The Final Years of Charles Manson

his life in prison, after his convictions for murder

Excerpted from The Manson Family: More to the Story — you can learn more by visiting

When Charlie was found guilty of the Tate/LaBianca killings, he was headed back to the only place he had ever really known. He often said that jail was his father.

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Charles Manson, shortly after his 1971 death sentence. That sentence was later commuted to ‘life in prison with the possibility of parole’ after the California Supreme Court briefly abolished the death penalty

In fact, one could argue that going back to prison was the greatest thing that ever happened to Charlie, since it fulfilled his dreams of fame. A cult of personality grew around Manson, even in his closely-guarded jail cell, and nobody was more pleased than him. It served Manson for the world to believe ‘Helter Skelter’. It was a lot more exciting than the truth and awarded him, decade after decade, with the attention he craved.

As Bugliosi wrote,

In October 1972, Charles Manson was transferred to the maximum security adjustment center at Folsom Prison in Northern California. Described as ‘a prison within a prison,’ it provides special housing for ‘problem inmates’ who cannot be safely controlled in the general prison population. With the transfer Manson lost not only all of the special privileges afforded those awaiting execution, he also lost his regular inmate privileges, because of his ‘hostile and belligerent attitude’… Observed San Quentin warden Louis Nelson, before Manson was transferred to Folsom: ‘It would be dangerous to put a guy like Manson into the main population, because in the eyes of other inmates he didn’t commit first-class crimes. He was convicted of killing a pregnant woman… It’s like being a child molester. Guys like that are going to do hard time wherever they are.’

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry ©1974 W.W. Norton & Company

Manson never spoke well of Bugliosi, perhaps threatened that someone else shared his fame and received all the profits.

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Vincent Bugliosi, lead prosecutor during the Tate/LaBianca trials and co-author of the true crime nonfiction book ‘Helter Skelter’ based upon the case

During the ’70s, Manson was kept largely from public view. But after the release of Helter Skelter in ’74 and the television movie two years later, he was flooded with fan letters from new admirers.

During that era, he tattooed the swastika over his scar, making his reputation as a racist fuck that much more permanent. This is also when Charlie became the court jester that we remember. He used his antics to separate himself from other inmates and gain special privileges. He was still playing the ‘Insane Game’, learned years before in reform school.

The swastika over Manson’s forehead was originally a carving of the letter ‘X’ — indicating that he had ‘Xed himself’ out of society. At his 1971 sentencing for the Tate/LaBianca murders, jurors were shocked when Manson walked into the courtroom, the X transformed into a swastika — the symbol used by the Nazi regime during World War II and a recognizable affiliation with the white supremacy movement. In prison, Manson later had the swastika scar permanently tattooed.

Charlie was at Folsom until 1980, when he was transferred to Vacaville State prison near Sacramento.

At Vacaville… Manson was given his first prison job — gardener and maintenance man for the Protestant chapel. ‘It’s taken me ten years to get a breath of fresh air,’ he said. ‘I’m not about to screw up.’

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry ©1994 Edition W.W. Norton & Company

But two years later, guards found a hacksaw blade, nylon rope, LSD and marijuana in Charlie’s cell. That same year, prison officials also discovered that Manson had recorded music tapes and smuggled them out with friends. The purpose was to ‘spread his message’ but only resulted in the loss of privileges.

The 1980s brought Manson into full view again, through news programs and documentaries. He also got his first crack at the parole process, behaving much as he had while on trial — dancing, singing, making obscene gestures and nonsensical threats. It was clear that Manson had no interest in getting out because he never tried to put on a good face during those proceedings. In ’86, he told the parole board that he was a vicious animal. He never claimed to be rehabilitated. Why would he? He had everything he needed.

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Manson, during a parole hearing

In ’84, a Hare Krishna tossed turpentine on Manson and set him on fire. Charlie was treated at the Vacaville Medical Center; his scalp, beard and hair singed. You gotta be a pretty sick mofo to piss off a Hare Krishna, man! The next year, Manson was transferred back to San Quentin. During transfer, guards uncovered another hacksaw blade.

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Prison infirmary images, showing the extent of Manson’s burns

The late ’80s brought new attention in the form of Manson’s music. Bands like Guns ‘N Roses and Lemonheads covered his songs, as did actor/ musician/weirdo Crispin Glover. The royalties went to the legal heir — Bartek Frykowski.

As the Los Angeles Times reported,

Bartek Frykowski was 9 years old and living in Poland when his father, Voytek {sic} Frykowski… was stabbed 51 times and shot at the Benedict Canyon estate. ‘Manson destroyed my life really,’ Frykowski said from the German village where he lives. ‘Always this case was with me. I became a different man without a father.’ Finally seeing results from a lawsuit filed more than two decades ago, Frykowski has received $75,000 in royalties for a song Manson wrote before the murders. ‘Look at Your Game Girl’ was used by Manson to lure young hippie women into his fold. Last year, Guns N’ Roses recorded it on an album that has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide — with Manson’s share of the profits going to Frykowski. Frykowski said he is using the money to help give his two children the sense of security he never had… He wonders how Manson’s music could become popular — and how a mass murderer could become a cult celebrity among young people in Europe and the United States. ‘People have a fascination with evil,’ Frykowski said. ‘But why do they think Charles Manson is their hero?’

