Charles Manson, Convicted Killer and 1960s Cult Leader, Dies
Charles Manson, a convicted killer and cult leader who fascinated the American public ever since he persuaded his young followers to commit a string of savage murders in 1969, died at the age of 83 on Sunday in California.
Manson was serving a life sentence at Corcoran State Prison in central California and died of natural causes, according to prison officials.
In the late 1960s, Manson, a small-time crook with musical aspirations, attracted a following of mostly young women that came to be known as the Manson Family.
Manson and his followers were convicted in the killing of pregnant Hollywood actress Sharon Tate and six others in a murder spree in August 1969 in Southern California. Ms. Tate was married to film director Roman Polanski, who was away at the time of the murders.
Manson hoped that the killings would incite an apocalyptic race war, which he called “Helter Skelter,” according to prosecutors. The killers scrawled “death to pigs” on the walls at the crime scenes.
Over the decades, Manson, with a swastika etched into his forehead, became a symbol of evil and attracted numerous biographers, filmmakers, journalists and demented fans.
Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who convicted Manson and his followers in 1971, tried to explain in a 2013 Rolling Stone interview why Manson captivated the country.
“There are thousands of evil, polished con men out there, and we’ve had more brutal murders than the Manson murders, so why are we still talking about Charles Manson?” Mr. Bugliosi said in the interview. “He had a quality about him that one thousandth of one percent of people have. An aura. ’Vibes,’ the kids called it in the Sixties. Wherever he went, kids gravitated toward him. This is not normal. I mean, I couldn’t get someone to go to the local Dairy Queen and get me a milkshake, OK? But this guy, I don’t know what it is. How the hell do I know?"
Manson was born Charles Milles Maddox in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1934 to a single mother 16 years old.
He was in and out of institutions and prisons before ending up in San Francisco in the 1960s, where he fashioned himself as a guru of sorts. He and his followers moved to the Los Angeles area, where they lived with Beach Boys co-founder Dennis Wilson and later on a ranch.
Biographer Jeff Guinn wrote in “Manson: The Life and times of Charles Manson” that the “unsettling 1960s didn’t create Charlie” but that they “made it possible for him to bloom in full, malignant flower.”
Manson spoke often of the coming apocalyptic race war in which he would lead his followers to safety. But soon, he decided that he would have to instigate it himself. On Aug. 8, 1969, Manson told his followers “Now is the time for Helter Skelter,” according to court testimony, and sent four of them to the home where Ms. Tate lived.
The next morning, police found a bloody scene. Ms. Tate had been stabbed 16 times and four guests were also dead. The word “pig” was written in blood on the front door.
Displeased with the murders, Manson took his followers out the next night for more. They brutally stabbed a couple, Leno and Rosemary La Bianca, to death, writing “Death to Pigs” in blood on the wall and “Healter (sic) Skelter,” on the refrigerator door.
Manson was found guilty in 1971 of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in those killings. He was also convicted of killing two others. He was sentenced to death, but was given a life sentence when California’s death penalty was overturned by the courts.
Manson lost his appeals and bids for parole while continuing to deny his involvement in the killings. In a 2011 interview with Vanity Fair he was asked why he drove his followers to the La Biancas’ home.
“I’ll have to search my mind there, that ah, you know, that’s a long time ago,” he said. “That’s like saying why did you eat an ice-cream cone in 1946. It’s over 40 years ago.”