I feel better knowing Charles Manson has left the planet.
He died Nov. 19, age 83 – almost 50 years after the way he should have died – in the electric chair. He was probably comfortably sedated at his death, so unlike his victims who suffered hideous pain and unimaginable terror.
In 1972, Manson’s death sentence was changed to life in prison after capital punishment was abolished in California. Throughout the years I’ve wavered on the subject of capital punishment. Advances in DNA analysis have convinced me: I’m now against it. However, if anybody deserved to be put to death, it was Charles Manson.
He liked to brag he was going to live forever. Last week, a news commentator said this about his lunatic notion of personal immortality.
“If Manson believed in reincarnation, he is certainly a cockroach now,” she said. “If he claimed to be a Christian, he is now burning in Hell.”
After all the mass shootings and terrorist attacks in recent years, younger people probably have trouble understanding why the “Manson Family” caused such widespread shock in 1969. On Aug. 9 of that year, Manson told four of his minions of evil – three women and a man – to go kill people living at a house in Los Angeles. It happened to be the home of actress Sharon Tate and her husband, film director Roman Polanski. Polanski was in Europe at the time. Staying with Tate were Abigail Folger, the coffee heiress; Jay Sebring, a hair stylist; Wojciech Frykowski, a writer; and grounds-keeper Steven Parent. It was a scene of unspeakable horror as the killers first tied up two of the victims (Tate, Sebring) with long ropes leading to a beam on the ceiling and soon the butchery began. Two of the victims (Parent, Sebring) were shot to death. Tate, who was nearly nine months pregnant with a son, begged to be spared for the life of her child. Susan Atkins later testified she was tired of hearing Tate beg and plead and so she stabbed her viciously again and again. Folger and Frykowski managed to escape from the house. They were chased and stabbed dozens of times.
The very next night, the killers struck again on Manson’s orders, breaking into the home of Los Angeles grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. They, too, were stabbed in a killing frenzy.
The crimes remained unsolved for months until Manson and his puppets of mayhem and murder were arrested at a desert ranch. After a sensational trial, he and the three women were sentenced to death. The other killer, Tex Watson, was sentenced to death at a separate trial. Atkins died at 59 in prison in 2009. Watson, 71; Leslie Van Houten, 68; and Patricia Krenwinkel, 69, remain imprisoned. Let us hope they are never paroled.
In 1975, another Manson “Family” devotee, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, tried to shoot President Gerald Ford. She, too, remains in prison, where she belongs.
The reason the Manson murders were so shocking is because at that time, the word “hippy” had become synonymous with peace, love, music, gentle camaraderie and “mind expansion” through recreational drug use. On the surface, Manson and his “girls” and “boys” appeared to be hippies, living in a commune, singing and playing all day. But, in fact, these “hippies” were mind-controlled by demented cult leader Manson, who had a long history of crime and incarceration.
In Manson’s warped mind, he envisioned an apocalyptic race war after which he and his cultish “family” would gain control as leaders of a new world. He called his sick, racist, grab-bag of violent notions “Helter Skelter,” after a song by the Beatles. The bizarre murders, he believed, would set his plans in motion. Manson fancied himself an unrecognized songwriter/singer of genius. I have no doubt the lack of recognition and fame led to his frustration, jealousy and finally, the murders.
That is why it was all so shocking: vicious killers mimicking loving hippies, crazy paranoid notions, a beautiful pregnant actress and others killed so cruelly, the in-your-face disgusting antics of the defendants (utterly without remorse), during the long twisted circus of a trial.
And that is why I (and many others my age) feel good, after all these years, that Manson finally is gone, gone, gone. Good riddance.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.