and worldwide rock star fame and success.

Haight-Ashbury at the time must have been a bit like first century Jerusalem: streets crowded with devotees and apocalyptic prophets declaiming their revelations from various street corners and public parks and squares. According to Jeff Guinn, author of the substantial 2013 opus, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, he started first by listening. Guinn writes, “For days Charlie drifted from one street guru to the next, memorizing their best lines and putting together his own street rap […]. The street philosophy Charlie initially spouted was a hybrid, cobbled together from Beatles song lyrics, biblical passages, Scientology, and the Dale Carnegie technique of presenting everything dramatically. […] He offered nothing radically different from hundreds of other would-be Haight gurus with the exception of his presentation. Charlie was a masterful orator […]. He entertained as well as enlightened.”

In the heady counterculture environment of the sixties, and armed with drugs, charisma, sales training, and cult programming techniques, Manson was able to collect his “Family” with astonishing ease. His similarity to all the other street prophets was not, as one might assume, a weakness – it was a strength. He was able to give the impression of being part of the greater countercultural tide, instead of what he really was – a delusional and intensely warped individual out to aggrandize himself at the expense of a system and society he felt had tortured and belittled him. According to court documents, Charlie acquired a VW bus and began travelling around the country with his female followers, “young girls and women who were runaways, drop outs or otherwise disassociated with conventional society.”

Once he’d collected his core apostles and moved down to Los Angeles, Manson began mixing with some surprisingly prominent people in the LA music scene. First was Dennis Wilson, drummer for The Beach Boys, whom he met through a music teacher acquaintance called Gary Hinman. Manson used a classic bait and switch on Dennis, honey-trapping him with two of his female followers, and then orchestrating an introduction by essentially acting as pimp and drug dealer to Dennis and his showbiz friends. Manson was able to get his hooks into Dennis so far that he actually recorded one of his songs, and there was some very preliminary talk about Charlie becoming a Beach Boy. He also engineered a meeting with record producer Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, hoping to further his destined music career through this association.

Of course, none of these plans came to fruition. Whether it was the strangeness of Charlie himself, his weird music, or his erratic drug-fueled behaviour, he was continually frustrated in his attempts to become the next John Lennon. As his connections dried up, very much as a result of that same erratic drug-fueled behaviour, Manson and The Family retreated to the Spahn Movie Ranch, which had been a popular film set during the forties and fifties, and the place basically became cult central headquarters, interspersed by several stays at the homes of their remaining friends.

It was during these periods of isolation, mostly at the Spahn Ranch and beginning in 1968, that Charlie outlined his vision for the future. Described by most who knew him as barely literate, Manson was able to quote large sections of the Bible by rote, being especially fond of the ninth chapter of the Book of Revelation, the one with the four horsemen of the apocalypse. He believed that John Lennon and the Beatles were these four horsemen, and he was fixated on their recently released White Album, especially the songs Helter Skelter, which he thought referenced a coming Armageddon and, unsurprisingly, Revolution 9 – as in, Revelation chapter nine. He believed this Armageddon would take the form of “the blacks” being locked in an apocalyptic war with white people, whom Charlie associated with the Roman Empire and encouraged to family to refer to as “pigs”. The Family would ride the conflict out in a secret golden city underneath Death Valley. Once all was over, they would re-emerge and help “the blacks”, who Charlie assumed would be victorious but incapable of self-government, to rule the world. As with most apocalyptic prophets, there was the somewhat awkward problem of the apocalypse failing to happen. For Manson, the most reasonable solution to this was The Family getting started themselves in order to show “the blacks”, as he called them in his more polite moods, how to do it.


There’s quite a bit of dispute surrounding the killing of music teacher Gary Hinman. The problem arises with one of Charlie’s henchmen, a certain Bobby Beausoleil. Bobby gave a series of interviews for a Fox special which aired in 2018, outlining what felt to many like a litany of excuses for his actions. Given that other Manson Family members corroborate his testimony, there’s a tendency to accept his account. On the other hand, a perpetual issue with the Manson Family murders is the fact that all their testimony is generally inconsistent – sometimes wildly so – which makes it important to take it all with quite a large grain of salt.

