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CNN Spotlight: Charles Manson

Aired August 9, 2014 - 19:00   ET


TED ROWLANDS, CNN HOST (voice-over): 1969, seven brutal murders, seven innocent lives taken, one crazed master mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) said yes, you're right.

ROWLANDS: A man who redefined the word evil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charles Manson was born evil.

ROWLANDS: And transformed a group of young girls into vicious killers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I fall in love with him continuously.

ROWLANDS: Now, 45 years later, exclusive interviews with people who were there, family, friends, the prosecutor and Manson supporters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am Charles Manson's wife.

ROWLANDS: Now a "CNN SPOTLIGHT. Charles Manson."

It was an unusually hot night on Hollywood's prestigious Cielo Drive, a road some called the pathway to heaven.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was very supportive, very ethereal, behind closed gates.

ROWLANDS: But just after midnight on August 9, 1969 it was as close to hell as you could possibly get. 1050 Cielo was the new home of a jet set celebrity couple, avant-garde director Roman Polanski and his wife, sexy actress, Sharon Tate. Polanski was in London filming and a very pregnant, Tate, was at home in Los Angeles. According to family friend, Eliza Stanton (ph), Tate was having a quiet evening home with friends.

Vojtek Frykowski, his girlfriend, coffee heiress, Abigail Folger and celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We kind of had this peaceful normal domestic scene happening. And then in the dead of the night the killers broke into the house and preceded to commit some of the most savage, inhumane nightmarish murders that ever occurred in this country.

ROWLANDS: Intruders cut the telephone lines, entered the secluded compound, killing one man in the drive way before continuing the barbaric rampage inside. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were 102 stab wounds, seven gunshot wounds. Two of the victims were beaten so badly that one of them was just unrecognizable.

ROWLANDS (on camera): (INAUDIBLE) she was 8 1/2 months pregnant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was stabbed 16 times. She was stabbed three times in the heart. They hung her before they killed her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The murder scene was like something out of a horror movie.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Investigative journalist Jeff Guinn says there was blood everywhere. The word pig was written in blood on the door and the victims were soaking in it.

GUINN: Abigail Folger had been wearing a white night gown. People thought it must have been red because there was so much blood. Officers who attended the murder scene had not seen anything like it. We are talking about Los Angeles PD veterans.

ROWLANDS: But they would see something just as shocking the following night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bodies of a man and his wife found in their home.

ROWLANDS: In the peaceful suburban neighborhood of Rosemary and Leno Flabianca.

GUINN: Their bodies had been mutilated. They had been stabbed repeatedly. A fork was left in Leno's abdomen. Someone had carved a word on his stomach. There were words written in blood on the walls and on the refrigerator.

ROWLANDS: The words rise, death to pigs and helter skelter written in blood just as they've been at the Tate's house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They found no evidence of robbery, no suggestion of motive, a baffling crime and bizarre.

ROWLANDS: The Los Angeles Police Department assigned almost 20 investigators. With seven people viciously murdered and no good leads people started to blame the victims. Rumors filled the newspapers. Were the killings drug deals gone bad, a demented sex orgy or even the actions of a jealous husband? Roman Polanski.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People needed evil. They needed victims to be evil because this didn't happen to normal, God-fearing people.

ROWLANDS: After rushing back to the States on August 19, 1969 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, a dazed and grieving Polanski faced the press.

ROMAN POLANSKI, MOVIE DIRECTOR: All of you know how beautiful she was and very often I read and heard statements that she was one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful women of the world. Only few of you know how good she was.

ROWLANDS: Police had no idea who killed Sharon Tate and the others and answers were slow to come.

GUINN: Two separate teams of detectives who worked in the same room were doing the investigations. They didn't get along. They weren't cooperating. If only they talked to each other they could have put everything together.

ROWLANDS: Turns out the police had the killers under surveillance, yet didn't realize it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police say they were a pseudo religious cult. People who worked on the ranch said they were heavy users of drugs.

