Susan Atkins, a.k.a. Sadie Mae Glutz, is one of the more notorious members of the group of people that congregated around convicted mass-murder mastermind Charles Manson, a group tagged "The Family" by the mass media. Born Susan Denise Atkins on May 7, 1948 in San Gabriel, California, her mother died of cancer when she was 15. Tired of life with her alcoholic father, with whom she constantly quarreled, she quit high school and moved to San Francisco, then on the verge of a counter-cultural revolution that would rock America.
She supported herself working the phones for a company peddling magazine subscriptions. Living in a rented room, Atkins was lonely and depressed. Quitting the telemarketing job, she became a waitress at a local coffee shop, a fateful change of occupations for it was there she met two escaped convicts. Smitten, she went on the road with the two hoods, and the trio eventually were arrested in Oregon after committing a series of armed robberies. For her role in the crime spree, Atkins was incarcerated for 90 days and put on probation.
She returned to San Francisco after her stint in jail, and became a topless dancer. Topless dancing as a phenomenon broke out in a big way at the 1964 Republican Convention, which was held at San Francisco's Cow Palace. Many conventioneers and media personnel congregated at North Beach's Condor Cub (now a state landmark) to watch the pneumatic Carol Doda, the Nathan Bedford Forrest of topless dancers (the firstest with the mostest) perform. Doda's come on was a variation of Barry "In Your Heart You Know He's Right" Goldwater's slogan absolving his followers of guilt for following an unrepentant extremist: "In Your Heart You Know She's Ripe." Powered by the twin propulsion of her silicone-enhanced mammaries, Miss Doda became a massive pop culture phenomenon over 40 years ago, and San Francisco's flesh pots vaulted "Baghdad by the Bay" ahead of New York and New Orleans as the most sinful city in the U.S. (It is unlikely that the G.O.P. will ever hold its convention there again.) The young Atkins, on the hustle, was one of those who tried to cash in on the trend.
Before Charles Manson put California on the map as the Kingdom of the Cuckoos, there was Anton LaVey. A hustling ex-carny with a disdain for what he called "White Light" religion, he ripped off the philosophy of the Magus Aleister Crowley (dubbed "The Wickedest Man in the World" by the British press, whose occult philosophy also proved inspirational to a former sci-fi writer named L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, which Charles Manson dabbled in while in jail), stripped it of its religious meaning, and relaunched it as a proto-"Me" generation philosophy condoning licentious sex and guiltless self-fulfillment. To his credit, the founder of the Church of Satan never really misrepresented who he was, though many willingly misinterpreted him. Atkins came into contact with LaVey in San Francisco after being released from the hoosegow, and danced in a show he organized called the Witches' Sabbath as a blood-swilling vampire. It was a precursor of things to come for the rootless girl.
She also resorted to dope-peddling to make ends meet. Atkins wound up living in a commune, where she met Manson, who had recently been sent to the San Francisco Bay Area after getting out of prison in 1967. (A juvenile delinquent who graduated to a life of rime when he was all of 13 years old, Manson had been released on parole in in 1958 after being incarcerated in federal prison for stealing mail and forging a signature on a Treasury check. He began pimping in Los Angeles, and in June 1960, was arrested for violating the federal Mann Act. The procuring charges were dropped, but he was remanded back to the federal lock-up to serve out the remainder of his original 10-year sentence for violating parole. Prison records from the early '60s detail Manson's main interests as including Scientology, drama, and particularly music.
The 33-year old Manson had spent half of his life behind bars. He infatuated Atkins, as he had many young woman from broken homes searching for a father figure. Atkins became intrigued by Manson, who was playing guitar and singing his songs in the living room of the communal house. She was captivated by his music, and began traveling with him and his female followers in a school bus painted black. She soon became a central member of the group that coalesced around the ex-con. Renamed Sadie Mae Glutz by her new guru (for a fake I.D.), she eventually -- as part of the group that roved with Manson -- wound up living at the Spahn Movie Ranch in the San Fernando Valley, where Manson moved with his clan after splitting from Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's place.
Atkins was one of the more fanatical believers in Manson, who had written some 80 to 90 songs while in prison and hoped to make it as a singer-songwriter. Wilson was intrigued by Manson's music (one of Charlie's songs made it onto a Beach Boys single B-side and eventually onto an album), giving the diminutive (his driver's license listed him as 5'7" though his later nemesis, assistant D.A. Vincent Bugliosi, wrote that he was but 5'2" which is borne out by his booking photos) ex-con hope that he might make it in the music industry. Some claim that Wilson mostly was interested in Manson due to the free sex he got from Manson's girls, but given the nature of the band he belonged to -- one of the country's most successful -- it seems Wilson would have had his choice of groupies. It must have been the music of this Pied Piper of lost "children."
