THE BOGEYMAN: WHO WAS THIS MYTHICAL CHARLES MANSON WHO SO TERRIFIED THE UNITED STATES?

Charles Manson died in November, aged 83. But many people born after 1970 would have no idea how powerful a bogeyman he was for the United States. Who was Charles Manson?

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by Chris Summers                                                                                                   1 December 2017
 

Self-styled guru and leader of the 1960s religious cult the Manson Family, Charles Manson was a convicted serial killer who never actually killed any of his victims himself.

The bearded figure of Manson (pictured, left) was a charismatic and persuasive leader, whose apparent goal was to persuade his followers to embark on a murder spree in order to spark a racial war, after which only he and his Family would be left, along with black slaves.

His followers believed he was Jesus Christ, or the “fifth angel”, the other four angels being the members of British band the Beatles. He named his racist Armageddon philosophy after “Helter Skelter”, a Beatles song and preached that black people would begin stealing from and killing white people if something wasn’t done. He prophesied that Helter Skelter would begin happening in 1969 and his devoted and unhinged followers lapped up his teachings.

When his prophecies failed to come true, he told his followers that the black population wouldn’t know what to do unless the white population showed them – and so the Manson Family murders began. In the quiet secluded canyons above Beverley Hills on August 9th 1969, glamorous 26-year-old movie actress Sharon Tate, the wife of film director Roman Polanski, was entertaining some friends in her home.

Tate was eight months pregnant and missing her husband who was in Europe working on a film. She was a former beauty queen who became a movie actress, she had first big break in the “Eye of the Devil” with David Niven and Deborah Kerr.

In London in 1960, while she was filming that movie, she met her future husband, Polanski. He cast her as the lead in his film “The Fearless Vampire Killers” and in the role of Jennifer in “Valley of the Dolls”. In 1969, the couple rented a house on Cielo Drive from Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son.

On the fateful summer night, Tate (pictured below) was entertaining her friends, 36-year-old internationally famous hair stylist Jay Sebring, 25-year-old coffee heiress Abigail Folger and Folger’s 32-year-old boyfriend Voytek Frykowski. The happy party was to end brutally, as part of a two-day killing spree that would claim the lives of seven people. Sharon Tate’s housekeeper, Winifred Chapman, noticed a couple of unusual things on her way into the house at 8am. A fallen telephone wire hung over the gate, an unfamiliar white Rambler was parked in the driveway, the front door was open and there were splashes of red everywhere.

Looking out the front door, she saw a couple of pools of blood and what appeared to be a body on the lawn. Screaming, she ran back through the house and down the driveway, passing close enough to the Rambler to see that there was yet another body inside the car. When Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers arrived, they found the body of a man slumped in the Rambler, drenched in blood. It was a teenager called Steve Parent who had come to visit Tate’s caretaker.

After further inspection the police found two bodies lying on the lawn a young woman in a nightgown with multiple stab wounds and a man in his thirties, whose head and face had been battered in and whose body was punctured with dozens of wounds.

They were later identified as Folger and Frykowski. Carefully approaching the house, the officers saw the word “PIG” scrawled in blood on the front door. In the living room, a heavily pregnant young woman was lying on the floor, smeared all over with blood.

A rope around her neck extended over a rafter in the ceiling, attached to other end was the body of a man, also drenched in blood. They were later identified as Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring. On the same night as the Tate’s dinner party, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca arrived home from vacation to 3301 Waverly Drive in the Los Feliz area of LA. The body of Leno with a pillow over his head and a cord around his neck was discovered the following day. A carving fork protruded from his stomach and the word “WAR” had been carved in his flesh. LAPD officers found Leno’s wife, Rosemary, in the master bedroom, with a pillowcase over her head and a lamp cord tied tightly around her neck. She had been stabbed 41 times, six of which were enough to have caused her death. In three places in the house, there was writing which appeared to be in the victims’ blood: on the living room wall, “DEATH TO PIGS” on another wall in the living room, the single word “RISE” and on the refrigerator door, “HELTER SKELTER”.

The case of the apparently motiveless massacre took an alarming twist with the chilling confession of a woman awaiting trial for murder in an LA women’s house of detention. Susan Atkins, was under arrest for a separate murder, but freely confessed the killings to her cellmate.