ROWLANDS: Just weeks after the killings, officers in Death Valley California were watching a group of wanderers led by a man named Charles Manson. Police suspected the group of auto theft, not murder.

GUINN: When the police swooped in a week after the murders Charlie thought this was it somehow they have figured it out. And the police couldn't understand when Charlie asked what the charges were and they said car theft then Hanson started laughing. But he had a reason to laugh. He was relieved.

ROWLANDS: And soon after released on a technicality, a tragically missed opportunity.

But eventually a Manson follower named Susan Atkins would be jailed for auto theft.

GUINN: She couldn't help but brag to other inmates about a murder she was involved with and finally everything was put together.

ROWLANDS: The police returned to the Death Valley compound, nearly two dozen people were arrested but not the man Atkins said was behind it all, Charles Manson. He had disappeared. The next day police were back and this time they found him crammed into a bathroom cabinet.

GUINN: When Charlie was arrested in Death Valley he was booked as Charles Manson, a.k.a. Jesus Christ because he was telling everybody he was the reincarnation of Jesus.

ROWLANDS: Four months after the murders, the police believed they had their killer but it was hardly an open and shut case.

Coming up how Charles Manson almost went free.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The problem was that Manson was not at the murder scene.


ROWLANDS: San Francisco, 1967. Summer of love was at its peak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are we fighting for? ROWLANDS: Free love, free drugs, dream living for hippies escaping the mainstream. But 32-year-old Charles Manson arrived with much darker ambitions.

GUINN: You get these kids, these children coming in. (INAUDIBLE) and here is someone, Charlie Manson, saying how much he loves them and he wants to take care of them. It was made to order for him and he took full advantage.

ROWLANDS: Manson's destructive course through life was fixed from the start.

MANSON: I don't have any particular reality.

ROWLANDS: He spoke to CNN from prison in 1987.

MANSON: I spent the best part of my life in boy schools, prisons and reform schools because I had nobody.

ROWLANDS: He blamed his mother for his troubled youth, Kathleen Maddox gave birth to Manson in Cincinnati, Ohio at the age of 16 and went to prison when Charlie was five years old.

MANSON: She got out of my life early and let me scuffle for myself. And then I became my own mother.

ROWLANDS: But author Jeff Guinn says there is only one explanation for the life of Charles Manson.

GUINN: Charles Manson was born evil.

ROWLANDS: In 2013, Guinn landed exclusive interviews with Manson's sister and cousin.

GUINN: Little Charlie was taken in by loving relatives, his grandmother, his uncle, his aunt, his cousin, Joanne. But he always had people who loved him. The problem was that Charlie himself was a rotten little kid from the word go.

ROWLANDS: A rotten kid whose crimes escalated as he got older, from stealing cars to armed robbery, drug dealing to pimping.

GUINN: He was born to be in prison.

ROWLANDS: But he did have an innate talent as a decent guitar player.

GUINN: Charlie Manson listening to the radio in prison hears the Beatles. He starts writing his own songs, performing in prison shows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a mad delusion living in the confusion -

GUINN: From then on it is his dream to become the biggest musical star in history.

ROWLANDS: Bigger, he said, than the Beatles. And San Francisco was the perfect place to start. Paroled after seven years in prison he used his guitar and charisma to lure a flock of vulnerable young women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I fell in love with him continuously. He is very brilliant. And yet whatever he wants to be, I let him be that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was mesmerized by his mind and the things he professed.

ROWLANDS: Manson transformed himself from a two bit criminal into a self-styled spiritual guru.

GUINN: Charlie sometimes said he was a scientologist. Charlie sometimes says that he was in the church of the Nazarene but the only religion Charlie ever had was the church of Charlie.

ROWLANDS: The church of Charlie got stranger as the Manson family got bigger. Leaving San Francisco for L.A. to secure the big record deal Charlie was sure was coming. The Manson family made a dilapidated old movie set called spawn Ranch their home.