The link between Wilson and Manson had been made in the spring of 1968 when the Beach Boy picked up a hitch-hiking Ella Jo Bailey (known as "Yellerstone" by the Manson clan, which she hooked up with in 1967) and Patricia Krenwinkel, later to be convicted of first-degree murder. Wilson picked up the hitch-hiking duo another time later that spring ad took them to his house on Sunset Blvd., where they visited for a couple of hours, chatting mostly about their good friend (and guru) Charles Manson. Wilson met the man face-to-face when, coming home from a recording session at 3:00 AM, he found Manson and multiple members of his clan in his house. Wilson and Manson hit it off, and Charlie and his clan members stayed with he Beach Boy at his Sunset Blvd. pad for approximately six months. It was during this stay that Manson met Charles Watson, an All-American-looking native of the Lone Star state who went by the moniker "Tex." Wilson, before having a falling out with Manson (who supposedly had appalled the Beach Boy with a display of cruelty to one of his own gang), tried to interest music producer Terry Melcher in Manson, but Melcher passed on Manson. (Melcher later claimed that he wouldn't deal with Manson after hearing he had shot a man.) Manson, accompanying Wilson, had visited Melcher's estate at 10050 Cielo Drive in L.A.'s Benedict Canyon, and had visited it at least one other time on his own, where he had been rudely rebuffed. The estate would later be rented by director Roman Polanski and his wife, the beautiful, gentle, on-the-cusp of stardom movie actress Sharon Tate.
As a member of the Manson clan, Atkins (known as Sadie) would often come into conflict with Charlie, due to her constant demand for attention. More than once, she was blamed for spreading a dose of the clap among clan members, and reportedly, she was once banished from the fold. Atkins and some other clan members lived in the idyllic artists community of Mendocino in northern California for a while, but they were busted after distributing LSD to local kid. The Manson-affiliated group was dubbed "The Witches of Mendocino" when they went on trial.
In October of 1968, Susan Atkins gave birth to a boy either she or Manson (who was not the father) she tagged with the strange name "Zezozecee Zadfrack." She took refuge after the birth at the a religious retreat called Fountain Of The World. In less than It was believed that she more than once a year, Zezozecee's mother would play a part in one of the most infamous murder sprees in American criminal history.
The first murder in which Susan Atkins had a hand in was that of music teacher Gary Hinman, whom Spahn Ranch habitué Bobby Beausoleil, a talented young musician, had lived with before throwing in his lot with the Manson clan. Hinman moonlighted as a drug manufacturer, and as the story goes, in mid-1969, Hinman had whipped up a batch of LSD that Beausoleil -- who had appeared in 'Kenneth Anger' 's underground film "Lucifer Rising," for which he had composed the music -- sold to members of a motorcycle gang that frequented the Spahn Ranch for $1,000. The bikers claimed the LSD was of poor quality and wanted their jack back. In July 1969, Atkins, Mary Brunner, and Beausoleil, allegedly accompanied by Manson, went to Hinman's home. Explaining their plight with the bikers, Hinman refused to refund the cash, claiming the LSD he had sold them was potent. Manson then allegedly sliced off Hinman's ear with a sword before exiting the house. The remaining crew then reportedly held Hinman hostage for three days. Hinman refused to come up with the cash, and on the third day, either Atkins or Beausoleil stabbed him. In turn, he was suffocated by all three of his captors. Atkins provided a theatrical flourish before taking her leave, writing "Political Piggy" in Hinman's blood on the wall.
That three people would hold one man hostage at gun-point for three days over $1,000 that he claims he did not have before murdering him could be a true story. Another story recounted at the time of the Manson-Atkins trial was that the Hinman killing had been the result of a busted drug deal. Allegedly, Manson had given Tex Watson -- who was a flake, rather than being the "right-hand" man of the Manson "Family" that Bugliosi claimed -- $2,000 to buy some drugs from Bernard Crowe, an African American dealer tagged "Lotsa Poppa," so called as he was very big and fat. Watson had allegedly dealt with Lotsa Poppa before, so there was little suspicion when he went into the bathroom with the drugs and the cash, supposedly to relieve himself. What Tex actually did was defenestrate Lotsa Poppa's place with the drugs and Manson's cash, and then failed to inform Charlie his peccadillo.
Lotsa Poppa put the word out on the street that he was going to have both Watson and Manson killed, as he believed Manson was behind the rip-off. When Manson heard the news, as the alternative story goes, he panicked. What Manson didn't know was that Lotsa Poppa was just a low-level functionary and a blow-hard, and was just sounding off, having never resorted to violence before. Drugs fuel paranoia, and Manson believed Lotsa Poppa was connected with the Black Panthers, who allegedly controlled a good deal of the L.A. drug trade, and that his life was in jeopardy. What Charlie wanted to do was flee the Spahn Ranch and the Los Angeles area for Death Valley, but he needed cash.
Manson attempted a sit down to smooth things out with Lotsa Poppa in Hollywood, at an apartment one of Tex Watson's doxies lived in across from the Magic Castle. Apparently, Lotsa Poppa's bluff blew Charlie's mind right out of the box and he drew a .22 caliber Buntline Special single-action revolver and shot the fat man in the chest, then took off. Manson believed he had killed Lotsa Poppa, whose lotsa fat and the small caliber of the bullet saved his life. Drug dealers are not ones to go to the police, and Lotsa Poppa really wasn't connected, so he just let things chill as he recovered. (Bugliosi used the incident during the trial to show that Charlie was capable of murder.)
Charles Manson did not know this. He did know he needed to get out of the Spahn Ranch, where he was known, and fast. The clan had been supplementing their income stealing cars and stealing, and their position was increasingly precarious.
