Charles Manson has died. According to the California Department of Corrections, the 83-year-old cult leader and convicted serial murderer was pronounced dead on Sunday, having succumbed to natural causes.
It’s a painfully ordinary demise for a man who orchestrated such brutal endings for his victims. Rather Manson’s his unstable upbringing, his criminal past, his quasi-commune turned deadly cult, it’s them we should remember. The ten people denied the long life and natural death that their killer ultimately enjoyed.
Eight of them – four men, three women and unborn child – were slain during a two-day killing spree that began in the early hours of August 9, 1969 in Beverly Hills, California. While Manson didn’t inflict a single one of the 169 stab wounds or seven .22-caliber gunshot wounds that claimed their lives, he ordered a group of his blindingly loyal followers – including Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Tex Watson – to do so on his behalf. For his role in the crimes, he served seven life sentences, plus two for later murders.
If there’s one name that became tangled with Manson’s twisted legacy it’s Sharon Tate. The Hollywood actress and model was the most famous of his victims; she’d appeared on magazine covers, in small television roles and earned a Golden Globe nomination for her part in the 1967 cult classic film, Valley of the Dolls.
In 1968 she married director Roman Polanski, and it was in their home on Cielo Drive that 26-year-old Tate was murdered, tied by the neck to friend Jay Sebring and stabbed 16 times. The motivation for her death? The house had formerly been occupied by Terry Melcher, a music producer who had once denied Manson a recording contract. Snubbed, the aspiring musician asked Tex Watson “a favour”: to take his cohorts to “that house where Melcher used to live” and “totally destroy everyone in [it], as gruesome as you can”.
Tate was just two weeks away from giving birth at the time of her death to her first child, a boy named Richard.
Yet despite this tragic fact, despite her fame, it was the stories of Tate’s killers that dominated the narrative – a phenomenon her mother, Doris Tate, sought to stop by campaigning to change Californian criminal law to allow victim impact statements to be read during sentencing of violent criminals. Her success meant that she was able to do address her own daughter’s killers, and helped “transform Sharon’s legacy from murder victim to a symbol of victims’ rights”.
Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger
Close friends of Tate, lovers Frykowski and Folger had been house-sitting Tate and Polanski's home while the pair were away on separate film projects. They remained there after Tate returned on July 20, keeping her company until her husband's arrival closer to her due date.
Folger, heir to a US coffee empire and heavily involved in civil rights and social justice causes, nearly managed to escape the night of the murders, but was tackled by Krenwinkel and stabbed to death on the lawn outside the home.