Gary Hinman was a talented musician who’d played at Carnegie Hall, worked in a music shop during the day, and was also a sought after teacher for everything from the bongos to the bagpipes. On top of all this, he’d recently become attracted to a Japanese form of Buddhism and was planning a pilgrimage to Japan and was also running a Mescaline factory in the basement of his house. According to all who knew him, Gary was a fantastic guy who allowed his friends and acquaintances to use his house as a sort of drop in centre and short term free hotel. Bobby, along with Family members Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner, had befriended Gary. Bobby had even stayed in his Topanga Canyon home, and Gary had, according to Bobby, slept with both Susan and Mary.

Bobby claims Gary had sold him a thousand dollars’ worth of Mescaline tabs, which he then sold on to other customers. He claims these secondary customers were dissatisfied and demanded their money back, so Bobby, Susan, and Mary all went back to the Hinman house to demand a refund. It’s important to note that in Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter, this drug angle isn’t mentioned at all. According to Bugliosi, who was the prosecutor who put Manson and his co-accused away, the three of them had gone there on Charlie’s orders, with the intent to extort inheritance money they incorrectly believed Hinman had hidden in the house.

Whatever the truth, Bobby, Susan, and Mary arrived at the Hinman home on the 25th of July 1969, demanding money. Gary told them he had none, and Bobby attempted to beat it out of his former friend. When Gary still proved uncooperative, Bobby called in Charlie, who came around with a samurai sword which he used to slice up the poor man’s face and ear. Here is where the official account diverges from Bobby Beausoleil’s. According to reporting at the time, after Manson left the three Family members tortured their hapless victim for several days before finally stabbing him to death. According to Bobby, they tried to patch Gary up and then, under the twin influences of paranoia and Charlie’s repeated urgings over the phone, he finally decided he had no option but to kill him. It’s probably worth pointing out here that Bobby’s account is chock full of elements which might be considered mitigation and was quite possibly given with one eye fixed firmly on the parole board.

Either way, Bobby Beausoleil, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner killed a gentle and well-loved man who had been a good friend to them and used his blood to write “POLITICAL PIGGIE” on the walls. They also drew a paw print in an attempt to pin the murder on the Black Panther movement and trigger the race war Charlie was so sure was coming.


On the night of August 8, 1969, Sharon Tate, an actress who was best known for her role in Valley of the Dolls and a handful of schlock horror and comedy pieces, was settled in for an evening with friends.

Sharon’s husband, film director Roman Polanski, was away in Europe, and she was more than eight months pregnant. Staying in the house with her were hairstylist and close friend Jay Sebring, screenwriter and friend of her husband’s, Wojciech Frykowski [VO-he-tek fry-KOF-ski], and his girlfriend the coffee heiress Abigail Folger.

Outside, Manson’s right hand man Charles ‘Tex’ Watson had just driven to the fence line with Family members Linda Kasabian, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel, after first cutting the telephone cables connecting the house. They’d been dispatched by Charlie on instructions to kill everyone they found inside. As they were leaving, Manson had leaned into their car and further explained, “You girls know what I mean. Something witchy.” The four of them, with Tex carrying a length of rope, climbed up an embankment and over the fence into the outer grounds. As they did so, a Rambler motor vehicle driven by eighteen year old Steven Parent, who’d been visiting the caretaker in the guest house, approached the street gate. Tex stepped out in front of the car to stop it. According to Kasabian, Parent said, “Please don’t hurt me, I won’t say anything,” before Tex shot him multiple times.

They sent Kasabian to stand as lookout near the car and headed to the house where Tex cut a window screen to gain access. Finding Wojciech asleep on the couch, Tex told him he was “the devil, and here to do the devil’s business” and began administering a beating. It seems Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Watson forced the four occupants of the house into living room. Kasabian, from her position near the car, says she heard pleading and screams coming from the house before Wojciech Frykowski came running outside, followed by Atkins and Tex. Wojciech fell, got to his feet, and was then stabbed and shot to death by Tex Watson. She then saw Abigail Folger escape the house with Patricia Krenwinkel in pursuit with a knife. Crime scene photos of the killings show that Frykowski had been stabbed fifty one times and shot twice, as well as suffering multiple lacerations apparently from blunt trauma. Abigail Folger was stabbed twenty eight times. In the living room, Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate had been yoked together with a rope that had been slung from a high ceiling beam. Both Sebring and Tate had been slashed multiple times around the chest and Sebring had been stabbed seven times and shot once, fatally. The ceiling was riddled with bullets, and the coroner’s report showed that Sharon Tate had been hanged as well as stabbed sixteen times. Her unborn child did not survive the attack. As they left, Susan Atkins used Sharon Tate’s blood to write the word “PIG” on the front door, before all four of them drove back to the Spahn Ranch, disposing of their bloodied clothing on the way.


