Charles Manson, the cult leader whose hippie followers terrorized Los Angeles with seven gruesome murders in 1969, has died after almost 50 years behind bars. He was 83. The California Department of Corrections says Manson, whose death sentence for orchestrating the killings was commuted to life imprisonment in 1972, died of natural causes Sunday night at a hospital in Kern County, the AP reports. On Aug. 9, 1969, some of his followers, known as the "Manson Family," murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others at her home. The victims were stabbed a total of more than 100 times. The next night, his followers murdered grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, and scrawled words including "PIGS" on the walls in their blood.
Manson, who was born in Cincinnati, had a troubled childhood and ended up in reform school when he was 8. He spent much of his early life in prison for various crimes and started the cult after being released in San Francisco in 1967. Months after the LA killings, Manson and three female followers were arrested and sentenced to death after what was then the longest trial in American history. Tex Watson, his "right-hand man," was arrested later. Prosecutors said Manson, whose name became a byword for evil, hoped his disciples would, with the murders, trigger a race war he called "Helter Skelter." After being found guilty, he shaved his head, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. "I am the devil," he said. "And the devil always has a bald head." He was later convicted of two other murders. In prison, Manson carved a swastika on his forehead and was cited for breaking the rules scores of times. He was denied parole a dozen times, most recently in 2012.