Charles Manson, aka Satan, dead at 83

Born to a teenage single mother who once, he claimed, bartered him for a pitcher of beer, Charles Manson grew up to wreak havoc on the world that rejected him. An ex-con on the far fringes of the Los Angeles music scene, Manson assembled a “family” of young, mostly female, misfits and drifters in a ramshackle house in the desert. Over two nights in 1969, he dispatched his followers on a murder spree that killed actress Sharon Tate and six others, and destroyed whatever shreds of American innocence and complacency had survived that calamitous decade. Sentenced to death along with three of his acolytes, he escaped the gas chamber when the California Supreme Court ended capital punishment, and died Sunday, at the age of 83, still a prisoner.

There have been much bigger mass murders since, more prolific and sinister serial killers, but the Tate-LaBianca murders, as the crimes came to be called, still occupy a unique place in the American psyche: exceptionally gory (Tate, stabbed 16 times in the torso, was eight months pregnant at the time) frighteningly random (the victims, killed in their homes in wealthy hillside neighborhoods, had no connections to Manson or the other killers) and with touches, such as the word “pig” written in blood on a wall, calculated to strike fear into the heart of a nation in which the memory of the inner-city riots of the previous two years was still fresh. Different participants have suggested different motives for the killings over the years, but the one that stuck in the public mind was Manson’s supposed intention of provoking a race war, which he named “Helter Skelter,” an homage to the Beatles song of that name on 1968’s “White Album.”

And there was Manson himself, the self-described “Satan” with his wild hair and scruffy beard — the swastika tattoo on his forehead came later — his piercing gaze, and his uncanny gift for attracting vulnerable young women and bending them to his will. An embodiment of the nightmare stalking every middle-class white family where rebellious adolescents sulked in their rooms, dreaming of the forbidden fruit of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Manson offered them that, and the embrace of a “family” — what Americans would later learn to call a “cult” — in exchange, as he himself might have put it, for their souls. (Jerry Adler/Yahoo News)

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Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment on conspiracy-murder charges in connection with the Sharon Tate murder case, 1969, in Los Angeles. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Three days before he ran away from Boys Town in Omaha, Charles Manson poses in a suit and tie. (Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

The 500-acre Spahn Movie Ranch in the Santa Susana Mountains of Southern California, in 1969, where Charles Manson and his “family” lived at the time of the Tate murders. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Film director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate, lift their glasses in a toast at the premiere of his film “Rosemary’s Baby” in London on Jan. 23, 1969. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

The body of actress Sharon Tate is taken from her rented house on Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Aug. 9, 1969. Tate, who was eight months pregnant, and four other persons were found murdered by American cult-leader Charles Manson and his followers. Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, was born in 1943. (AP Photo)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

The front page of the Daily News on Dec. 3, 1969, carries the headline, “LINK 11 MURDERS TO TATE KOOKS – ‘Satan’: Leader of a Weird Cult.” The article goes on to say, “Charles Manson, 34, now in custody on the Coast, has been tabbed by California police as the leader of a pseudo-religious group of kooks responsible for ‘at least 11 murders’ in the state. Manson calls himself ‘Satan.’ The group is suspected in the Sharon Tate bloodbath of Aug. 8. Susan Atkins is alleged to have been in the Tate house during the killings while under a ‘hypnotic spell’ cast by Manson. Susan Atkins sits in Santa Monica Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to one of the 11 murders. She was not charged in the Tate killing.” (Photo: NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson smiles in the courtroom during his trial in Independence, Calif., on Dec. 4, 1969. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson, leader of a hippie cult linked to the Sharon Tate murders, is taken from jail to a courtroom at Independence, Calif., on Dec. 3, 1969, for a preliminary hearing on charges of possessing stolen property. At left is his public defender, Fred Schaefer. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson, leader of a hippie cult accused of multiple murders, leaves a Los Angeles courtroom on Dec. 22, 1969, after telling a judge “Lies have been told” about him. His followers said the 35-year-old ex-convict has hypnotic powers. At left is his public defender, Fred Schaefer. (Photo: Wally Fong/AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson replies, “It all depends on your point of view,” after a newsman asks him, “Are you insane, Charlie?” March 19, 1970, in Los Angeles. The exchange came as Manson left court, where he won permission to hire a new attorney, replacing one who had attempted to have Manson examined by psychiatrists. (Photo: George Brich/AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson, accused murderer in the Sharon Tate murder case in Los Angeles, is shown clean-shaven and with a haircut, on Nov. 10, 1970. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson followers, from left: Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, walk to court to appear for their roles in the 1969 cult killings of seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate, in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 20, 1970. California Gov. Jerry Brown is denying parole for Van Houten, the youngest follower of murderous cult leader Charles Manson. The Democratic governor said Friday, July 22, 2016, Van Houten’s “inability to explain her willing participation in such horrific violence” led him to believe she remained an unreasonable risk to society. (Photo: George Brich/AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson, leader of a cult of hippies, is taken to court on Dec. 10, 1969, in Independence, Calif., for a preliminary hearing on charges of possessing stolen property. (Photo: Harold Filan/AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson is taken to court in Independence, Calif., Dec. 3, 1969. At left is his public defender, Fred Schaefer. (Photo: Harold Filan/AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Unsuccessful in his attempts to obtain a mistrial, Charles Manson heads for court in Los Angeles on Aug. 6, 1970, to listen to further cross-examination of the state’s star witness, Linda Kasabian, in his trial for murder in the slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six other people. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson mugs for the camera in the courtroom during his trial in Independence, Calif., on June 25, 1970. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson is escorted by officers en route to court in Independence, Calif., on Dec. 3, 1970. Manson and three women co-defendants were convicted and sentenced to death after the 10-month trial that involved the murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others in the hills near Hollywood, Calif. Their sentences were later commuted to life when the death penalty was briefly outlawed. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson, clean-shaven and with a swastika scratched on his forehead, walks to court, March 12, 1971, in Los Angeles, for a hearing in the penalty phase of the trial. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson, long-haired since his arrest in 1969, arrives in a Los Angeles courtroom with a crewcut in 1971. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

