Cult leader Charles Manson was the mastermind of one of the most gruesome massacres of modern times. When the story broke in August 1969, British writer Ivor Davis was first to uncover the shocking truth about Manson's group of brainwashed followers he called The Family. The book Davis wrote helped convict Manson. Now, 40 years on, Davis revisits the case that shook the world - and chillingly reveals that the cult of Manson lives on.
At first glance, prisoner B33920 is barely recognisable as the Charles Manson of old. Gone is the mass of wild hair. Now in his mid-70s, he is virtually bald and his beard mostly silver.
But those dark, staring eyes remain and the swastika scar, which he first carved into his skin at the beginning of his trial, is still clearly visible on his forehead.
Manson continues to show no remorse for his role in the ghastly, macabre killing sprees which were committed under his orders in July and August 1969.
Mastermind: Charles Manson, pictured with a swastika carved into his forehead, at the time of his trial in 1971
Eight people were butchered, including heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski.
Nor does Manson feel any guilt for the wasted lives of the four young disciples, members of what he called The Family, who he brainwashed into carrying out the murders.
Instead, he continues to spout the usual nonsensical Manson mumbo jumbo at every opportunity.
In his cell at California's Corcoran State Prison, where he is serving his own life sentence, he keeps himself busy by writing letters and signing autographs.
For Manson is a murderer with a fan club. Letters come from around the globe written by the obsessed and the dispossessed - from racists to Satanists and everything in between.
Indeed, according to a corrections officer at Corcoran Prison, Manson has become the richest prisoner in the California system, raking in a small fortune by running a lucrative autograph business from behind bars.
'It's a total con,' says Stephen Kay, one of the lawyers who worked on the original case.
'Manson now has a whole network of fellow inmates forging his signature. They are even peddling autographed glossy photos and souvenir prison garb. How he does all this behind bars baffles me
Old scars: The swastika can still be seen on his head over 30 years later in this photo of Manson taken in March this year
Forty years on, it is clear that the story of the Manson murders has grown into something of a monster cottage industry.
Grotesquely, there is a huge demand for Manson memorabilia, including bootleg recordings of his music and transcripts of his many parole hearings.
There are also a large number of websites devoted to the case, including Manson Direct, which describes itself as 'the official site for the Charles Manson Truth' and purports to allow Manson 'to speak through his letters, pronouncements, poems and phone conversations'.
Another site, www.charliemanson.com, gives detailed directions to the properties where the murders took place, as well as to the site of the Spahn Ranch, the rundown film set taken over by Manson and The Family which was the setting for the countless drug-fuelled sex orgies so central to Manson's evil power game.
Others parade gruesome photos of the murder scenes and list prison addresses for the Manson Family members convicted of the crimes.
Manson even has his own My Space page, titled 'No Name Maddox,' (the words which registered his birth at Cincinnati General Hospital, the son of an unmarried 16-year- old prostitute named Kathleen Maddox).
You can bring Manson right into your home at the click of a mouse as he pontificates and performs in countless interviews recorded over the years. He sings. He dances. He offers half-baked political diatribes, he plays the crazy court jester, he makes funny faces.
He even Twitters - using a 'Helter Skelter' address (a reference to the Beatles track which the crazed Manson took as a sign that a global race war was about to begin).
Online fans: Charles Manson's Twitter page
'More and more young people have become Charlie's pen pals,' says Vincent Bugliosi, the lawyer who successfully prosecuted Manson and his accomplices: Charles Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Lesley Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel. He adds that Manson's place in today's youth culture has been cemented by the recognition he has been given by the music world.
'Over the years, Manson songs have been recorded by various famous artists, including Guns N' Roses, and they sold well. What's really scary is that many people under 23 follow the bands who promote Manson music, without really knowing who Manson was and is.'
What can explain the macabre fascination with a man who took a collection of lost and neglected young women and society cast-offs, and turned them into a rampaging-violent cult of killing? To find out, we have to turn the clock back to the closing year of the Sixties, an age when youth held sway and we still believed in innocence.
In late spring 1969, one of the oddest groups ever gathered under one roof set up home at the Spahn Ranch, a rundown film set 35 miles from the mansions and pristine lawns of Beverly Hills.
