45 years after the Charles Manson murder trial

  • An aerial view of the Barker ranch in the Mojave Desert bordering Death Valley, the residence of Charles Manson’s hippie family commune, 1969. 
  • Charles Manson in the 1970s. 
  • The Interior of Spahn ranch, where Charles Manson lived. This photo was taken in 1969.
  • Interior view of the kitchen at the Spahn ranch, where convicted murderer Charles Manson and his followers lived from mid-1968 until their arrest in October 1969, San Fernando Valley, Calif. 
  • The Barker Ranch, the one-time home of the Manson family. 
  • American actress Sharon Tate, pictured in London. 
  • Police officers stand on the property of actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, where the bodies of five persons, including Tate, were found murdered by members of the Manson family, Aug. 9, 1969. 
  • The body of actress Sharon Tate is taken from her rented house on Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif. Tate was eight months pregnant. 
  • Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi takes notes as his assistants remove the sheet from a murder victim outside the home of Roman Polanski, whose wife, Sharon Tate, and four others were murdered, Aug. 10, 1969. 
  • The living room where American actress Sharon Tate, wife of Director Roman Polanski, then eight months pregnant, was murdered with four others in the couple’s mansion in Beverly Hills Aug. 9, 1969. 
  • Charles Manson surrounded by journalists prior to his trial, 1969. 
  • Accused murderer Charles Manson sits with public defender Fred Schaefer as they listen to charges during preliminary hearings, Independence, Calif., December 1969. 
  • Vincent Bugliosi, chief prosecutor in the trial of Manson and three young women, talk with journalists outside the courtroom, Jan. 26, 1971, in Los Angeles. 
  • Charles Manson supporters sit outside the courthouse during his murder trial. 
  • Four young women members of the Charles Manson “family” keep a vigil, which they kept through the entire trial, on the sidewalk outside the Los Angeles at Hall of Justice,  March 29, 1971, with their heads shaved. 
  • Charles Tex Watson, right, arriving for court in Los Angeles, Calif. Watson is serving a life sentence for his role in the 1969 Tate-La Bianca murders. 
  • Susan Atkins leaves the grand jury room after testifying against accused murderer Charles Manson. 
  • In the Ambassador Hotel, a homemade poster that relates to the jury in the Charles Manson murder case, Los Angeles, California, January 1971. 
  • Jurors leave their hotel for the courthouse, where they will continue to hear testimony. The jurors were sequestered at the hotel for 225 days, longer than any previous jury in U.S. history. 
  • Two members of the Charles Manson family, Pat, left, and Rocky hold three Appaloosa horses at the George C. Spahn ranch, where Manson and his followers once camped, during the Manson trial in LA. 
  • Kitty Lutesinger and Kathy Gillies of the Manson family outside the Los Angeles Hall of Justice while the trial goes on inside. They’ve maintained a vigil for weeks, saying they’ll wait “until Charlie is freed.” 
  • A California Highway Patrolman guards Barker Ranch. 
  • Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins and Leslie Van Houten leave the Los Angeles courtroom after being convicted of first degree murder in the Tate/LaBianca murder trial, Jan. 25 1971. 

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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.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography 

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