On Sunday, cult leader Charles Manson died of natural causes at 83 at a medical center in Bakersfield. He was imprisoned for nearly 50 years for ordering mass murders that shocked the world. Before 1969, few people had heard him.
Manson was born to a 16-year-old mother in Cincinnati, Ohio. He grew up in a series of foster homes and by the time of the murders had been in and out of prison for much of his life. Then came the two-day rampage in Southern California. Manson was ultimately convicted of using his cult to turn followers into killers and ordering the murders of at least seven people.
One of them, actress Sharon Tate, was the wife of director Roman Polanski and was 8-months pregnant at the time. Other victims included coffee heiress Abigail Folger and celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring. Manson believed the killings would help bring on an apocalyptic race war, which he called Helter Skelter. Four of his followers were convicted.
In an exclusive interview, one of the men who served on the Manson jury shares about the case he lived for nine-and-a-half months.
“I knew very little about the Manson case because I was working graveyard shifts… wasn’t reading newspapers,” said William ‘Bill’ McBride.
It was August 10th, 1969 when a maid discovered the bodies of Tate and four other people in a house high in the Hollywood Hills. Tate called the home her “love house,” but when police arrived they discovered death everywhere.
Later that night, supermarket owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, became the sixth and seventh victims. The murderous rampage dominated the news for weeks, months and even years.
People all over the state, and the country, followed the case. Except for McBride.
“I was fresh home from Vietnam working my first job since I got back. Got called for jury duty,” he said. “One day I was in the jury assembly room. Got called with a lot of other jurors and it was kind of unusual because they told us to go with a group of deputies to get on a bus. And they took us over to Department 4 in the old Hall of Justice in Los Angeles and took us up through the back corridors and elevators, and everybody’s wondering, ‘What is going on?’
McBride said the courtroom was packed with reporters. He said the judge told the room that it was Manson who was going on trial. It took days to pick the jury. Finally, the prosecution and defense attorneys agreed on 12 jurors, including McBride.
“I guess my first impression of Charlie was that he had an evil appearance. Evil was kind of in his eyes,” he said. “And the three women… Susan Atkins looked like she could possibly be involved in something this serious. The same with Patricia Krenwinkel. Leslie Van Houten looked like your everyday kind of young woman.”
Life Magazine quoted McBride as saying Van Houten kept trying to melt him with her little-girl smile.
The trial began on June 15, 1970. Deliberations dragged on for a week.
“Well, there were seven victims and four defendants and you’ve got to talk about evidence from each victim and as it applied to each defendant. So it was kind of a cumbersome process in that respect,” he said. “But when it came down to whether there was really any doubt, absolutely not. They had a lot of evidence on all the defendants.”
Six months and 10 days later, the jury reached its verdict. Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten were all found guilty. It took another two months for the jury to decide all four should be put to death. However, the Manson family of murderers never came close to the death chamber. In 1972, the California Supreme Court outlawed executions and their sentences were commuted to life.
Police has arrested Manson three months after the murders in 1969. He was up for parole 12 times and was always denied. He spent 48 years behind bars.