Charles Manson, the charismatic cult leader who lead his followers on a series of home invasion murders that killed seven people, died Sunday in a California hospital of natural causes.
Manson, who had been in and out of institutions for most of his youth, began assembling wayward young people drawn to California during the 1960s into a cult at the notorious Spahn Ranch. The group had communal LSD sessions and orgies to bind them close together, which made them more susceptible to Manson's ideology. He believed that a race war was coming and that African Americans were likely to win. He intended for his followers to bunker down in the desert and re-emerge after the war was over, claiming leadership in this new world.
In order to kick-start Manson's planned race war, he ordered his followers on a home invasion of director Roman Polanski's home, where Polanski's wife Sharon Tate and her friends were staying. Manson's followers killed everyone in the home, then wrote "Pigs" and "Helter Skelter" in their blood, which was meant to suggest that the murders were committed by the Black Panther Party. The following evening, the killers struck the home of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, killing both and painting similar messages in their blood.
Manson and his followers were captured and convicted. Manson was originally given the death penalty, but it was later commuted to life. He'd been up for parole several times and denied each time, though members of his cult have since gone free.
Manson and his followers have become iconic criminals in the annuals of American crime. They've been seen as a metaphor of the end of 1960s counterculture idealism, as one of the first examples of the destructiveness of isolated cults and messianic figures, and Manson himself as the embodiment of evil and madness. Exhaustive studies of his life and crimes have been undertaken, and an excellent podcast history of the case has been done for the series You Must Remember This.