Charles Manson, the imprisoned wild-eyed cult leader who masterminded the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six other people in Los Angeles, has died. He was 83.
Manson died of natural causes at 8:13pm Pacific time on Nov. 19 at Kern County Hospital, according to a statement from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was serving a life sentence at a state prison in California.
A career criminal, Manson persuaded a drug-induced flock of followers — the so-called Manson family — that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and that they would survive and rule the world after a racial apocalypse he called “Helter Skelter.” The name came from a Beatles song he viewed as prophetic.
Manson’s followers may have killed more than two dozen people by some reports, but criminal trials against him and his group focused on the savage killing spree that became known as the Tate-LaBianca murders.
With a focus on killing Hollywood celebrities, Manson ordered followers Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia “Katie” Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian to invade a Los Angeles home on Aug. 9, 1969, and kill its occupants.
In addition to Tate, the 26-year-old pregnant wife of film director Roman Polanski, those killed from multiple stabbings and gunshots were writer and actor Wojciech “Voytek” Frykowski and his partner, the coffee bean heiress Abigail Folger; celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring and Steven Parent, a friend of Tate’s gardener. Polanski was in London working on a film.
Kasabian acted as the lookout and became the star witness against Manson, whose role in the killings was discovered by police while investigating other crimes. She was offered immunity for her testimony.
The killing of Tate, who starred in films such as “Valley of the Dolls,” was particularly gruesome. She was stabbed in the stomach by Atkins despite pleas to spare her unborn child, whose delivery date was near. Atkins used Tate’s blood to write the word “pig” on the front door.
The next night, Manson took Watson, Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten to the home of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, who were also murdered.
The trio stayed in the house for a while, eating food from the LaBianca’s refrigerator and playing with the couple’s dogs.
Atkins told fellow prisoners that the Manson family planned to kill other Hollywood stars to help trigger the racial apocalypse Manson predicted. She died in a women’s prison in 2009.
Manson’s trial began in June 1970. After a trial characterized by the giggling and grimaces of the defendants, Manson was convicted of first-degree murder in January 1971.
He was sentenced to death. California’s supreme court later ruled capital punishment illegal, and he was re-sentenced to life imprisonment. Manson, who carved a swastika into his forehead while in prison, was denied parole more than a dozen times.
“There’s no murder in a holy war,” he told Charlie Rose in a 1986 interview on “CBS News Nightwatch,” referring to Tate’s slaying.
Charles Maddox, whose crazed deeds would spawn a series of books, movies and documentaries, was born Nov. 12, 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Kathleen Maddox, a 16-year-old alcoholic prostitute and Walker Scott. After her marriage to William Manson, Charles was given his step-father’s last name.
He made a living through crime, spending half of the first 32 years of his life behind bars. Manson was put in jail for armed robbery, arson, burglary, assault, mail theft, drug possession, forgery, credit-card fraud, receiving stolen property, pimping, grand theft auto and numerous parole violations.
After his release from prison in 1967, he became a cult guru in the San Francisco area as a prophet of the apocalypse and tried to pursue a career in music.
He was befriended by Dennis Wilson, the drummer in the Beach Boys band. Through this association, Manson got an opportunity to audition for record producer Terry Melcher, the son of singer and actress Doris Day. Melcher, who had rejected Manson’s bid to make a record, was the previous occupant of the Los Angeles house Polanski and Tate had rented, which was the site of the first murders.
In 1955, Manson married Rosalie Willis and had a son Charles Manson, Jr., who committed suicide in 1993. After their divorce, he married Leona Stevens and had a second son, Charles Luther Manson. He had a third son, Valentine Manson, with Manson family member Mary Brunner.
“The name Manson has become a metaphor for evil, and evil has its allure,” the prosecutor of the Tate-La Bianca case, Vincent Bugliosi, co-wrote in the best-selling book on the Manson case, “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders.” “Some people have the same fascination for Jack the Ripper and Hitler.”
A month after Hurricane Maria battered this mountainous stretch of central Puerto Rico, recovery remained elusive along Highway 152, where 82-year-old Carmen Diaz Lopez lives alone in a home that’s one landslide away from plummeting into the muddy creek below.
Without electricity, and without family members to care for her, she’s become dependent on the companionship of a few neighbors who stop by periodically. But a collapsed bridge has made it challenging to even communicate with her friend across the creek, so she’s lived for the most part in solitude, passing the electricity-less days singing “Ave Maria” and classic Los Panchos songs to herself, lighting candles each night so she can find the bathroom.
