Charles Manson Dead at 83

Led the Manson Family murder spree that terrorized Southern California and shocked the world

Charles Manson
California Department of Corrections

Charles Manson, the career con man and criminal who led the Manson Family murders that claimed seven lives, including that of a nine-months-pregnant Sharon Tate, has died. He was 83.

Using the hippie counterculture to lure followers, and incorporating the music of the Beatles into his massacres, Manson masterminded the murders that chilled the summer of 1969.

He was hospitalized last week after being transferred from Corcoran State Prison, about 60 miles outside Bakersfield, California, where he was serving nine concurrent life sentences. He died of natural causes Sunday at a Kern County hospital, according to a California Department of Corrections statement provided to The Associated Press.

Manson’s followers went on a violent rampage in 1969, coining the phrase “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles song, committing nine murders at four locations over a period of five weeks.

The most notorious — and the most gruesome — was the butchering of Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski.

While the killings were all carried out by his followers, Manson was found guilty in 1971 of conspiracy in relation to seven of the killings and has been behind bars ever since.

He was fascinated by pop culture, and how he could exploit it — and celebrities — to make his own myth. Pop culture, in turn, became fascinated by him: He inspired TV shows like “Aquarius,” “Manson’s Lost Girls” and “Helter Skelter,” gave Marilyn Manson half of his stage name, and is expected to be a significant part of Quentin Tarantino’s next film.

U2’s Bono began the group’s 1987 “Helter Skelter” cover by declaring, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealin’ it back.” Guns N’ Roses took heat in 1993 for their macabre decision to cover a little-known composition by Manson, an unsuccessful songwriter, called “Look at Your Game, Girl.”

Born in 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to an unmarried 16-year-old, Manson had an alcoholic mother and absent father. According to Mansion lore, his mother once sold him for a pitcher of beer to a childless waitress, from whom his uncle retrieved him days later.

His teenage years included arrests for burglary and shoplifting leading to his first imprisonment in October 1951.

After a series of other crimes, arrests, incarcerations, a marriage, divorce and the birth of his son, Charles Jr., Manson moved to San Francisco and established himself as a guru during the 1967 Summer of Love, at which time he strongly implied that he was Christ and recalled visions on the cross with nails in his hands and feet.

Once he migrated his growing group of followers down to Los Angeles and onto the Spahn Movie Ranch, Manson picked up some famous friends, including producers Phil Kaufman and Gary Stromberg, and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, even moving 12 of his followers into the musician’s Pacific Palisades mansion. Before he ultimately evicted them, Wilson also paid for studio time to record songs written and performed by Manson.

Manson’s most infamous followers included Charles Watson, Bobby Beausoleil, Mary Brunner, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, Steve “Clem” Grogan, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel.

As his grip over them increased and the era of Helter Skelter escalated, the Manson Family went on to carry out a grisly killing spree in August 1969 under his instruction (and mind-altering drugs) that included the Crowe shooting, the Hinman murder, the Tate murders and the LaBianca murders. Along with violently butchering their victims, the words “Rise,” “Death to pigs”  and “Healter [sic] Skelter” were written in blood on the crime scene walls.

Key members of the Manson Family were finally arrested after a detailed LAPD investigation leading to the high profile trial that began in June 1970, with prosecutors arguing that Manson’s main motive was to spark social chaos.

During the penalty phrase, the cult leader told reporters: “I am the Devil, and the Devil always has a bald head.”

Manson and three of his followers were handed death sentences after being found guilty of 27 offenses, but they were all commuted to life in prison in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished in California.