Charles Manson 'family' murders: 50 years on, what happened to the key figures?

Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment Credit: AP

It's 50 years ago this week since Charles Manson encouraged his followers, mostly young women, to go on a two-night killing spree across Los Angeles.

The bizarre murders by the Manson "family" sent shockwaves across the US and the world after they beat, shot and stabbed to death the rich and famous in California.

The group travelled to Hollywood Hills to the home of Sharon Tate on August 8, 1969, where they shot, stabbed and beat her to death, along with her friends celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski.

As they left the home, they met Steven Parent, who had been visiting a friend at the estate's guesthouse, where he was shot and killed.

The next evening, Manson and his followers arrived at the home of grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. Manson tied the couple up and ordered the others to kill them.

Manson and his followers then killed musician Gary Hinman and Hollywood stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea, in separate, unrelated attacks, designed to trigger a race war.

Here's a look back on some of the key figures involved in those bloody killings.

Charles Manson followers, from left, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten Credit: George Brich/AP

The killers:

  • Charles Manson

Manson had been in and out of jail since he was a child, but reinvented himself in the late 1960s as a guru-philosopher who targeted teenage runaways, particularly attractive young women who he used and bartered to others for sex.

He sent his followers out to kill LA's rich and famous in what prosecutors said was designed to trigger a race war, an idea which he is said to have got from a twisted reading of the Beatles' song Helter Skelter.

In the years after his conviction, Manson both denied and boasted about the killings.

In a parole hearing in 2012, he said: "I have put five people in the grave. I am a very dangerous man.”

Manson died in 2017 aged 83.

Combination of file photos showing Charles Manson in 2017 and 1969 Credit: AP
  • Susan Atkins

Atkins was convicted of the Tate, LaBianca and Hinman murders.

At the time of the killings, she was a teenage runaway working as a topless dancer in San Fransicsco, when she met Manson in 1967.

The Tate and LaBianca killings went unsolved for months until Atkins, who was in prison on unrelated charges, confessed to her cellmate.

Susan Atkins, left, during a parole hearing in 1989 and in 1970 Credit: Alan Greth/Harold Filan/AP

During her trial, Atkins said she was "stoned on acid" and did not remember how many times she stabbed Tate as she begged for her life.

Atkins, who became a born-again Christian in prison and denounced Manson, tearfully recounted that confrontation during a parole hearing years later.

She died in prison of cancer in 2009, aged 61.

  • Leslie Van Houten

The former high school cheerleader saw her life spiral out of control when her parents divorced when she was 14-years-old.

She turned to drugs and became pregnant but her mother forced her to abort the baby and bury it in the family's backyard.

Van Houten met Manson at an old movie ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he had established his so-called “family” of followers.

Leslie Van Houten Credit: AP

She did not take part in the Tate killings but accompanied Manson and others to the LaBianca home the next night.

She held a pillowcase over the head of Rosemary LaBianca as others stabbed her more than a dozen times.

Van Houten, now 69, earned a bachelor's and master's degree in counselling while behind bars. She leads several prison programmes aimed at rehabilitating inmates.

She has been recommended for parole three times, but former governor Jerry Brown blocked her release each time.

  • Patricia Krenwinkel

Krenwinkel was a 19-year-old secretary when she met Manson at a party.

Three days after meeting Manson, she left everything behind for him, believing that they were in love.

After he became abusive and bartered her for sex, she said she twice tried to leave him, only for his followers to bring her her back, where they kept her high on drugs to make sure she didn't escape.

Patricia Krenwinkel at aparole hearing in 2011 and in 1970 Credit: Reed Saxon/George Brich/AP

She gave evidence at a 2016 parole hearing that she repeatedly stabbed Folger, then stabbed Leno LaBianca in the abdomen the following night and wrote Helter Skelter, Rise and Death To Pigs on the walls with his blood.

Krenwinkel, 71, remains in prison.

  • Charles “Tex” Watson

College dropout Watson arrived in California from Texas in 1967, seeking “satisfaction through drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll,” as he explains on his website.

He said he met Manson at the house of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson after seeing Wilson hitchhiking and giving him a ride home.

Charles “Tex” Watson, left, appearing during is parole hearing in 2011 and in 1970 Credit: AP

Watson, 73, led the killers to the Tate estate, shot to death teenager Parent as he was attempting to leave and took part in the killings that night and the next at the LaBianca home.

He became a born-again Christian in prison and formed a prison ministry in 1980 that he continues to lead. Watson, who has authored or co-authored several books while in prison, maintains he has changed and is no longer a danger to anyone. He has repeatedly been denied parole.

The victims:

  • Sharon Tate

Tate, 26, was a model and rising film star following her breakout role in the 1966 hit film "valley of the Dolls".

She was eight and a half months pregnant and pleaded with her attackers to spare her unborn son during their viscous attack.