Drugs were being dealt at the Spahn Ranch, outlaw bikers were around, and it seemed to Manson that he would soon be slammed back in stir. He needed money, and as the story goes, believed that Gary Hinman, the drug manufacturer cum music teacher, had upwards of $20,000 in cash lying around his house. Manson needed some fast money to finance the move to Death Valley, and Hinman was the likely candidate to become his banker.
In this story, Gary Hinman was held for three days and mercilessly beaten -- even had his ear sliced off by Manson -- to get information on where he had hidden his stash of cash, which they all -- including his ex-roommate, who knew him well -- assumed was a great deal of money, not just the G-note from the disgruntled bikers. (In the mythology that was Bugliosi's "Helter Skelter," perhaps one should note that the other outlaw motorcycle gang that were rivals to Marlon Brando's gang in the movie The Wild One were named "The Beetles" and likely were an inspiration for the Liverpool band's name; Brando as The Wild One appears in biker drag on the cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," the cultural equivalent of Eliot's "The Waste Land" to the Baby Boom generation.) Hinman threatened to go to the police after his ordeal, and Beausoleil called Manson and was told, in cryptic terms, to kill Hinman. (Thus, Charlie was guilty of murder.)
Whether it was the result of a broken drug deal or the bikers' demand for a refund, the fact was that Gary Hinman was murdered. Beausoleil, the former roommate of the slain Hinman, would naturally have been a prime suspect in his slaying, He eventually was arrested in northern California driving Hinman's car and using his credit cards, both of which Bobby claimed that Hinman had freely given him. It seemed like an open and shut case, but for the revelation of who had been in on it with Beausoleil.
With his confederate arrested for the murder, it might have seemed to Manson that his time as a free man would be up shortly unless something could be done. Some observers claim that the subsequent murders that took seven lives on the nights of August 9th and 10th, 1969 were engineered copy-cat murders to make it appear that Beausoleil was innocent of the Hinman murder, that Hinman had been murdered by some psychopath still on the loose. While much remains unknown or unknowable about Charles Manson and the group around him, what is known is that on the night of August 9th, either acting under Manson's orders or not, Atkins and fellow Manson clanistas Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian drove to 10050 Cielo Drive with the intent of committing mayhem, most likely murder. Some believe that Manson's motive was to scare Terry Melcher, to send him a message, although Manson's connection with his musical sponsor -- Dennis Wilson, who later claimed he had inadvertently helped create Manson's "Family" -- was over, so a message to Melcher would have gotten him nowhere fast. What is known from almost two decades worth of psychiatric evaluations of Manson BEFORE the Tate-LaBianaca killings was that Manson was a person constantly in need of attention. What soon transpired would make him one of the most famous -- and infamous -- people in the world.
Actress Sharon Tate, the wife of Roman Polanski who was at the early stages of a promising movie career, and three of her friends were staying at the house. It is unarguable that Manson knew the layout of the estate, but whether that effected the murder crew's ability to commit the crime can be put up to question. (The fact that Tex Watson had also frequently been at the estate as a guest of Dean Moorehouse, father of Manson clan member Ruth Ann Moorehouse, was not introduced into evidence at the trial. Dean Moorehouse, a familiar of Manson -- Charlie has almost been jailed in 1967 for his relationship with Moorehouse's daughter -- had lived at 10050 Cielo Drive after Terry Melcher moved out and before the Polanskis moved in. Moorehouse had been visited by Watson at least three and perhaps as many as six times. Bugliosi did not want the jury to know of Watson's intimate knowledge of the estate and the house where the slayings took place as he wanted to emphasize Manson's link to the house instead of Watson's. This was perhaps why Watson was tried separately, to help ensure Manson's conviction by portraying him as a Dr. Mabuse-style criminal mastermind.) What was most relevant about the estate is that it was remote, and there were no neighbors within distance who could be expected to hear what was about to take place. While Linda Kasabian stood guard, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Watson entered the estate after cutting the telephone wires.
The first victim that night was 18-year old Stephen Parent, whom Watson shot with the same .22 Buntline Special Manson had used on Lotsa Poppa while Parent sat in a car. (According to the purveyors of the Lotsa Poppa scenario, Watson was chosen to commit the bloody deed to serve penance for getting Manson into so much trouble in the first place.) Parent had been in the process of leaving the property after visiting the caregiver (who lived in a separate cottage in another part of the estate), who was a friend.
Linda Kasabian, according to Atkins, was horrified by the Parent shooting. Atkins, Watson and Krenwinkle then entered the Polanski-Tate home and committed one of the most cold-blooded murders to disgrace the annals of crime, calling into effect the very nature of the human soul. What boggles the mind is the sheer evil of the event, the intensity of the killers as they lay waste to an innocent, heavily pregnant young woman and her three friends. When it was over, the word "Pig" was written in Tate's blood on the front door of the house (now demolished as it had the attractive power of Lourdes for the ghoulish and neo-Manson freaks), another theatrical flourish from Atkins.
