Manson still has dark mystique, 25 years after killings

August 12, 1994|By Richard C. Paddock | Richard C. Paddock,Los Angeles Times

Even now as he sits isolated in one of California's toughest prisons, Charles Manson has gained a new mystique as a kind of criminal anti-hero.

This week, on the 25th anniversary of the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and her friends, people play Manson's songs, peddle his writings and sell his likeness on T-shirts and dresses for girls. Near the prison, at least one follower has taken residence, waiting to see Charlie again.

Last year, Guns N' Roses recorded a song Manson wrote before the murders -- "Look at Your Game Girl." The song, which Manson used to lure young hippie women into his fold, appeared on an album that has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. Manson's share of the profits have gone to Bartek Frykowski, the son of Voytek Frykowski, who was stabbed 51 times and shot at Tate's Benedict Canyon estate.

Besides the Guns N' Roses album, Manson's recordings are available in stores. So is a song by Manson that the Beach Boys recorded in 1968 without giving him credit.

His face is seen on clothing and trading cards. And there is an underground market in Manson memorabilia.

Richard and Dan Lemmons, who make a controversial line of Manson T-shirts under the name Zooport Riot Gear in Newport Beach, Calif., say they have sold 25,000 shirts and caps bearing his likeness.

"His face represents the counterculture rebellion against society," says Richard Lemmons, 36.

The effort to rewrite history and glorify Manson disturbs prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who made his reputation by putting Manson behind bars.

"They think he's a cool guy," Mr. Bugliosi said. "They don't know who he is. For someone to be sentenced to death, and then all these years later to have Manson T-shirts and songs on pop albums, is really a sad commentary."

Manson still delivers the same message of social calamity in his rambling, disjointed style. The environment is being destroyed, he says; its children are being abused and ignored. The planet is in chaos and helter skelter -- a state of confusion -- is at hand.

"It would take a madman to adjust to this world," says Manson, who will turn 60 in November.

The entertainment industry has turned good and evil upside down, helping to make heroes of violent criminals, he says during a telephone interview. "What is a bad guy these days? It seems to be the good guy," he says. "Arnold Schwarzenegger -- it's OK for him to escape from prison and kill eight or nine people. Where are your standards?"

While denying that he ordered the Tate murders or was involved, Manson suggests the slayings were part of an effort to bring about social change. He also says there is no reason he should feel remorse.

"Everybody in the world wants to get mad at me because I won't show remorse because somebody died," he says. "Somebody dies every day."

Recently, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten and Susan Atkins -- three of the four Manson followers sentenced to life in prison for their role in the murders -- broke their silence and condemned Manson, urging young people not to think of him as a hero.

"I can assure you . . . from firsthand experience that his depravity and depth of cruelty make him a truly base human being, deserving no one's attention, let alone admiration," Atkins wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers earlier this year.

"The very name Manson has become a metaphor for evil," Mr. Bugliosi says. "Over the past 25 years, he has come to represent the dark and malignant side of humanity, and for whatever reason, there is a side of human nature that is fascinated with ultimate evil."

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