Charles Manson knew to manipulate his followers into, among other things, butchering actress Sharon Tate. He wanted to unleash racial riots.
Charles Manson was a “hippie from hell;” the American cult leader with the penetrating, confused look in his eyes died on Sunday at the age of 83.
His name is inextricably linked to the 1969 murder of his most famous victim, actress Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski. At the order of a crazed Manson, Tate, three of her guests and a chance guest who was visiting her housekeeper were brutally murdered during the night of Aug. 8 and Aug. 9 at her house in Beverly Hills. The heavily pregnant actress was lying in bed when four perpetrators, three women and one man, entered her room and started stabbing her and her guests. They wrote “Pigs” on the wall with a blood-drenched sheet.
The events were so shocking that the media spoke of an abrupt ending to the carefree “summer of love” on the American West Coast. “Slaves of Satan,” the Algemeen Handelsblad wrote about the perpetrators.
Manson, the child of a 16-year-old mother, was a petty criminal and had spent many years in prison for pimping, among other crimes, when he moved to San Francisco in the spring of 1967 and to Los Angeles a year later. Born November 1934, he was much older than most of the hippies around him, but he quickly became a cult figure who attracted many followers, most of them troubled adolescents who were easily brainwashed.
Manson was a pretty good singer and songwriter. Drummer Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys let him and (mainly) his girls live in his villa on Sunset Boulevard and promised to record an album with him. Singer Neil Young also praised him (“he’s just out of control”) and went on to dedicate the song “Revolution Blues” to Manson.
In May 1968, Manson and his “family” of slavish followers moved into the Spahn Ranch, a place about a half-hour drive east of Los Angeles where westerns such as the TV show “Bonanza” had been filmed. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll dominated life, but the manipulative Manson increasingly expressed himself as an uninhibited prophet of doom. He found inspiration for his racist theories in the 1968 “White Album” by The Beatles. The song “Helter Skelter” especially affected him. Helter Skelter referred to a spiral-shaped fairground ride, but Manson saw the text as confirming his prediction of a forthcoming clash between black and white. “I’m coming down fast but I’m miles above you,” as the song went.
In the absence of the predicted clash between black and white, Manson decided to take matters into his own hands in 1969. After a drug dealer he had befriended was killed on his behalf on July 25, Manson let it be known on Aug. 8 that the time was ripe for “helter skelter,” and he sent four followers to 10050 Cielo Drive, the house of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, with the assignment to slaughter everyone as brutally as possible. On Aug. 10, another massacre took place at the house of business couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, during which the walls were smeared with text like “Death to all the pigs” and “Helter Skelter.”
Manson received a total of nine life sentences in 1971 for his involvement in seven murders. Thanks to the testimony of the then 20-year-old Manson disciple Linda Kasabian, who watched the slaughter at the Tate house, gruesome details were disclosed during the trial. She also recounted the intensive sessions Manson held to put his followers in a trance.
During his trial, Manson carved a swastika on his forehead. In the past few years, he repeatedly asked for his release from Corcoran State Prison. “Sure, I am crazy. But who cares,” he once said in an interview from prison. “You know, long ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everyone is crazy.”