© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Manson Dies At 83. Lead Cult Members Who Committed 1969 Murders


Charles Manson has died. He was 83 years old. He was still a prison inmate, still one of the most notorious killers in American history. Manson was a cult leader who orchestrated the murders of seven people, including the actress Sharon Tate who was pregnant at the time. As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, the crimes of the so-called Manson family captivated the country.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Charles Manson has been a brand-name criminal for decades. He's been the subject of more than 30 books. His likeness with its Svengali-like stare can still be found on T-shirts, coffee mugs, even mouse pads. It all began in August of 1969 when Manson's followers butchered total strangers for no other reason than to advance his bizarre plot. He called it Helter Skelter after the Beatles song. He wanted to murder wealthy white people, blame the crimes on blacks and start a race war. When it was over, Manson himself would take over as ruler.


VINCENT BUGLIOSI: The murders were probably the most bizarre in the recorded annals of American crime...

JAFFE: ...Said the late Vincent Bugliosi who prosecuted the case. He spoke to NPR in 1994.


BUGLIOSI: The very thought of young women dressed in black, armed with sharp knives, entering the homes of total strangers in the middle of the night is really so horrendous a thought that it's difficult to contemplate a thought like that.

JAFFE: The young women he spoke of were Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins. They were joined by Charles Watson, known as Tex. They broke into the Hollywood Hills home of film director Roman Polanski. He was out of town, but they killed everyone who was there - his pregnant wife Sharon Tate as well as Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski and Steven Parent. The next night, Manson drove the group to the home of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. His followers broke in and murdered the couple. In both houses, the killers used the victim's blood to write pig and Helter Skelter on walls and doors.

LINDA DEUTSCH: People have said that it was the end of the '60s.

JAFFE: That's Linda Deutsch who covered the Manson family trial for the Associated Press.

DEUTSCH: Because up until then, we were watching this kind of idyllic situation develop with the hippies and the young people. And two years before was the Summer of Love in San Francisco.

JAFFE: But it was clear that Manson didn't think of himself or his followers as flower children. In a 1973 documentary, he described the family more like outcasts who made their own reality.


CHARLES MANSON: The people you call my family were people that you didn't want, children that were alongside the road that their parents had kicked out. So I took them to my garbage dump and fed them and taught them that in love there's no wrong. Everything they've done, they've done for love of brother.

JAFFE: Manson was convicted for masterminding the murders. Linda Deutsch says that trial was the craziest one she's seen in her 40 plus years of covering the courts in LA.

DEUTSCH: Manson choreographed the whole thing so that there were scenes every day. The girls who were on trial with him would get up and sing. He would act out and have to be taken out of the courtroom.

JAFFE: Manson continued to cause trouble behind bars. He had more than 100 infractions including assault, threatening guards, possessing a weapon and dealing drugs. In fact, none of the people convicted in the Tate and LaBianca murders has ever been released from prison. One, Susan Atkins, died of cancer in 2009. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.


Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."