Family and friends fighting over Charles Manson's body and estate will have to take their cases to separate counties, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
The battle over Manson's estate — and no one seems to know what that is, because he spent the last decades in prison — will take place in Los Angeles County, Judge David J. Cowan said.
That's because the last place Manson lived, and is therefore considered his legal "domicile," was Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth, the judge said. The estate could include potentially lucrative rights to the use of Manson's image as well as songs he wrote and any other property.
Manson was the mastermind of the gory rampage that claimed the life of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others during two August nights in Los Angeles in 1969. The problematic prisoner with a swastika carved into his forehead generated a cult following during four decades of imprisonment.
The three people claiming to be the rightful heir to his estate are Manson's grandson from Florida, Jason Freeman; a man who claims to be his last surviving son, Michael Brunner; and his longtime pen pal from Newhall, Michael Channels.
All three are also expected to duke it out in court over Manson's body — which has been in storage with the Kern County coroner since he died at 83 in a Bakersfield hospital Nov. 19.
Several issues will have to be resolved before a judge can determine who gets Manson's estate. There is debate over whether Brunner is Manson's biological son — an attorney for Kern County has suggested that he may have been adopted — and whether a last will and testament supposedly signed by Manson and given to Channels in 2002 is legitimate.
Representatives for another alleged son, Matthew Lentz, who claims he was fathered by Manson during a Wisconsin orgy, have said he would appear in court, but he's been a no-show at two hearings and has yet to file court papers. But a will purportedly signed by Manson and naming Lentz as sole beneficiary has been filed with the Kern County coroner.
According to an attorney representing the Kern County coroner, Manson told guards at Corcoran prison that he had no surviving children and did not have a will.
The next hearing over the estate matter is scheduled for March 9.
In the meantime, the parties at the end of the month will head to Bakersfield, where the Kern County counsel has a petition filed requesting that a judge determine who gets to decide what to do with Manson's remains.
The question centers on jurisdiction. Is it up to a judge in Kings County, where Manson was housed for more than 40 years in Corcoran State Prison? Or a judge in Kern County, where Manson died?
"My grandfather has been on ice over 60 days," Freeman emotionally blurted out during Friday's hearing in Los Angeles, echoing the frustration of those who want to claim the remains.
"We want a court order on how to proceed," said Bryan Walters, an attorney representing Kern County. "We prefer to dispose of it as soon as possible."
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