Sharon Tate's cancer-stricken killer pleads: 'Let me die outside prison'
Topless dancer who joined deadly Manson family has only months to live
Paul Harris in New York The Observer
Sunday June 15 2008
A member of the infamous 'Manson Family', who murdered the actress
Sharon Tate in August 1969, could soon be released from jail because
she is dying of cancer. Susan Atkins, a follower of Sixties cult
leader Charles Manson, has less than six months to live and is being
considered for compassionate leave so that can she die outside
prison. She is believed to be suffering from the final stages of
brain cancer and is under constant medical treatment.
The case is likely to be controversial because the Manson murders
still cast a long shadow in the annals of American crime. At the end
of the Sixties, members of Manson's cult committed a wave of killings
across southern California. The serial murders became a symbol for
the end of the hippie era.
Since her conviction, Atkins has been a model prisoner. She has even
married in jail, becoming the wife of the lawyer who represented her
at her last parole hearing. She is a born-again Christian who helps
out with prison inmate programmes, including Alcoholic Anonymous. She
has now served 37 years in jail, which is longer than any other
female prisoner in the state.
But the sheer infamy of the Manson case may hurt her cause, as it has
derailed all her previous parole attempts. Manson, whose hippie cult
preached free love and bloody revolution, is one of the seminal
figures of the Sixties. He was a failed musician who drifted around
the edge of the counter-culture scene in California until he
collected a band of misfits and hippies into a cult. Atkins, a former
topless dancer, was one of his most ardent followers. She was at the
forefront of slaying Tate, who was married to the film director Roman
Polanski and heavily pregnant with his child.
The Manson family attacked her home, killing her and four others.
Atkins herself stabbed Tate to death, ignoring Tate's pleas for
mercy. At a parole hearing in 1993, Atkins told officials: 'She asked
me to let her baby live. I told her I didn't have mercy for her.'
After killing her, Atkins tasted the dead woman's blood and used it
to write the word 'Pig' on the wall. Manson's aim in sending his
followers to kill Tate and others was to start a race war - Manson
assumed that black power groups would be blamed.
Relatives of Tate and other victims of the cult are opposing Atkins's
release, or that of any other members of the family or Manson. 'They
are serial killers and they were convicted to die and they need to
stay incarcerated,' Debra Tate, the actress's sister, told the Los
Despite the fact that the murder happened almost 40 years ago, there
is a still a fascination with anything to do with Manson. Last month,
police investigators and forensic experts began a dig on an isolated
desert ranch in southern California near Death Valley, the Manson
gang's last hideout.
They were responding to reports that bodies could have been buried on
the isolated land when the cult lived there. The news created
nationwide headlines, but so far no new graves have been found.
Prison officials may free Manson family's Susan Atkins due to illness
Woman convicted in the 1969 murder of actress Sharon Tate reportedly
has less than six months to live. Sources say she has brain cancer
and one of her legs has been amputated.
By Andrew Blankstein and Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
June 13, 2008
State corrections officials are considering a request by former
Charles Manson follower and convicted murderer Susan Atkins to be
released from prison because of an undisclosed terminal illness.
Atkins' initial request for "compassionate release" consideration was
made last month after a doctor determined that she had less than six
months to live, said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It is unclear if
Atkins, 59, made the request or if it was made on her behalf by a
doctor or family member.
Citing medical confidentiality laws, Thornton said she could not
disclose the nature of the illness. But sources close to the case
said that Atkins had suffered from brain cancer and had undergone
amputation of one of her legs.
Atkins has been in state prison 37 years, longer than any other
female inmate in California, Thornton said. She is serving a life
sentence with the possibility of parole, making her eligible for release.
Atkins and other members of Manson's cult were convicted of killing
actress Sharon Tate and six other people during a bloody rampage in
the Los Angeles area over two nights in 1969. Tate, the wife of
director Roman Polanski, was 8 1/2 months pregnant when she was
killed at her hilltop home in Benedict Canyon.
Atkins was also convicted of the earlier killing of music teacher Gary Hinman.