BARBARA HOYT, FORMER HANSON FAMILY MEMBER: Everybody was really happy. We would help take care of the horses. Garbage runs were a lot of fun. We would hop in the back of, you know, those dumpsters behind the stores and you would find all kinds of vegetables.

GUINN: George (INAUDIBLE) the old owner was nearly blind. Lynette Pram (ph) was assigned by Manson to live with George and to fulfill his every whim. George liked to pinch her a lot and she would squeal. George is the one who nicknamed her squeaky.

ROWLANDS: Manson hosted LSD fuelled orgies, gave persuasive sermon and made ensuring his success as a musician the family's top priority. But recording execs weren't interested and Charlie was angry.

HOYT: He just seemed on fire. He was all over the place pacing. He was very worried.

ROWLANDS: By 1968 race riots, the Black Panther movement and anti-war violence convinced Manson that Armageddon was coming. He called it helter skelter after the famous Beatles song. Vincent Bugliosi named his best-selling book after Manson's strange philosophy.

VINCENT BUGLIOSI, AUTHOR: While the songs stood out in his mind "Helter Skelter," what she felt was an apocalyptic war between blacks and whites, the last destructive final war on the face of this earth.

ROWLANDS: Manson increasingly paranoid and angry hatched a deranged plan to ignite the race war himself by killing a handful of rich white people and framing the Black Panthers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Friday night in Los Angeles, a movie actress and all of her friends were murdered.

ROWLANDS: The brutal murders at the Tate and Labianca homes left the L.A.P.D. perplexed for months. But when the disturbing truth about the Manson family surfaced the stage was set.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the elements are present for one of the most sensational murder trials in American history.

ROWLANDS: Nearly a year after the murders the trial began.

BUGLIOSI: On the evening of August 8, 1969 Charles Manson sent out from the fires of hell four heartless, cold blooded robots - that's what I told the jury.

ROWLANDS: Bugliosi might have been the prosecutor but Charles Manson was the star.

GUINN: The first day of the trial Charlie takes control. He comes in and he has cut an x between his eyes and the top of the bridge of his nose because society has X'ed us out. We don't count. A couple of days later he put the little prongs on it. It's a swastika.


ROWLANDS: Manson insisted he had no role in the murders.

MANSON: Man, I never killed nobody.

ROWLANDS: Former Manson family members told a much different story on the witness stand.

LINDA KASABIAN, FORMER MANSON FAMILY MEMBER: I was told to go get a change of clothing and a knife.

HOYT: Everything was preparing for helter skelter. I remember in the desert when Tex was teaching us how to stab people. It's a murder school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It took 42 and 1/2 hours of deliberating.

ROWLANDS: The verdict came down on January 25, 1971. Charles Manson and three of his followers were to die in prison. Bugliosi had pulled off what seemed impossible.

ROWLANDS (on camera): The fact you were able to get a conviction, a death sentence, this guy wasn't even there.

BUGLIOSI: I showed through witnesses that he was the dictatorial ruler of the family, the king, the maharajah and then members of his family were slavishly obedient to him.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Manson spoke to Bugliosi on his way out of the courtroom.

BUGLIOSI: He says you haven't accomplished anything here. All you have done is send me back to where I came from. He doesn't mind prison. (INAUDIBLE) I hate to say it but in a sense he is beating the wrap.

ROWLANDS: Coming up, is history repeating itself?

(voice-over): People think you are crazy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROWLANDS: Charles Manson, the musician, long dreamed of fame and fans. And now, he has both despite being locked away and isolated for 45 years.

GUINN: Charlie knows how to retain a presence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There forever --

GUINN: Give the monster credit. He's good at it.

ROWLANDS: If you search the internet, you can find music he made in prison.

And paintings.

GUINN: There's lots of people who collect memorabilia.

ROWLANDS: People can't stop watching him.

