Why would someone want to be related to Charles Manson?
Jason Freeman is likely accustomed to that question. A 41-year-old oil rig worker and father of three from Florida, Freeman has long believed he is the mass murderer’s grandson, born in 1976 to Charles Manson, Jr.
Freeman tells PEOPLE he first learned about his purported infamous family history as a teen. In recent years, before Manson’s death Sunday at 83, he had pushed to have a relationship with one of the most reviled figures in United States history.
Freeman says he has talked to Manson by phone from prison for years, but PEOPLE was unable to verify his claims, and California corrections officials would not comment on the matter.
During one conversation, says Freeman, “He kept asking me what I wanted. ‘What do you want from me?’ I said, ‘I just want to get to know my grandfather.”
Freeman, who is working on a documentary tentatively titled Manson’s Bloodline, produced multiple birth and death documents that he says prove his heritage, though PEOPLE was unable to independently verify their authenticity.
According to Freeman, Manson asked for a sample of his DNA to confirm that the two were related, but Freeman says he never heard back about the results.
Manson was the mastermind behind an infamous two-day murder spree in August 1969, when his followers, known as “the Manson family,” killed seven people, including 26-year-old actress Sharon Tate. He orchestrated the murders of two other people that summer before he was arrested.
Freeman, however, claims that Manson told him he never ordered his followers to kill. (Manson did not physically commit any of the murders himself but was found legally responsible for them.) Freeman describes the man whose name has become synonymous with evil as a “loving, compassionate man,” saying Manson cared deeply about the environment.
“He said his hands are clean,” says Freeman, who has retained an attorney to petition authorities for control of Manson’s estate and is pushing for Manson to have what he describes as a “proper burial.”
“He specifically said he did not kill Sharon Tate [who was pregnant at the time] or anybody in that house. He would never hurt a human with a baby inside of them.”
Those familiar with the facts of the case disagree.
“I don’t care if you have the most powerful microscope in the world, you couldn’t find any good in Charles Manson,” former “Manson family” prosecutor Stephen Kay tells PEOPLE. “He had control over his family members and they would do whatever he directed them to do.”
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According to Manson biographer Jeff Guinn, author of Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Manson, then 20, married 15-year-old Rosalie Willis in 1955. On March 10, 1956, while Manson was in prison on charges related to a car theft, Willis gave birth to a son, Charles Manson Jr.
While Manson was in prison, Willis took up with another man, leaving Manson “jilted,” says Guinn.
Freeman, who says Willis is his grandmother, once asked her about Manson before she died of lung cancer in 2009. But “she made it known it was the last thing she wanted to talk about,” he says.
Charles Manson Jr., who later changed his name to Jay White, killed himself in 1993.
Manson Jr., says Freeman, was a “major victim in this whole story” and he was tormented by his family name before his death.
Remarkably, several people over the years have claimed to be descendants of the cult leader.
“The best way I can put it is just about anything is possible, but in most cases it doesn’t seem probable,” biographer Guinn tells PEOPLE.
Most recently, Matthew Roberts claimed his birth mother told him that Manson was his father after he was conceived in an orgy in San Francisco in 1967.
But according to Guinn, most Manson relatives have purposely kept away from the limelight and played down any association with him.
While researching his book, Guinn says he spoke to Manson’s sister and cousin. He says he didn’t use their last names because “they had both spent their lives trying not to be known as relatives of Manson.”