Charles Manson dead

Charles Manson, convicted of masterminding a series of murders in 1969, avoided the death penalty but spent the rest of his life in prison, He has just died, aged 83.

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LA Times: Charles Manson, mastermind of 1969 murders, dies at 83

Charles Manson was an unlikely figure to evolve into the personification of evil. A few inches over five feet, he was a petty criminal and small-time hustler. And his followers bore little resemblance to the stereotypical image of hardened killers. Most were in their early twenties, middle-class white kids, hippies and runaways who fell under his charismatic sway.

But in the summer of 1969, Manson masterminded a string of bizarre murders in Los Angeles that both horrified and fascinated the nation and signified to many the symbolic end of the 1960s and the idealism and naiveté the decade represented.

Considered one of the most infamous criminals of the 20th century, Manson died of natural causes at a Kern County Hospital at 8:13 p.m Sunday, according to Vicky Waters, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was 83.

Sentenced to death for the crime, Manson escaped execution when the state Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional at the time. He spent decades behind bars, an unrepentant and incorrigible inmate who’d been cited for behavioral issues more than 100 times.

His death is more of a curiosity than anything, I doubt many will mourn much.

Manson did not commit the murders himself; instead he persuaded his group of followers to carry out the killings. The crimes received frenzied news coverage, because so many lurid and sensational elements coalesced at the time — Hollywood celebrity, cult behavior, group sex, drugs and savage murders that concluded with the killers scrawling words with their victims’ blood.

Manson and four of his followers — Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson — were convicted of murdering actress Sharon Tate, the wife of movie director Roman Polanski, in their Bel-Air home on Aug. 9, 1969, along with four others.

Tate, 26, who was eight months pregnant, pleaded with her killers to spare the life of her unborn baby. Atkins replied, “Woman, I have no mercy for you.” Tate was stabbed 16 times. “PIG” was written in her blood on the front door.

The next night they killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their Los Feliz home. Manson picked the house at random, tied up the couple and then left the killings to the others. They cut “WAR” in Leno LaBianca’s flesh and left a carving fork in his stomach and a knife in his throat. Using the LaBiancas’ blood, they scrawled on the wall and refrigerator in blood “DEATH TO PIGS” and “HEALTER SKELTER,” the misspelled title of a Beatles song.

The 9½-month trial — the longest in U.S. history at the time — was as bizarre as the crimes.

A group of young female followers with shaved heads gathered outside the courthouse and conducted a 24-hour vigil for Manson. One morning Manson entered the court room with an X carved into his forehead and his followers soon did the same.

During the trial, Manson jumped over his attorney’s table and made a dash for the bench. While the bailiffs were dragging him out of the courtroom, Manson shouted to Judge Charles H. Older, “In the name of Christian justice, someone should chop off your head!” The judge began packing a .38-caliber revolver under his robe.

Van Houten’s attorney, Ronald Hughes, disappeared during the trial and was later found dead. Prosecutors suspected he was another Manson victim.

Bugliosi argued during the trial that Manson orchestrated the murders as part of a plan to spark a race war that he called Helter Skelter. Blacks would win the war even though, according to Manson, they were inferior to whites. Then he and his followers would survive by living underground near Death Valley and would eventually take over power. In a later trial, Manson was convicted in the slayings of musician Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea, who worked at the San Fernando Valley ranch where the family lived for a time.

In 1972, the death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment when the state Supreme Court abolished the death penalty. Since then, Manson and his followers have been eligible for parole hearings. Only one of those convicted in the nine murders — Steve Grogan, who was involved in the Shea shooting — has been paroled. Atkins died in 2009 while incarcerated in Chowchilla.

Manson — who had spent more than half of his life in prison before the conviction — was housed at Corcoran State Prison since 1989. He broke prison rules dozens of times for violations including possessing cellular phones and a hacksaw blade, throwing hot coffee at a staff member, spitting in a guard’s face, fighting, refusing to obey orders and trying to flood a tier in his cellblock. Long ago, he turned the X on his forehead into a swastika. He was denied parole 12 times and had numerous disciplinary violations. His last parole hearing was in 2012, which he declined to attend.

So it’s a notable death but not a particularly sad one.