One of the most notorious cult leaders in American history has died after spending most of his life in prison for murders committed by his followers. Charles Manson died of natural causes Sunday, prison officials said in a news release. He had been admitted to the hospital earlier in the month; he was 83. Manson would have likely spent the rest of his days in prison; he had been denied parole 12 times.
Manson did not commit the murders himself, but rather he directed his followers to carry them out. He was the leader of a group of young followers called the Manson family. The teachings of the cult predicted that armageddon in the form of a race war was coming, and that Manson had been chosen to lead the country after it was over. He said that the Beatles lyrics spoke to him and that he was a mixture of Jesus and the devil.
The first Los Angeles murders happened in 1969 at actress Sharon Tate's house. Tate, who was eight months pregnant, was killed, along with Abigail Folger, the heiress of the coffee company; Wojciech Frykowski, a writer; Steven Parent, a caretaker; and Jay Sebring, a famous hairstylist. They were all stabbed to death, and Tate's blood was used to write "pig" on the front door.
The second set of murders happened the next day in a wealthy area of Los Angeles. Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were killed, leading to the collective murders being named the Tate-LaBianca murders (eventually the moniker Manson murders overtook that as he grew more famous).
Manson didn't go to the murder scenes, but he was convicted for directing them. At one of the crime scenes his followers wrote "Helter Skelter" on the wall in blood in an attempt to make it seem like the Black Panthers did it, the idea being that it might start the race war he had predicted.
Another several members of the Manson family cult were also found guilty. Manson then was connected to another two killings, those of Gary Hinman, a musician, and Donald "Shorty" Shea, stuntman. The murders were committed by other Manson followers, but he was charged and convicted with first-degree murder in those cases also.
Interestingly, Manson was not initially meant to serve life in prison. Instead, he was first sentenced to death. But in 1972, the Superior Court of California in the County of Los Angeles vacated the death penalty in the case thanks to a state supreme court case that found capital punishment cruel and unusual. Everyone on death row at the time then had their sentences reduced to life in prison with parole.
Then voter initiatives would reinstate the death penalty in 1972 and again at various points in the following decades, widening the scope of the death penalty law to include more cases. But for those who were on death row when it was first found unconstitutional, like Manson, their commutation to life in prison with parole was permanent.
According to the state prison officials, Manson was denied parole 12 times between Nov. 16, 1978, and April 11, 2012. He didn't attend after 1997 and wasn't due for another one until 2027. Since 1989 he has been at Protective Housing Unit at California State Prison-Corcoran, in order to keep him safe from the general prison population.
Manson and the murders have had an ongoing influence in American culture, leading to TV shows like Aquarius. Manson himself had an influence on this thanks to his interest in music. He wrote songs that were later recorded by Guns n' Roses and even released an album himself from prison. His death closes the chapter on a very dark time in counterculture history.