The next evening, Watson, Krenwinkle. former high school home-coming queen Leslie Van Houten and allegedly Manson himself broke into the home of wholesale grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary and committed another irrational, heinous murder. That night, Atkins was with Kasabian and clan member Steve Grogan (who had sung on a recording of Manson songs made at the Spahn Ranch with mobile recording equipment supplied by Dennis Wilson), who were trolling around L.A. in a car. The trio picked up Manson, having left the LaBianca home before the killing started, who had them drive him to the beach for a stroll. While at the beach, Manson asked Kasabian about Saladin Nader, a Lebanese actor who had portrayed the rival of the poet Kahlil Gibran (a turn of the 19th-20th century Aran poet whose collection "The Prophet" made him an icon of the 1960s), who lived nearby. A hitchhiking Kasabian had been picked up by Nader, and they had begun an affair. According to Kasabian, who was the state's star witness at the Tate-LaBianca trial, Manson's blood-lust had remained unsated, and he ordered the group to do in Nader.
According to Linda Kasabian's subsequent trial testimony (having not committed any of the murders, she was granted immunity in exchange for her testifying against the others), she deliberately knocked on a wrong door in the apartment building in which Nader lived, thus sparing his life. Bugliosi used this event to exonerate her in the eyes of the jury, although some believe that she simply didn't remember where his apartment was located, which seems unlikely but was not impossible. While Kasabian was knocking on the wrong door as Atkins and Grogan waited around a corner, ready to spring on Nader and kill him (for what purpose has never been established other than an insane desire for murder), the other members of the Manson clan were finishing up their orgy of murder at the LaBianca home, using the couple's blood to write words on the walls of their home. Leon LaBianca had a knife stuck in his throat and a carving fork stuck in his stomach, allegedly a reference to The Beatles song "Piggies," George Harrison's bad-karma inducing indictment of materialism. The reference is given credence by the word "Piggies" written in blood at the LaBianca home.
Los Angeles assistant district attorney Vincent Bugliosi, in presenting his case to convict Charles Manson of multiple murder, faced the fact that Manson had actually killed no one, a precondition that might encourage one or more jury members to feel lenient towards him. This was also the period of the high tide of the liberal Warren Court, when right-wingers drove around in cars festooned with IMPEACH EARL WARREN bumper-stickers; that is, the age of the technicality, when trials had grown longer and convictions more precarious as increasingly liberal federal courts, including the Supreme Court, expanded the rights of those on trial and overturned many convictions on technicalities. The days of the expedient capital trial were over. Prosecutors had to be extra-careful.
As part of his strategy to convict Manson, whom he believed was evil, Bugliosi claimed that Manson was a cult-leader with a bizarre philosophy dubbed "Helter Skelter" after a Beatles song from the same "White Album" on which "Piggies" appeared. In Bugliosi's scenario, Manson allegedly prophesied a coming race war (a prophecy not out of tune with the times in a country that had seen multiple race riots starting with the Watts rebellion of 1965, a time that included such notorious conflagrations as the 1967 riots in Newark, New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan; a riot had even hit Washington, D.C. in 1968 after the Martin Luther King assassination; there was also the phenomenon of the de-colonization of Africa and Asia in the 1960s, which included rebellions in the Congo and the war in Vietnam that by 1970 had spread to Cambodia). Manson's "prophecy" was that blacks would eventually triumph against the white race and wipe them out, but unable to rule due to innate inferiority.
According to Vincent Bugliosi, Charles Manson was a hardcore racist, likely because his own barely known father had been part black; the allegation about his father, a "Colonel Scott," being bi-racial was never proven and likely is false but was part of Bugliosi's buildup of Manson as a proto-Hitler, creating a psychology -- and thus a motive for Manson's ordering the killings by his "acolytes" that they and Manson were on trial for -- that would explain him; some had alleged that Hitler's fanatic anti-semitism was the result of one of his grandparents being Jewish.
Charles Manson allegedly preached to his "Family" that they would hide in a hole in the desert in a City of Gold until the B+W Holocaust was over and the black man appealed to Manson and the Family for help. Manson and the Family would then have dominion over the world, with Charlie -- as the risen Jesus Christ -- ruling as one of five co-prophets, the other four prophets being The Beatles!
In the early '70s, after the time of psychedelia and the youth revolution and the breakup of The Beatles and John Lennon's unsettling flirtation with radical politics, this seemed more plausible to a jury than it might now. The idea of Ringo Starr as a prophet ruling the world is frankly absurd, but The Beatles were the avatars of the Youth Generation, and had been touted as prophets fit to rule a new world populated by the Children of the Age of Aquarius by LSD champion Dr. Timothy Leary. (John Lennon would boast in 1980 that LSD and The Beatles popularization of the psychedelic drug had undermined the Establishment and freed a generation, little appreciating the toll psychedelics had taken on many, including former straight-A student Tex Watson and an acid-addled Baby Boomer, David Chapman, who would soon kill him.) The problem with the "Helter Skelter" theory is was that Charles Manson was no Baby Boomer, but a hardened ex-con in his mid-30s who had lived a harsh, brutal life since he was an illegitimate child sold for a pitcher of beer by his teenage mother. He was not some flower-power hippie with stars in his eyes, and his music was not influenced by or evocative of The Beatles, but had a more countryish flavor.
