THE MURDEROUS MANSON CULT
161, 2015 March)
1969 eight people were stabbed, clubbed and shot in Los Angeles by
young followers of Charles Manson. He was an ex convict who had started
a religious cult and ordered his followers to commit murder.
forty years later detectives planned a new search for grave sites at
the cult’s former Death Valley base. Preliminary soil tests at remote
Barker Ranch suggested the presence of human remains. (Ayres 2008)
(b.1934) has lived half his life in Corcoran State Prison, California,
with other high-profile murderers. He used to claim that The Beatles
were the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and that the band’s song Helter
Skelter referred to a race war in the USA which he planned to
start. He foretold that the Blacks would win the war but would need him
to rule America afterwards.
his race war Manson decided to organize the killing of wealthy Whites.
His supporters, known as “The Family” committed eight known murders at
four locations. The most famous victims were Sharon Tate, 26-year-old
actress and 8-month pregnant wife of film-maker Roman Polanski, stabbed
16 times, and Leno LaBianca a supermarket millionaire. Some sources
that say nine murders apparently count Tate's unborn baby.
four followers were sentenced to death. This was commuted to life
imprisonment when California abolished execution in 1972.
cult had several bases near Los Angeles. These included Spahn Ranch a
former Hollywood set for television westerns such as Bonanza and The
Lone Ranger; and Barker Ranch a desolate place in Death Valley.
told his followers that a secret city lay underneath Barker Ranch where
they would survive the apocalypse and subsequently come out to rule
addition to the eight known murders it was surmised that additional
murders of Family members, runaways and hitchhikers took place at
expedition in April 2008 included technicians with instruments to
detect chemical markers of human decomposition and “an anthropologist
with magnetic resonance readers”.
Manson was illiterate until his early twenties but was brought up with
knowledge of the Bible. Fascinated by Revelation 9, he saw himself as
Apollyon, the exterminating angel there mentioned. He believed that by
committing the Tate/LaBianca celebrity murders he would initiate the
death of one third of humankind and himself emerge as the leader of a
born to 16-year-old runaway Kathleen Maddox. He never met his father
and was deserted by his mother for years at a time and finally
abandoned at age 12. Besides a nomadic life with his mother, Manson's
other homes included his grandparents, a Home for Boys, reformatories,
an aunt and uncle, and from age 21-24 in prison for car theft.
he became a pimp and took young girls across state borders, which
landed him in two penitentiaries until 1967.
again, Manson found himself in a new world of flower power, liberation,
and the catch-phrases "Tuning in, turning on, dropping out."
He later commented: "Pretty little girls were running around every
place with no panties or bras and asking for love. Grass and
hallucinatory drugs were being handed to you on the streets. It was a
different world than I had ever been in and one that I believed was too
good to be true. It was a convict’s dream and after being locked up for
seven years, I didn’t run from it. I joined it…"
slept in parks, let his hair grow long, smoked marijuana, played his
guitar and became a regular on the hippie scene. He bought a minibus
and traveled around with two newly-acquired girlfriends — the first
members of his harem. By 1969 he had a following of naïve
disciples, mainly girls, whom he referred to as his "Family", living a
primitive commune life in various shacks.
Ellis (1982) says:
worked on the girls by convincing them that an ideal world would come,
and he would lead them to it. He provided sympathy for their problems,
which he seemed to sense intuitively. He gradually indoctrinated them
by intimate persuasion to overcome their sexual hang-ups and to enjoy
uninhibited sex, not the least benefit to them being the funds they
could earn for the family by hustling.
Casebook (1990) says: "They were based at the old Spahn Movie
near Chatsworth, often retreating to the more desolate and inaccessible
Barker Ranch in Panamint Valley. They were a fluctuating
population…around 30 or 35 followers, three quarters of them women and
a few of them children."
Manson's "Family" consisted of young people a few older men were
Spahn, the eighty-one year-old, nearly blind owner of the ranch which
the family took over, was provided with nineteen year-old Squeaky
Fromme, to act as his eyes, to look after him, and even to make love to
him. Spahn was not so taken in by the family that he made over the
ranch to this girl, and this may have saved his life. (Ellis 1982)
lay not in size — he was only 5' 2''. But he was persuasive with a
charismatic personality, was good at lying and bluffing, and good with
his knife — once attacking a 6' 5" cowboy:
family recounted stories of him using a knife to kill and main others.
