The Death of Charles Manson

Charles Manson, the notorious California cult leader, died in prison on Sunday, November 19, 2017. He had been incarcerated for almost 50 years before passing away from natural causes at the age of 83. He was arguably one of the most famous serial killers in American history, creating a cult that was known as the Manson Family, and instructing the members to commit multiple acts of murder. In 1971 Manson was found guilty of 7 counts of first-degree murder and 1 count of conspiracy to commit murder, and was sentenced to death. However, in that same year, the state of California invalidated the death penalty statute, and Manson’s sentence was converted to a life sentence.

The Life of a Cult Leader

Charles Manson spent the majority of his young life in and out of correctional institutions. His mother was an alcoholic as well as a criminal, spending time in prison during Manson’s childhood for burglary. Manson was incarcerated twice before the Manson Family murders-- once for auto theft in 1956 and once for attempting to cash a forged check in 1959.

During the 1960’s, Manson began to form his cult. He adopted the term “Helter Skelter” from a Beatles song, and later interpreted it to signal an impending race war. The words were found written in blood at the home of actress Sharon Tate. Manson believed that the murders carried out by the members of his cult would drive the apocalyptic race war. He feared that people of color would overthrow the white establishment.

Manson became known as a symbol of insanity and violence, and a pop culture arose around his life and ideas. He dabbled in music, recording several songs that were later commercially released and covered by various musicians. He was erratic, violent, but charismatic—the perfect recipe for a cult leader.

On August 9, 1969, several members of the Manson Family entered the home of actress Sharon Tate. Following Manson’s instructions, Tate was killed along with four others: a celebrity hairstylist, an heiress, a writer, and a family friend. Tate was eight months pregnant on the night of her murder. The next night, Leno LaBianca and his wife were killed in their Los Angeles home. Manson tagged along this time, unhappy with how the events of the previous night had played out. The two were stabbed over 100 times with a bayonet, and cult members wrote phrases like “Helter Skelter” and “Death to pigs” on the walls using the victim’s blood. Manson was formally convicted of the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1971, as well as convicted for the murders of two others: Gary Hinman and Donald Shea. After the state of California invalidated the death penalty, Manson was given a sentence of life in prison.

To this day, Charles Manson continues to fascinate the public. He was a twisted yet sophisticated killer, captivating and terrifying the country with his cult and followers. Even after he had been jailed, his followers carried out murder attempts. In 1975, one of his followers was convicted of an attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford. While in prison, he received more mail than any other inmate in American history. A spokesperson for the prison stated that he had “hundreds” of violations during his sentence, and was formally denied parole 22 times.

Manson’s life may be over, but his legacy is certainly not. He has gone down in history as one of the most famed killers of all time.

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