Charles Manson, one of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century, who was very likely the most culturally persistent and perhaps also the most inscrutable, died on Sunday in a hospital in Kern County, Calif., north of Los Angeles. He was 83 and had been behind bars for most of his life.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced his death in a news release. In accordance with federal and state privacy regulations, no cause was given; he had been hospitalized in January for intestinal bleeding but was ruled too frail to undergo surgery.
Mr. Manson was a semiliterate habitual criminal and failed musician before he came to irrevocable attention in the late 1960s as the wild-eyed leader of the Manson family, a murderous band of young drifters in California. Convicted of nine murders in all, he was known in particular for the seven brutal killings collectively called the Tate-LaBianca murders, committed by his followers on two consecutive August nights in 1969.
No Name Maddox, as Mr. Manson was officially first known, was born on Nov. 12, 1934, to a 16-year-old unwed mother in Cincinnati. (Many accounts give the date erroneously as Nov. 11.) His mother, Kathleen Maddox, was often described as having been a prostitute. What is certain, according to Mr. Bugliosi’s book and other accounts, is that she was a heavy drinker who lived on the margins of society with a series of men.
Mr. Manson apparently never knew his biological father. His mother briefly married another man, William Manson, and gave her young son the name Charles Milles Manson.
Kathleen often disappeared for long periods — when Charles was 5, for instance, she was sent to prison for robbing a gas station — leaving him to bounce among relatives in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. She was paroled when Charles was 8 and took him back, but kept him for only a few years.
The Killing Spree
Shortly after midnight on Aug. 9, Ms. Atkins, Ms. Krenwinkel and Mr. Watson entered the house while Ms. Kasabian waited outside. Through a frenzied combination of shooting, stabbing, beating and hanging, they murdered Ms. Tate and four others in the house and on the grounds: Jay Sebring, a Hollywood hairdresser; Abigail Folger, an heiress to the Folger coffee fortune; Voytek (also spelled Wojciech) Frykowski, Ms. Folger’s boyfriend; and Steven Parent, an 18-year-old visitor. Ms. Tate’s husband, Mr. Polanski, was in London at the time.
Before leaving, Ms. Atkins scrawled the word “pig” in blood on the front door of the house; in Mr. Manson’s peculiar logic, the killings were supposed to look like the work of black militants.
The next night, Aug. 10, Mr. Manson and a half-dozen followers drove to a Los Angeles house he appeared to have selected at random. Inside, Mr. Manson tied up the residents — a wealthy grocer named Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary — before leaving. After he was gone, several family members stabbed the couple to death. The phrases “Death to Pigs” and “Healter Skelter,” misspelled, were scrawled in blood at the scene.
The seven murders went unsolved for months. Then, in the autumn of 1969, the police closed in on the Manson family after Ms. Atkins, in jail on an unrelated murder charge, bragged to cellmates about the killings.
On June 15, 1970, Mr. Manson, Ms. Atkins, Ms. Krenwinkel and a fourth family member, Leslie Van Houten, went on trial for murder. Ms. Kasabian, who had been present on both nights but said she had not participated in the killings, became the prosecution’s star witness and was given immunity. Mr. Watson, who had fled to Texas, was tried and convicted separately.
During the trial, the bizarre became routine. On one occasion, Mr. Manson lunged at the judge with a pencil. On another, he punched his lawyer in open court. At one point, Mr. Manson appeared in court with an “X” carved into his forehead; his co-defendants quickly followed suit. (Mr. Manson later carved the X into a swastika, which remained flagrantly visible ever after.)
Outside the courthouse, a small flock of chanting family members kept vigil. One of them, Lynette Fromme, nicknamed Squeaky, would make headlines herself in 1975 when she tried to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford.
On Jan. 25, 1971, after nine days’ deliberation, the jury found Mr. Manson, Ms. Atkins and Ms. Krenwinkel guilty of seven counts of murder each. Ms. Van Houten, who had been present only at the LaBianca murders, was found guilty of two counts. All four were also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder.
On March 29, the jury voted to give all four defendants the death penalty. In 1972, after capital punishment was temporarily outlawed in California, their sentences were reduced to life in prison.
Mr. Manson was convicted separately of two other murders: those of Gary Hinman, a musician killed by Manson family members in late July 1969, and Donald Shea, a Barker Ranch stuntman killed late that August. Altogether, Mr. Manson and seven family members were eventually convicted of one to nine murders apiece.
Incarcerated in a series of prisons over the years, Mr. Manson passed the time by playing the guitar, doing menial chores and making scorpions and spiders out of thread from his socks. His notoriety made him a target: In 1984, he was treated for second- and third-degree burns after being doused with paint thinner by a fellow inmate and set ablaze.
Mr. Manson was turned down for parole a dozen times, most recently in 2012. Most of the other convicted family members remain in prison. Ms. Atkins died in prison in 2009, at 61, of natural causes
Manson denies it all
To the end of his life, Mr. Manson denied having ordered the Tate-LaBianca murders. Nor, as he replied to a question he was often asked, did he feel remorse, in any case.
He said as much in 1986 in a prison interview with the television journalist Charlie Rose.
“So you didn’t care?” Mr. Rose asked, invoking Ms. Tate and her unborn child.
“Care?” Mr. Manson replied.
He added, “What the hell does that mean, ‘care’?”