As the new CBS movie Helter Skelter ignites renewed interest in 1969's infamous Tate-LaBianca murders — and in Charles Manson and his so-called "family" — TV Guide Online checked on the status of the real-life cult members. Manson himself did not participate in the ritualistic murders, but he sent his emissaries — Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkle, Tex Watson and Linda Kasabian — to perform the actual crimes. Atkins, Van Houten and Krenwinkle are housed at the California Institution for Women in Corona, Calif. Tex Watson is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison. Linda Kasabian, who did not participate in the murders and fled the family immediately afterward, was given immunity for testifying. Here's the rundown on them all...
Susan Atkins, 52, has been denied parole 10 times and is eligible for a hearing in December. Atkins is a gray-haired matron who sings in the choir at CIW. She is the founder and a moving force in the Long Termers Organization. She has participated in the Convicted Women in Abuse Program. She is also married to her lawyer. In June 2003, she sued California's then-governor, Gray Davis, contending that his anti-parole policy for nearly all murderers has made her a political prisoner. She filed a federal civil-rights action seeking $1.1 million in punitive damages, as well as her freedom. Atkins remains in prison. She has no job due to a medical problem with her hand or arm. According to L.J. Aaron, Administrative Assistant to the Warden/Public Information Officer at CIW, Atkins is the most outgoing of the three Manson women at CIW. "She is the bubbly, boisterous one," says Aaron. "She portrays herself to be a born-again Christian."
Patricia Krenwinkle, 57, has been denied parole 12 times and is eligible for a hearing in June. She has been considered a model prisoner. Through correspondence classes, she has received a BA in human services from the University of La Verne. She is active in such programs as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and has helped other prisoners to read. She writes poetry and music and plays the guitar. Through the years, she played on a volleyball team and gave dance lessons. Her main responsibility for the past year-and-a-half has been working with CIW's puppy program, which trains pups to be service dogs for the mobility-impaired. Says Aaron: "Krenwinkle a good trainer and sincere. She is really a nice individual, but she is standoffish. She is not as outgoing as Atkins."
Leslie Van Houten, 54, has been denied parole 14 times and is eligible for another hearing in June. "She probably has the best chance for parole," says Aaron. "She is a very quiet person. She has questioned herself a lot because of her crimes." Before becoming a Manson follower, Van Houten was homecoming queen and a Campfire Girl. At 14, she began using Mescaline, Benzedrine and Methedrine. "She is a nice person," says Aaron. "She has a nice smile and she works hard." Van Houten's primary job at the prison has been to clean the dog runs and to keep the puppies clean. At Christmas, she is a member of the One Heart Band and, according to Aaron, she is a "decent singer." She has been a model prisoner for much of her incarceration, participating in leadership and self-help groups. "She is really trying to find herself spiritually," Aaron says.
Charles "Tex" Watson, 58, the lead killer during the two-night rampage, is serving a life sentence at Mule Creek State Prison. He was convicted of seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. He has been denied parole 13 times. A born-again Christian, he founded his own prison ministry, Abounding Love Ministries. Watson has said that the more he has taken responsibility for his role in the killings, the more he forgives Manson and even prays for him. He listens to Christian music and radio. His wife, Kristin, and his four children live near the prison. Watson has become controversial within the California prison system. "Watson fathered all these kids from conjugal visits," says Aaron, "and people started wondering, 'What is going on? We let convicted murderers father kids while incarcerated?'" However, California no longer allows conjugal visits for prisoners convicted of murder. "That's because of Watson," Aaron notes. "They took away conjugal visits for lifers because of Watson's exploits."
Linda Kasabian, 54, is the mother of four children. Unfortunately, her life has not gone that well. Divorced from Robert Kasabian, she suffers from health problems, and has been arrested for possession of drugs. She lives in Washington state. Although she's not one of the murderers, Kasabian has often been confused with Krenwinkle. "She has had to leave town a couple of times. People have spit on her," says prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. "She and her children have had people cursing at them. I don't know if she has gotten any death threats. But they thought she was a member of the murder team. It has all had a devastating effect on her psyche. She witnessed that first night of those horrible murders — only the kind of things you see in horror movies. Then, she has suffered because a great number of people think she was involved, and have made life miserable for her."
Charles Manson, 59, has been denied parole 10 times. Manson's next hearing is April 2007. Manson does not have a prison job. He is confined to security housing at Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, Calif., and is locked up 23-hours-a-day. He is allowed one hour of exercise in a yard where he walks alone. He has access to books but according to a spokeswoman from the California Dept. of Corrections, Manson is currently not allowed visitors: "He started acting up and his visits were canceled."