News World Charles Manson, leader of murderous cult, dies aged 83
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Charles Manson, leader of murderous cult, dies aged 83

charles manson in hospital
One source has told US media that Charles Manson is "seriously ill". Photo: Getty
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Charles Manson, the notorious leader of the Manson Family cult that murdered actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969, has died. He was 83.

A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections says Manson died of natural causes on Sunday night local time (Monday AEDT).

Last week he was rushed to hospital and had been receiving treatment under the close supervision of five attending police officers. He was transferred out of Corcoran State Prison, where he had been serving nine life sentences.

A petty criminal who had been in and out of jail since childhood, the charismatic, guru-like Manson surrounded himself in the 1960s with runaways and other lost souls and then sent his disciples to butcher some of LA’s rich and famous in what prosecutors said was a bid to trigger a race war – an idea he got from a twisted reading of the Beatles song Helter Skelter.

The slayings horrified the world and, together with the deadly violence that erupted later in 1969 during a Rolling Stones concert at California’s Altamont Speedway, exposed the dangerous, drugged-out underside of the counterculture movement and seemed to mark the death of the era of peace and love.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Manson maintained during his tumultuous trial in 1970 that he was innocent and that society itself was guilty.

“These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them; I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up,” he said in a courtroom soliloquy.

Charles Manson with swastika
Manson encouraged his followers to kill nine people in the Los Angeles area in 1969. Photo: AP

The Manson Family, as his followers were called, slaughtered five of its victims on August 9, 1969, at Tate’s home: the actress, who was eight months pregnant, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, Polish movie director Voityck Frykowski and Steven Parent, a friend of the estate’s caretaker. Tate’s husband, director Roman Polanski, was out of the country at the time.

The next night, a wealthy grocer and his wife, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, were stabbed to death in their home across town.

The killers scrawled such phrases as “Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” (sic) in blood at the crime scenes.

Three months later, a Manson follower was jailed on an unrelated charge and told a cellmate about the bloodbath, leading to the cult leader’s arrest.

In the annals of American crime, Manson became the embodiment of evil, a short, shaggy-haired, bearded figure with a demonic stare and an “X” – later turned into a swastika – carved into his forehead.

Manson was born in Cincinnati on November 12, 1934, to a teenager, possibly a prostitute, and was in reform school by the time he was eight. After serving a 10-year sentence for cheque forgery in the 1960s, Manson was said to have pleaded with authorities not to release him because he considered prison home.

“My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system,” he would later say in a monologue on the witness stand. “I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.”

He was set free in San Francisco during the heyday of the hippie movement in the city’s Haight-Ashbury section, and though he was in his mid-30s by then, he began collecting followers – mostly women – who likened him to Jesus Christ. Most were teenagers; many came from good homes but were at odds with their parents.

The “family” eventually established a commune-like base at the Spahn Ranch, a ramshackle former movie location outside Los Angeles, where Manson manipulated his followers with drugs, supervised orgies and subjected them to bizarre lectures.

Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate was married to director Roman Polanski at the time of her murder by the Manson Family. Photo: Getty

He had musical ambitions and befriended rock stars, including Beach Boy Dennis Wilson.

By the summer of 1969, Manson had failed to sell his songs, and the rejection was later seen as a trigger for the violence. He complained that Wilson took a Manson song called Cease to Exist, revised it into Never Learn Not to Love and recorded it with the Beach Boys without giving Manson credit.

Manson was obsessed with Beatles music, particularly Piggies and Helter Skelter, a hard-rocking song that he interpreted as forecasting the end of the world. He told his followers that “Helter Skelter is coming down” and predicted a race war would destroy the planet.

According to testimony, Manson sent his devotees out on the night of Tate’s murder with instructions to “do something witchy”. The state’s star witness, Linda Kasabian, who was granted immunity, testified that Manson tied up the LaBiancas, then ordered his followers to kill. But Manson insisted: “I have killed no one, and I have ordered no one to be killed.”

His trial was nearly scuttled when US President Richard Nixon said Manson was “guilty, directly or indirectly”. Manson grabbed a newspaper and held up the front page headline for jurors to read: “Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares.” Lawyers demanded a mistrial but were turned down.

Charles Manson escorted to his arraignment in 1969
The Manson-masterminded killings shocked the world and brought a halt to the Summer of Love. Photo: AP

Manson was also later convicted of the slayings of musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea.

Over the decades, Manson and his followers appeared sporadically at parole hearings, where their bids for freedom were repeatedly rejected. The women suggested they had been rehabilitated, but Manson himself stopped attending, saying prison had become his home.