ON THIS DAY: Manson Family Murders

August 9, 1969

Just past midnight on August 8, which would be early in the morning on August 9, four members of the cult formed by Charles Manson descended on a tony Los Angeles estate and brutally murdered everyone inside, including Sharon Tate who was 8 and a half months pregnant. Charles Manson was not present, but he had directed four of his followers (Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian) to go to the house at 10050 Cielo Drive and kill all who were present. Those four did exactly as told and murdered, with a pistol, knives, and a rope, a total of five people. The dead were Sharon Tate, her former boyfriend Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Frykowski’s girlfriend and heir to the Folgers coffee fortune, Abigail Folger, and a 18-year-old young man named Steve Parent who was only there to visit someone who lived in a separate house on the same estate. Sharon Tate’s fully viable baby constituted a 6th victim.

In the trial that followed, Tex Watson claimed that Manson had told him to go to the houses and commit the murders in the most gruesome manner possible and he and the three women followed orders. The victims where shot and stabbed multiple times. Tate’s nearly naked body was left on the floor with huge slash marks all around where her baby lived, and subsequently suffocated when she was murdered.

On the following night, Charles Manson drove the same four killers from the previous night plus Leslie Van Houten and Steve Grogan to 3301 Waverly Drive in Los Feliz where they killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in a similar manner. Susan Atkins left a fork sticking out of Leno’s bloody belly and ‘Helter Skelter’ was smeared in blood on the refrigerator.

In less than 48 hours, members of the Manson ‘family’ had killed 7 completely innocent people close up and with knives plus a low caliber pistol. The bodies had been mutilated and cryptic messages left behind. While Manson did not stab any of those seven people, the bizarre nature of the attacks and the random choices of location could only have come from the mind of Charles Manson.

Charles Manson was born in November of 1934, and therefore in no way a Boomer like his cult members. He was the incestuous father of that warped grouping. He spent much of his life in prison well before August of 1969, and he clearly wanted to be famous. He wrote songs and even had one recorded by Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. He was unable to secure any kind of record deal but he was moved by the Beatles, and adopted the term Helter Skelter, from a 1968 Beatles album, as his moniker for the coming disorder which he believed would benefit him and his ‘family’ that was made up of mostly sexually available Boomer women. His followers were all much younger; Patricia Krenwinkel was born in 1947, Linda Kasabain in 1949, Susan Atkins in 1948 and Tex Watson in 1945. Manson directed them and had a level of control over them that the legal system determined made him culpable for their actions. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but California commuted his sentence to life in prison and he died there in 2017.

The story of the Manson murders spread in concentric circles for years, and in the trails to follow, both Manson and the other killers did a great job of giving life to what everyone else was thinking, then and now, which was that there was something sick, something deeply wrong with a society that could turn ‘ordinary’ young people, including ‘innocent’ girls, into brutal killers. It was, in a way, similar to the Eichmann trial that had preceded it in 1962 in Israel, where one of the Holocaust’s planners, Adolf Eichmann, claimed to be just following orders. It wasn’t he that was evil and ordered the murder of millions of Jews; it was Nazi society. In both cases, the larger ‘society’ was implicated and not the individual, which was a natural product of the sick society. Manson claimed that he was a mirror on society, and not just an murderous asshole.

The story of Manson and his followers has been the subject of many books, TV shows and movies, and Manson himself was figure of fascination for his entire life, which he spent in jail. A sort of ‘Mansonology’ grew around him, even as his former family members grew up in prison, grew older and wiser, and regretted to the bottom of their soul what they had done. All repudiated him and expressed deep remorse for their actions. They tried to gain release, and failed, in part because the memory of the sensational crimes never faded. Manson would go on TV now and again to put on his ‘I’m a reflection of society’ act, and that didn’t help his former family members at all.

Charles Manson showed no regret and in a way, one could see him as a sort of grifter who took advantage of the counter-culture wave that was hitting the US even though he was not a part of the youth culture and had no commitment to the hippie ethos. The Manson murders were the product of Charles Manson who saw an opening to make himself into a special person by adopting the spirit of the late sixties and using it to get sex, drugs, and power. He stood for nothing but himself, but he was an early harbinger of others to come that would bend the good will of youthful innocence and naivety for personal gain.

As an interesting thought experiment, try to imagine what Charles Manson would be attracted to today. What causes would he champion? How would he manipulate young women today? What party would be belong to?

I have written an entire series about Manon’s effect on society and speculated about who he’d be today right here: What Would Charlie Do?

At trial
Manson, towards the end.