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

Mary Brunner, a former University of Wisconsin librarian who became a member of the Charles Manson family, is taken to a hearing on her petition to represent herself in her trial on murder charges in the slaying of musician Gary Hinman Los Angeles court, June 22, 1970, Los Angeles, Calif. The judge rejected her plea. She was indicted after Robert Beausoleil, another member of the Manson clan, was convicted of murder in Hinmans death. (AP Photo/George Brich)

Mary Brunner, a former librarian who became a member of the Charles Manson family, June 22, 1970.

George Brich/AP

Mary Brunner

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. 

Convicted murderer and former Charles Manson family member, Susan Atkins is seen asleep in a moveable bed during her parole hearing Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009, at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, Calif. Atkins was again denied parole, remaining the longest-incarcerated female inmate in the California penal system. (AP Photo/Ben Margot/POOL)

Susan Atkins asleep in a moveable bed during her parole hearing Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009, just weeks before her death.

Ben Margot/AP

Susan Atkins

"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, cult member involved in the Tate-LaBianca murder case is seen in custody, 1969. (AP Photo)

Linda Kasabian, cult member involved in the Tate-LaBianca murder case is seen in custody, 1969.


Linda Kasabian

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.

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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