Once they’d arrived back at the ranch, Charlie had debriefed them all and given his opinion that the murders had been “too messy”. It has been surmised that, along with his Helter Skelter drivel, Manson had been looking to make the murders look like the Hinman murder as a means of taking some of the pressure off Bobby Beausoleil, who was currently under arrest for it. Not so much from loyalty to one of his devoted followers, but because he was concerned Bobby might give him up. Manson told the four Family members to keep quiet about their own murders and get some sleep.

After dinner the following day, Manson gathered members of The Family together – Tex, Atkins, Krenwinkel, Kasabian, Leslie Van Houtan, and Steven Dennis Grogan. He told them they were to go out again and he would “show them how to do it”. They all piled into a car and Kasabian drove while Manson gave seemingly random directions as they sought another set of murder victims. They eventually pulled up outside a house belonging to Harold True, “a man known to some of The Family”. Kasabian says she objected to the idea of killing True, but Manson told her he was going next door. Like the Cielo Drive house, which Manson knew as it had previously been home to Terry Melcher, the record producer who had rejected him, it seems that for all his prophetic show he was simply hunting in ranges familiar to him.

According to Kasabian, Manson and Tex Watson went into the home of a couple called Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. Leno was a hardworking family man who had established himself in the grocery store business before divorcing and meeting the similarly divorced Rosemary. They had married and together had a happy, Brady Bunch style mixed family. Manson and Tex came out of the house a few minutes later, saying they’d tied up “a man and a woman”, and sent two of the girls – Leslie Van Houten

and Patricia Krenwinkel back in with Tex. According to Van Houten, Tex Watson stayed with Leno while they took Rosemary to a separate room. It seems that at some point Leno began to struggle, and Tex stabbed him in the neck with a bayonet. This prompted Rosemary to begin screaming and pleading for her life, at which point Van Houten began stabbing her with various implements she’d fetched from the kitchen. The knives bent, and the girls yelled for Tex to come and help them, which he did. When Rosemary was dead, Krenwinkel then moved to Leno La Bianca, stabbing him with a toasting fork and carving the word “WAR” on his abdomen. They then used blood from the victims to write “RISE” and “DEATH TO PIGS” on the walls, as well as “HEALTER SKELTER” – yes, they misspelled it – on the refrigerator.

When Rosemary’s sixteen year old son returned from a vacation the following day (he had been meant to be at home that night but had pleaded for an extra day staying with friends), he found both his mother and stepfather’s bodies. Leno was in the living room with a bloodied pillow case over his head, an electrical cord round his neck, and his hands tied together with a leather thong. The coroner counted a total of twenty seven wounds on his body along with the carving and the knife in his neck. Krenwinkel had apparently left the fork in his abdomen. Rosemary was found bound and muffled in exactly the same way, her exposed body bearing forty one stab wounds.


The LA Police were initially very confused by the murders though, to their credit, they don’t appear to have taken seriously any of the clumsy attempts to pin them on The Black Panthers. They initially thought the La Bianca murders might be a copycat of the Tate killings – ironically vindicating Manson’s contention he knew better how to stage a copycat. In the meantime, they raided the Baker Ranch – The Family’s Death Valley hideaway – for unrelated arson and grand theft charges and placed several of The Family in custody. One of these was Susan Atkins, who confided details of the Tate murders to her cell mate, Virginia Graham. This account soon made its way to the LAPD. Additionally, police had been interviewing members of the Straight Satans motorcycle gang having been tipped off they might have information on a similar murder. Straight Satans member Al Springer told a strange story of Charlie at the Spahn Ranch offering him his pick of any of the “eighteen or so naked girls” kicking around the place.

Charlie then went on to brag about the Tate and La Bianca murders, providing details which put the police firmly onto Manson’s trail. After searching both the Spahn and Baker Ranches, where a wealth of evidence was found, Manson, Atkins, Van Houten, Krenwinkel, and Watson were all indicted for murder.

