It was a crime that paralyzed a nation. At the tail end of the 1960s, it was as if everything middle America feared for a decade had come to fruition. All that lurked in the dark corners of Los Angeles was finally ushered into the light. A demented cult of young people known as the Manson Family, addled by copious amounts of LSD, murdered beloved actress Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and four of her companions. The following night, the Family went to the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, killing them as well.
The corruptive force, their leader Charles Manson, has embodied parents’ fears ever since. How could this singular man turn such promising young people into killers? In the decades following the horrific crimes, Manson refused to take any responsibility or give authorities any answers. The only people remaining who could provide any insight are his former followers, many of whom are still alive today.
Charles Denton “Tex” Watson wasn’t destined for a life of crime. In his native Dallas, Texas, he was a church-going honors student who oozed charm and popularity. On a trip to visit his fraternity brother in Los Angeles, he was introduced to psychedelics for the first time. He fell in with the Manson family after that.
Watson was a key figure in the Tate-LaBianca murders. In 1971, he was convicted on seven counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. His death sentence (along with the other Manson family members on death row) was then converted to life in prison when the California Supreme Court deemed the death penalty unconstitutional.
His life in prison was a stark contrast to his life with the Manson family. In prison, he wrote an autobiography entitled Will You Die for Me?, married a woman on the outside, and was able to father four children through conjugal visits. Watson became an ordained minister and earned a B.S. in Business Management through distance learning. He has been denied parole 18 times, and is now 76 years old.
Leslie Van Houten
Leslie Louise Van Houten came from a background similar to Watson’s. Once part of a middle-class family in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Houten began running with a bad crowd as soon as she was introduced to drugs. After her mother forced her to have an abortion at age 17, she began distancing herself from her middle-class upbringing even more. She ran off to join a commune and eventually met the Manson Family.
Van Houten was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder for her role in the LaBianca killings. She resisted blaming Manson for her actions, insisting she was acting of her own volition. She has wavered on this detail in the decades following. More recently, she has condemned her former leader for his role in the heinous crimes and insists she is a changed person. At 73 years old, she has been denied parole 23 times.
Patricia Krenwinkel was one of the original members of Manson’s Family. Krenwinkel’s young life was riddled with insecurity and a desire to belong, leading her to seek acceptance by studying to become a nun. When she found Manson, she thought she’d found that same belonging in his corrupted commune.
Despite displaying loyalty to Manson while on trial, Krenwinkel has adamantly criticized her former leader in the decades following the crimes. She’s given multiple interviews during which she’s made sure to both condemn Manson and take responsibility for her role in the killings. After 45 years behind bars, she is the longest-serving woman in any California prison. She was found eligible for parole this year, although it remains unlikely that the state will honor that and let her walk free.
Susan Denise Atkins had a rocky childhood. Growing up with alcoholic parents and losing her mother at age 16, Atkins’ early life was anything but consistent. In her senior year of high school, she ran away to San Francisco where she would go on to meet Manson.
She was married twice during her time in prison, and she published her own autobiography, Child of Satan, Child of God. She considered herself a born-again Christian after claiming to have seen a vision of Jesus Christ in her jail cell. Her 13 parole requests were all denied. In 2008, she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and requested an illness and compassionate release. She passed away September 24, 2009, after 38 years in prison. She was 61 years old.
Linda Darlene Kasabian (née Drouin) was a New England native. At the age of 16, she ran away from home after a conflict with her stepfather. In the late ’60s, she traveled to Los Angeles to be with her biological father. While in California, she met the Manson family.
Despite being present at the murders, Kasabian only stood outside and kept watch. Pregnant with her second child at the time, Kasabian agreed to turn State’s witness in exchange for immunity and walked away a free woman.
She remained under government surveillance for years following the ordeal, but she was able to live a mostly quiet life. It wasn’t until the ’90s that she sought the psychological help she so desperately needed to process the traumatic events. She is now 73 years old and lives in Tacoma, Washington.
One of the major aftershocks of the Tate-LaBianca murders came in the form of Squeaky Fromme. Lynette Alice “Squeaky” Fromme was a member of the Manson Family, but she did not take part in the murders. After Manson and the others went to jail, Fromme kept spreading his vision.
In 1975, six years after the murders, she traveled to Sacramento’s Capitol Park to meet with President Gerald Ford. Donning a red robe and a pistol, she took aim at the president. She was restrained by the secret service and charged with attempted assassination of the president. The charge carried a life sentence.
She waived her right to a parole hearing in 2005 but did eventually apply for parole years later. Fromme was released in 2009. In a 2019 interview, she insisted that even all these years later, she is still in love with Charles Manson.