Wild-Eyed Leader of a Murderous Crew
The Tate-LaBianca murders
Charles Manson, one of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century, who was very likely the most culturally persistent and perhaps also the most inscrutable, died on Sunday in a hospital in Kern County, Calif., north of Los Angeles. He was 83 and had been behind bars for most of his life.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced his death in a news release. In accordance with federal and state privacy regulations, no cause was given; he had been hospitalized in January for intestinal bleeding but was ruled too frail to undergo surgery.
Mr. Manson was a semiliterate habitual criminal and failed musician before he came to irrevocable attention in the late 1960s as the wild-eyed leader of the Manson family, a murderous band of young drifters in California. Convicted of nine murders in all, he was known in particular for the seven brutal killings collectively called the Tate-LaBianca murders, committed by his followers on two consecutive August nights in 1969.
The most famous of the victims was Sharon Tate, an actress who was married to the film director Roman Polanski. Eight and a half months pregnant, she was killed with four other people at her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles, near Beverly Hills.
The Tate-LaBianca killings and the seven-month trial that followed were the subjects of fevered news coverage. To a frightened, mesmerized public, the murders, with their undercurrents of sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll and Satanism, seemed the depraved logical extension of the anti-establishment, do-your-own-thing ethos that helped define the ’60s.
Since then, the Manson family has occupied a dark, persistent place in American culture  — and American commerce. It has inspired, among other things, pop songs, an opera, films, a host of internet fan sites, T-shirts, children’s wear and half the stage name of the rock musician Marilyn Manson.
It has also been the subject of many nonfiction books, most famously “Helter Skelter” (1974), by Vincent Bugliosi  and Curt Gentry. Mr. Bugliosi was the lead prosecutor at the Tate-LaBianca trial. . .
It was a measure of Mr. Manson’s hold over his followers, mostly young women who had fled middle-class homes, that he was not physically present at the precise moment that any one of the Tate-LaBianca victims was killed. Yet his family swiftly murdered them on his orders, which, according to many later accounts, were meant to incite an apocalyptic race war that Mr. Manson called Helter Skelter. He took the name from the title of a Beatles song.
Throughout the decades since, Mr. Manson has remained an enigma. Was he a paranoid schizophrenic, as some observers have suggested? Was he a sociopath, devoid of human feeling? Was he a charismatic guru, as his followers once believed and his fans seemingly still do? . . .
From the age of 12 on, Charles was placed in a string of reform schools . . .
Escaping often, he committed burglaries, auto thefts and armed robberies, landing in between in juvenile detention centers and eventually federal reformatories. He was paroled from the last one at 19, in May 1954. . .
By March 1967, when Mr. Manson, then 32, was paroled from his latest prison stay, he had spent more than half his life in correctional facilities. On his release, he moved to the Bay Area and eventually settled in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, the nerve center of hippiedom, just in time for the Summer of Love.
There, espousing a philosophy that was an idiosyncratic mix of Scientology, hippie anti-authoritarianism, Beatles lyrics, the Book of Revelation and the writings of Hitler, he began to draw into his orbit the rootless young adherents who would become known as the Manson family. . .
On June 15, 1970, Mr. Manson, Ms. Atkins, Ms. Krenwinkel and a fourth family member, Leslie Van Houten, went on trial for murder. . .
During the trial, the bizarre became routine. On one occasion, Mr. Manson lunged at the judge with a pencil. On another, he punched his lawyer in open court. At one point, Mr. Manson appeared in court with an “X” carved into his forehead; his co-defendants quickly followed suit. (Mr. Manson later carved the X into a swastika, which remained flagrantly visible ever after.)
Outside the courthouse, a small flock of chanting family members kept vigil. One of them, Lynette Fromme, nicknamed Squeaky, would make headlines herself in 1975 when she tried to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford. . .
On March 29,  the jury voted to give all four defendants the death penalty. In 1972, after capital punishment was temporarily outlawed in California, their sentences were reduced to life in prison. . .
Mr. Manson was turned down for parole a dozen times, most recently in 2012. . .
Read the entire obituary and related articles in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/20/obituaries/charles-manson-dead.html