Even in the drug-drenched, hippie seventies, this mass murder shocked America. A perverted maniac, a madman who fancied himself a prophet, Charles Manson and his rabid followers staged a two-day “festival” of villainy stained with blood of innocent people.

In August 1969, on an old abandoned ranch near Los Angeles, a picturesque group of social scum and petty hooligans sat in the middle of ramshackle, dilapidated buildings and listened to ominous sermons of a small, bearded man whom many of those present regarded as a prophet. It was time, he said in a low voice, for helter skelter—the beginning of a war between the black and white races, a war that he, the preacher, had long foreseen, a war that would purify the earth forever and open the way for him to rule the world, the entire planet. With this grim prediction, Charles Manson, a pimp, thief, and failed musician, opened a campaign of terror that is still horrifying to this day.

Bloody Orgy

By the time the bloody two-day orgy was over, seven people, including the beautiful film actress Sharon Tate, who was nine months pregnant, were already dead, their blood was written on the walls and doors of the houses where the tragedy occurred. The money in the house remained intact, despite the apparent wealth of the victims. There was no sign of revenge—only a senseless massacre, motiveless murder of seven people whose only “crime” was obviously that their lives had turned out well. These evildoers went down in the history of crime as the “Tate-LaBianca murders”. For many weeks, the police could not find the criminals, despite investigating dozens of versions. The truth was revealed only after five long months of continuous search. It happened by accident: the police arrested a woman suspected of another murder, seemingly unrelated to the tragedy of the family.

Susan Atkins, who had long been known to the police and whose childlike appearance concealed, as Manson himself admitted, “the most perversely imaginative” of all the members of the so-called “family”, was held in connection with the murder of drug dealer Gary Hinman. The murder took place ten days after the Tate house massacre. While awaiting the end of the investigation and arraignment, Atkins began bragging to her neighbors about her role in the Tate-LaBianca murders. She even claimed that she had tasted the blood of the pregnant actress, and admired the leader of the “family”. He was, she said, a living god who, with supernatural powers, could make any of his followers do what he, god, wanted. Atkins openly reveled in her stories, especially when it came to the death of the movie actress. Choking on words, she said: “It was such a wonderful feeling… When I stabbed her the first time and she screamed, everything inside me turned upside down… I stabbed her again. I stabbed her until she was silent. It was like sexual satisfaction. Especially when you see blood. It's even better than orgasm.” Two witnesses to these revelations reported them to the police, and the police, by coincidence, were already dealing with members of the Manson sect, suspecting them of stealing cars and setting fire to them. A few days later, Atkins told about the murder to the Los Angeles Times, though without mentioning her role or repeating previous revelations. Just a few hours later, the story of Sharon Tate's murder was all over the world. Manson immediately became the most notorious criminal ever to appear in America.

Son of a prostitute

Charles Manson was the illegitimate son of a careless and indifferent prostitute. He was born in 1935 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Young Charlie, who never knew who his real father was, spent the first years of his life in orphanages. A sullen and unruly boy, he failed at school. His transition from childhood to adolescence was marked by numerous accidents and several correctional institutions for young offenders.

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Young Charles Manson

In March 1951, the court ordered Charlie to be sent to a boys' boarding school in Washington. The following year, just a few days before his release, young Manson raped a boy while holding a razor blade to his throat. As a result, he was sent to a penal colony, where he stayed until May 1954. Although Manson's sexual proclivities were mostly homosexual in his youth, soon after his release, he met and married a seventeen-year-old waitress, Rosalie Jean Willis. Together with his pregnant wife, he went to California, but even then he was true to himself—he stole a car for the trip. As a result, he received three years in prison. Charles Manson Jr. was born when his father was behind bars. Rosalie often visited her husband, but these visits ceased in 1957: she met another man and true love.

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The following year, Manson was released, but continued to constantly come into conflict with the law. In between jail stints, he managed to marry again and became a father for the second time. It was 1964, and Manson, like many young Americans, was influenced by the Beatles. But unlike millions of other members of the legendary four, he wasn't just in love with them. This love turned into fanaticism. In 1967, Manson, who was already thirty-two years old, ended another term of imprisonment. Apparently, he was so used to living in prison that he asked for permission to stay, but was refused. And he went to San Francisco. There, he met the hippies, the “flower children.” With only a guitar and a pair of underwear, Manson finally found his niche in society. He became a wolf among the lambs.