“I just ask the Lord to take care of me, because he’s the only one I have,” Diaz Lopez said Wednesday.
Diaz Lopez and her neighbors along Kilometer 5 of this badly hit mountain road in Barranquitas municipality are among the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans still at risk as the recovery effort heads into its fifth week. Pipe water returned here in a trickle a few days ago, and the collapsed earth that blocked the road and sent muck into homes has been half-way cleared. But a phone signal is still non-existent, and residents are far from any semblance of sustainable self-sufficiency.
The situation threatens to undermine the economic and fiscal future of the island, and is already fueling a flood of Puerto Ricans leaving for the mainland. At this stage in the recovery from the Category 4 storm, many find the current state of the U.S. commonwealth — home to some 3.4 million American citizens — unthinkable.
“I just haven’t seen a situation where people don’t have access to basic services for so long,” said Martha Thompson, the Puerto Rico response coordinator for the Boston-based charity Oxfam Americas who also worked on the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Meeting at the White House with the commonwealth’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, President Donald Trump said Thursday that his administration’s response to Maria deserves a perfect “10” rating. He also drew attention to the fiscal mess in Puerto Rico that predated the hurricane, suggesting he wants repayment of any reconstruction loans to take precedence over the island’s existing $74 billion debt that pushed it into bankruptcy.
Only tenuous, provisional measures seem to be preventing a much greater humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. A government task force has restored electricity to many hospitals and healthcare facilities, but others are sustained by diesel generators that occasionally fail. (APR Energy Chairman John Campion, whose company rents the units for natural disasters, said in an interview that such generators typically have a life span of 500 hours, and the crisis has already lasted longer than that.)
About 83 percent of residents and businesses — not just in the rural mountains, but across the island — are still without electricity.
As of Friday, one-in-three residents lacked running water, and only about half of cellular towers were operational. Meanwhile, the official death toll, currently at 49, keeps creeping higher, with 76 islanders still reported missing.
Many blame an insufficiently robust federal response, while authorities note the myriad logistical challenges that make the high-poverty island distinct from storm-battered states such as Florida or Texas.
Certainly, there have been improvements. In the days after the storm, the entire island appeared engulfed in pandemonium; the airport operated at a fraction of its normal capacity with leaky ceilings, no air conditioning or escalators; frantic islanders formed half-mile long lines for gas and diesel; and mayhem ensued on roads and highways, even in the capital, as people tried to dodge fallen trees and street lights.
This week, by contrast, the airport was back in operation, with a blast of cool air greeting new arrivals at the end of the jet bridge and slot machines in the terminals blinking and jingling. The roads around the capital have been largely cleared, as have many major highways.
But the reality remained very different in the mountains of central Puerto Rico. Back in Barranquitas, Erika Perez, 43, wondered how she would sustain her family. She lives just up the hill from Diaz Lopez with her husband, son and daughter, ages 52, 13 and 14, respectively. They have dogs, pigs and chickens, which supplied the eggs that kept the family fed during the early days after the storm, when the mudslides had completely boxed them in.
Perez said they’d been basically cut off for some 10 days, and she had worried about what would happen if her daughter’s asthma got bad.
Asked if she felt forgotten by the authorities, she gestured to a heap of trash that had been accumulating since even before the storm, insects circling. “We don’t ask for much, but at least give me that,” she said. “Help us out for sanitary purposes.”
Her husband had invested much of his time and money in plantain fields up the road, but the storm had obliterated much of the crop, and what was left had been stolen by those desperate for food. The family also ran a bar next door — frequented by Diaz Lopez, who said she went for the live music — but the prospects looked grim there, too, with no cars passing through the area.
The Puerto Rican economy was in a dire situation before the storm, and now it’s been reduced to a shadow of even that former self. Small business owners everywhere have been forced to trade their digital inventory systems and credit-card machines for old-fashioned paper and cash, and they’ve been grappling with how to keep tabs on employees.
“Everyone is in survival mode," said Gustavo Velez, an economist who runs the Inteligencia Economica consulting firm in San Juan. "There’s no work, no earnings. People are buying what they need for the day."
He said the situation will only snowball, fueling a massive exodus to the mainland, if the government can’t come up with resources and a viable plan. Governor Rossello has warned that millions could leave.
As for Diaz Lopez, she said she’ll keep looking after herself. She’s found a new apartment connected to an auto body shop up the hill and out of the path of mudslides; she’s just waiting for the owner to clear the space out so she can move in at a cost of $250 a month.
