Manson Family: Where Are They Now? - Rolling Stone
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Manson Family: Where Are They Now?

Their terror brought a halt to the peace and love of the 1960s, but many members of the most infamous cult in American history live on

Charles Manson, the psychopathic career criminal who inspired a murderous cult following and brought a grisly end to the utopian dreams of the 1960s, has spent the past 47 years locked up in California. Manson, born Charles Milles Maddox in 1934 to a 16-year-old mother, had already spent half his life in jail when he orchestrated one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th Century.

According to biographer Jeff Guinn, Manson had been a talented manipulator since grade school, convincing classmates – mostly girls – to attack people he didn’t like. He managed to escape blame for their actions, and while he would sometimes turn violent himself, it was a 1947 theft that initially sent him into reform school. He was in and out of incarceration for the next 20 years for everything from pimping to false checks.

When Manson was released from prison for the last time in 1967, he had learned to play guitar, and was intent on making his way as a musician. After a stint in San Francisco, where he witnessed first-hand the Summer of Love, Manson made his way down to Southern California, installing his budding “Family” in various temporary homes – including that of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson – before landing in the Spahn Ranch, an unused Western movie set.

It was while living there that Manson convinced his followers to help him start “Helter Skelter,” a race-war that was foretold on a Beatles’ White Album track, which would end in apocalypse and eventual Manson world domination. He sent them out to commit a series of crimes that culminated with the murders of Sharon Tate, the eight-month pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, and four companions at her home on August 9th, 1969, and the killing of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the following night.

Manson was arrested in October 1969 on unrelated charges, but hasn’t been freed since. In 1971 he was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life in prison after California temporarily banned capital punishment in 1972. He’s periodically spoken to the media – including to Rolling Stone in 1970 and 2013 – and has been denied parole 12 times, most recently in 2012. Currently 81 years old, he’s next up for parole in 2027

Charles Manson, not shown, and four members of his former family, Bruce Davis, left, and Steve Grogan, right appeared at Los Angeles Court for hearings in two murder cases, Tuesday, April 13, 1971, Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo/Wally Fong)

Bruce Davis, left, and Steve Grogan, right appeared at Los Angeles court, Tuesday, April 13, 1971, Los Angeles.

Wally Fong/AP

Clem Grogan

Though Steve “Clem” Grogan stayed in the car while Manson family members massacred Sharon Tate and her friends on August 9th, 1969, he did participate in the murder a few weeks later of Donald “Shorty” Shea. A Hollywood stuntman and Spahn Ranch hand, Shea was was killed and dismembered by the family that summer, but his body wasn’t found until 1977. Grogan was one apparently of the dimmer members of the family, earning him the name “Scramblehead,” and was allegedly the member that crashed Dennis Wilson’s uninsured Ferrari while the group was staying with the Beach Boy. He’d linked up with Manson in 1967, making him one of his longest-time followers. Though he was first sentenced to death for the murder of Shea, his sentence was later commuted to life in prison, when a judge decided he wasn’t mentally capable of coordinating the crimes. Grogen was eventually freed in 1985, after helping authorities locate Shea’s body on the Spahn Ranch grounds. 

Patricia Krenwinkel, a defendant in the Sharon Tate murder case, left, comes down a flight of stairs at the Los Angeles Hall of Justice en route to court to seek a change of venue, March 24, 1970, Los Angeles, Calif. She and other defendants, including hippie leader Charles Manson, currently are scheduled to be tried beginning April 20. The other women are unidentified. (AP Photo/Harold Filan)

Patricia Krenwinkel, left, comes down a flight of stairs at the Los Angeles Hall of Justice en route to court, March 24, 1970, Los Angeles.

Harold Filan/AP

Patricia Krenwinkel

Patricia Krenwinkel is probably best remembered for walking into the courtroom the morning of her sentencing, laughing alongside Susan Atkins and Leslie Van Houten. It was a disturbing scene, particularly in the case of Krenwinkel, who had chased down and killed Abigail Folger as she tried to escape the Tate home, then helped Tex Watson and Van Houten kill the La Biancas the following night. Since meeting – and quickly bedding – Manson in September 1967, she'd been a devoted member of the family, taking care of the children with a quiet intensity. But her involvement in the crimes would land her in jail for life. Despite having a record as a model prisoner, she was denied parole in 2011 and won't be eligible again until 2018. She is currently still incarcerated and, after Atkins' 2009 death, is the longest-serving female inmate in California. 

