Manson Family: Where Are They Now?
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.
Leslie Van Houten
Leslie Van Houten, one of the youngest of the family, didn't meet Charles Manson until September 1968, less than a year before the murders took place. The two-time homecoming queen soon became one of his most devoted followers, and while she wasn't there for the Tate massacre, she participated the following night, stabbing Rosemary LaBianca in the back 14 times. Van Houten, 66, was up for parole this year, and asked to be freed, claiming that she had been emotionally troubled and under the influence of LSD at the time of the murders.
Though she lost any real chance at public support when she giggled during her trial testimony in 1970, Van Houten has long been thought to have a good shot at getting out – attracting support from celebrities like filmmaker John Waters, who wrote a five-part plea for her release in 2011. Then, after her 21st parole hearing last spring, a California parole board recommended her release based on her model behavior over the course of her almost 50-year incarceration. But this month, after a petition from Sharon Tate's sister garnered 140,000 signatures, California Governor Jerry Brown denied Van Houten's release, calling her an "unacceptable risk to society."
Handsome and magnetic, Bobby Beausoleil had been drifting through California as a musician and actor when, in 1968, he appeared in a soft-core porn called The Ramrodder with Catherine "Gypsy" Share, a Manson follower, and soon met the cult leader himself. Before long he became one of his followers, living at the Spahn Ranch, the Manson family collective. In July 1969, he and two other followers went over to Family friend Gary Hinman's house, insisting that they owed him money for a bad batch of LSD. After holding him hostage for two days, Beausoleil stabbed him then smeared the words "Political Piggy" on the wall with his blood. Since his arrest in August 1969 – just days before the Tate and LaBianca murders – Beausoleil has become a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, fathered four children and continues to make music from prison. He was up for parole for the 17th time in February 2015, though it was postponed.
Paul Watkins was a high school dropout when he met Charles Manson in the spring of 1968, and quickly became an integral part of the group – as a cute, young man, it was his job to find the teenage girls that Manson, then in his 30s, was too old to attract. He would search the highways and city streets for potential followers, once even falsely registering for high school to be "closer to the action," as prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi later described it. But unlike most of the people on this list, Watkins escaped the cult before the murders – and his 15 minutes in the spotlight would be for exposing the crimes, not committing them. Manson had openly shared his vision of "Helter Skelter," and Watkins could tell he was going to be recruited to help with the murders that would get the violence started. So in the spring of 1969, Watkins left the Spahn Ranch, relocating to the family's Death Valley hideout. The family eventually returned there after they committed the August 1969 murders, and were arrested en masse in October on unrelated charges. Watkins soon went to the police, and ended up testifying against the family during the trial, particularly about Helter Skelter. He went on to have a family and an entirely normal life before dying of leukemia in 1990.
Mary Brunner was Manson's first follower, a relatively age-appropriate Wisconsin native who had moved west for a job at the UC Berkeley library. (Born in 1943, she was only nine years younger than the cult leader.) Brunner met Manson in 1967, and took him in. Soon she quit her job and they hit the road in a VW bus, going out to pick up the girls who would become the "family." She gave birth to their son, Valentine "Pooh Bear" Manson in April 1968 – according to legend, Charlie cut the umbilical chord with his teeth. That summer, the family moved into the Spahn Ranch, where Brunner continued to be a mothering figure for the entire group. But she managed to miss the massacres – Brunner was in jail for credit card fraud in early August, when the Tate and La Bianca murders took place – but she had been present for Gary Hinman's July killing, smothering him with a pillow after he was fatally stabbed by Charles "Tex" Watson. She testified against the family in exchange for immunity, but she soon felt badly about turning on them, and in 1971 was part of the group's plan to hijack a plane in order to free Manson and the other incarcerated members – a plan that was thwarted when police caught them stealing guns from a sporting goods store. Brunner spent six years in prison, and moved to the midwest after her 1977 release, where she changed her name and settled into obscurity.
"Woman, I have no mercy for you." That's what Susan "Sadie" Atkins told Sharon Tate as she stabbed the pregnant 26-year-old actress in the stomach, one of six people she and the other family members killed during the early morning hours of August 9th, 1969. When their leader decided it had been too "messy" and sent them out again on August 10th – an expedition he joined to show them "how it was done" – Atkins went along.
Though not even 20 when she met up with Manson, Atkins had already lived a wild life. Escaping an alcoholic father, the teenager escaped to San Francisco where she teamed up with two convicts for a robbery spree, spent a few months in an Oregon prison, and performed in a topless revue called "the Witches' Sabbath," put on by Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. But the LSD and Manson's psychological power over her were a toxic combination; she was convicted of eight murders and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life in 1972 when the California Supreme Court briefly banned capital punishment. Her last, unsuccessful, parole hearing took place on September 2nd, 2009, less than a month before she succumbed to brain cancer. She was 61.
Linda Kasabian was the prosecution's key witness and eventually called Manson the "devil, not this wonderful man that I was led to believe." While she didn't participate in the murders, she did act as lookout on both nights – a vantage point that also allowed her to become the state's primary witness against the family. Kasabian was already a young mother when she first met Manson and the family on the Spahn Ranch on July 4th, 1969, only a month before the Tate and LaBianca murders. Though she quickly fell under his spell, she also quickly shook herself out of it: Only two days after the murders, she fled to New Mexico where she found her estranged husband, Robert. Kasabian eventually returned to L.A., where she testified against Manson in exchange for her own immunity – something that prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi has said was his idea. "She never asked for immunity from prosecution, but we gave it," he told The Guardian in 2009. "She stood in the witness box for 17 or 18 days and never broke down, despite the incredible pressure she was under. I doubt we would have convicted Manson without her." Kasabian moved to her mother's home in New Hampshire but was hounded by media, eventually moving west, where she was last found living in a trailer park in near poverty.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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