She was left alone on the island when her ex-husband died, her son was killed by a drug overdose and the last of her extended family moved to the mainland. She wondered why the authorities, local or federal, hadn’t done more for her. In the meantime, she said she knew how to do enough to stay healthy and safe during the long, dark nights.
“You’d think they’d say, ‘Here’s a woman on her own, an elderly woman, let’s go help her’,” she said, standing in the doorway of her home with her dog. “But I’ll be okay. I take life as it comes.”
Five days after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, Jeremiah Cottle, ashen-faced and unshaven, looks toward the four flags by his company’s front gate in Moran, Texas. There’s the Lone Star State flag, the Stars and Stripes, a POW-MIA one, and another with the green-and-black logo of his company, Slide Fire Solutions LP. Each flies at half-staff just inside a 10-foot-tall fence topped by razor wire. “My family was always here,” he says, motioning across the two-lane highway to the ranch with the Cottle sign out front. “So I built something, and a madman is taking it all away.”
What Cottle built is a multimillion-dollar empire based on the simple idea of converting a semiautomatic rifle into a weapon that can fire up to 800 rounds per minute, about the same as a fully automatic machine gun. The “madman” is Stephen Paddock, who investigators say had 12 so-called bump stocks in the arsenal he used to kill 58 people on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas. Audio recordings captured the extraordinary rate of fire as Paddock shot into the crowd at a country music festival from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. The devices are fully legal in the U.S.
The story of how Cottle successfully navigated America’s gun laws to sell tens of thousands of bump stocks over the past six years says a lot about how permeable those laws are. It also sheds light on the protections federal law affords the gun industry against claims of liability when firearms are put to horrific use. Ironically, the argument Slide Fire used to get approval for its bump stocks may end up exempting it from those protections—an argument being used in the lawsuits that are already being filed by victims of the Las Vegas shooting. The sheer horror of the massacre, combined with the revelation that a simple device likely made the carnage much worse, seems to have altered the debate about gun violence, eroding Republican resistance to discussing gun control of any kind, if only temporarily.
In the following days, Republicans began talking about the need for action. Then on Oct. 5 the National Rifle Association, which for decades has fought any gun control measure, called for a review of bump stock regulations, albeit not a ban. That same day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump “would like to be part of that conversation,” but Congress would have to make any substantial change. Although incremental and even tepid, the NRA and GOP reactions are “a significant change in the debate over gun control in America,” says Steve Miller, a political science professor at Clemson University who studies public opinion on gun control. “We are seeing ardent gun control opponents giving in to some regulation, unlike what we saw in the aftermath of past mass shootings.”
Like many of the 250 people who live in Moran, about 150 miles west of Dallas, Cottle grew up shooting guns. After leaving the U.S. Air Force in 2005, he came up with an idea for a device that uses a rifle’s recoil, or bump, against a stiffened trigger finger to approximate automatic fire. He went down to his woodworking shop, and in about two hours he built a crude prototype out of some scrap wood, PVC pipe, and duct tape.
By mid-2010, Cottle was ready to start selling his device, but he first needed clearance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. To comply with federal law, he simply needed to demonstrate that the bump stock was itself not a machine gun. In a letter to the ATF, Slide Fire argued that its product was an accessory to help people with disabilities who had difficulty firing the AR-15, a semiautomatic civilian version of the M-16 military assault rifle. The ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch ruled that the bump stock is a gun part, one that isn’t integral to the functioning of the weapon, and as such excluded it from federal firearm regulations, according to a June 7, 2010, letter from the bureau. Two years later the ATF made a similar determination in reviewing another bump stock maker’s device.
Armed with the ATF’s blessing, Cottle and his then-wife, Lora, started the company out of their bedroom and a shed where they kept the family dogs. They plowed $120,000 into the business, scraping money together from retirement savings, his veterans benefits, and selling guns and ammunition, according to records filed in relation to the couple’s divorce. To protect his investment, Cottle also filed multiple patents, claiming ownership over the bump stock design and invention.
Slide Fire’s bump stocks were an immediate hit. Within the first year, sales exceeded $10 million, and the company shipped more than 35,000 units. Slide Fire hasn’t disclosed sales since 2011, but considering the growth of the industry, there are likely tens if not hundreds of thousands of bump stocks in gun owners’ hands. To keep up with demand, Cottle built a 22,000-square-foot, near-windowless, corrugated-steel compound to serve as headquarters and an assembly plant on part of his family’s farm. He hired about two dozen people, including buddies from the Air Force, and housed some of them in trailers on the property. He even hired the town’s mayor and his wife to work in the plant. For Moran, a town that consists of little more than a few roads, a liquor store, a bank, and some clapboard homes and where most people work as ranch hands and in nearby oil fields, Slide Fire was a godsend to the local economy.
