Charles Manson’s body lies in a California morgue under a fake name, and only two staffers in the coroner’s office know where it is.
As a court battle rages over rights to Manson’s ashes, the murderous cult leader’s corpse has been in a freezer for three months and counting.
But in the next few days, those remains could finally be set free.
On Wednesday, Kern County Superior Court Commissioner Alisa Knight announced she plans to issue a ruling on the fate of Manson’s body in the coming days, according to county attorney Bryan Walters.
“She did not want to wait for anyone to do any further discovery or DNA testing [of potential relatives],” Walters told The Daily Beast. “She said, ‘Nope, this is an urgent matter.’ She’s going to review all the pleadings that have been filed and make a decision on that.”
Walters, who represents the coroner’s office, said the agency asked the court to determine which of the competing claims over Manson’s corpse should prevail.
Three men—a pair of potential heirs and one longtime friend—are vying for Manson’s ashes. Their attorneys appeared in Kern County on Wednesday to stake their claims.
Jason Freeman, a 41-year-old former MMA fighter from Florida, says he’s Manson’s grandson and that he exchanged letters with the mass murderer in recent years. Freeman is purportedly the grandchild of Manson’s first wife, Rosalie Jean Willis. His father, Charles Manson Jr., changed his name to Jay White before committing suicide in 1993.
Michael Brunner, 49, is the notorious criminal’s son with ex-Manson Family member Mary Brunner. Raised by his grandparents in Wisconsin, Brunner avoided the public eye after an interview with a Los Angeles station. During the 1993 TV special, Brunner said he didn’t want contact with his killer dad.
Both Freeman and Brunner said they will cremate Manson’s body and spread his ashes in a private ceremony. In November, days after Manson’s death, Freeman told SFGate.com that he’d carry Manson’s remains back to the Sunshine State. Brunner has not made any statements to the media about his burial plans.
Still, in a Facebook Live video posted last month, Freeman and his young son displayed a creepy Manson puppet with a swastika tattoo painted on its forehead and a toy guitar in its hands. They laughed about stuffing the doll with Manson’s ashes.
“We’re going to do things as a family with grandpa,” Freeman told his viewers. “There’s nothing wrong with that. And if anybody says there is, no. Just lively entertainment. And finally I get to take him fishing. Finally.”
Meanwhile, Michael Channels, 52, was Manson’s friend and pen pal of 30 years. The licensed contractor in Santa Clarita, California, has presented a copy of a 2002 will that disinherits all of the convicted killer’s blood relatives.
Channels says Manson wished to have his dust scattered in the desert. The memorabilia collector told The Daily Beast that he and Manson discussed after-death plans and that he’s only trying to carry out Manson’s wishes.
He slammed Freeman’s alleged plan for interment.
“They have a puppet that looks like Charlie that they’re going to put his ashes in. What is it, do they want to make Chucky Part 4 and sell him off?” Channels said, referring to the serial-killing toy in the Child’s Play movie franchise.
Channels added, “That’s what [Manson] didn’t want. That’s the only thing I’m trying to stop.”
Freeman declined to comment when reached by The Daily Beast on Tuesday, and Brunner’s attorney didn’t return requests for comment.
A separate clash over Manson’s estate is taking place in Los Angeles County, the last place Manson lived before lockup. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Manson was 83 when he died at a Bakersfield hospital on Nov. 19, 2017. According to his death certificate, Manson died of acute cardiac arrest. The document listed underlying causes as colon cancer and respiratory failure.
The killer became a household name after the Tate-LaBianca murders in August 1969. Manson and his “family” of followers were living on a movie ranch in Los Angeles County when he directed his minions to murder seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate.
On Aug. 9, 1969, Manson’s drug-addled flock invaded the home Tate shared with her husband, director Roman Polanski, who was abroad for a film. Tate was eight months pregnant when she and three friends were stabbed to death. A teenager visiting the property’s caretaker was discovered fatally shot in the driveway.
The next day, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, the owners of a grocery store chain, were found slain in their Los Angeles home. Manson allegedly broke into the house and bound the victims before directing his followers to stab them.
The word “pig” was scrawled in blood on Tate’s front door, while “rise” and “death to pigs” covered the walls of the LaBianca home. Prosecutors said Manson hoped the Black Panthers would be blamed for the deaths.
Indeed, Manson wanted to ignite a race war he called “Helter Skelter,” words he lifted from the Beatles song. The cult leader believed in a doomsday battle where blacks would obliterate whites, while his clan lived safely underground. Manson believed his faction would then rise from the desert and rule the new world.
In 1971, a jury found Manson and three female followers guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They were sentenced to death but given a life sentence when the California abolished capital punishment in 1972.
Manson was denied parole 12 times.
On Tuesday, Walters told The Daily Beast that the coroner’s office took legal action over Manson’s remains because Channels’ 2002 will “was inherently suspicious.”
“We don’t want to necessarily rely on that without a court telling us it’s OK,” Walters said.
The coroner was also faced with a January 2017 will from 49-year-old Matthew Roberts, a Los Angeles musician claiming to be Manson’s son. This will lists an Illinois memorabilia collector, Benjamin Gurecki, as executor.