Leader of the outcasts

The shaggy folk singer with his street philosophy turned out to be a revelation for street kids and drug addicts, a kind of Messiah. He, in turn, found in this environment what he had long sought—an appreciative, easily managed audience. In 1969, Manson and his followers, mostly young middle-class girls who had severed all ties with their families, moved south. By chance, they found themselves on an abandoned ranch near Los Angeles, where the “family” was founded. Soon, other youngsters, charmed by life, began to join the ragamuffin gathering. Together they smoked pot, danced naked under the bright stars over the California desert, and listened to Charles's rambling songs, which were a jumble of Beatles, Bible verses, and disillusionment with a society that had rejected him with disdain.

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Manson's “family”

Charlie, as the participants of these parties later told, proclaimed that the time had come when the “helter skelter”—the war between the races—was about to begin. According to his delusional predictions, the blacks will win this war. They will destroy the white race all over the earth, of course, with the exception of Manson himself and those who follow him. Then, Charlie claimed, the blacks would join the “family”, which by that time should have grown to 144,000 members (the so-called “chosen”, the number of which Manson calculated based on the biblical mention of twelve Israeli tribes, each of which had two to twelve thousand tribesmen). Manson had big plans. He believed that one day he would rule the entire planet. At the same time, according to Greg Jacobson, an able guy who knew him well, Charlie was convinced that the Beatles were guiding him to a brilliant future. Greg said: “through their songs, they were supposedly talking to Charlie, warning him across the ocean of what was going to happen in the near future.” Most often, Manson talked about the so-called “Revolution 9”. “That's what the Beatles were trying to tell people about,” Jacobson said. “This prediction is directly related to the biblical Apocalypse.” The biblical revelation about Armageddon was interpreted by Charles as a call to the blacks to fight a cleansing battle on earth. But at the same time, blacks, in his opinion, needed “help” to start a race battle. This “help” should be provided by him, Manson, and his “family”. They will strike at the heart of the white establishment, deliberately leaving “threads”—evidence that the crime was committed by black radicals. That's when the helter skelter begins.”

“Angels of death”

In the wee hours of August 9, 1969, Manson dispatched four black-clad members of the “family,” three of whom were women: Susan Atkins, a former Church choir singer; Patricia Krenwinkel, who once worked as a secretary in the office of a firm; Linda Kasabian, who later became the main witness for the prosecution; and the only male member of the team, Charles Watson, who had recently been a great athlete in Texas. The four angels of death arrived in the upscale Benedict Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles and stopped at the top of a hill, where they could clearly see the highway and a large mansion. This mansion was rented by film actress Sharon Tate and her husband, film director Roman Polanski. To prevent the owners from alerting the police, Watson cut the telephone wires. The four of them went down in the car, approached the mansion cautiously, and entered it noiselessly.

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Roman Polanski & Sharon Tate, Cannes Film Festival 1968

And the massacre began. Movie actress Tate, who was only twenty-six years old, was expecting a baby any day. She was killed with sixteen stabs. Other victims also died horribly. While bludgeoning Wojtek Frykowski, a Polish film Director, Watson whispered ecstatically: “I am the devil, and I have come to do the devil's work.” When the director lost consciousness, the killer stabbed him with a knife. Stephen Parent, an eighteen-year-old guest of the mansion manager, was stabbed four times. Jay Sebring, a Hollywood fashion designer and hair stylist, was shot and stabbed. Abigail Folger, daughter of a millionaire coffee company owner, was killed on the front lawn when she was trying to run away. Before leaving the house, the savage murderers wrote the word “pig” in the blood of their victims on the front door.

