Charles Manson, one of the most infamous killers in American history, has died at age 81. He passed away from natural causes at a hospital in California.

Manson was the leader of a group called the Manson Family, who committed the grisly murders of seven people over a two-night stretch in northern California during August of 1969. Manson himself did not participate in the killings, but he orchestrated them.

Sharon Tate
Getty Images

Most famous among the victims was the actress Sharon Tate (right), wife of film director Roman Polanski. Tate was eight months pregnant at the time.

Manson set the murders in motion in an attempt to start an apocalyptic race war he called Helter Skelter, named after a Beatles song that he had grossly misinterpreted. He arranged the seven killings, collectively known as the Tate-LaBianca murders, so that it would appear they were done by black militants.

When he died, Manson was serving nine consecutive life sentences. Seven of those were for the Tate-LaBianca murders, and two others he had committed separately. Originally, he was sentenced to death at the end of his infamous trial in 1971. However, California abolished capital punishment the following year, and Manson wound up living the rest of his life behind bars.

The Tate-LaBianca murders are sometimes credited as having brought to an end the so-called free-love era of the 1960s, ushering in the more paranoid, angrier following decade. That may be going a bit too far, but the murders he ordered and the often-absurd seven-month trial during which his followers carved X's into their foreheads in solidarity with Manson (who later altered the X to make it a swastika) certainly captivated the nation's attention.

In the decades since his imprisonment, Manson lived on in the American psyche. His death may finally bring that to a close.

Charles Manson dead
Calif. Dept. of Corrections

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