Her request for release has already been approved by the California
Institution for Women in Corona, where she was housed from April 1971
until March, when she was transferred to a local hospital for treatment.
Officials at the Corona facility concluded that Atkins should be
considered for release because of her failing health and because she
no longer posed a risk to others.
Several obstacles remain, however. Her bid for release must still be
approved by officials at the state Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation, Thornton said. A positive recommendation would send
her case to the state Board of Parole, which would conduct an
investigation and issue its own findings, she said. That hearing
could include public comment.
Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Atkins, said she deserved the death
penalty in 1971. But the former prosecutor said he believed now that
Atkins has sincerely renounced Manson and that her 37 years in
prison, along with her illness, changed things.
"She has paid substantially, though not completely, for her
horrendous crimes. Paying completely would mean imposing the death
penalty," Bugliosi said. "But given that she has six months to live,
and the loss of her leg, I don't have an objection to her being released."
Last month, sheriff's deputies and forensic experts began searching
for buried human remains at a sun-scorched ranch in Inyo County once
used as a hangout by the Manson family. For decades, rumors have
persisted that graves existed at the ranch.
Investigators used ground-penetrating radar, magnetometers and
shovels at the Barker Ranch but did not find any human remains. They
did find a .38-caliber bullet casing, but it was unclear whether it
was related to Manson.
Ex-Manson follower dying, seeks release from prison
June 13, 2008
Former Manson family member Susan Atkins has requested a
"compassionate release" from prison because she has less than six
months to live, a California prisons spokeswoman said Friday.
Atkins, 60, was convicted in the 1969 slayings of actress Sharon Tate
and four others. She had been incarcerated at the California
Institution for Women in Corona, California.
But Atkins, the state's longest- serving female inmate, has been
hospitalized since March 18 and is listed in serious condition, state
corrections department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said. Because of
privacy laws, Thornton would not disclose the nature of Atkins' illness.
Atkins' husband and attorney, James Whitehouse, was quoted as saying
she has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, according to a
blog called Manson Family Today. She also has had a leg amputated,
the Los Angeles Times reported Friday, citing sources close to the case.
The compassionate release request has been approved by the prison,
which conducted an evaluation, and is under corrections department
review, Thornton said.
If the department approves, the Board of Parole Hearings and the
sentencing court in Los Angeles also must sign off on the request.
There is no timeline for a decision to be made, Thornton said.
Atkins, known within the Manson family as "Sadie Mae Glutz," has been
in prison since 1971 and has been denied parole 11 times.
According to historical accounts of the murders, Atkins stabbed Tate,
who was 8½ months pregnant, and scawled the word "pig" in blood on
the door of the home the actress shared with director Roman Polanski.
"I don't want to seem like a heartless creature, but in all my years,
I never considered this could happen," Debra Tate, the actress'
sister, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
"She showed no compassion. She told my sister as she slit her throat
that she didn't (care) for her or her unborn baby," Tate added.
Sharon Tate and three houseguests were slain in August 1969 by
killers who burst into her Benedict Canyon home. A teenager who was
visiting the home's caretaker in his cottage on the property also was killed.
The following night, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were slain in their
home in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. The two-day crime
spree sent shock waves throughout Los Angeles.
All of the killers remain behind bars. Atkins also was convicted in
the earlier murder of music teacher Gary Hinman.
Atkins, like Manson, received a death sentence, and the punishment
was changed to life in prison when the California Supreme Court ruled
the state's death penalty unconsitutional in 1972.
Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Atkins, told the Los Angeles Times
that she "has paid substantially, though not completely, for her
horrendous crimes. Paying completely would mean imposing the death
penalty." But, he told the paper, given her terminal illness, "I
don't have an objection to her being released."
According to her Web site, Atkins is a born-again Christian who
during her incarceration has worked to aid at-risk youth, victims of
violent crimes and homeless children.
Last month, authorities dug for buried bodies at the Inyo County,
California, ranch where Manson and his followers once lived, after
police became aware that testing had indicated humans might be buried
there. Nothing was found, police said.