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Killer Charles Manson's failing health renews focus on cult murder saga

The long saga of Charles Manson, the cult leader whose murder spree more than four decades ago made him a subject of hate, fear, revulsion and fascination, moved to a hospital in downtown Bakersfield this week.

Inside Mercy Hospital, Manson was being treated for gastrointestinal bleeding related to his colon, and according to one source with knowledge of his condition, was seriously ill. Manson was rushed there Sunday from Corcoran State Prison, and it remains unclear when his medical treatment will end.

Manson, 82, was under heavy security, with officials concerned about the public getting into his room or causing disruptions. TV news crews stationed themselves outside the hospital awaiting word on the killer’s condition. Two California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation vehicles sat at the curb. The scene also drew some onlookers who could be seen roaming outside the hospital, occasionally filming the scene.

Manson’s declining health has once again thrust him into the headlines — where he has appeared with regularity over the years amid his disciplinary problems, romantic engagements and parole hearings.

Manson’s grandson, Jason Freeman, told The Times that he had spoken to his grandfather about two weeks ago via telephone and that he seemed to be in good spirits. Freeman, who said his father is Charles Manson Jr., received word via family friends that his grandfather was hospitalized and said that he is trying to petition correctional officials to allow for a visit.

“I think at age 82, he’s in pretty good shape. For being 82 and locked up, he’s kept himself together well physically,” said Freeman, a married father of three who works in construction and Christian ministry in Florida. “Old age is setting in. Nature is taking its course. There will be a day where he doesn’t wake up again.”

Manson and other members of his so-called family were convicted of killing actress Sharon Tate and six other people during a bloody rampage in the Los Angeles area during two August nights in 1969. Prosecutors said that Manson and his followers were trying to incite a race war that he believed was in the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter."

Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, was 8½ months pregnant when she was killed at her hilltop home in Benedict Canyon on Aug. 9, 1969. Besides Tate, four others were stabbed and shot to death: Jay Sebring, 35; Voytek Frykowski, 32; Abigail Folger, 25, a coffee heiress; and Steven Parent, 18, a friend of Tate's caretaker. The word "Pig" was written on the front door in blood. The next night, Manson rode along with his followers to the Los Feliz home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, then left three members to kill the couple.

Manson has incurred more than 100 rules violations since 1971. Over the years, he has been cited for assault, repeated possession of a weapon, threatening staff and possessing a cellphone, Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in an email Wednesday.

“Suffice it to say that he cannot be described as a model prisoner,” she said.

In 1982, while Manson was housed at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, prison guards discovered a hacksaw blade, marijuana and LSD in Manson’s cell. Guards said they found other items in the facility that indicated Manson may have been trying to escape, including nylon rope and a catalog that showed how to order hot-air balloons.

Two years later, Manson was doused with a flammable liquid and set ablaze by a fellow Vacaville inmate, who told guards he attacked Manson in retaliation for threats the cult leader made against him for practicing the Hare Krishna faith. Manson was treated for second- and third-degree burns, and his scalp, hair and beard were singed.

In 1985, he tried to smuggle a hacksaw blade into San Quentin State Prison in the sole of his shoe, days after being transferred to that facility from Vacaville. 

During his sixth bid for parole in 1986, he described himself in a hearing as a “caged, vicious animal” and said he didn’t like to read and preferred to spend his time making dolls in his cell. 

In the decade between his 1981 and 1992 parole hearings, he accumulated 60 prison violations. Parole transcripts chronicling his prison offenses show that female officers bore the brunt of his verbal abuse.

Manson has been housed at Corcoran State Prison since 1989. He has obtained illegal cellphones in the facility at least three times, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In March 2009, prison guards found an LG flip phone hidden under Manson’s prison mattress. He made calls and sent text messages to people in California, New Jersey, Florida and British Columbia. 

Recordings of Manson’s raspy, high-pitched voice, broadcast by the entertainment news show “Inside Edition,” featured him singing, “I’ve seen the world spinning on fire, I’ve danced and sang in the devil’s choir.”

Prison officials found Manson with a second cellphone, equipped with a camera, in January 2011. Manson obtained an illegal cellphone again in 2016, Thornton said. 

After the last cellphone incident, Manson was punished with the loss of 90 days’ “good time” credit toward parole, Thornton said. 

In 2014, Manson and Afton Elaine Burton, a 26-year-old Manson devotee, were granted a marriage license, but it expired before the two could marry. She had faithfully visited him in prison for seven years.

 

Manson’s next parole hearing is scheduled for 2027, when he will be 92.

State prison officials declined this week to discuss Manson’s condition, citing privacy rules.

For loved ones of Manson’s victims, the latest twist in the saga has revived old feelings. Tate's sister Debra Tate told the Associated Press she’s waiting to learn more about Manson’s condition.

"I would probably say a prayer for them and shed a tear and ask God to have mercy on their souls, but so far I haven't allowed myself to feel anything because it's unsubstantiated," Tate said. "I'm not allowing myself to feel anything until I know that it's true."

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