One thing frequently overlooked is if Charles Manson had believed this story, and with the amount of drugs consumed in those times and the weird life being lived in the desert, one can speculate that some of this fantasy might have had some resonance in his psyche, something thrown up from the unconscious that he may have used as a story-teller to bind people to him -- something from his psyche that he may have believed IN KIND (an imminent race war; the failure of Western civilization in the near future; sitting out Armageddon in the desert; returning once "society" was over and he -- an outcast - could be appreciated by a race of outcasts, the people of color who inherited a world destroyed by the white race -- these were apocalyptic times lived in the shadow of The Bomb and nuclear annihilation) but not IN DEGREE. If Manson was speaking in anything but metaphor, then he was beyond psychosis and was insane, and couldn't be responsible for his actions. This was the course that Bugliosi was navigating, the Scylla and Charybdis of trying to convict Charles Manson: that he was likely insane and could be perceived as such by a jury. So: How to convict him?
Sadie Mae Glutz gave Bugliosi the smoking gun.
In October 1969, the Barker Ranch in Death Valley that Manson and the clan had moved to was raided after Charlie -- a fervent environmentalist to this day -- burned a Forest Service tractor. Members of the Manson clan were arrested for arson (Charlie was not there at the time). Clan member Kathryn Lutesinger implicated Atkins in the Hinman murder while they were both incarcerated, and Atkins was transferred to another prison, ostensibly due to the new charges, though there is a possibility that she was being set up for a "jail-house confession." For it was in her new surroundings that she began bragging to her cell-mates about her and the Manson clan's involvement in the Tate massacre, which was the talk of the country in late 1969.
Sadie, that is Susan Atkins, supposedly loved to talk, and talk she did, according to her cell-mates. She talked to them about the Sharon Tate killings, claiming that it was she who had done it along with the gang congregated around Manson. She told her cell-mates about Manson's "Helter Skelter" philosophy, that Manson had decided to get the race war underway by murdering prominent Caucasians and blaming it on Afro-Americans, such as the Black Panthers, who would then feel the retaliation of the white race. (That the Black Panthers were being systematically destroyed by the FBI's Cointelpro program, which likely included assassination, is besides the point.) Thus, would the rough beast of the racial Apocalypse be unleashed.
Atkins, a self-confessed, remorseless murderess, was obviously mad, and the Helter Skelter scenario might have been an elaboration of her feverish imagination, or a gloss put on Manson's own racial/sociological theories born in the internecine warfare of prison life, which broke along racial lines. Then again, it could have been something cooked up by prosecutors who coached her with the story as she was, at one point, interested in saving her own hide, put in jeopardy by the Gary Hinman murder.
Ironically (or deliberately, as she might have been a plant), one of Atkins two cell-mates who heard her jail-house confession had been an acquaintance of Jay Sebring -- one of the victims at the Polanski-Tate residence - and had actually been to 10050 Cielo Drive (properly pronounced "cello," the Italian word that means "Heaven" was given to the stringed instrument as it was the sound of heaven), the site of the Tate massacre, and quizzed her about the property to see if she was telling the truth -- whether she had actually been there -- or was just repeating what she had read in the newspapers. The cell-mate realized she was telling the truth, and attempted to inform the L.A.P.D., according to Bugliosi. However, such a wild coincidence -- that the cell-mate of Sharon Tate's killer would have known Tate's ex-fiancée, Jay Sebring, who had allegedly taken her to the house SEVEN YEARS before the Tate killings, whose victims dispatched to heaven had included Sebring himself, suggests that she might have been a plant.
It is quite probable that Charles Manson WAS concerned with a coming racial Armageddon that DID seem imminent in the late 1960s after years of inner-city riots (riots recently matched by those of middle-class university students protesting the Vietnam War and the strictures of the Establishment) and that he DID want to move himself and his friends as far away from the failing civilization as possible as a survival mechanism. (In this, he is kin to the "Survivalists" of the 1980s and 1990s and our own times who have retreated to rural areas in the Pacific Northwest to avoid the consequences of an anticipated societal meltdown, many of whom are white supremacists fearful of a black planet.) That Charlie's fear and desire assumed the "Helter Skelter" paranoiac/psychotic dimensions as recounted by Bugliosi increasingly has been questioned in the over thirty years since the trial.
Jail-house confessions are often suspect, but Susan Atkins repeated her "testimony" heard by her cell-mates before a Grand Jury. Hoping to be spared the death penalty, Atkins -- who was promised immunity from prosecution -- swore that the Gary Hinman murder and the Tate-LaBianca murders has been committed under the express orders of Charles Manson. Atkins claimed that it was she who stabbed eight-months pregnant Sharon Tate to death, a particularly brutal act even within the context of the Cielo Drive massacre in that the group of murderers had kept Tate, who pleaded for the life of her unborn baby, alive to the last. Restraining Tate while her friends were brutally butchered before her eyes, Atkins said that she had coldly told the terrified actress that she would be murdered: "Look, bitch, I don't care a thing about you. You're going to die and there's nothing you can do about it."
She further testified that she stabbed Tate repeatedly as the dying actress cried out in anguish for her own mother before perishing. She then tasted the blood of Sharon Tate that was on her hand, figuratively sucking the life out of her. It was one of the most appalling stories of its kind, shocking people who had lived through more than half-a-century of mass-murder since the First World War.
During her testimony before the Grand Jury, Susan Atkins testified that Charles Manson was "the only complete man I have ever met" who she believed him to be Jesus Christ incarnate. There was no limit to the acts she would undertake for Manson, she claimed.
