History remembers Gary Hinman as the first official Manson family victim — killed in July 1969 by a few of Charles Manson's cult followers at his behest

By Adam Carlson Christine Pelisek
November 21, 2017 11:19 AM

History usually remembers Gary Hinman as the first official “Manson family” victim — killed in July 1969 by a few of Charles Manson’s cult followers at his behest. But Hinman’s life was far more important to his relatives than his death.

“It is too bad he is known as a victim of Charles Manson, but that is not how the family remembers him,” cousin Charlotte Hood tells PEOPLE after the news that Manson died Sunday, at age 83.

“I saw something on the Internet that he was very, very ill, and it is about time,” Hood says.

Speaking of Hinman, who was 34 when he was killed, his cousin describes him as a kind of “lost artistic soul,” a talented piano player with a collection of college degrees who “flittered from job to job.”

“He played at Carnegie Hall and he just got in with the wrong crowd,” Hood says. “He befriended Manson. He was a very generous soul, and he just got in with the wrong crowd.”

According to authorities, Hinman was held at his home in Topanga Canyon, outside Los Angeles, for three days before he was found dead on July 31, 1969. He’d reportedly been tortured and stabbed, with a “Manson family” signature — a message in the victim’s blood — marking the scene.

The exact motive for Hinman’s death remains unclear. According to the L.A. Times, it was driven by a financial dispute.

Manson and followers Bobby Beausoleil and Bruce Davis were all convicted of Hinman’s murder — the start of a series of slayings over two months that killed nine, including actress Sharon Tate. Follower Susan Atkins pleaded guilty in Hinman’s death.

“We were shocked, because we live in western Colorado and we are pretty far removed from society,” Hood says of how the family responded to Hinman’s death in an age before the Internet or, for their family, widespread TV use.

“I don’t think most of the aunts and uncles of Gary really believed that people like Manson existed,” Hood says.

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Gary Hinman

“The whole family was devastated. We are Coloradans, we didn’t have people murdered in our family,” another cousin, Kay Martley, told the Denver Post in 2014. “We were taxpayers, productive citizens. We owned ranches, businesses. It was unbelievable it could happen to members of our family.”

Hood says she and other relatives were camping when word reached them of the killing: “You think you are untouchable and then all of a sudden — at the time it was almost a United States crisis, and here it was, it effected us.”

At first the family believed Hinman may have been the victim of a break-in, Hood says. Before his death he had called his parents “begging” for money.

“When we got to talking to my aunt [Hinman’s mom], she started putting two and two together,” Hood says. “And talking to the detectives, she realized the calls home were him calling for money for Manson or someone asking for money, which could have possibly saved his life.”

Hinman, his cousin says, “was very friendly but very aloof, he moved in his own world like many talented people do.” She remembers him sometimes pulling out his guitar or playing the piano at family gatherings.

“If the cog happened to meet with the family cog he was part of the family and most of the time he was off doing his own thing,” Hood says.

He “was an eclectic person” who “lived on the edge,” she says. “He attracted artists, he attracted beatniks.”

Maybe that’s how he found himself in Manson’s orbit. Hood says L.A. seemed to be the placed for Hinman, so that’s where he headed from Colorado, where his family lived. “He was always befriending people,” she says. Maybe, she wonders, one of Manson’s “family” invited him over after a music session.

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Charles Manson in March 2009
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Getty

Hood says their family has dwindled in the ensuing decades. She, the youngest of the cousins, and a few others are the only ones left who knew Hinman. Both of his sisters are alive, but his parents have been dead for years. Hinman and his mother are buried together in the family plot.

“I am sorry he didn’t get to enjoy a full life,” Hood says now. “He was a Buddhist and I think they are spiritual people, and wherever he is I think he is all right.”

For Manson, though, Hood imagines something else.

“I would hope he is headed where there are a few people poking at him with pitchforks that are kind of hot,” she says. “Maybe he’s found his peace and maybe he has actually been saved. I find it interesting that a lot of people who are incarcerated become excellent Christians really quick.”

“I think the state kept him alive too damn long,” Hood says. “We believe in the death penalty.”

While she says she believes Manson’s enduring national attention will finally fade with his death, “The bad thing is young people are going to look at him, and there are certain people who are going to revere him and he is going to be a hero to some.”

“I think he always thought the universe began and ended with him,” she says, “and if that is the case let’s hope it ended.”

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