and was the longest-serving prisoner among women held in California prisons. This distinction now falls on fellow Charles Manson follower Patricia Krenwinkle who was also convicted of the Tate-LaBianca murders.
Atkins confessed to killing actress Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski who was hanged and stabbed 16 times; Tate’s nearly full-term fetus died with her. The next night, Atkins accompanied Manson and his followers when they broke into the Los Feliz home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and killed them.
“She was the scariest of the Manson girls,” said Stephen Kay, who helped prosecute the case and argued against Atkins’ release at her parole hearings. “She was very violent.”
Former chief prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who sought and won death sentences for Atkins, Manson and other followers, said Atkins would be remembered “obviously as a member of a group that committed among the most horrendous crimes in American history. She apparently made every effort to rehabilitate herself.”
He added: “It has to be said that she did pay substantially, though not completely, for her incredibly brutal crimes. And to her credit, she did renounce — and, I believe, sincerely — Charles Manson.”
It was Atkins who broke open the case when she bragged of her participation in the slayings to cellmates at Sybil Brand Institute in East Los Angeles, where she was being held on other charges; two of her cellmates told authorities of her confession. After prosecutors promised not to seek the death penalty against her, Atkins appeared before a grand jury, providing information that led to her own indictment, as well as that of Manson and others. Later, in a lurid 10-month trial, she provided crucial testimony that fed the public’s fascination with Hollywood celebrities, drugs, sex and violence.
It also left an unshakable image of Atkins as a remorseless killer, who taunted the court at her sentencing with chilling words: “You’d best lock your doors,” she said, “and watch your own kids.”
In 1971, two separate juries found Manson, Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson guilty on seven counts of first-degree murder. Another Manson follower, Leslie Van Houten, was convicted of two murders. All received the death sentence, later reduced to life terms after the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972. (The Legislature later reenacted the death penalty statute.) Manson, Krenwinkel, Watson and Van Houten remain in prison.Atkins also pleaded guilty to the murder of musician Gary Alan Hinman, who was killed in a dispute over money shortly before the Tate-LaBianca murders. She received another life sentence for the Hinman killing.
Susan Atkins has been living on borrowed time for the past 40 years. May she atone to our creator for the heinous crimes against humanity.