Charles Milles Manson, the head of a cult group now known as the Manson Family, is among the most notorious mass murderers ever. The members of the Manson Family, which was basically a quasi-commune that arose in California in the late 1960s, committed nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969. Charles Manson was never anything less than a career criminal, and became a cult leader by twist of fate. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the Manson story from the beginning to the end.
The detectives looked deeper into the Manson Family, and the breakthrough came when a dormitory mate of Susan Atkins told LAPD that the Manson Family was involved in the murders, following which Atkins was hauled in and when she confirmed her role the Hinman murder, she was placed under arrest. She was later moved to Sybil Brand Institute, a detention centre in Los Angeles, which is when she started talking to two other inmates – Ronnie Howard and Virginia Graham. She told them exactly how far she had been involved in the killings that the members of the Manson Family committed.
Watson surrendered at the sheriff’s office in McKinney, Texas, from where the detectives of the LAPD picked him up. Krenwinkel, too, was taken into custody around the same time. Kasabian, too, surrendered voluntarily to authorities in Concord, New Hampshire, on December 2, 1969. The physical evidence against the apprehended accused kept on mounting by the day. Krenwinkel’s and Watson’s fingerprints were lifted by the LAPD at Cielo Drive. On September 1, 1969, the .22-caliber Hi-Standard “Buntline Special” revolver, which Watson had used to kill Parent, Sebring, and Frykowski, was found by a ten-year-old Steven Weiss, who lived in Tate’s neighbourhood. The blood smeared clothes discarded by the kill team after Tate murders were also found.
On June 15, 1970, the trial commenced and prosecution presented Kasabian as its main witness. She had been charged with seven counts of murder and one of conspiracy together with Manson, Atkins and Krenwinkel. Since she had not actively participated in the killings, the prosecution had struck a deal with her according to which she was granted immunity in return for a detailed testimony describing the crimes.
Initially, Judge William Keene had rather reluctantly granted Manson permission to dispense with his lawyers and act as his own attorney, but after Manson’s conduct during the initial stage of the trial, including his filing “outlandish” and “non-sensical” pre-trial motions and break of a gag order, the permission was revoked. Manson filed a motion of prejudice against Judge Keene, following which Judge Keene was replaced by Judge Charles H. Older.
On July 24, 1970, which was the first day of testimony, Manson walked into the courtroom with an X carved on his forehead, and declared that he had been “considered inadequate and incompetent to speak or defend [him]self” and for that reason he had “X’d self from world”. Within a week, the female defendants in the case were displaying a similar mark on their foreheads and most of the members of the Manson Family started sporting the mark the same way in the next few days. Manson later modified the ‘X’ into a swastika.
Prosecution presented “Helter Skelter” as the main motive. The writings left behind by the killer group after the killings were correlated with the testimonies regarding the prediction by Manson that the murders committed by the blacks in the beginning of “Helter Skelter” would see the killer write things like “pigs” on the walls in the blood of the victims. “I want to show blackie how to do it,” Manson had said when the Manson Family members were driving away after the LaBianca house killings.
As the trial proceeded, the members of the Manson Family took to loitering around the entrances and corridors of the courthouse, and in order to prevent the disruptive behaviour, the prosecution enlisted them as prospective witnesses and subpoenaed them, which legally prevented them from entering the courtroom when the testimonies by the other witnesses was in progress. The members displayed the ‘X’ on their foreheads and openly wore sheathed hunting knives, which they could legally carry because the knives were not hidden from plain view and were thus not concealed weapons.
The members of the Manson Family also tried to prevent and discourage witnesses from testifying. Both Paul Watkins and Juan Flynn, who were prosecution witnesses in the case, were threatened. Somebody put Watkins’ van on fire, which gave severe burns to Watkins. Apparently, it was a way of threatening Watkins of dire consequences if he helped the prosecution in its case against the accused members of the Manson Family. Barbara Hoyt, who was once a member of the Manson Family and who had somehow overheard Susan Atkins describe the Tate murders to Ruth Ann Moorehouse, another Family member, was asked by Moorehouse to accompany her to Hawaii, which Hoyt agreed to do. In Hawaii, Moorehouse allegedly spiked Hoyt’s hamburger with a large quantity of LSD. Hoyt was found in the state of stupor on a Honolulu curb, and was immediately taken to the hospital, where she recovered eventually. She had been reluctant to testify before the incident, but after the incident she turned resolute.
On August 4, 1970, Manson held up to the jury a Los Angeles Times front page report with the headline “Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares”. The report was about a statement made by the then U.S. President Richard Nixon, who had criticized the media for glamourizing Manson and the Family. This created a serious suspicion of prejudice, but the jurors asserted that the headline had not influenced them in anyway. The next day, the female defendants rose up to declare unanimously that in view of President Nixon’s remarks, the trial was futile. That, however, had no effect on the trial and the trial proceeded.