Roberts, whose real name is Matthew Lentz, told CNN in 2012 that he was adopted and embarked on a search for his birth parents. In the late 1990s, Roberts found his biological mother, and she eventually told him that Manson was his father. She told her son she’d met Manson in 1967 at an orgy.
After Roberts wrote to Manson, the cult leader allegedly replied and confirmed that he was at the orgy and remembered his mother.
Roberts said he tried to obtain DNA samples from Charles Manson twice, but both samples were contaminated.
When CNN conducted DNA tests in 2012, neither Roberts nor Freeman were found to share common ancestry with Manson.
Walters said Roberts approached him after Wednesday’s hearing and said he doesn’t care who wins Manson’s estate or body. “He just wants to get blood testing so he knows whether he’s related to Charles Manson or not,” Walters said.
The self-proclaimed son could not be reached for comment.
Brunner’s attorney told the court that Roberts—identified by his last name Lentz—was present to support Brunner’s claim.
According to Eyewitness News in Bakersfield, Brunner said he would drop his claim if DNA testing failed to link him to Manson. Brunner’s opponents have argued that his adoption by his grandparents disqualifies him as Manson’s heir.
Before the hearing, Walters told The Daily Beast he believed the fight over Manson’s remains would go into discovery. He said Freeman’s attorney requested paternity testing to establish a relationship between Brunner and Manson.
The coroner’s office had proposed cremating the body and holding the ashes until the case was decided, but not all parties agreed to that scenario, Walters said.
“It’s unusual for the coroner to be in this situation,” Walters said. Frustrated by the public resources expended on Manson’s body, Walters later added, “This is just infatuation with a historical figure that has no social merit.”
Walters said Manson’s remains were “a high-security situation” because of massive media interest. Only one or two people at the coroner’s office know where the cult killer’s body is located or under which name it’s being stored.
The secrecy prevents someone from leaking images of Manson’s corpse to news outlets, Walters said.
Freeman, who goes by Jason Freeman Manson on social media, appears to idolize his so-called grandfather. He posted a YouTube video to Facebook earlier this week suggesting Manson was innocent.
One Facebook friend replied, “sad to know he was innocent and couldnt get out of jail just praying hes at peace now.”
Another commenter wrote, “Sir Charles motivated people all over the world to live in harmony with all life on Earth. People will still be planting Trees in his name many decades from now.”
Last month, Freeman shared a photo of a sweatshirt with the words “Grandpa & Grandkids” and “Best friends for life” next to an image of a large and small fist. “I will have them for sale one day. I promise. I’ll make life entertaining, fun and real,” Freeman commented.
Freeman has taken to posting positive memes about the cult leader, too.
One photograph of a wild-eyed, grinning Manson is accompanied by the words, “Don’t let the world change your smile. Let your smile change the world.” Another photo of Manson was superimposed with the slogan “Family First.”
Freeman never met Manson but told People they spoke over the phone from Corcoran State Prison for years.
In the Facebook Live puppet video, Freeman announced, “This is where generations meet generations.” The father of three appears to have his own followers, some who appear to be Manson supporters, on social media.
Freeman’s son holds the Manson puppet in the footage and says, “This is, uh, Grandpa.”
“Grandpa who?” Freeman asks, to which the kid replies, “Charles Manson.”
The child says he thinks Manson is “scary.” Freeman then declares, “Scary looking. I wonder what he’s got to say,” before moving the puppet’s mouth so its teeth clatter. “Shut your mouth little kid!” Freeman mimes.
Channels called Freeman and Brunner frauds.
Brunner trashed letters he received from his dad, Channels said. “I don’t care if he’s Charles Manson or not. He has feelings, and it hurt his feelings,” said Channels, who claims to have spent 200 hours visiting Manson in prison.
Channels said he questions Brunner’s motives after Manson’s death and suggested the biological son is now looking to make money off his estranged dad.
“Really, I’m the only one who knew what Charlie wanted,” Channels told The Daily Beast of Manson’s burial wishes.
“We talked about a lot of things. A lot of things wouldn’t work though. Like being buried in Hollywood Cemetery with a big old shrine. But that wouldn’t work. Plus I ain’t got the money for that and neither did he,” Channels added.
“It just boils down to basically what you can actually do. And he always wanted to be in the desert. He said that ever since 1970.”
Manson often said that he wanted to “be with the lizards and the bugs,” Channels said. “OK, I’ll give him that opportunity.”
Despite his efforts to retain Manson’s remains, Channels said the end result doesn’t matter to him; he is only keeping his word. “If they don’t let me do what Manson says, Manson lost. Not me,” Channels said.
Channels ran a YouTube Channel called Backporch Tapes, where he posted unedited conversations with Manson. He said he removed the videos after Manson died and that he didn’t want to monetize them. “Because what’s the use? We started it together. It’s not about money, so I closed it,” Channels said.
The Manson fan remembered his prison pal as “more honest” and “more considerate and kind and caring” than many people.
“Believe it or not, Charles Manson, [was] more considerate, kind, and caring than most people in life. A holiday would come around and he would call me on the phone. ‘Hey, how you doing?’ How many of your relatives do that?
“He’s just that guy. Like a friend,” Channels said.