The defense rested its case on November 19, and attorney Ronald Hughes disappeared eight days later, after he was driven to Sespe Hot Springs by two family associates called “James” and “Lauren.” The lawyer’s decomposing corpse was found in Sespe Creek five months later, around the time Manson’s death sentence was announced, and positive identification was confirmed through dental X-rays.
Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi believes that he has traced the fate of “James” and “Lauren,” suspected of guilty knowledge in Hughe’s death. On November 9, 1972, hikers found the body of 26-year-old James Willett, shotgunned and decapitated, in a shallow grave near Guerneville, California. Three days later, Willett’s station wagon was spotted outside a house in Stockton, and police arrested two members of the Aryan Brotherhood inside, along with three Manson women. Lauren Willett, wife of James, was buried in the basement, and an initial tale of “Russian roulette” was dropped in April 1973, when four of the suspects pled guilty to murder charges.
Charles Manson and some of his followers were arrested for the brutal killings that they had made. Manson and his “family” never confessed to the murders. After a lengthy trial, which Manson did his best to turn into a circus; he and four followers were condemned to the gas chamber. Manson shouted, “You people have no authority over me,” as he was led off in handcuffs. In 1972, however, their sentences changed from death penalty to life imprisonment when the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty.
As for the family patriarch, commutation of his death sentence launched Manson on a seemingly endless tour of the California prison system – from San Quentin to Vacaville, on to Folsom, back to San Quentin, and so on. Wherever he went, the pattern was identical: conflicts with authority and other inmates, various beatings and murder attempts (to date, he has been poisoned, set on fire, and badly beaten several times), half-hearted hunger strikes, and raving television interviews. In March 1974, Manson was diagnosed as an “acute psychotic”; two months later he assaulted a guard; two months after that, he was caught passing notes about a planned escape attempt…
His yearly parole hearings – those he deigns to attend – have been converted into a theater of the grotesque, with Manson rambling incoherently, sometimes for hours on end, on topics ranging from the Brazilian rain forest to his “frame-up” by an unjust society.
Charles Manson now serves a lifetime sentence and periodically comes up for parole.
Though he’s been in prison for over three decades, Charles Manson has received more mail than any other prisoner in the U.S. Charles Manson is currently being held in California’s Corcoran Prison.