Cottle marketed his product heavily. One ad for gun magazines shows a child cradled under his father’s arm, firing an assault rifle next to a Benjamin Franklin quote: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Some YouTube reviews of the device drew almost 1 million views.
It wasn’t long before competitors cropped up with their own bump stocks, underpricing Slide Fire and cutting into its sales. Cottle fought back in court, suing at least five companies for allegedly stealing Slide Fire’s patented designs. The fiercest battle was against Miami-based Bump Fire Systems. Its product worked just like Slide Fire’s, only it was “lighter, just as durable, maybe even more so, and a lot cheaper! Instead of $400 for a Slide Fire you can get a Bump Fire for $100,” according to company social media posts filed in court.
Bump Fire managers told the court they’d hired subcontractors to make its bump stocks and that they had sold more than 2,000 in Texas alone, Slide Fire’s main market. In court, Slide Fire said Bump Fire’s price-cutting had cost it almost $4 million in sales. The legal fight went on for two years before Slide Fire won. In a settlement, Bump Fire agreed not only to stop selling bump stocks but to allow Slide Fire to take over its web assets, such as its social media accounts.
Although bump stocks weren’t widely known, they were extremely popular among enthusiasts. And because they aren’t subject to registration or limitations on how many you can buy, Paddock was able to buy at least a dozen of them. Now, politicians are aiming to curb their use. Within days of the shooting, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to effectively eliminate bump stocks by making it illegal to either sell or manufacture them.
This is hardly the first time Feinstein has proposed tighter gun laws. After the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, which left 20 children dead, she co-sponsored a bill to ban 120 types of assault and semiautomatic weapons. If passed, that bill would have effectively banned bump stocks by outlawing the sale of firearms with detachable stocks. Slide Fire helped lead opposition to the bill. In an op-ed published on April 1, 2013, in the , Laura Shackelford, Slide Fire’s chief executive manager at the time, wrote that such a ban would do nothing to reduce gun violence. It would, however, erode the constitutional right to bear arms, she wrote. Feinstein’s bill was defeated, 40 to 60.
Prices for bump stocks have skyrocketed since the Las Vegas massacre. A Slide Fire SSAR-15 OGR stock, which typically retails for $179.95, was bid up to $315 on the secondary gun marketplace GunBroker.com. After the NRA’s statement on Oct. 5, prices soared to $666. (Overwhelmed with orders, Slide Fire announced a hold on all new sales.)
Slide Fire is already under attack in the courts. Because bump stocks are an accessory without functioning mechanical parts, the company may fall outside the protections of a 2005 federal law shielding gun and ammunition makers from being held liable for gun violence. On Oct. 6 three victims of the shooting filed a class-action suit against Slide Fire and unnamed manufacturers, accusing the industry of negligence. “Paddock could not have injured so many people without a bump stock,” the complaint states.
The suit, filed on behalf of the victims by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Nevada state court, argues that bump stocks are an accessory under Slide Fire’s own definition and as such aren’t covered by the federal shield law. “A bump stock is not a firearm, and it is not ammunition,” says Avery Gardiner, chief legal officer of the Brady Center. “It does not qualify for immunity.” The suit aims to recover unspecified damages as well as funds to pay for the victims’ counseling, treatment for emotional distress, and some medical monitoring for everyone who attended the Las Vegas concert.
Back in Moran, Cottle stands outside the locked door of Slide Fire’s headquarters, looking like he’s still processing the shock of the past several days. His eyes are bloodshot and moist. He seems anxious, distraught, exhausted. “It’s been rough,” he says. “There are the death threats. People are coming after my kids. Words can’t describe,” he says, his voice trailing off. Asked whether he knows if Paddock bought any Slide Fire bump stocks, Cottle says he’s been going through sales records to find out. He declines to say if he’s been contacted by investigators. Asked whether he thinks his company can survive, given that even the NRA is zeroing in on the product he invented, he stares past the fence shaking his head. “I don’t know,” he says, just as a local TV truck creeps by. “I have to get back inside,” he says. “I’ve said too much.” And behind him, the door slams shut.
BOTTOM LINE – The Las Vegas massacre has put a spotlight on bump stocks and the man who invented them in 2010 in a tiny Texas town.