Atkins appeared to be in an ecstatic state, dancing and singing and breaking out into peals of laughter for no apparent reason. She told her cellmate that her lover Charlie was Jesus Christ and that he was going to lead her to a hole in Death Valley where there was a secret civilization. She also said she had carried out the Sharon Tate murder. Atkins said that four people were responsible for the deaths at Cielo Drive, herself two girls and a man and that they had received their instructions from Charlie.

She said they selected the Tate house because it was isolated and that: “We wanted to do a crime that would shock the world, that the world would have to stand up and take notice.” Atkins also claimed to have murdered the LaBiancas. According to Atkins, several celebrity targets were next on the list.

She had planned to carve the words “helter skelter” on Elizabeth Taylor’s face with a red-hot knife and then gouge her eyes out. She would castrate Richard Burton and put his penis along with Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes in a bottle and mail it to Eddie Fisher. Frank Sinatra was to be skinned alive, while he listened to his own music. The Family would then make purses out of his skin and sell them in hippie shops. Tom Jones would have his throat slit, after being forced to have sex with Atkins.

This startling confession would probably never have come to light had the LAPD not received inklings of the Manson Family involvement through other sources, including a member of a motorcycle gang called the Straight Satans. However, it was not until November that the police finally interviewed Atkins’ cellmate. The prosecution’s case had little real evidence, but the startling courtroom behaviour of Manson and his followers themselves would probably have been enough to convince the jury of their guilt.

Things looked up for the prosecution when a bloody fingerprint found on the wall of Tate’s home was identified as that of one of the Manson Family. Other evidence was brought forward including a wallet belonging to Rosemary LaBianca and a revolver that had been used in the Tate massacre.

The LAPD had, almost unbelievably, been given the revolver, but had later thrown away. Manson and Atkins stood trial with two other female cult followers – Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. During the proceedings, Susan Atkins showed no remorse and happily dictated the same story she had told her cellmate before a stunned jury. Manson, who insisted on defending himself, appeared before the jury with a bloody “X” carved into his forehead. His followers told the court bizarre stories that would implicate themselves, but not their leader. Whenever damaging testimony was heard, Manson would create a disturbance in order to divert attention. This strange behaviour reached a peak when he lunged at the judge, yelling that someone should “cut your head off!”

At this point, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten (pictured, left) began chanting loudly in Latin. After 22 weeks, the judge finally called on the defence to present their case. The defence responded: “Thank you, your Honour, the defense rests.” Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten then yelled out that they wanted to testify that they planned and committed the murder themselves and that Manson had nothing to do with it. Van Houten’s lawyer, Ronald Hughes, promptly made an official objection – it was to be last thing he said regarding the case.

He disappeared a few days later and his body was found wedged between two boulders, the latest victim of the cult. Seven months after the trial began, on January 15th 1971, the jury began to deliberate and took nine days to find Manson, Krenwinkel, Atkins and Van Houten each guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. When the jury fixed the sentence as death, the accused women, who had shaved their heads, threatened to have them all killed. The trial of the fourth Tate and LaBianca suspect, Charles “Tex” Watson was delayed because of extradition proceedings until later in the year, when he was also found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. At a later date, Family members Robert Beausoleil, Charles Manson, Charles Watson, Bruce Davis and Steve Grogan were tried and convicted for the murders of Gary Hinman and Donald (Shorty) Shea, two other cult victims.

In 1972, the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in the state and all of the defendants are serving life sentences. Today, Watson has converted to Christianity, married and fathered children and retrained as a minister of religion.

Atkins has married twice while in prison and Van Houten is a model prisoner whose case for parole has aroused sympathy. Her lawyer argues that substantial intake of LSD had altered her brain at the time of the killings.

Manson retained his cult status with fans creating numerous websites devoted to him and his music right up until his death in November 2017.

He received more mail than any other US inmate and repeatedly caused trouble to the prison authorities.

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One thought on “THE BOGEYMAN: WHO WAS THIS MYTHICAL CHARLES MANSON WHO SO TERRIFIED THE UNITED STATES?

  1. Many thanks to Blaine Pardoe and Victoria Hester for their hard work in researching and writing “A Special Kind of Evil: The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings.” The Colonial Parkway Murders families very much appreciate your support. For our friends in the FBI, National Park Service and the Virginia State Police, it is your move.

    Bill Thomas
    Brother of Cathy Thomas
    Los Angeles, CA

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