They weren't invited. They invaded in an old school bus painted black, a diverse assortment of hippy types. There were around 40 of them - mostly young girls aged 15 to 25, together with a handful of men.
They called themselves The Family and like all families they had a 'father' - a slight man in his early 30s, with a mass of brown hair and the beginnings of a beard, who had aspirations to become a famous singer.
His name - Charles Manson. On the surface, the group appeared to be a harmless, natureloving bunch of young people who had opted out of society in favour of a kooky, unconventional lifestyle. But behind the faÁade, there was a dark side.
Brutal: Manson and his followers murdered actress Sharon Tate, above, in 1969
Most of the women Manson recruited, such as Susan Atkins, Lesley Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, who are now serving life sentences, were the neglected middle-class kids of a permissive, generation, desperately looking for a parent figure. They were mesmerised by Manson's homespun philosophy and his songs about love.
He had a series of meaningless phrases, such as 'Everything's the same but it's always different' and 'You can't kill love', which he repeated over and over.
There were also regular indoctrination sessions, which always ended with the question 'Tell me something, is it all right to kill?' followed by the same answer: 'It's all right to kill pigs (meaning those outside the family) and to kill black men. It's all right to kill anyone who could harm The Family'.
The introduction of drugs into the mix gave Manson the tools with which to assemble an army of emotional zombies who would do anything for him. He handed out amphetamines, LSD and mescaline like sweets, and there were regular drug-fuelled orgies at the ranch, which reinforced Manson's position as lord and master.
The commune also regularly reenacted the crucifixion, with Manson as Jesus. He liked to read aloud from the Book of Revelations, convinced that the Day of Judgment was coming.
In the summer of 1969, he became obsessed with the lyrics of songs from The Beatles' White Album, in particular the track Helter Skelter.
In Manson's tormented mind, the words 'Helter Skelter' became a battle cry, a signal that the time had come to instigate a race war to wipe out everyone outside The Family.
First, a small contingent was sent to an area of California known as Death Valley to prepare a hideaway. Then came the night when Manson decided his disciples should strike. Under his strict instructions, Family members Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian set off on their fateful mission to wreak havoc on the Hollywood establishment.
No remorse: Charles Manson jokes in court after his first arrest in 1969
It was a hot Friday night, with only the barest slice of moon. The big films that month were Midnight Cowboy and True Grit, but smaller cinemas in the outlying suburbs were also screening Valley Of The Dolls, featuring a striking blonde actress named Sharon Tate, whose character dies violently in the film.
At her mansion home on Cielo Drive, heavily pregnant with her first child, Miss Tate was chatting to one of her houseguests, her old friend and former lover Jay Sebring, a hair stylist to such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen and Lee Marvin.
Her film director husband Roman Polanski called from London earlier that day and promised his beautiful young wife he would return in time to attend a class for fathers-to-be at the hospital the following Monday. But she was missing him terribly.
Meanwhile, Sharon's two other houseguests were making themselves at home. Polish ÈmigrÈ playboy Voyteck Frykowski, a longtime friend of Polanski's, was asleep on a sofa in the living room. His socialite girlfriend, Abigail 'Gibby' Folger, 26, was in a bedroom, reading.
Outside, 18-year-old Stephen Parent, a friend of the estate's young caretaker, was returning to his car when he heard a noise in the undergrowth. When he saw the cut telephone lines lying right beside his 1966 Rambler Ambassador, he climbed into the car as quickly as he could, taking off the handbrake as he reached for the ignition key.
The car was already rolling when he turned to find a shadowy figure by the open window - but it was too late. A gun reached in and the youth was shot dead.
At the main house, no one stirred. Old cars frequently backfired going down the canyon roads and the deep shrubs must have muffled the sound.
Not long after, Frykowski awoke to a nightmare. A wild-looking man with a gun and two girls brandishing hunting knives were standing before him in the huge living room. They closed in without saying a word.
Cottage industry: One of Manson's websites, charliemanson.com, gives detailed directions to where the murders took place
Who are you? What do you want? Money? I'll give you money?' blurted out the startled Frykowski. To which the man, Tex Watson, gave his infamous answer: 'I'm the devil, and I've come to do the devil's work.'
Miss Tate and her friends were then ordered into the living room and Frykowski was tied up, his hands pinned behind his back with a towel wrapped around his wrists.