A smiling Charles Manson goes to lunch after an outbreak in court that resulted in his ejection, along with three women co-defendants, from the Tate murder trial on Dec. 21, 1970. The outburst started after Leslie Van Houten said she wanted to fire her new lawyer, a replacement for missing Ronald Hughes, and hire a woman attorney. Before she was ejected to an adjoining room with the others, Ms. Van Houten slapped a bailiff and told the judge, “I’d strike you if I could.” (Photo: George Brich/AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson walks into the courtroom in Santa Monica, Calif., on Oct. 13, 1970. Manson and Susan Atkins, seated, a member of his family of followers, were to plead on charges of murdering a Malibu musician, Gary Hinman. When his name was called, Manson stood, folded his arms, and turned his back on the judge. Atkins did the same. The court then entered pleas of not guilty. Both were on trial in Los Angeles for killings that included actress Sharon Tate. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson talks during an interview on Aug. 25, 1989. (Photo: Stinger/Reuters)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles Manson is escorted to court for formal sentencing in Los Angeles, on April 19, 1971. He is convicted with three women followers of murder-conspiracy in the slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six others. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Convicted killer Charles Manson appears at a parole hearing in 1986. In February, 2008, a team of forensic researchers visited the Death Valley ranch where Manson hid after a killing spree in the summer of 1969 and found at least two sites that could be clandestine graves holding the bodies of additional victims. Forensic tests of the soil were not conclusive, and Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze said he would allow a limited four-day excavation at the ranch beginning May 20, 2008. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Convicted murderer Charles Manson is shown during an interview with television talk show host Tom Snyder in a medical facility in Vacaville, Calif., on June 10, 1981. (Photo: AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Convicted mass murderer Charles Manson, while he was serving a life sentence in California for the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders,conducts an exclusive interview with host Tom Snyder on June 12, 1981. (Photo: NBC NewsWire/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Charles M. Manson, squinting in the glare of a film cameraman’s floodlight, marches to court, Aug. 20, 1970, for a hearing on his claim that he is being mistreated by deputies in the Los Angeles County Jail. After the hearing, his trial on murder charges resulting from the slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six other people was scheduled to resume. (Photo: George Brich/AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

Convicted murderer Charles Manson, 74, is shown in this handout image released March 18, 2009 from Corcoran State Prison in California. Manson was serving a life sentence for his conspiracy role in the killing of seven people in the Tate-LaBianca murders in Los Angeles, 1969. (Photo: Corcoran State Prison/Reuters)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

This Oct. 8, 2014, photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows serial killer Charles Manson. (Photo: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

Charles Manson, cult killer, dies

This Aug. 14, 2017 photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Charles Manson. A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says the 83-year-old mass killer is alive Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. (Photo: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)