Nearly three months after his death, Charles Manson’s body is still on ice in Kern County, California, as at least four people fight to claim his body.
Two relatives, and two other men who insist they have the only valid Manson will, have been waging legal battles in two California counties for the right to the notorious cult leader’s body and estate.
Caught in the middle is the Kern County Coroner’s Office, which has been storing the body since Manson died on November 19 at age 83. Manson spent 46 years in prison for his involvement with the brutal murders of seven people in August 1969, a killing spree that terrified the nation during the turbulent ’60s.
Here’s a look at the people vying for Manson’s body, why it’s been such a lengthy process to decide who gets it, and what could happen next.
Jason Freeman, who says he is Manson’s grandson, was the first to file in Los Angeles Probate Court to claim Manson’s body and estate. He filed birth certificates and death certificates to prove they’re related.
According to the petition, Charles Manson was married to Freeman’s grandmother, Rosalie Willis, in 1955. The couple had a son, Charles Manson Jr., and divorced two years after he was born.
Freeman says he was 11 years old when he first learned of his infamous lineage, and that his grandmother never talked to him about his grandfather.
By that time, his father had long ago left and changed his name to Charles Jay White. Freeman says his father was haunted by his background, and that it led him to substance abuse problems. In 1993, White pulled off a highway in Colorado and shot himself in the head. Freeman is now working on a documentary about his father.
If he’s the one who gets Manson’s body, Freeman says he would have his grandfather cremated and spread the ashes in a small family ceremony.
Freeman lives in Florida, but traveled to California for several court dates. He was accompanied by a man he called his “spiritual adviser,” and Freeman says if there is any money, he would donate it.
Freeman says in Manson’s final years the two had a relationship. But, unlike others who knew Manson, he released no photographs or recordings.
“If a grandson can’t say he loves his grandfather, the world’s pretty messed up,” Freeman, fighting back tears, told reporters after one hearing. “I love my grandfather. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m not talking about the mistakes he’s made. I’m not making a judgment, I don’t want anyone to judge me.”
Less than 12 hours before a Los Angeles probate judge was expected to rule on whether his court was even the one to decide the fate of Manson’s body, a new twist emerged: Michael Brunner, whose mother, Mary Brunner was one of the first Manson followers, filed a claim.
Brunner maintains he is Manson’s only surviving son.
He might have the best claim to Manson and his estate. Brunner’s attorney filed a petition that includes a birth certificate for Michael Manson, born to Mary Brunner and Charles Manson, on April 15, 1968 – just over a year before the murder spree.