A white nylon rope was tossed over a rafter in front of the balcony and nooses at either end looped around the necks of Sebring and Miss Tate.
They must have felt some security in numbers. Surely the intruders just wanted money? There was no reason why anyone should be hurt.
But then came the flash of knives. Sebring lunged forward, making a grab for the gun. A single shot rang out and he fell. Frykowski wrenched his hands free, but one of the girls set on him, plunging her weapon into him again and again.
Sharon, at knifepoint, burdened with child, suspended by rope, couldn't move. Helplessly, her eyes darted from one friend to another as they were cut down in flashes of steel.
Bleeding profusely, Frykowksi managed to reach the door, where he was clubbed in the face with the gun. He fell in the doorway, soaking the threshold in crimson. But still he did not give up. Again, somehow, he got back on his feet and staggered into the night until a bullet struck him in the back and his face hit the ground for the last time.
Inside, there was continued horror. Abigail Folger would not stay down and die. She dragged herself up and careened towards the open door. In the distance, across the pool, she could see a light and hear music - help must be there. Then a hand went over her mouth, a knife plunged into her back and she fell, limp on the grass.
It was Sharon Tate's turn to die next after witnessing the death of her friends. 'Please, please, let me have my baby,' she beseeched the killers. But Susan Atkins was not in the mood to show mercy. 'I have no feeling for you, bitch, you're going to die!' she cried as Tate was stabbed 16 times.
This mindless slaughter took half an hour. Then it was over, leaving five dead and the sixth dying inside Sharon without ever having lived. But there was one last job to do - Atkins dipped a towel in blood and wrote the word 'Pig' on the white front door.
The murderers fled in a car parked down the street where the fourth member of the gang, Linda Kasabian, was waiting. They drove up the hill towards the San Fernando Valley and flung their blood-drenched clothes down the ravine, along with the murder weapons.
A few hours later, the housekeeper arrived at Cielo Drive and discovered the horrific murder scene. News of Tate's brutal death dominated headlines across the world.
The following night, the mutilated bodies of Los Angeles businessman Leno LaBianca, 44, and his wife Rosemary, 38, were discovered in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles some 13 miles from the first murder scene.
Again, there were slogans written in blood at the scene, including 'death to pigs'. Yet, incredibly, police concluded this was a copycat killing and did not link the two events - let alone suspect the seemingly innocuous hippy commune living 35 miles away at the Spahn Ranch. Even when more than 100 sheriffs raided the ranch a week later, arresting Manson and 20 Family members on suspicion of car theft, there was no whisper of any connection with the murders.
Indeed, the link might never have been made. But in mid-October, after another unconnected raid, the police picked up Susan Atkins, among others, and while she was being held she bragged to a cellmate about the Tate/LaBianca murders.
Over the following few years, as a series of trials unfolded, the extent of Manson's influence became apparent. Even the likes of Dennis Wilson, of the Beach Boys, had been beguiled by The Family's free-loving lifestyle for a time. He allowed Manson and his cohorts to live at his 20-room mansion in Sunset Boulevard for several weeks, without picking up the sinister undercurrent bubbling near the surface.
After the Tate murders, Wilson was paranoid that he would become the next target. So too was Doris Day's son, record producer son Terry Melcher, who had auditioned Manson and twice visited the Spahn Ranch. Melcher was convinced that Manson was obsessed with him because he had failed to offer him a recording contract.
Those involved in the case were certainly in no doubt that Manson was extremely dangerous. In his final statement to the jury, prosecuting lawyer Bugliosi summed up with the following words: 'Charles Manson, the Mephistophelean guru who raped and bastardised the minds of all those who gave themselves so totally to him, sent out from the fires of hell at Spahn Ranch three heartless, bloodthirsty robots.'
But as we have seen, there are still those who are mesmerised by this evil maverick to this day. And even behind bars, Manson presides over a new 'family' of followers who seem as taken in by him as the young men and women he gathered round him in the Sixties.
• Adapted from Five To Die: The Book That Helped Convict Manson by Ivor Davis, available to buy from www.mansonbook.com ° Ivor Davis 2009. Channel 5's documentary, Manson, is on Monday 10th august at 10pm. UK ONLY
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