From Atkins' Grand Jury testimony -- which she later refuted, thus losing her immunity -- indictments were obtained. Manson, Krenwinkel and Watson were arrested and a warrant issued for Kasabian, whose whereabouts were unknown. After being arrested, Kasabian was offered the immunity deal that Atkins, out of loyalty to Manson, had surrendered.
The Manson "Family" trial is one of the handful of courtroom dramas that legitimately can lie claim to being "The Trial of the Century." Not only did it symbolize the death of the '60s and a waning of the challenge to authority by the youthful idealism of the counter-culture (coming on the heels of violent student rebellions in Paris, the U.S. and elsewhere), it was a media circus, a raging fire stoked by "Family" members and Charles Manson himself, who finally had all the attention a sociopath could crave.
By the time of the trial, Atkins had recanted her testimony and was back within the bosom of the clan. Along with Manson, Krenwinkel and Van Houten, Atkins was tried for first-degree murder for the Tate-LaBianca killings. (Tex Watson was tried separately at a later date.) The trial was full of theatrics: The women defendants carved an X on their foreheads and shaved their heads to show their solidarity with Manson, who had similarly carved an X on himself, and constantly disrupted the courtroom. On the stand, when Atkins was asked if she thought the killing of eight people was unimportant, her response was a question: Was the killing of thousands with napalm (in Vietnam) important? As Manson had said, look into my eyes and you will see yourself: The trial held up a mirror to a dysfunctional America. American society -- which had been rejected by Manson and his clan of drifters, dropouts and runaways -- was itself indicting the U.S. for mass murder via the mass media.
Herbert Marcuse, one of the New School for Social Research (Frankfurt am Main, Germany) veterans who had synthesized Freud and Marx, has claimed at the time that the U.S. was a society mortally diseased from its embrace of one-dimensional materialism. As a sick society, it had sought to expiate its psycho-sexual sins by burning the living flesh off of Vietnamese peasants with napalm bombs. Embracing the Youth Revolution, Marcuse had advocated a progressive politics beyond sterile, puritanical Leninism (then in vogue as Maoism, famously attacked by John Lennon in The Beatles' song "Revolution #1," another "White Album" ditty). Marcusean politics vulgarly could be seen as resistance through sex: release from the uptight, hypocritical, one-dimensional society of materialism, i.e. capitalism. The hippies, and their re-visioning through a glass darkly in "The Family" of Charles Manson, with the hippies free love philosophy could be seen as the crystallization of Marcuse's thought (and through "The Family," reconciled with the traditional Biblical bromide "The wages of sin is death," an attitude Marcuse and the hippies rebelled against but which was also applied, cruelly, to the murdered Sharon Tate but both conservatives AND Manson supporters, for being a supposed symbol of Hollywood decadence, and thus complicit in her fate); thus, Manson and the Tate-LaBianaca killings effectively undermined one of the more potent challenges (particularly among avant-garde artists, such as Lennon's wife Yoko Ono) to the Western status quo outside of mainstream Marx-Leninism.
The trial was the end of an era all right, and Vincent Bugliosi played on the fears of the jury and America at large by portraying Manson as a demonic messiah after the souls of their children (thus explaining the youth rebellion away from any challenges to the materialism that was the heart of the "The business of America is business"/"What's good for General Motors is good for the country" ethos of the U.S.A., best seen from one's Chevrolet, according to a popular advertising jingle sung by Dinah Shore in the 1950s, herself the victim of rumors like Charles Manson that she was bi-racial). Even President Richard Nixon chimed in, claiming that Manson was guilty (which threatened Bugliosi with a mistrial due to adverse publicity in light of the Supreme Court's recent Sam Sheppard decision).
In March 1971, after the longest and most expensive trial in Los Angeles history in which Bugliosi insisted that Manson was a charismatic cult leader who believed he received secret messages from The Beatles' "White Album" -- a veritable demon who threatened the very basis of Western civilization itself -- all four were found guilty of first-degree murder. Bugliosi, with the aid of the Manson clan's bizarre, attention-seeking courtroom behavior, had got his convictions, with the unintended consequence of transmogrifying Charles Manson -- who most likely was nothing more than a sometime pimp and minor career criminal with a pimp's savvy on how to control young women, who out of a drug-induced paranoia engineered the Tate-LaBianaca killings in a misguided attempt to free Bobby Beausoleil and ironically divert what he assumed was the attention of the Black Panthers away from himself by embroiling them with the L.A.P.D. (if 10050 Cielo Drive had not then been inhabited by a beautiful young actress married to a famous director and her wealthy and sophisticated friends but someone more mundane, the likelihood is that Manson and the killings would have been forgotten long ago) -- into a huge cult figure, as well as a cultural bellwether, one of the great symbols of an America run amok.
Seemingly possessed of a histrionic personality that he failed to satisfy through music, Manson played the part, getting the attention prison psychiatrists sad he always had sought. Bugliosi and many others have made a great deal of money off of the mythological figure of Charles Manson as the Flower Power/Baby Boomer Anti-Christ.
Susan Atkins, her beloved "Charlie" and the others were all sentenced to death (Tex Watson was tried separately and convicted), and Atkins was remanded to the California Institute for Women. The death sentences were later vacated when the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty as unconstitutional, and Atkin's sentence was reduced to life with the possibility of parole.