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Los Angeles was shocked to learn of the massacre. Nevertheless, Manson decided to strike again without delay. This time he himself led the gang. Next evening, Manson and three of his closest followers went to the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, owners of a chain of small stores. Manson personally tied up innocent people and gave them to the “children of the devil”—Watson, Krenwinkel and seventeen-year-old Leslie Houten, recently the “beauty queen” of one of the colleges. Later, the court found out the terrible details of this tragedy. The victims died a slow and painful death. Three maniacs literally cut off pieces of meat from them with knives and forks. Krenwinkel carved the word “war” into Leno LaBianca's stomach, then left a fork sticking out of the dead body. At first, the police did not connect this heinous crime with the Tate mansion massacre. In the mansion itself and near it, detectives found remnants of cocaine and marijuana. Experts concluded that the massacre was the result of excessive drug use by the residents of the mansion. It was a terrible mistake. The police were so convinced of the “narcotic cause” of the bloody drama in the Polanski mansion that they ignored one very important circumstance. Shortly after the massacre in this mansion, two detectives investigating the murder of a Gary Hinman, reported to their superiors that murderers left an inscription on the wall in blood at the scene of the crime, as in the case of the Tate house. And the subsequent report of the detectives said they arrested a suspect named Bobby Beausoleil. Earlier, this same Bobby was seen in a group led by a bearded guy named Charlie. However, the police stubbornly refused to believe that there was a connection between the two cases. And so it went on until Atkins told everything to her cellmates.

“These are your children…”

When the criminals were caught, it turned out that rich and famous people were slaughtered by the “children of freedom”, those who left their well-off middle-class families to live in an atmosphere of drugs, unrestrained sex and violence. At the trial, which lasted nine months, Manson described his followers very clearly: “Children who come to your homes with knives in their hands are your children. I didn't teach them that. You taught me. Most of those who came to my old ranch, those who can be called “family”, are rejected by you… I did everything I could for them, I picked them up from the garbage dump, I told them, “there's nothing wrong with love.” …I am only what lives inside each and every one of you… I never went to school, I never really learned to read and write, I was in prison, so I remained undeveloped, I remained a child, while your world grew up. So, I looked at what you created, and I couldn't understand it.”

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At that moment, Manson's eyes went wide and his voice boomed. Those present in the hall noticed in all his appearance a touch of madness and at the same time some fascinating power of influence on others. Manson continued: “If I could, I would pull out this microphone now and blow your brains out with it. Because that's what you deserve, that's what you deserve… Is it a secret that music encourages young people to rise up against the establishment? Music speaks to you every day, but you are deaf, dumb, and blind, and you cannot perceive it.” Indeed, even during the trial, events showed that Manson was right in many ways. For thousands of disillusioned teenagers, he became a heroic victim in the name of a just cause. The leaflets praised him as an “innocent man” who had joined the fight against oppression.

The verdict of society

On Monday, March 29, 1971, after the longest criminal trial in America, a jury found Manson and his thoughtless “servants of death” guilty of all charges against them. Three weeks after the jury's verdict, judge Charles Older sentenced all the accused to death. But in 1972, when the death penalty was abolished in the state of California, the sentence was commuted to life in prison. However, Charlie was dangerous until his death in jail in 2017. He received lots of letters from disillusioned teenagers. Manson was spending his days strumming a guitar or making scorpion figures out of whatever material he could find in solitary confinement in a heavily guarded California state prison. He co-authored a book with another inmate entitled “Manson in His Own Words”, which was published in 1988.

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As for Manson's followers, those who killed to “fulfill ” his prophecies, unlike Charlie, they apparently no longer hold devilish beliefs. Susan Atkins, now in her forties, got married in jail and returned to Christianity. Forty-year-old Leslie Houten, while in jail, graduated from college and received a degree in art history. The third woman, Patricia Krenwinkel, also passed the age of forty. She applied for clemency, but the request was rejected in November 1989. Charles Watson is serving his life sentence in a California men's prison. He also returned to Christianity and helps the local priest. Watson is married and has three children. Linda Kasabian, who was the main witness for the prosecution at the trial and, therefore, escaped punishment, now lives in provincial New Hampshire and has four children. Manson showed indifference to whether he would ever be released or not. “I want you to know,” he wrote from his cell in 1988, ” that I have the whole world at my disposal. By the power of my will, I am at liberty, I am among you.”

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