FILE - This Nov. 16, 2011, file photo shows Charles "Tex" Watson during a parole hearing at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif. Los Angeles police have obtained the decades-old taped conversations between Watson, a member of the Charles Manson family, and his attorney, officials confirmed Thursday, May 23, 2013. A federal judge in Texas ruled in March that Watson waived his right to attorney-client privilege when he allowed his lawyer to sell the eight cassette tapes to an author nearly 40 years ago for a book on his life. The tapes are being reviewed to determine whether there's evidence that could resolve unsolved murders. Watson is serving a life sentence for his role in the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others. Watson has said the Manson family wasn't responsible for any other killings. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Charles "Tex" Watson during a parole hearing at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California, November 16, 2011.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Charles “Tex” Watson

Charles "Tex" Watson came, as his name suggests, from Dallas. A former high school football star, he dropped out of the University of North Texas to and made his way to California, where he worked odd jobs and soon found Manson. He lived with the family at the Spahn Ranch, where he earned the name "Tex," but moved out at the end of the fall of 1968 to move in with a girlfriend. This didn't last, though, and he was back on the ranch by spring. That August, it was Watson who led the murders on August 9th and 10th, 1969. He knew he would be caught and fled back to Texas, where he fought extradition for nine months, which is why he didn't go on trial a with Manson and the girls. He was, however, eventually convicted of first-degree murder and received the death penalty, thought that was later commuted to life in prison. There, he has passed the time by founding Abounding Love Ministries, and working to make sure his story is accurately represented on Wikipedia

FILE - In this Nov. 25, 1975 file photo, Lynette Fromme sits in a U.S. Marshal's auto in Sacramento, Calif. Frome, the Charles Manson follower convicted of trying to assassinate President Gerald Ford, was released Friday, Aug. 14, 2009 from a Texas prison hospital after more than three decades behind bars, a prison official said. (AP Photo/Walt Zeboski, Pool)

Lynette Fromme sits in a U.S. Marshal's auto in Sacramento, California, November 25, 1975.

Walt Zeboski/AP

Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme

While she didn't participate in the Tate – La Bianca murders, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a former child performer who was living in Venice Beach when she met Manson, was one of the most consistent presences outside the courthouse during the trials, supporting the family members by camping out there while they were on trial. But she got her own chance at court justice after her 1975 attempt on President Gerald Ford's life – which didn’t get past her pulling a gun on him during a public event. Fromme was sentenced to life in prison and, despite a brief 1987 escape, she was released in 2009

FILE - In this March 12, 2014 photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabiltation, Bruce Davis is shown. A Los Angeles judge has denied parole for the former Charles Manson follower who has been imprisoned for more than 40 years for two murders. Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, upheld the governor's reversal of a parole board decision last year to release Davis. Davis was convicted in the 1969 slayings of musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald "Shorty" Shea. (Department of Corrections and Rehabiltation via AP)

Bruce Davis, March 12, 2014, while incarcerated in California.


Bruce Davis

Bruce Davis came to the cult of Manson by way of Scientology, a new religion in which Manson himself had dabbled. Davis met the family when they were in Oregon in 1968, and proceeded to spend the next year or so in England working for the Scientologists before being kicked out for his drug use and heading back to California in April 1969. David became one of the most powerful people on Spahn Ranch, in charge of the fake IDs and stolen credit cards that allowed the cult to function. Davis wasn't present for the Tate or La Bianca murders; instead, his role seems to have been that of enforcer, and he was the muscle behind the Gary Hinman and Shorty Shea slayings that same summer. Davis was convicted of those murders in 1972 and was sentenced to life in prison. In the years since, he's been married, become a father, found Jesus and earned a PhD in philosophy, but was still denied parole by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this year, citing the "horror of the murders committed by the Manson family in 1969 and the fear they instilled in the public [that] will never be forgotten."

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