GUINN: Charlie Manson is the equivalent of a spectacular car wreck. We know we shouldn't look, but we can't help it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I spit on you, that gives you the god given right to spit on me back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Labianca's homecoming up on our left.

ROWLANDS: People still pay to tour the Tate-Labianca murder sites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They left the word murder carved in his stomach.

ROWLANDS: There's a Facebook page with tens of thousands of likes, had a YouTube channel with hundreds of thousands of views.

STAR: It's so obvious that Charles Manson was railroaded.

ROWLANDS: That's Star. She's 25, pretty, fiercely loyal to Manson. And then there's this.

STAR: I am Charles Manson's wife.

ROWLANDS (on camera): Wife? Are you married?

STAR: The paperwork hasn't gone through yet, but we already consider each other to be husband and wife.

ROWLANDS: Are you in love?

STAR: Yes. Why would I marry somebody if I --

ROWLANDS: People get married for all kinds of different reasons.

STAR: Well, I wouldn't.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): But Manson might. Last year, when Star first told "Rolling Stone" magazine she planned to marry the nearly 80-year- old lifer, he told the reporter, "That's a bunch of garbage, we're just playing that for public consumption."

(on camera): People think you're crazy.

STAR: I really don't care.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Star says she first discovered Manson at 16, drawn to something Manson called ATWA.

MANSON: If you want to breathe air and water and live in the harmony, get with it.

ROWLANDS: He claims it's his mission to save the planet's environment.

STAR: ATWA stands for air, trees, water, and animals.

MANSON: Do you know that 900 redwood trees get cut down every day? 900 redwood trees, at 1,000 years a piece. That's 900,000 years of sun light you're taking off this planet.

ROWLANDS: Gray Wolf is a longtime follower.

GRAY WOLF: It's been his main focus all along, but the media basically has just covered that up and concentrated on the image that they have created of him.

MANSON: I run with a pack of wolves and I got to be a wolf.

WOLF: That being crazy, horrific, threatening.

GUINN: he's as sincere about ATWA as he was about helter-skelter. If (INAUDIBLE) if talking about it can earn Charlie a buck, if it can get him a few followers, fine, he'll throw it out there for you to buy into it.

STAR: The only thing he's trying to manipulate people into doing is planting trees. And cleaning up the earth.

ROWLANDS: But after seven years living near Manson's prison, visiting him regularly, Star's main focus has switched to clearing his name.

STAR: It's just not a true story. It's completely fabricated.

ROWLANDS: Manson's always maintained his innocence, and he called Star from prison before our interview to stress it again.

MANSON: You know I didn't break the law. You know you're holding me hostage. You know I'm a political prisoner. You're all a bunch of liars. You're all liars.

ROWLANDS: Star is so loyal that when Manson was tossed into solitary confinement, she shaved her head and carved an x in her forehead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a show of support. Just like when they did it back in 1970 whatever.

ROWLANDS: In 1971, when Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten were on trial with Manson, they all carved Xs in their foreheads just like Manson had. All three Manson girls went to prison. Atkins died there of brain cancer in 2009. Van Houten and Krenwinkel say they are rehabilitated but have been denied parole multiple times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was raised to be a decent human being. I've turned into a monster and I spent these years going back to a decent human being and I just don't know what else -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so ashamed of my actions.

ROWLANDS: Former Manson follower Barbara Hoyt doesn't buy it. She now works to keep the family locked up.

HOYT: I think they're a danger to the public. I think their influence is dangerous.

ROWLANDS (on camera): As for Manson, almost no one believes that he'll ever leave here, California's Corcoran State Prison. He's been denied parole 12 times and the next time he's eligible, he'll be 92 years old.

GUINN: Charles Manson will die physically in prison.

MANSON: I'm a human being.

GUINN: I think it will take at least another generation for Charles Manson to die in terms of fascination to the public.

MANSON: And it's my world.

GUINN: He's too much a part of our lives right now. He's going to live on in our memories for a while longer.

MANSON: Well, God, I guess you're my best friend being since I invented you.