In 1974, Atkins had a falling out with Manson and the clan that still clung to him after she began corresponding with born-again Christian Bruce Davis, a clan member who had rejected Manson & Co. for mainstream salvation. Atkins subsequently claimed that the real Jesus Christ, not the simulacrum that was Charles Manson, appeared to her in her prison cell. She became a born-again Christian and a model prisoner, publishing a 1977 autobiography, "Child of Satan, Child of God." In the book, she described how in September 1974, her cell door opened and "a brilliant light poured over her." Atkins believed the light was Jesus, bearing forgiveness.
In 1981, via the mail, she met and married Donald Laisure, who claimed he was a millionaire. Upon discovering that her husband was not a millionaire and had previously been married 35 times, she had the marriage annulled. The model prisoner eventually earned an Associates degree via correspondence courses and organized her own ministry. She married Harvard law student James Whitehouse in 1987, who has represented her at parole hearings since 2000.
In 1998, Atkins denounced Manson in a response to a letter from a "fan." She wrote, "Charles Manson is not a God or prophet. He is a mean, bitter, evil little man, rightly behind bars. He is a liar and a thief. I have seen him terrorize, brutalize, beat and threaten teenage boys and girls...Manson only wrecks lives."
Atkins is denied parole on the basis that she continues to show no remorse for the killings. Her case hasn't been helped by her 1991 recanting of her earlier testimony. Her position now is that she was present during the Hinman and Tate murders but did not actually participate in the killing. Her inability to show remorse and her failure to accept responsibility for her part in the brutal murders has meant that she has been turned down for parole 11 times, the last time in February 2005. In 2003, she made the contention that she was a political prisoner in a lawsuit filed against California Governor 'Gray Davis', as his policy opposing parole for most murderers meant she was kept behind bars. Her petition was denied.
In her address to the California Parole Board in December 2000, Susan Atkins expressed her remorse. "I don't have to just make amends to the victims and families. I have to make amends to society. But I can never undo what I was part of, and any repayment will never erase the pain inflicted by these crimes. I sinned against God and everything this country stands for."
Convicted murderess Susan Atkins was denied a compassionate release by the California Board of Parole. The 12-member Parole Board officially heard Atkins' request on July 15, 2008, and after deliberating for several hours, announced that she had been turned down. Compassionate releases are granted infrequently to terminally ill inmates with less than six months to live.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Colley both opposed the release of Atkins. Speaking of the Manson massacres perpetrated by Susan Atkins and other members of the Manson "Family" allegedly under the control of Charles Manson, Schwarzenegger said on the day of the hearing, "Those kind of crimes are just so unbelievable that I'm not for that compassionate release in that case."
Schwarzenegger met Susan Atkins in visits to the California Institute for Women in Corona, California, where she was incarcerated in before her terminal illness.
L.A. County D.A. Cooley stated that Atkins' "horrific crimes alone warrant a denial of her request."
Susan Atkins was convicted along with Charles Manson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten in the August 1969 murders of movie star Sharon Tate and six others. She is bedridden in a hospital near the prison she has been incarcerated for most of the last 37 years. Atkins, who had her left leg amputated earlier this year, is paralyzed in her other leg and on her right side. She likely will die within the next 90 days. She is the longest-serving woman in the California prison
Although the state of California has not commented on her illness, citing privacy concerns, it has been revealed that her medical treatment has cost the state $1.2 million. The cost of her around-the-clock guards at the hospital has set Golden State taxpayers back almost another quarter-of-a-million dollars. If she had been released, the costs of her medical care would have to have been borne by her family, who likely would have filed for assistance from the California Medicaid program, once again sticking the taxpayer with the bill for the care of one of the most renowned and reviled murderers of the 20th Century.
The ruling by the Parole Board was unanimous.
According to the Official Susan Atkins Web site maintained by Susan Atkins' husband, James Whitehouse (educated at Harvard Law, he is also her attorney), she is suffering from terminal brain cancer and has requested a compassionate release in order to go home to her loved ones and die with her family. Currently, she is under treatment at a hospital in California's Inland Empire region, with two guards constantly watching over her. In her current state, where she cannot even sit up in bed, according to her husband, Susan Atkins hardly could be considered a threat to anyone. Even former Assistant D.A. Vincent Bugliosi, who successful prosecuted her and other members of the Manson Family, came out in favor of her release.
However the Manson Massacres are so infamous, partly due to Bugliosi's deft handling of the case and the media as prosecutor -- and due to his book Helter Skelter, the best-selling true crime book in publishing history -- all of the sentenced members of the so-called "Manson Family" (a term that Charles Manson never used but that Bugliosi popularized) have repeatedly been denied parole since their death sentences were vacated. Susan Atkins-Whitehouse, who claims she is a born-again Christian and has remorse for her crimes, has regularly petitioned the California Board of Parole Hearings for release. She has been denied parole 11 times.
In that the crimes were so notorious and still are so alive in the public consciousness (a new movie about the Manson Family, The Manson Girls, is in the works), in so much as the case continues (murder has no statue of limitations), Suzan Hubbard -- who has oversight of the prison system that holds Susan Atkins-Whitehouse -- denied the recommendation of the California Institution for Women in Corona that Atkins be released on the grounds of compassion. Relatives of the victims of the Manson massacres appeared before the Parole Board and urged them to keep Atkins in jail.
