45 years after the Charles Manson murder trial
Forty-five years ago, the U.S. was captivated by the start of one of the most infamous murder trials in the nation’s history.
The brutal and senseless murder of actress Sharon Tate – then eight months pregnant – and four of her friends on Aug. 9, 1969, in her Los Angeles home shocked the country and rattled the Hollywood establishment. The killings of the LaBiancas, a seemingly average, middle-aged couple just one night later seemed to suggest a macabre spree was in the making.
However, few could have predicted that the inspiration behind all the bloody mayhem was a diminutive wannabe musician named Charles Manson, who had cultivated a harem of sorts while preaching of an impending “race war” that he believed The Beatles had foreshadowed in their hard rock classic “Helter Skelter.” The late prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi discovered that the murders were perpetrated on the orders of Manson, and as he began investigating his followers and their haunts (including an abandoned Western movie set, Spahn ranch), the cultish elements of the crime grew much more disturbing.
Manson proved to be a media sensation, and he was even embraced by some as a figure of counter-culture rebellion. But as his erratic behavior and beliefs became more commonly known, he came to represent the dark side of hippie culture, and the loss of innocence of a generation which had celebrated a “summer of love” just three years earlier.
Today, Manson and some of his followers still remain in jail – Manson’s initial death sentence was reduced to life in prison – but his reign of terror continues to fascinate, inspiring books, films, music and more. The 1970 trial of Manson, and his largely female followers, was one of the first in a long line of “celebrity” cases that have now become commonplace in American culture.
And yet, few crimes and killers have had the longstanding impact and have stoked quite as much fear.