On August 8, 1969, three members of the so-called “Manson Family” entered a home on Cielo Drive in L.A. and slaughtered Steven Parent, Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, and pregnant movie starlet (and wife of Roman Polanski) Sharon Tate. The next night, the slaughter was brought to the home of businessman Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary.
It was bad.
Like, fork-sticking-out-of-a-stomach-with-“WAR”-carved-on-it bad. Like, people being stabbed 51 times bad. Like, torturing …
… a pregnant women with a bayonet as she pleaded for the life of her baby bad. Like, words written on the wall with the victims’ blood bad.
Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Leslie van Houten were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Interestingly, so was Manson; although his followers actually committed the brutal murders, a jury found that they had been acting on Manson’s orders. When California abolished the death penalty in 1972, all five death penalties were commuted to life in prison.
And Manson, Watson, van Houten, Krenwinkel, and Atkins have been consistently denied parole for many years. Atkins, suffering from terminal brain cancer, was denied a compassionate release in September of 2009 and ultimately died in prison.
Last week, Krenwinkel, who has the dubious distinction of being California’s longest-incarcerated female prisoner, was denied parole for the thirteenth time.
The two-person board was conducted by parole commissioner Susan Melanson and deputy commissioner Steven Hernandez, who received letters from around the globe requesting the Krenwinkel’s parole be denied.
In part it may have been those letters that convinced Melanson and Hernandez to deny her request. Melanson, speaking for the board, stated that she didn’t feel that Krenwinkel understood that her actions and those of the Manson followers in general had shaken people all over the world, and that they continue to have resonance even 40 years later. Krenwinkel tried to blame her actions on her love for Manson and search for his approval, but Melanson and Hernandez appeared unmoved by her attempts at justification.
Okay, true confession time: I have a morbid fascination with the Manson murders (which led to a morbid fascination with other crazy killers such as Ted Bundy, but that’s a different story). For a long time, I was almost obsessed with contemplating the psychological control one person can have over what amounted to a bunch of lonely and disturbed kids searching for love and acceptance … and the evil that came to fruition as a result. I have read extensively about all aspects of the “Manson Family” from a variety of sources (and seen the crime scene and autopsy photographs), and it is just chilling.
As far as Krenwinkel goes, she deserves to be where she is. She stabbed Abigail Folger repeatedly and, when Folger escaped briefly, chased her into the night and continued stabbing until Folger’s white nightgown appeared to be red. She desecrated Leno LaBianca’s body with a carving fork and left a steak knife in the man’s throat. She wrote “Death to Pigs” and “Healter (sic) Skelter” in blood on the LaBiancas’ wall and refrigerator.
While her choice of words played a role in leading authorities to Manson (he preached to his followers of an impending race war called “Helter Skelter” after the Beatles song), her poor spelling skills identified her unquestionably as the one who’d fingerpainted with the blood of her victims.
No amount of apology can take that back. There is no atonement for that level of evil. And any good she has done in prison—and, to be fair, she’s done a lot with helping illiterate prisoners learn to read (but probably not in working with the fine art of irony) as well as training service dogs—does not mitigate that.
What do you think?