The hippie dream received a rude awakening in 1969 when Charles Manson, a failed musician, used psychedelics and “free love” (orgies, rape, that kind of thing) to transform a group of troubled, vulnerable young adults into a violent, psychotic “family.” His efforts eventually led to a series of grotesque murders in August 1969 (slogans like “DEATH TO PIGS” and “RISE” were written on the walls in blood) that horrified residents of the hills outside LA and stumped police for months.
Manson, in and out of jail for assault and robbery since the age of nine, prophesized that an apocalyptic battle between the races would end with Manson ruling the black populace as the new Jesus Christ alongside his fellow angels, The Beatles (who had not been informed of these plans). Anxious to get things started, he ordered members of his cult to massacre rich white Californians, hoping police would blame African-Americans for the crimes. Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, and celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring (the inspiration for Warren Beatty’s Shampoo) were among those stabbed and shot by Manson’s clan. Thanks to a series of bureaucratic blunders (the gun was found and given to the police months before it was connected the murders), the LAPD did not arrest Manson and his followers until December.
The court case (highlighted by frequent disruptions, shaved heads and self-inflicted forehead scars) was prosecuted by Vincent Bugliosi, whose account, Helter Skelter, was an instant best seller and the basis of two TV movies. Imprisoned for life and still awaiting the apocalypse, Manson remains a ’60s anti-hero for young transgressives. Not that he’s happy about it: “Being crazy meant something [in the '60s], he said. “Nowadays, everybody’s crazy.”