Infamous cult leader Charles Manson is dead at 83

Infamous cult leader Charles Manson is dead at 83

Charles Manson, the leader of the infamous "Helter Skelter" gang that plagued California in the late 1960s, has passed away this week. He died at the age of 83, after nearly five decades spent in prison.

In 1969 he was charged with orchestrating a series of murders along with members of the "Manson Family", a quasi-commune through which he ordered followers to kill several people, including Sharon Tate - a pregnant actress married to director Roman Polanski.

He told his followers that an apocalyptic race war was coming, and tried to further instigate it with his crimes. He described this supposed collapse of society as "helter skelter", a term borrowed from a Beatles song and found written in blood at one of the crime scenes.

Manson and three of his followers went on trial in June 1970, while a fifth suspect was given immunity for her testimony against the others. The trial lasted nearly 10 months, while some of his followers held vigils outside the courthouse. He had many outbursts in court, including once when he was denied permission to question a witness, so leaped over the defense table and tried to attack the judge. During the process, Manson shaved his head and trimmed his beard, telling reporters: "I am the devil, and the devil always has a bald head".

In January 1971 the jury convicted all four defendents of multiple counts of first-degree murder. When they sentenced them to death, Manson shouted to the jurors: "You people have no authority over me". Three months later, another follower of his went to trial, was convicted of seven counts of first-degree murder and also sentenced to death. These sentences were commuted to life in prison the following year, when the Supreme Court temporarily banned the death penalty.

Even in prison he remained in the spotlight, with a series of notorious interviews given during the 1980s. His face was found on t-shirts, his story was told countless times in books, documentaries and movies; many of the songs he had written were later played by bands across the world. "Charlie was always a con man," Sandi Gibbons, a reported who covered the trial, said in 1999, "And now he’s managed to con a whole new generation of people."

Sharon Tate's sister, Debra Tate, told The Associated Press in January 2017 that, as a Catholic, she had no ill wishes for her sister’s killers. "I would probably say a prayer for them and shed a tear and ask God to have mercy on their souls," Tate said.

Manson's prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, had much less sympathy for the killer when he was asked in 2009 whether he was sorry the death sentence wasn't carried out. "I don’t use the word sorry, but he should have been executed, and I told the jury, if this was not a proper case for the imposition of the death penalty, then no case ever would be," Bugliosi, who died two years ago, said, "Manson did not deserve to live."

Manson was denied parole a dozen times during his time in prison, though he didn't attend his most recent hearing in April 2012. He was also hospitalised for gastrointestinal issues at Bakersfield Hospital in January 2017, prior to his hospitalisation last week.

He was taken from Corcoran State Prison in California, where he had been serving a life sentence, to a hospital in Bakersfield last week, where it has been reported that he passed away today.