When infamous cult leader Charles Manson died in November 2017, he left not only a terrible legacy of murder and mayhem but an unnerving prophecy. Shortly before his death, the 83-year-old claimed he would return and that, “The dead but never die”. The unhinged words uttered in his final phone call offer a chilling glimpse into the unrepentantly warped mind of a psychopath. And they seem to suggest that he knew his time on Earth was almost up.
As a pseudo-spiritual demagogue, Manson drew heavily on the cult teachings of Scientology and its off-shoot, The Process Church of the Final Judgment. Satan, Manson believed, would become reunited with Christ during the apocalypse to judge humankind. Meanwhile, in his eyes, the U.S. establishment was the modern-day embodiment of Ancient Rome. What’s more, he claimed that his followers were the original Christians re-born and that he himself was Christ.
Ultimately, of course, Manson proved to be more of an Anti-Christ than a messiah, and the apocalypse he longed for never came. However, he did have a lasting – if utterly poisonous – impact on popular culture in the late 1960s. Nine savage murders, all of them committed by his followers, left the U.S. in a state of shock. The hippy dream of peace and love, it seemed, was well and truly shattered.
Born Charles Milles Maddox on November 12, 1934, Cincinnati, Ohio, Manson would later take the alias of Charles Willis Manson – “Charles’ Will Is Man’s Son.” Nevertheless, he spent much of his early life in and out of institutions, first as a juvenile delinquent, later as a convicted felon. By the time he was in his 30s, he had participated in and been jailed for a variety of petty crimes. These ranged from auto theft to burglary to procuring clients for a teenage prostitute.
When in early 1967 he was released from his latest bout of prison at the age of 32, Manson had spent more than half his life behind bars. But this time it would be different; he had assumed the role of guru. He established a cult in San Francisco’s hippy district of Haight-Ashbury and called it the “Manson Family.” In 1968, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson picked up two female Family members who were hitchhiking in L.A. They subsequently led Manson to Wilson, who then introduced the cult leader to several players in the entertainment industry.
Later that year, after establishing a base at Spahn’s Movie Ranch in Los Angeles County, Manson began developing his theory of racial war. He called it “Helter Skelter,” misinterpreting The Beatles song of the same name on the recently released White Album. By February 1969 Manson was predicting the imminent destruction of American society. However, the Family, he proclaimed, would survive the race war and ultimately prosper by taking refuge in an underground city in California’s Death Valley.
In the summer of 1969, Manson decided it was time to instigate Helter Skelter by committing a series of murders in well-to-do white neighborhoods of L.A. He hoped that the subsequent slayings would be blamed on African Americans. Most notoriously, on August 8, 1969, he dispatched four followers to murder famous actress Sharon Tate. The pregnant wife of film director Roman Polanski and several of her friends were brutally murdered at an address in Benedict Canyon.
The following night, Manson accompanied a group of six from the Family when they visited supermarket chain boss Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. Manson always claimed that he had left before the pair were harmed, but he ordered his followers to murder them. The cult members dutifully obeyed, stabbing the couple to death in their home in Los Feliz. Before leaving, the murder party carved the word “War” on Leno’s abdomen and scrawled “Rise,” “Death to Pigs” and “Healter [sic] Skelter” around the house with his blood.
Manson and his accomplices – including Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Charles “Tex” Watson, Linda Kasabian, Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan – were soon apprehended. In June 1970 the Manson Family members were put on trial at the Hall of Justice in L.A. for murder and conspiracy. Kasabian, however, was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for a crucial eye witness testimony. She and the other defendants claimed that Kasabian did not actually directly take part in the killings.
At times, the heavily publicized trial under Judge Charles Older threatened to descend into farce. On one occasion, Manson turned up with an “X” carved into his forehead. He would later convert it into a Nazi swastika. Another time, Manson attempted to physically attack the judge. Meanwhile, several other members of the Family maintained an intimidating presence in and around the courthouse. Some witnesses for the prosecution were threatened.
Nevertheless, on April 19, 1971, the jury returned guilty verdicts on 27 separate counts. Judge Older ordered that Manson and his accomplices should be given the death penalty. However, the following year, their sentences were commuted to life in prison after the State of California abolished capital punishment. Instead, Manson would remained incarcerated until he died of natural causes in November 2017.
Before his death, Manson spent much of his time in jail causing trouble. In fact, during his stays at San Quentin, Folsom, Pelican Bay and California State, he clocked up more than 100 prison violations. These included assault, drug offenses, possessing a saw blade and concealing a hot air balloon catalog in his cell. He was also attacked by other prisoners, most notably by a Hare Krishna devotee who doused Manson in lighter fluid and set him alight. However, the ex cult leader’s main preoccupation was impotently making voodoo effigies of his enemies and sticking pins into them.
Despite his incarceration, Manson maintained links with a stream of followers and journalists on the outside. On November 12, 2017, the inmate telephoned his old friend and fan Ben Gurecki, who sells Manson memorabilia and maintains a YouTube channel dedicated to the former Family man. It was, in fact, to be Manson’s last phone call before he died in prison hospital one week later. And his poetic proclamations would be utterly chilling…
“Gone in the sky the dead but never die,” Manson told Gurecki in the final 60 seconds of the call. “Not yet found just a dream of hearsay. Who’s, what’s, why’s, for what?” said the voice down the line. Gurecki was recording the cryptic call as Manson continued, “We each can make up our own dreams with the story line as soon as we are no where we can change. As soon as I get up, out, around me will become a team. The beast, a priest, midnight and not as much as all.”
“Nothing with everyone and everything over and gone to start backwards again and again to nowhere and nothing again,” Manson insisted. “To where you know it all as forever and some more, nothing again to where you know it all as forever and some more. Love for all. You are or could maybe and more. Not at…” And at that moment, the prison authorities cut the call.
Although largely incomprehensible, Manson’s words dwelled heavily on themes of transformation, reincarnation and immortality. Indeed, according to Gurecki, Manson had no fear of dying. In fact, the one-time guru believed he would walk the earth again either as a scorpion or crow. Gurecki spoke to U.K. tabloid The Sun later in November 2017. He maintained that Manson, “has always been one to know reality and call it what it is – he was not scared of death.”
“People don’t realize Manson was a real human being,” Gurecki continued. “This transcript shows him talking to a friend of 23 years in a very personal moment, knowing something’s not right with him. The whole conversation was him just talking like normal and rambling, but the last 60 seconds is quite profound I think. I believe in retrospect he was talking about his own demise.”
Manson was taken to a hospital in Bakersfield, CA, just two days after his call to Gurecki. Suffering from colon cancer, the convicted murderer had been fading for months. Manson finally died of cardiac arrest and respiratory failure on Sunday, November 19, 2017. And he was apparently unrepentant to the end and unashamed about that fact.
In Charles Manson: The Final Words, a documentary shown on cable network Reelz in December 2017, the filmmakers replayed phone calls recorded over the last year of the felon’s life. In one, Manson claimed, “I’m the most famous human being not only that is alive but the most famous human being that has ever lived.” He also revealed that part of his time in prison was spent contemplating his crimes and coming up with some answers. He said, “I’ve been deep in thought in solitary confinement for almost 40 years… And the stuff that I’ve come up with, man, it’s just unbelievable.”
Nonetheless, in the aftermath of his death, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys of California released a succinct public statement. The press release drew on the words of the late Vincent Bugliosi, prosecutor at Manson’s trial in 1970. It said, “Manson was an evil, sophisticated con-man with twisted and warped moral values. Manson’s victims are the ones who should be remembered and mourned on the occasion of his death…”