He was strong and coordinated. In the court-room one day he made an
enormous standing leap over a table towards the judge. (Ellis 1982)
[Squeaky] Fromme, a Manson follower but not one of the murderers, was
convicted in 1975 of plotting to kill President Gerald Ford. She was
released in 2009. This former child star in a dance group that
performed on television was 17 and a runaway when she met Manson and
turned to him. She carved an "X" into her forehead, which Manson
required of followers as proof of loyalty, and became his second in
charge. After his sentencing she and other followers demonstrated
outside the prison.
Fromme pointed a loaded pistol at the President but a Secret Service
agent wrestled it away. Her motive was to get attention. She told a
reporter in 1989: "But when people around you pay no attention to the
things you say, you have to do something." (Jacobson & Deutsch
2009) Having spent over half her life in prison she’ll be supervised by
the US Parole Commission for the rest of it.
Atkins (1948-2009), one of the murderers of 1969, died in prison and
several others remain behind bars. Atkins was a daughter of alcoholic
parents and a member of her church choir. She met Manson at 19,
believed he was Jesus, and contributed to two murders and stabbed
Sharon Tate. She soaked a towel in Tate's blood and used it to scrawl
"PIG" on the front door. In prison Atkins became a born-again Christian
(1974), published her autobiography Child
of Satan, Child of God
(1977), and married twice. Denied parole 18 times Atkins became the
longest incarcerated female inmate in California's penal system. She
died from brain cancer — her hospital care cost the state $1½
million (after spending other $millions keeping her locked up).
Krenwinkel (b.1947) was denied parole in January 2011 despite
apologizing and admitting that she "threw away everything good in
herself and became a 'monster'." At the 1969 murders Krenwinkel killed
one woman and assisted in two further killings.
the parole board in California recommended the release of Bruce Davis
who had been in jail for 43 years but were overruled by Governor Jerry
Brown. Davis was convicted of the 1969 killing of musician Gary Hinman
and stuntman Donald Shea.
Tate was a rising film-star full of potential, yet is primarily
remembered for being murdered in her Beverly Hills Mansion. Her sister,
Debra (b. 1953), has set the record straight in a book Sharon Tate:
Recollection (2014). Debra spoke at every Manson follower's
hearing since 1998 to ensure they stayed locked up. She sees them as
"psychopaths who have become criminal superstars". (Das 2014)
Atkins' parole hearing in 2000 Debra, read a statement from her father
which said in part, "Thirty one years ago I sat in a courtroom with a
jury… I saw a young woman who giggled, snickered and shouted out
insults… My family was ripped apart. If Susan Atkins is released to
rejoin her family, where is the justice?" (Wikipedia)
director Roman Polanski (b. 1934), Tate's husband and father of her
unborn child, was absent on the night of the murders. He gained
notoriety for fleeing the USA in 1977 to avoid sentencing for the rape
of a 13-year-old girl. Swiss authorities disallowed his extradition and
he remains free.
denied parole in 2007.
interview in Rolling Stone magazine (November, 2013)
79-year-old Manson talked of his bisexuality, his plans to marry a
25-year-old follower, and of his leadership of the jail's fifteen
rapists and murderers. These included Phillip Garrido a Jehovah’s
Witness who raped an 11-year-old and held her captive for 18 years, and
Juan Corona who killed 25 male laborers in 1971.
fiancée, Afton Elaine Burton, whom he renamed "Star", is a
lookalike to Susan Atkins. Star became a Manson follower at 19 and
moved to live near the prison. She runs websites calling for his
release and visits him Saturdays and Sundays. Deutsch & Smith
(2014) reported that Manson and Star plan to marry: "It's going to
happen. I Love him. I'm with him," she said.
difference is 54 years. But commentators observe that prison benefits
Manson who "looks pretty damn good", "oozes charisma", and "Who would
not marry this sexy man?" In February, 2015, however Manson cancelled
the wedding after finding out Star wanted him for his corpse. His
fiancée's idea of blissful marriage was to display a dead
husband in a glass box to queues of people paying cash to gawk.
survives until 2027 when eligible again for parole he'll be 93.
Ayres, C. The
Weekend Australian 2008, March 22-23, p. 13
The night a cult of death came calling, Sunday Mail, June 8,
2014, p. 30
L. & Smith, S. Lover tells — how I'm marrying a mass murderer, The
Advertiser, November 9, 2014, p. 9
1982 Subordinate Sex, Arlington Books, London, p. 113
S. and Deutsch, L. Squeaky will never be clean, Sunday Mail
2009, August 16, pp 39 & 80
Casebook 1990, Volume 1, Part 3, The Sharon Tate Killings, A
Marshall Cavendish Weekly Publication.
Killer crush: Why I want to marry Manson, The Advertiser,
November 24, 2013, p. 26
2014 Sharon Tate: Recollection, Running Press.