Susan Atkins was sentenced to death in 1970 for her active part in the murders of Sharon Tate, Voitek Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Steven Parent at the Tate residence at 10050 Cielo Drive on August 9, 1969, and for complicity in the murders of Leo and Rosemary LaBianca, via conspiracy, the following night. When asking for a conviction of Atkins, Charles Manson and their two co-defendants, Assistant Distinct Attorney Vincent Bugliosi also reminded the jury that though there was no law at the time relating to the murder of a fetus, they should consider the death of the unborn baby of Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski.
The jury convicted Susan Atkins, Charles Manson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten of seven counts of murder, and the court sentenced them to death. Manson Family confederate Charles "Tex" Watson was convicted in a separate trial. The death sentences handed down to Atkins, Charles Manson, Tex Watson and the others were reduced to life in prison when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down extant death penalty laws in 1972.
The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper with the largest circulation in the state of California, believed that Susan Atkins should remain incarcerated. In an editorial entitled "No Mercy," the Times editorial board recommended that the parole board deny her a compassionate release, even though it acknowledged the repentant killer is no longer a threat to society. The L.A. Times says that society has the right to take vengeance.
According to the Times editorial, "Atkins gravely wounded our collective peace, and society has a right, even the obligation, to exact vengeance. For some criminals, including Atkins, the crime is so great that the price should be imprisonment until death."
Susan Atkins did not receive a sentence of life without parole, however. When her death sentence was vacated, she was re-sentenced to seven years-to-life, with possibility of parole. The fact is, Vincent Bugliosi did his job so well, in his attempt to get Charlie Manson into the gas chamber, that he created a myth that persists nearly 40 years after the crime. He created a myth of Charles Manson as a Dr. Mabuse of Hippiedom, turning Susan Atkins and the other Manson Girls into soulless robots, who killed on his command. This is the image that society cannot shake.
Vincent Bugliosi's "Helter Skelter" scenario and his depiction of the Manson "Family" as victims of Charles Manson was partly motivated by his desire to reduce the culpability of star witness Linda Kasabian in the eyes of the jury. As Bugliosi admitted in his final summation, Kasabian was equally as guilty of the murders, according to California law. (She had been granted total immunity by Bugliosi after Susan Atkins, whom he called a "little bitch" during the trial after she scattered his notes as he delivered his summation to the jury, had reneged on a deal to turn state's evidence in return for a promise not to seek the death penalty against her.)
Bugliosi's "robots-in-the service of The Pied Piper" scenario also smacked of Cold War fears of the Manchurian Candidate and brain-washing, which held that communistic and anti-social beliefs could be a result of indoctrination, in which the individual abdicated his/her free will. Though it seemingly would be a relic of the Cold War, the idea of being "possessed" and losing one's free will continues to be popular in America, originally among depictions of troubled women. People are not personal responsible for their acts, as they were seduced or indoctrinated by other individuals, by society at large, or by the media. This reasoning frequently is used to condone bad behavior.
Vincent Bugliosi explained away anomalies in Linda Kasabian's character by saying, for instance, that she stole $5,000 under orders from "Charlie." Despite the fact that she had known Charles Manson for a little over a month before she engaged in the murders, and a week-and-a-half, according to Manson, before she stole the money, that's all it took: 10 days in the charismatic force-field of Charles Manson's personality, and Kasabian was ready to steal for him. It is very far-fetched, as is most of Bugliosi's "Helter Skelter" story.
Ironically, while this "brain-washing" scenario could have been seen as making Susan Atkins and the rest of the Manson Girls less culpable in the eyes of the public, their behavior during the trial, where they seemingly WERE under Manson's control, made them pariahs. Susan Atkins and the other Manson Girls never gained the sympathy of society, partly due to the heinousness of the murders, but also because of their outrageous behavior. That their behavior might have been a result of a quickening, that is, that they molded their behavior in response to the expectations of the public and of Bugliosi, playing out the scenario defined for them, has not been seriously considered.
Susan Atkins and the Manson Girls, along with Tex Watson and others, violated the deepest taboo of society: It's desire for order. Vincent Bugliosi, by crafting the "Helter Skelter" scenario (its very name being synonymous with disorder), doomed Atkins to a life behind bars, as she is a symbol of anarchy and an individual's loss of control. In some ways, Susan Atkins can be considered a witch, to be burned at the stake, for the sins of the countless of individuals who have sinned, and then came back from the brink, guilty and relieved to have saved themselves, and willing to blame it on The Other that led them astray.
Charles Manson became the ultimate symbol of The Other, the darkness that persists in the human psyche despite thousands of years of civilization. Susan Atkins, through her behavior at the trial, showed that she was one with The Other. Linked to this ultimate symbol of The Other, the dark anarchic side of the human personality, Susan Atkins was condemned to die at the hands of the state back in 1970, and was condemned to die in the hands of the state in 2008. Was justice served? It's for our individual consciences to make that judgment.
Vincent Bugliosi said, in declaring his support for Susan Atkins, that those people not kin to the victims who opposed a compassionate release for Atkins were behaving like "robots." Since he is the person who created and promulgated the robot theory, does he have special insight into the Atkins case?
Official Web Site: