In Los Angeles, California, cult leader Charles Manson is convicted, along with followers Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, and Patricia Krenwinkle, of the brutal 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others.
In 1967, Manson, a lifetime criminal, was released from a federal penitentiary in Washington State and traveled to San Francisco, where he attracted a following among rebellious young women with troubled emotional lives. Manson established a cult based on his concept of “Helter Skelter”–an apocalyptic philosophy predicting that out of an imminent racial war in America would emerge five ruling angels: Manson, who would take on the role of Jesus Christ, and the four members of the Beatles. Manson convinced his followers that it would be necessary to murder celebrities in order to attract attention to the cult, and in 1969 they targeted Sharon Tate, a marginally successful actress who was married to Roman Polanski, a film director.
On the night of August 9, 1969, with detailed instructions from Manson, four of his followers drove up to Cielo Drive above Beverly Hills and burst into Polanski and Tate’s home. (Polanski was not home and friends were staying with the pregnant Tate.) During the next few hours, they engaged in a murderous rampage that left five dead, including a very pregnant Sharon Tate, three of her friends, and an 18-year-old man who was visiting the caretaker of the estate. The next night, Manson followers murdered Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their home in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles; this time, Manson went along to make sure the killings were carried out correctly. The cases went unsolved for over a year before the Los Angeles Police Department discovered the Manson connection. Various members of his cult confessed, and Manson and five others were indicted on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
In January 1972, Manson and three others were found guilty, and on March 29 all four were sentenced to death. The trial of another defendant, Charles “Tex” Watson, was delayed by extradition proceedings, but he was likewise found guilty and sentenced to death. In 1972, the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in California, and Manson and his followers’ death sentences were reduced to life imprisonment.