Sharon Tate, left, and at right, her body being taken from her rented house in the Bel-Air area of Los Angeles Credit: AP

Tate’s mother, Doris, became an advocate for victims’ rights in California and was instrumental in a 1982 law that allows family members to give evidence about their losses at trials and parole hearings.

Her younger sister, Debra, also dedicated her life to victims’ rights and has testified at countless parole hearings for the killers, demanding they never be released.

Tate’s husband, director Roman Polanski, was out of the country the night of the killings and has said it took him years to recover from the grief of losing his wife and baby.

  • Jay Sebring

Sebring was a hairdresser to Hollywood stars and was Tate's former boyfriend.

He also begged for her to be spared but was shot, kicked in the face and stabbed multiple times.

He transformed the male haircare industry after graduating from beauty school in Los Angeles.

Among his clients included Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.

He founded Sebring International in 1967 to market hair products and to franchise his salons internationally.

  • Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger

The pair had dined with Tate and Sebring earlier that evening.

The 32-year-old Mr Frykowski was a friend of Polanski’s from Poland and an aspiring screenwriter. A post mortem found he was stabbed more than 50 times and shot twice.

His 25-year-old girlfriend was the heir to the Folger coffee fortune. She managed to escape the house but was tackled on the front lawn and stabbed 28 times.

  • Steven Parent

A recent high school graduate planning to attend college in the autumn, Mr Parent had dropped by a guest house on the property to visit the estate’s 19-year-old caretaker, a friend named William Garretson.

He was leaving the property when Watson confronted him at the front gate and shot him to death.

Mr Garretson, who was briefly taken into custody, returned to his native Ohio soon after the killings.

Except for his evidence during the murder trial, he rarely spoke publicly about that night. He died of cancer in 2016.

  • Leno and Rosemary LaBianca

The affluent couple owned a number of grocery stores around Los Angeles and had no connection to Sharon Tate or her famous friends.

Their home was chosen at random by Manson. He tied them up and before leaving, ordered his followers to kill them.

The prosecutors

  • Vincent Bugliosi

Bugliosi was an ambitious but anonymous deputy district attorney when he was handed the Manson family murder trial after a more experienced prosecutor was removed for mocking one of the defendants to reporters.

Bugliosi denounced Manson as the “dictatorial maharajah of a tribe of bootlicking slaves”, calling Manson’s followers “robots” and “zombies.”

Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, left, in 2013 and in 1971. Credit: AP

After their convictions, he recounted the case in Helter Skelter, one of history’s best-selling true-crime books.

Bugliosi, who left the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office in 1972, went on to write 11 more books. He was 80 when he died of cancer in 2015.

  • Stephen Kay

Kay was a 27-year-old deputy district attorney when he joined the prosecution team two months into the trial.

He also joined Bugliosi as co-lead prosecutor during a trial of Tex Watson, who was tried separately after fighting extradition to California from Texas for nine months.

File phot of then Los Angeles deputy district attorney Stephen Kay. Credit: Eric Risberg

Mr Kay later successfully prosecuted Van Houten after she won a retrial.

In subsequent years Kay attended some 60 parole hearings to argue that the killers should never be released from prison. He’s now 76.

Other prominent figures

  • Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme

Fromme, a Manson family member who was not implicated in the Tate-LaBianca murders, was sentenced to prison for pointing a handgun at President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Since her release in 2009, she has lived quietly in upstate New York.

Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme being led away after she pointed a gun at President Gerald Ford in 1975 and five years earlier at a pretrial hearing in 1970 for Charles Manson in Los Angeles. Credit: AP
  • Linda Kasabian

Kasabian, the trial’s key witness, was granted immunity from prosecution. She had accompanied the killers to the Tate house but was posted outside as a lookout, a position from which she said she saw some of the killings.

The next night she remained in a car outside the LaBianca house as Manson tied up the victims, then left with him as the others stayed to kill them.

The 20-year-old moved in with the “family” a few weeks before the killings and fled immediately after. She turned herself in to authorities after the others were arrested.

Ms Kasabian later changed her name and has for the most part lived out of sight for the past 50 years.

  • Bruce Davis

Davis was convicted of taking part in the Hinman and Shea murders but was not involved in the Tate-LaBianca killings.

He gave evidence at his 2014 parole hearing that he attacked Shea with a knife and held a gun on Hinman while Manson cut Hinman’s face with a sword.

Bruce Davis, left, in 2014 and in 1970. Credit: AP

“I wanted to be Charlie’s favourite guy,” he said. Parole panels have repeatedly recommended his release, but the governor has blocked it.

  • Steve “Clem” Grogan

Grogan, once a ranch hand at the old movie ranch where Manson had located his followers, was sentenced to life in prison for taking part in Shea’s murder.

Bruce Davis, left, and Steve Grogan, leaving court in 1970. Credit: Harold Filan/AP

In 1977 he told authorities where Shea’s body was buried.

Grogan was paroled in 1985 and lives in Northern California.