— “The Long, Chilling Shadow of Manson” by Richard C. Paddock ©August 6, 1994 The Los Angeles Times

Bartlomiej ‘Bartek’ Frykowski died in 1999, and royalties from Charlie’s music pass now to Bartek’s two adult children.

In 1989, Manson was transferred to Corcoran Prison for Men, south of Fresno. There, he racked up sixty prison violations including verbal abuse of the female corrections officers. He maintained friendships with some remnants of his Family… and new fans like Gray Wolf, aka Craig Hammond. Hammond (who claimed that Manson gave him his lycanthropic nickname) relocated to California to support his ‘hero’. Over the years, celebrities as notable as musician Henry Rollins corresponded with Manson, and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails owned Sharon Tate’s doomed house, turning it into a home recording studio before it was demolished and rebuilt by a later homeowner. Manson also inspired filmmakers, particularly in the early ’70s when America’s worst fear was drug-crazed killers breaking into their homes and painting their houses red in the victims’ blood. All the while, Manson reveled in his infamy as the worst human being of his generation. In fact, he was labeled America’s Number One Serial Killer — even though he did not actually kill anyone.

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A 1970s photograph of Manson and his guitar

Through the years we watched Charlie’s antics, his veiled and not-so-veiled threats, and his constant denial that he was guilty of anything. Over time, his beard grew fuller, and gray. Often his fingernails were long, scabrous. He danced and made faces at reporters and cameramen. Sometimes he got ornery, such as his 1994 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer where he bragged that he was a ‘gangster’. Occasionally, he turned on the charm with female journalists.

He helped destroy so many lives, but Manson kept on tickin’. Millions were spent incarcerating a man who reveled in the attention he received and never repented of his crimes. Charlie never apologized to the young people he led on his path of destruction and bondage, nor to their victims’ families.

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“I’m a gangster!”

After his 1994 prime time interview on ABC, the prison kept media away from Manson. More documentaries were filmed about the Family and the murders, but most featured archived footage from the ’80s and ’90s. Manson also stopped attending parole hearings in ’97, claiming they were a waste of his time.

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“I’m fed up to here with your parole nonsense!” (not actual words spoken by Charlie, as far as we know)

In the meantime, Charlie continued to rack up violations including assault, possessing cellphones, threatening prison staff and repeated possession of weapons. He started fights with fellow inmates, threw hot coffee at a prison staffer, spat in a guard’s face, and once set his mattress on fire. It was alleged that Gray Wolf provided at least one of those cellphones. When one device was discovered in 2009, it revealed that Manson had sent text messages to people all across the U.S. and Canada.

Of course, not all of Manson’s followers bailed on him. Some remained faithful. Remember, they were constantly asked to prove themselves to Manson. Will you die for me? Will you kill for me? When you stop looking at Charlie’s followers like monsters and start to see them as trafficking victims, it makes sense. They’ll never really be free of his manipulations — even those who eventually saw him for what he was and turned away. They’re marked by their association with him and continue to be impacted by their experiences with Manson. That doesn’t mean that they’re still capable of violence. Even most of the faithful, for instance, no longer believe that killing other people will lead to Helter Skelter or any of Charlie’s delusions. But their loyalty to the man they view as their father isn’t dependent on believing all of what he preached. Because enough of what he told them was true.

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For every follower he lost over the years, who came to their senses and repented of their time with the wicked guru, Manson also gained hundreds if not thousands of new acolytes. Like Gray Wolf or Afton Burton — a 26-year old Mississippi woman who got engaged to Manson in 2014. Burton, with her new name ‘Star’, became the ultimate Mansonphile. She visited Charlie daily and brought him snacks. They played music together. Star ran his official website. The public was divided on Burton’s real relationship with Manson (“Do they have sex?” “Is she even crazier than Sadie Mae Glutz?”) but after a year of public ‘courtship’ their marriage license lapsed and Manson later told the press that he learned the reason Star wanted to marry him was to gain his corpse when he died, so she could put it on display and sell tickets. How romantic!

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Charlie with Afton ‘Star’ Burton

Whenever he thought he’d disappeared from the news, Manson would pull some crazy shtick. It seemed like it would go on and on, even while he grew older and more cantankerous. Many people probably forgot how dangerous Manson was, seeing him only as a cartoonish figure from some distant past. Then in January 2017, Charlie was rushed to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, reportedly with gastrointestinal bleeding. Doctors told the press that he was too weak for surgery, although a diagnosis was not shared with the public at that time. Several months later, Manson was again escorted from prison to Kern County Hospital in Bakersfield where he died on November 19, 2017 of cardiac arrest and respiratory failure connected to colon cancer.

Charles Milles Manson was cremated in March 2018, in the California desert. It is reported that Star and other longtime Manson supporters were there to send him off to the magical crystal cave below the desert — or Hell, if you believe in such a thing.

The Manson Family: More to the Story was published in June 2019 from Swann Publications

You can read more about the life of Charles Manson here:

And more about his affiliation with white supremacist movements here:

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series.

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