The body of murder mastermind Charles Manson was barely cold when competing bids began for his remains and belongings among relatives and longtime associates.
Their plans have not been divulged, but some fear they might create a shrine for those who are still fascinated by the man behind the bizarre celebrity slayings that terrorized Los Angeles nearly a half-century ago.
The value of Manson’s belongings — said to include music, artwork, writings and at least two guitars — is unclear. But probate attorneys said the real value of his estate could be in controlling the use of his image and the power to authorize any biographies or documentaries.
“It’s going to be a food fight,” said probate attorney Adam Streisand, who is not involved in the Manson case but was involved with Michael Jackson’s estate and currently is representing the estate of Hugh Heffner.
“You have to sort of worry about creating a monument that becomes a focal point for people to exercise their extremist views,” he said.
At the very least, it seems, Manson devotees want to prevent his ashes from being anonymously interred with other indigent inmates.
One person seeking control of Manson’s estate is his purported grandson, Jason Freeman, who flew into California with a documentary film crew after Manson died last month.
His effort is challenged by Manson associate Michael Channels, who exchanged letters and visited the killer in prison. Channels has filed a two-page will in court dated Valentine's Day 2002 that purportedly leaves everything to him.
Freeman’s attorney, Dale Kiken, said there might be a third claim by Los Angeles musician Matthew Roberts, who has described himself as Manson’s son. His bid is backed by Ben Gurecki, who has done YouTube videos focused on Manson and told several media outlets that he obtained a January 2017 will from Manson naming Roberts as his heir.
Kiken said prison officials told him Manson left no will and he disputes the validity of the ones that have surfaced.
Kiken provided The Associated Press with a copy of a 1986 Ohio court ruling saying Freeman is the son of Charles Manson Jr., and a 1993 Colorado death certificate showing Manson Jr. as the son of Charles Manson and his first wife, Rosalie Willis.
Manson, 83, died Nov. 19 of natural causes after spending decades in prison for orchestrating the 1969 killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and eight other people. Prosecutors said the slayings were intended to trigger an apocalyptic race war.
Tate’s sister, Debra, fears those seeking control of Manson’s remains and belongings hope to profit from his dark legacy.
“Whatever he was in life, in death he deserves dignity,” she said, asserting that the only way to ensure Manson is undisturbed is to have his body cremated and placed at an undisclosed site.
Freeman said he is a man of faith who wants to have his grandfather cremated and his ashes properly placed.
“It won't be in the media, it will be a private family matter from that point,” he said, adding that he won’t disclose his plans until the release of his planned documentary.
“We've got some plans and I’d like to see this ship take flight,” he said.
Freeman, a Florida resident, and his film crew traveled last week to Corcoran State Prison, where Manson was housed in a special protective cell because of his notoriety. Freeman was accompanied by Manson associate John Michael Jones, who said he wants to ensure “that Mr. Manson’s death wasn’t turned into a spectacle like his life was.”
Joe Townley, chief operating officer and executive producer of MY-Entertainment, said the company has been filming for about six months.
At one point, Freeman requested $3,000 each time the AP published an article about him, to provide “assistance in my time of hardship being away from my family and taking care of my grandfather.” He dropped the request after it was refused.
Freeman said he was largely protected growing up when his mother and grandmother “kept the Manson name away from my doorstep.”
However, he long blamed Manson for his father’s suicide until he came to believe the real cause was the media pressure from being Manson’s son.
He exchanged letters and phone calls with his imprisoned grandfather in recent years, and said he is determined to be present for his own children to break the cycle of fatherless upbringings that he believes doomed both his father and grandfather.
“It was almost as if he had a shield in front of his heart and I tried to share personal stuff with him about my father and about my children so he could understand that in my lifetime I brought the family tree full circle,” Freeman said of Manson.
Gurecki and Roberts did not return repeated telephone messages, and Channels could not be reached despite repeated telephone calls.