Today in History
9.8.1969: Germany Reacts To Manson Family Murder
For a short while it was unclear who the murderers were. Then Susan Atkins confessed she -- along with members of the Manson Family, a group of hippies supporting deranged ringleader Charles Manson -- had killed Sharon Tate and four others in one night. The Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that they studied "the macabre ritual of murder in Manson’s sex and drug commune in the southern Californian desert.”

Manson described himself as God, Jesus and Satan in one; the press called him a mass murderer, hippie guru, thief, pimp, prison guitarist, one of the most malicious killers there had ever been. Today, he is still "the devil" to many.

The terminology of the media adapted itself to Manson’s presumption to be the reincarnation of Christ and Satan at the same time. Therefore, Linda Kasabian, the only state witness, was labelled "the Judas for the man to whose love commune she belonged" by the newspapers.

According to the news magazine Der Spiegel, the case developed progressively into “the travesty of a trial." The scene evolved increasingly into a "happening," with Manson in the role of the "demonic trashy communard Rasputin and the witches’ choir of the infantile chanting and babbling commune girls." In 1971 the 12 jurors condemned the defendants to death. The judgement was converted, however, into lifelong imprisonment three years later. The trial lasted 10 months and cost taxpayers almost $1 million, the most-expensive trial the country had ever seen. Yet the penalty didn’t seem to bother the mass murderer. At the time of his conviction, he said: "You are more imprisoned than I am!”

The American and German press were anxious to portray a profile of the culprit in order to understand the background to these gruesome murders. The horror appeared rational and understandingly reproduced. But the question as to "why" remained a mystery.

And even more intriguing was how he could have seduced the young women into doing such a crime? Some said the mystery lay in the combination of the drug LSD with Manson's charismatic personality. A "mysteriously vulgar bundle of motives" became the reason for the crime. The ingredients of Manson’s substitute religion for "discarded children" were "witchcraft, perverted early Christianity and original communism and Satan’s cult. However, in reality the hippie subculture in its utmost alienation stood on trial." In order to understand the horror, Manson’s past was, of course, also dissected: his mother was a teenage prostitute, his fathers changed continuously from the time he was 13 years old. He was busted for pimping and hold ups and sent to reform schools and later to prison. There he also discovered his interest for occult sciences, Scientology and the assassins of the 11th century.

Manson himself did not feel guilty of the murders. He put the blame on society: "These children that came at you with knives, they are your children. You teach them. I didn’t teach them."

In Manson's mind society was guilty. In prison he cut a swastika into his forehead and named his idols: Adolf Hitler, Ayatollah Khomeini, Benito Mussolini and the Shah of Persia. The swastika on Manson’s forehead was particularly closely examined, and the newspaper Die Welt wrote in 1982: "His mark of Cain is still recognizable as a scar."

The book "Helter Skelter," which was published immediately after the trial, received special attention in Germany. The author was Manson's prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi. In the tome, Bugliosi described parallels between Manson and Hitler. Both had a small build, they were vegetarian, disappointed artists with hatred and contempt for the middle class who rejected them. Both let others kill, both were racists, both created a kind of inherent religion, both lived under the delusion to have been chosen ones and both gathered people around themselves who were dependent on them. As close as the parallels may have been, the metaphor still didn’t work because of the discrepancy in the number of murdered people. Charles Manson still lives in solitary confinement.

The criminal case was described by many as being the crime of the century and is even still in peoples' minds today. Manson also does everything possible to keep stirring up public fear.

"You must know that only my body is in prison. If I want, I roam through your streets and am right amongst you," he has been quoted as saying.
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