In July Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme was frantically badgering the press, trying to generate publicity for Charles Manson, whose “family” she had inherited. Manson, she reported, felt his 1971 convictions for nine gruesome murders were the fault of Richard Nixon, and since President Ford had followed Nixon’s policies, the country would see more bloodshed. On September 5 Squeaky tried to assassinate Ford.
Whether the warning had really come from Manson or was a fabrication of Fromme’s chaotic mind, it showed that Charles Manson had not lost his demonic hold on at least one of his disciples. When the FBI searched Fromme’s apartment, they discovered a cache of Manson letters.
Manson, now 41, lives in a tiny, cluttered maximum-security cell at San Quentin prison, where he is serving a life sentence. He is rumored to be a marked man among his fellow prisoners (who think that killing him would make any con a hero). Though he has said he preferred Folsom prison, where he was previously held—”I could see the sun, walk around in the grass and play a little music”—Manson refuses to take the daily hour of outdoor exercise at San Quentin. Most likely he is afraid. He does not work in any of the prison industries and has let his fingernails grow to Fu Manchu length. If he leaves his cell he must almost always wear leg shackles and manacles.
Manson is preparing to appeal his convictions and those of three of his co-defendants, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. He has complained that the task is difficult because he does not have lawbooks or a typewriter in his cell. (During his trial Manson served briefly as his own attorney until the presiding judge removed him.)
Last summer Manson agreed to an interview with Stan Atkinson of a Bay Area TV station, KTVU—to “help my case.” It was his first since the trial. Manson’s answers were rambling and sometimes incomprehensible, but from them emerged more facets of a grievously disturbed man. “I just can’t seem to adjust to your society,” he admitted, “because no matter what I do is wrong.” Is it true he has trouble getting along in prison? “I have a hard time getting along with anybody because I’m grouchy.” Was he saying he didn’t kill those people? “No, even the D.A.’s evidence never put me at the scene of the crime. When you kill somebody, you are killing yourself. I don’t want to take my own life because I like me.” (After the Manson interview was shown, Atkinson received a threatening call from Squeaky Fromme.)
In spite of his complaints, Manson seems to have settled almost comfortably into prison life. A failure as a musician, the only career he has shown interest in, as well as in two marriages, Manson has spent more than 22 years behind bars, having been convicted at various times of being a homosexual rapist, car thief, forger and murderer. He has often said he feels more at home on the inside than out. While a California court decision abolishing the death penalty automatically made him eligible for parole in 1978, it seems unlikely he will be released then, if ever.
“I’m working slowly,” Manson said about his appeal. “I certainly have plenty of time.”