JUST after midnight, three followers of Charles Manson entered a fashionable Hollywood home and slaughtered four people — marking the start of a notorious Los Angeles killing spree in 1969.
They had been ordered by Manson to “totally destroy everyone in (it), as gruesome as you can” and they showed no mercy.
“I’m the devil and I’m here to do the devil’s business,” former star high school athlete Tex Watson announced upon entering the home.
Pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski, begged for her life saying: “Please don’t kill me. I just want to have my baby.”
But she was stabbed 16 times and then a towel dipped in her blood was used to write “PIG” on her front door.
While Manson is thought of as a cold-bloodied murderer, he didn’t carry out any of the killing himself. Instead he instructed his followers to undertake the bloody acts.
According to an account from Vincent Bugliosi, the lawyer who put Manson behind bars, Manson ordered Watson, former Catholic-college student Patricia Krenwinkel and former church-choir singer Susan Atkins to go to the house.
New recruit to the commune Linda Kasabian waited in the car while the others shot, beat, hung and stabbed their victims 102 times in a frenzied attack.
Tate, who appeared in the cult classic film Valley of the Dolls, was at home with her friends in the mountains above Beverly Hills when they were all brutally slaughtered.
Hollywood hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and her boyfriend Voytek (also spelled Wojciech) Frykowski were killed. An 18-year-old boy Steven Parent visiting the house’s caretaker was also murdered.
Their deaths were carried out at the instruction of Manson, who led a hippie cult that used acid trips, rock’n’roll, orgies, Nazi ideology and hypnotic lectures to create a bizarre power over its members.
The killing did not stop there.
The next night, August 10, the group were ordered to the home of a wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.
This time Manson went to the home with Watson, Krenwinkle and Atkins as well as two other cult members Steve Grogan and Leslie Van Houten.
Manson broke into the home and helped tie up the couple before driving off, leaving Watson, Krenwinkle and Van Houten to stab the couple to death.
Their blood was used to scrawl the phrases “Death to Pigs” and “Healter Skelter,” misspelled around the home.
In Manson’s strange logic, the killings were supposed to look like the work of black militants and spark a race war between black and white people in the US that he referred to as “Helter Skelter”, named after a Beatles song.
The murders sparked fear within the Hollywood community that the ritualistic slayings were targeting celebrities.
They also helped to expose the dangerous, drugged-out underside of the counterculture movement and seemed to mark the death of the era of peace and love.
“Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969,” author Joan Didion wrote in her 1979 book The White Album.
Members of Manson’s commune remember doing acid trips and listening to the Beatles, Moody Blues and Manson’s own music.
“I became saturated in acid and had no sense of where those who were not part of the psychedelic reality came from,” Leslie Van Houten recalls.
“I had no perspective or sense that I was no longer in control of my mind.”
Van Houten told Dianne Sawyer as part of a documentary in 1994 that Manson would re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus when they were using LSD.
“It was realistic,” she said. It wasn’t long before he started asking: “I would die for you … would you die for me?”
It took months for police to hone in on Manson and his notorious “family”. They were eventually discovered when Atkins, in jail for an unrelated crime, bragged to cellmates about the killings.
Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Manson maintained during his tumultuous trial in 1970 that he was innocent and that society itself was guilty.
“These children that come at you with knives, they are your children,” he pronounced.
“You taught them. I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up. … I am just a reflection of every one of you.”
In the next breath, he uttered his most quoted line: “I have killed no one, and I have ordered no one to be killed.”
But Manson’s power over his women in particular was obvious.
During the trial he showed up with an “X” carved into his forehead to symbolise his removal from society.
The next day the women appeared with the same symbol carved into their foreheads. Manson eventually changed his carving to a swastika.
When the women eventually confessed to murder, they absolved him of any blame. Their lawyers said they had been brainwashed.
All four were convicted of multiple murders and sentenced to die in the gas chamber, but their sentences were commuted to life in prison when the death penalty was briefly outlawed in California.
That was the prelude to years of parole hearings for the four. Manson rarely appeared, sending word that prison was his home and he didn’t want to get out.
Manson was no stranger to prison, he was a petty criminal who had been in and out of jail since childhood.
Born to a teenage mother, who was possibly a prostitute, Manson was in reform school by the time he was eight years old.
After serving a 10-year sentence for cheque forgery in the 1960s, Manson was said to have pleaded with authorities not to release him because he considered prison home.
“My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system,” he would later say in a monologue on the witness stand.
“I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.”
He was set free in San Francisco during the heyday of the hippie movement in the city’s Haight-Ashbury section, and though he was in his mid-30s by then, he began collecting followers — mostly women — who likened him to Jesus Christ. Most were teenagers; many came from good homes but were at odds with their parents.
The “family” eventually established a commune-like base at the Spahn Ranch, a ramshackle former movie location outside Los Angeles, where Manson manipulated his followers with drugs, oversaw orgies and subjected them to bizarre lectures.
He had musical ambitions and befriended rock stars, including Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. He also met Terry Melcher, a music producer who had lived in the same house that Polanski and Tate later rented.
By the summer of 1969, Manson had failed to sell his songs, and the rejection was later seen as a trigger for the violence.
He complained that Wilson took a Manson song called Cease to Exist, revised it into Never Learn Not to Love and recorded it with the Beach Boys without giving Manson credit. Manson was obsessed with Beatles music, particularly Piggies and Helter Skelter, a hard-rocking song that he interpreted as forecasting the end of the world.
He told his followers that “Helter Skelter is coming down” and predicted a race war would destroy the planet.
“Everybody attached themselves to us, whether it was our fault or not,” the Beatles’ George Harrison, who wrote “Piggies,” later said of the murders. “It was upsetting to be associated with something so sleazy as Charles Manson.”
According to testimony, Manson sent his devotees out on the night of Tate’s murder with instructions to “do something witchy.”
The state’s star witness, Linda Kasabian, who was granted immunity, testified that Manson tied up the LaBiancas, then ordered his followers to kill.
His trial was nearly scuttled when President Richard Nixon said Manson was “guilty, directly or indirectly.”
Manson grabbed a newspaper and held up the front-page headline for jurors to read: “Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares.” Attorneys demanded a mistrial but were turned down.
From then on, jurors, sequestered at a hotel for 10 months, travelled to and from the courtroom in buses with blacked-out windows so they could not read the headlines on newsstands.
Manson was also later convicted of the slayings of a musician and a stuntman.
Over the decades, Manson and his followers appeared sporadically at parole hearings, where their bids for freedom were repeatedly rejected.
The women suggested they had been rehabilitated, but Manson himself stopped attending, saying prison had become his home.
The killings inspired movies and TV shows, and Bugliosi, the prosecutor, wrote a best-selling book about the murders, Helter Skelter.
The macabre rock star Marilyn Manson borrowed part of his stage name from the killer.
Manson died on Sunday night after nearly a half-century in prison at the age of 83.
“The Manson case, to this day, remains one of the most chilling in crime history,” veteran crime reporter Theo Wilson wrote in her 1998 memoir, Headline Justice: Inside the Courtroom — The Country’s Most Controversial Trials.
“Even people who were not yet born when the murders took place know the name Charles Manson, and shudder.”
Analysis by Charis Chang, news