On October 5, 1970, when the defence attorneys refused to cross-examine a witness, Manson resisted and sought the permission of the court to cross-examine the witness. When the court declined permission, Manson leapt over the defence table, and tried to assault the judge. He was dragged to the ground by the bailiffs, and was then removed from the courtroom. The female defendants, who had risen up and had started chanting in Latin, were also removed.
On November 16, 1970, the prosecution put its case to rest, and three days later, the defence surprised everybody by resting its case as well without leading any evidence in defence. The defence had only argued the regular dismissal motions. Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten yelled their disapproval of the position taken by the defence attorneys and demanded that they be allowed to testify.
When the lawyers representing the female defendants were called into the chambers by the judge to explain the position they had taken, the attorneys for the women told that their clients planned to testify that they had committed the crimes on their own and that Manson had nothing to do with it. By resting their case, the defence counsels had effectively prevented that. Van Houten’s attorney, Ronald Hughes, said, that he could not “push a client out the window”.
On November 17, 1970, Manson took the stand and testified. Manson spoke for over an hour and blamed the music for inspiring “the youth to rise up against the establishment”. He denied having ever ordered anybody to kill anybody.
After the conclusion of the trial and just before the closing arguments were to begin, attorney Ronald Hughes went missing. Maxwell Keith replaced Hughes to represent Van Houten, but it required over two weeks to allow Keith to familiarize himself with what had happened so far in the trial by going through the trial transcripts so as to be able to make closing arguments. As the prosecution started its closing arguments, the defendants started causing disruptions, which forced Judge Older to bar the four defendants from the courtroom until the closing arguments concluded. Judge Older felt that it was obvious that the defendants were working together to put on a performance and were creating more nuisance than contributing to the legal process.
Finally, on January 25, 1971, the jury pronounced the defendants guilty on each of the 27 separate counts. The defence crafted by Manson was that the murders after the Hinman murder were conceived, planned and executed as “copycat” version of the Hinman murder, and for the Hinman murder Atkins had taken the responsibility. The murders were planned to divert the suspicion away from Bobby Beausoleil by making the subsequent murders look like the Hinman murder, for which Beausoleil had been incarcerated. Furthermore, the murders were claimed to have been planned and executed under the guidance and instruction of Linda Kasabian, who was said to be in love with Beausoleil. This version of the story completely absolved Manson of all responsibility, for, according to the story, Manson had no role to play either in the Hinman murder or in the subsequent murders, which were “copycat” murders of the Hinman murder planned and executed by Linda. However, the story did not sound very convincing because, among other things, it also failed to explain why Atkins had written “political piggy” at the Hinman house to begin with. Also, the story did not have sound evidentiary support either. It sounded more like a cleverly and carefully woven tale designed to serve a certain purpose.
Another development took place exactly on the day the jury sentenced the four of them to death. Ronald Hughes’ badly decomposed body was found stuck between two boulders in Ventura County. It was said that the Manson Family killed Hughes because Hughes did not allow Van Houten to take the stand. However, it remained a rumour and it could never be confirmed that Hughes was killed by the members of the Manson Family.
However, in February 1972, all the death sentences awarded were automatically reduced to life imprisonments after the Supreme Court of California struck down death penalty as unconstitutional in California v. Anderson, 493 P.2d 880, 6 Cal. 3d 628 (Cal. 1972).
In a separate trial, Manson was pronounced guilty on December 13, 1971 for the murders of Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea, which got him another life sentence. Shea, a Spahn Ranch stuntman and horse wrangler, was killed some 10 days after the Sheriff had raided the ranch on August 16, 1969. Manson suspected that Shea was trying to force the Family out of the ranch and that he was responsible for the raid by the Sheriff. Furthermore, Manson might have thought that it was a ‘sin’ for a white Shea to marry a black woman. He might have also thought that Shea knew about some of the killings committed by the members of the Manson Family. Two other Family members, Bruce Davis and Steve “Clem” Grogan, were tried for Shea’s murder in separate trials and were found guilty.
Manson had been serving his sentence in the Protective Housing Unit at California State Prison, Corcoran, in Kings County since 1989. The Protective Housing Unit is for those inmates whose safety might in jeopardy among the general populace of the prison. Before the California State Prison, Manson was an inmate at San Quentin State Prison, California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Folsom State Prison and Pelican Bay State Prison at different times after he was sentenced in 1971.
On April 11, 2012, it was the 12th time that Manson was denied parole in a hearing that he did not bother to attend. The last parole hearing that Manson attended was on March 27, 1997. Manson was not to be re-considered for parole for another 15 years, which meant that his next parole hearing was not happening anytime before 2027 and he would have been 92 then, had he lived.
On January 1, 2017, Manson was rushed from California State Prison in Corcoran, Kings County, California to the Mercy Hospital, downtown Bakersfield, Los Angeles, after he complained of severe stomachache. At the hospital, he received treatment for gastrointestinal bleeding. A surgery was needed, but Manson was considered “too weak” for it. After receiving treatment, Manson returned to the prison on January 6, 2017.
However, about ten months later, on November 15, 2017, he was brought back to the hospital, where he died of natural causes on November 19, 2017. He had turned 83 a week before.