Charles Manson and his cult of followers went on a murderous rampage in August 1969, which served as an unofficial end to the preceding decade's idealism. They committed these atrocities for reasons almost as irrational as the acts themselves. Learn more about Charles Manson and his followers' actions.
Who Is the Manson Family?
Charles Manson led the murderous cult known as the Manson Family. Certain politicians, journalists, and prosecutors attempted to link the Family to the hippie movement as a whole. Others thought the comparison was unfair. Regardless, the cult's notorious name was etched in history as a result of a killing spree in Los Angeles in 1969, which rocked both the city and the United States as a whole.
Who Was Charles Manson?
Before becoming one of the most dangerous cult leaders in history and, eventually, a convicted serial killer, Charles Manson was a longtime criminal and attempted musician. As a young man, he moved around the country, developing a perverse brand of charisma that he used to manipulate others. He moved to California in the late 1960s, capitalizing on the era's iconoclasm, openness to hedonistic experience, and openness to alternative ways of thinking to carry out a series of heinous murders.
Manson Family Members
Although there were dozens of people associated with Charles Manson, several played critical roles in the atrocities he perpetrated on the world. Among the most notorious Manson Family members were:
Charles "Tex" Watson was born in the Lone Star State of Texas, as his nickname suggests. He took part in the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Leno, and Rosemary LaBianca, all of which were planned by Manson.
Linda Kasabian: Kasabian did not kill anyone, despite being present at the crime scenes for the Tate and LaBianca murders. She was granted immunity from prosecution after cooperating as a witness for the prosecution.
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme: Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, who was not one of the murderers, attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford years after the 1969 murders. Ford escaped the assassination attempt, but Fromme was imprisoned.
Patricia Krenwinkel: Patricia Krenwinkel stabbed coffee heiress Abigail Folger dozens of times after arriving at the Tate house on Cielo Drive. She showed no remorse for her actions during her trial.
Susan Atkins: Along with family members Bobby Beausoleil and Mary Brunner, Atkins assisted in the murder of Gary Hinman, as well as the murder of multiple people at the Tate and LaBianca homes.
How Did the Manson Family Come to Be?
During the 1967 Summer of Love in San Francisco, Charles Manson began assembling his Family. He gathered a gang of young runaways and misfits by preaching about sex and drugs and spreading lies about the impending apocalypse:
Heading to Los Angeles: Manson persuaded the group to relocate to Los Angeles so that he could work with Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys and music producer Terry Melcher. The latter then refused his requests to record songs, infuriating Manson.
Scoping out Spahn Ranch: Manson supporters discovered an old Hollywood western filming location called Spahn Ranch in the nearby desert. This is where they set up camp in the months leading up to the 1969 murders. Manson became obsessed with The Beatles' self-titled 1968 release while at the ranch (also known as The White Album).
Talking up Helter Skelter: Manson told his followers that the Beatles record contained a slew of cryptic messages about an impending race war—named Helter Skelter after one of the album's songs—in which the Family would fight the Black Panthers. In the months and days leading up to the murders, Manson combined his racist fantasies with his desire for vengeance against Melcher.
Manson Family Murders
The Manson Family began as a drug-addled, hedonistic commune, but it quickly devolved into a gang of murderers. These are just a few of the violent acts they committed:
Gary Hinman murder: Susan Atkins and other family members tortured and murdered Gary Hinman in July 1969 after attempting to steal money from him. They smeared the words "political piggy" in his blood on the walls as a foreshadowing of the hoped-for political and racial violence. Around the same time, Bruce Davis and Steve "Clem" Grogan of the Manson Family murdered stuntman Donald "Shorty" Shea. Tex Watson also attempted but failed to kill drug dealer Bernard Crowe.
History of 10050 Cielo Drive: Manson knew the house on Cielo Drive once belonged to Terry Melcher, the music producer he blamed for ruining his dreams of becoming a rock star. Melcher had long since left the house, but Manson seemed either unaware or uninterested in this when he dispatched his followers to carry out their next murders there. Sharon Tate's husband, director Roman Polanski, rented the house at the time, but he was on location in Europe during the violence.
Killings of Sharon Tate and associates: Manson family members descended on 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles' Benedict Canyon neighborhood to carry out their most notorious killings. On August 8, 1969, they tortured, stabbed, and killed Hollywood actress Sharon Tate, hairdresser Jay Sebring, heiress Abigail Folger, Folger's partner Wojciech Frykowski, and caretaker Steven Parent. Tate and Polanski's unborn child, Paul, was killed alongside his mother in the slayings.
LaBianca murders: The night after the Tate killings, Charles "Tex" Watson, Leslie van Houten, Manson himself, and other Family members infiltrated the living room of Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary LaBianca. They wrote "death to pigs" and "helter skelter" in blood on their walls and refrigerator after murdering the couple in their living room.
The Manson Family's Investigation, Trial, and Conviction
Following the Tate-LaBianca murders, the Manson Family took refuge in Death Valley. They were well aware that they were on the run from the law. Law enforcement was led to Death Valley by the Family's unrelated previous car thefts and information about the Hinman murder.
Due to testimony from family members Linda Kasabian and Paul Watkins, links to the Tate and LaBianca killings emerged. The trial started in July 1970. All of the murderers were sentenced to death or life in prison by Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi.
The California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty convictions as part of a broader decision to abolish the punishment throughout the state. In exchange, the offenders received life sentences.
Is Charles Manson still alive?
Charles Manson died in prison in 2017 from a heart attack at the age of 83. John Douglas, an FBI criminal profiler, interviewed Manson in prison to better understand the minds of serial killers and psychopaths, and in doing so, he helped to advance the field of criminal psychology.