The trial was an absolute circus. The state chose Vincent Bugliosi, a veteran lawyer who’d secured convictions in 103 of 104 cases, as the chief prosecutor. Manson’s lawyer was a defence attorney famous for his disruptive tactics, Irving Kanarek. Early in the discovery process, the state had tried to turn Susan Atkins, who had initially agreed to testify in exchange for a guarantee the death penalty wouldn’t be sought, but she later recanted, presumably threatened by Charlie. Eventually, Linda Kasabian was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony. Famously, when Linda Kasabian was called as a prosecution witness, Kanarek immediately attempted to have her excluded on the basis of insanity.

Manson turned up to his first day in court with a diagonal cross carved into his forehead, saying, “I’ve X’d myself from your world”. The next day, the court was filled with members of The Family, many of whom had carved the same crosses into their own foreheads. Manson’s followers were so disruptive they were eventually ejected permanently from the courtroom, and they held constant vigils outside where the media, captivated by this large group of young females, gave them enormous amounts of coverage.

The trial was appropriately outsized as well. The jury’s sequestration of 225 days turned out to be the longest ever up until that time. Linda Kasabian remained on the stand for a total of eighteen days – eleven testifying and seven being cross-examined by Kanarek. Kanarek devoted quite a lot of effort to painting her as a space cadet incapable of remembering or communicating reliably. When she admitted to having taken LSD on more than fifty occasions, he fired back asking her to describe what happened on trip twenty three. Despite this, Kasabian, who was the only one of the five to have surrendered voluntarily to police, proved to be a lucid and credible witness. The prosecutor, Bugliosi, wrote in his book that he knew he was walking something of a tightrope. Given Manson hadn’t actually committed any of the murders, he was in the double bind of having to simultaneously prove the insane conspiracy he’d brainwashed The Family with, without actually risking Manson getting off on an insanity defence.

He brilliantly pursued a strategy of casting Helter Skelter and the rest of his crazy pseudo-philosophy as a “fantasy” which Manson used to control his followers to compel them to do his bidding, grant sexual favours at his command, and ultimately commit murder.

After a mammoth six months, on January 25th, 1971, the jury found Krenwinkel, Atkins, Van Houten, and Manson guilty of all charges. Two months later, after a hearing on the impact of the crimes, they sentenced all four of them to death. Tex Watson, whose extradition had been delayed due to Texas politics at the time, was found guilty and sentenced to death in a separate trial in the same year. In 1972, however, a California Supreme Court decision abolishing the state’s death penalty meant that all five of them had their sentences commuted to life in prison.


All three of the female Family members have expressed remorse for their crimes, and it should be remembered how young, drug-addled, and subject to Charlie they were at the time. Susan Atkins died of brain cancer in 2009, but both Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel have been model prisoners, and have devoted their time to charity work while in prison. Despite this, they have repeatedly been denied parole. Van Houten was last approved for parole in 2021, but as on multiple occasions in the past, it’s expected the governor will veto her release. Patricia Krenwinkel’s next parole application is due for May 2022.

While in prison, Charles Tex Watson converted to Christianity, became an ordained minister, married and had four children courtesy of conjugal visits, divorced, and remains in prison to this day. He too has expressed remorse.

On September the 5th 1975, Lynette Fromme – Manson’s second ever recruit into The Family – attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford with an M1911 Colt .45 pistol as an act of environmentalist protest. The attempt failed because Fromme was unaware the slide on an automatic pistol needs to be pulled back in order to chamber a round. She spent 34 years in prison and was released in 2009.

The Manson cachet never seems to have gone away with multiple references to him, The Family, and the killings appearing in popular culture. Singer Marilyn Manson, Simpsons characters the Van Houten family, and rock bank Kasabian are just a few examples. In addition to this, almost all the imprisoned members of The Family are published, have contributed to multiple documentaries, movies, podcasts, and other media, and have never really lost the celebrity status they attained through the murders.

Which must be lovely for the families of the victims.

According to multiple news outlets, a young woman named Afton Elaine Burton attempted to marry Manson in order to gain custody of his body and display it as a tourist attraction. These reports are difficult to verify, but it is known that a marriage license was obtained, and Afton spent nine years visiting Manson in prison. On Manson’s death from colon cancer in 2017, three separate claimants for his body fought an unedifying battle for custody of the corpse, including his grandson, one of his pen pals, and one of his friends. They eventually gave it to his grandson, but it’s curiously satisfying in some ways that Charles Manson’s death was attended with such carnival side show indignity.

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