Little-known facts about the Manson murders

Story highlights

  • It's been 45 years since trial began for Charles Manson and followers for gruesome murders
  • The 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others still horrify and fascinate

Los Angeles (CNN)The case stunned the nation. The chilling details and callousness of the crime still shock and fascinate people more than four decades later.

On June 16, 1970, Charles Manson and three of his followers -- Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten -- went on trial in Los Angeles for a string of gruesome murders.
The first set of victims: a stunningly beautiful actress named Sharon Tate, who was eight months' pregnant; a celebrity hairstylist named Jay Sebring; coffee fortune heiress Abigail Folger; writer Wojciech Frykowski; and Steven Parent, a friend of the family's caretaker. Each was savagely murdered on August 9, 1969, at the home of Tate and her husband, famed movie director Roman Polanski. Polanski was out of the country at the time.
    The next evening, another set of murders took place. Supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, were killed at their home.
    Over the course of two nights, the killers took the lives of seven people, inflicting 169 stab wounds and seven .22-caliber gunshot wounds. Both crime scenes revealed horrifying details. And a few details linked the two crime scenes.
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    The word pig was written in victim blood on the walls of one home and the front door of another. There was also another phrase apparently scrawled in blood: Helter Skelter. The reason for the disturbing writings, the prosecutor argued, was because Manson wanted to start a race war and had hoped the Black Panthers would be blamed for the killings.
    All of those details came tumbling out in the trial that both mesmerized and horrified the nation. During the trial, Manson and his followers created a circus-like atmosphere in the court with singing, giggling, angry outbursts and even carving X's in their foreheads.
    The charges came after a major break in the case when Atkins, who was already in jail on another charge, bragged to a fellow inmate about the Tate murders. She said they did it "because we wanted to do a crime that would shock the world. ..." (Charles "Tex" Watson was tried separately from Manson and the three women.)
    Even after all of these years, the Manson cult killings continue to do just that. Here are five things about the cases that you might not know:

    A tragic duty

    Paul Tate, father of Sharon Tate, ended up having to clean the blood-soaked crime scene where his daughter had begged for her baby's life.
    "He said that the one thing that brought him to his knees literally-- in grief -- was having to scrub his child's blood off the floor," said Alisa Statman, co-author of "Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family's Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice."

    An unlikely confidante

    Throughout the trial, Manson kept in contact with reporter Mary Neiswender. He spoke to her regularly and even wrote her numerous letters, which he demanded she not publish. The letters that Neiswender revealed to CNN show childlike handwriting and, at times, angry rants.
    At one point, Neiswender recalled, Manson showed her just how strong his reach was, even from behind bars. One day, she said, her son answered the door and came face to face with strangers who asked him for matches and then left. Neiswender lived in a gated community.
    Those strangers were several of Manson's followers. Neiswender said she later confronted Manson about the visit, and he agreed to never do that again.

    A mother's crusade

    Doris Tate, Sharon Tate's mother, helped usher in victims' impact statements in parole hearings. She feared members of the Manson family might obtain parole without the board hearing from those devastated by their crimes.
    In 1982, following the mother's crusade, California passed the Victims' Bill of Rights.

    Change of address

    Because of the overwhelming curiosity and interest from tourists and locals, the addresses of the houses where the Tate and LaBianca murders took place have been changed.
    The Tate residence has been torn down and replaced, but the LaBianca home is still standing.
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    The Spahn Ranch, an old movie set where Manson and his followers last lived, is also a popular tourist spot. The ranch burned down in a wildfire in 1970, but there are still some things left for people to see. A rock formation that creates a cave is still there. A picture in Time magazine shows the Manson followers all sitting in it.

    A social presence

    Manson's official Facebook page has more than 90,000 likes. The page was set up in his name by Afton Elaine Burton, who goes by Star and claims to be Manson's wife. The two applied for a marriage license. The license expired this year, so they are not married in the eyes of the law.
    Friends of Star and Manson run a couple of sites in the killer's name, including one that sells Confederate battle flag patches, T-shirts and motorcycle vests "created entirely under the instruction of Charles Manson."