Many people remember and know of the infamous leader of the “Manson Family” Charles Manson, but many do not know or do not recall Los Banos has a loose knit tie to the family in Susan Atkins.
Susan Atkins was born in San Gabriel, California on May 7, 1948. She moved around California with her family. After the death of her mother in 1963, Atkins family life became disrupted by several more moves and being pushed off on various relatives. Her father Edward moved to Los Banos and abandoned his family after finding work at the San Luis Dam construction project. She was a student at Los Banos High before dropping out to live on her own and find her own way.
In 1967 Atkins met Charles Manson and was invited to travel with the “Family”. She was nicknamed “Sadie Mae Glutz” by Manson, and believed Manson was Jesus.
Manson, in a quest for Money sent Atkins, Bobby Beausoleil, and Mary Brunner to the residence of Gary Hinman in 1969. Hinman was held hostage for a time and eventually stabbed to death by Beausoleil at the direction of Manson.
On August 9th of 1969, five people were murdered at the Beverly Hills home of Hollywood film director Roman Polanski. Sharon Tate (who was eight months pregnant), Steven Parent, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger. Polanski was not home. Just prior to leaving the residence, Atkins wrote “PIG” on the front door in Sharon Tate’s blood.
August 10, 1969, Manson commented that the murders at the Tate residence had been too messy and announced he’d have to take his followers out and “show them how it’s done”. Manson called Atkins, Krenwinkel, Watson, Linda Kasabian, Leslie Van Houten, and Steve “Clem” Grogan, and they left Spahn’s Ranch. Driving most of the night, he eventually found the home of grocery store owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in northeastern Los Angeles. Manson and Watson entered the home and tied the couple up at gunpoint. He then went back to the car and sent Krenwinkel and Van Houten inside to do as Tex said, once again directing them to leave writings in blood, and to hitchhike back to Spahn’s Ranch.
Atkins was arrested in October of 1969 while living with the Manson Family at Barker Ranch for auto theft related charges. While in the Los Angeles county Jail, she admitted to her involvement in the Tate/LaBianca murders by stabbing Tate and tasting Tate’s blood.
Atkins agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for dropping the death penalty, and she then testified before the grand jury.
Atkins told the grand jury that she stabbed Frykowski in the legs and held Tate down while Watson stabbed her. She also testified that Tate had pleaded for her life and that of her unborn child, to which Atkins replied, “Woman, I have no mercy for you.” Her explanation to the grand jury was that this was talking to (convince) herself, and not addressed to Tate as, “I was told before we even got there no matter what they beg don’t give them any leeway”. She also denied her earlier statement that she had tasted Tate’s blood.
Prior to the trial, Atkins discontinued her cooperation with the prosecution and repudiated her grand jury testimony. From the early 1970s onward however, Atkins told parole boards that her original grand jury testimony was truthful and accurate as to what transpired in the Tate home; however, it didn’t completely match the forensics and autopsy reports.
Atkins alleged that the reason that she repudiated her grand jury testimony was that “Manson sent his followers to suggest that it might be better for me and my son if I decided not to testify against him”.
Atkins claimed over the years that her participation in the crimes led by Manson was passive and that she did not actually kill anyone. In his 1978 memoir, Watson declared himself responsible for all of Tate’s injuries, characterizing Atkins’ initial confessions as exaggeration, jail house bragging, and a bid for attention, but despite this, she was overheard by Family member Barbara Hoyt cheerfully describing the Tate murders to another Family member, days after the events took place.
Manson, Krenwinkel, Van Houten, and Atkins went on trial on June 15, 1970. Watson was later tried separately as he was at the time in Texas fighting extradition. Kasabian was offered, and accepted, immunity. As Kasabian had not played a direct part in any of the murders and never entered either residence, and by several accounts had challenged Manson over the killings, the offer of immunity to her was less bitterly contested, particularly by the prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, who has commented that he was relieved the offer was withdrawn from Atkins.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, Atkins testified that she stabbed Tate. She stated that she had stabbed Tate because she was “sick of listening to her, pleading and begging, begging and pleading”. Little credibility was given to Atkins’ testimony in general, as it frequently contradicted known facts. She claimed “(Manson) told us that we were going to have to get on the stand and claim we had deliberately and remorselessly, and with no direction from him at all, committed all the murders ourselves”.
Throughout the trial, Atkins and her co-defendants attempted to disrupt proceedings and were noted for both their lack of remorse for their victims and lack of concern for their own fate. They sang Manson-penned songs while being led to the courtroom. All four defendants were sentenced to death on March 29, 1971. Atkins was transferred to California’s new women’s death row in April 1971.
After the Tate/LaBianca trial, Atkins was convicted for the Hinman murder. She pleaded guilty to the charges against her. She testified she had not known Hinman was to be robbed or killed, although she subsequently contradicted herself on this point in her 1977 autobiography.
Susan Atkins died on September 24, 2009, at the Central California Women’s facility in Chowchilla. A prison spokesperson announced to reporters that her cause of death was listed as natural causes. Her husband who she married while in prison, James Whitehouse, subsequently released a statement saying that “Her last whispered word was ‘Amen’.
[The Paper would like to credit wikipedia for a large contribution to this article]