Charles Manson, the wild-eyed 1960s cult leader whose followers committed heinous murders that terrorised Los Angeles and shocked the US, has died of natural causes, according to the California Department of Corrections. He was 83.
The diminutive and charismatic Manson orchestrated a wave of violence in August 1969 that took the lives of seven people, spawned headlines worldwide and landed him and his “Manson Family” of followers in prison for most of the remainder of their lives.
He died at 8.13 p.m. on Sunday at a hospital in Kern County and had been in custody for more than 40 years, CNN reported.
Manson served nine life terms in California prisons and was denied parole 12 times. His notoriety, boosted by popular books and films, made him a cult figure to those fascinated by his dark apocalyptic visions.
The brutal killings began on August 9, 1969, at the home of actress Sharon Tate and her husband, famed movie director Roman Polanski, while he was out of the country at the time.
The first set of victims were Tate, who was eight months’ pregnant; a celebrity hairstylist named Jay Sebring; coffee fortune heiress Abigail Folger; writer Wojciech Frykowski; and Steven Parent, a friend of the family’s caretaker.
The next evening, another set of murders took place. Supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, were killed at their home. Over the course of two nights, the killers took the lives of seven people, inflicting 169 stab wounds and seven .22-caliber gunshot wounds.
The killings collectively were known as the Tate-LaBianca murders.
Manson was not at the scene of either slayings, but was nonetheless convicted of murder for directing his followers. He was sentenced to death in 1971. But before the death sentence could be carried out, California outlawed capital punishment and his sentence was reduced to life.
Gathering young followers around him in the late 1960s, Manson claimed to believe in a coming race war in America. He planned to hasten the war and emerge as the leader of a new social order — a vision he nicknamed “Helter Skelter”, after a Beatles song Manson became obsessed with.
Prosecutors argued that Manson hoped African-Americans would be blamed for the Tate-LaBianca killings, heightening racial tensions.
Manson convinced a number of his followers that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, using a combination of drugs and genuine charisma to bring the “family” — mainly young, middle-class women — under his control.
In 2014, Manson was granted a marriage licence to wed a 26-year-old woman who said she loved him, but the licence expired and the marriage did not go ahead.
More than four decades after the brutal killing spree, the Manson family’s actions, retold through books, films and music, continue to haunt the American consciousness.