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People Are Fighting Over Charles Manson’s Body

Charles Manson, the wild-eyed leader of a murderous gang responsible for one of the most infamous killing sprees of the 20th century, is proving no easier to deal with in death than he was in life.

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, New York Times

Charles Manson, the wild-eyed leader of a murderous gang responsible for one of the most infamous killing sprees of the 20th century, is proving no easier to deal with in death than he was in life.

A battle is brewing on many fronts in California over who will get the notorious killer’s remains and any belongings he left behind when he died in November.

At least four people from three states have lined up to claim Manson’s body, his property or both in the weeks since he died at 83, according to court documents and interviews with some of those involved. A California court will take up the matter next week.

The interested parties include a Florida man who says he is a grandson; a purported friend of Manson’s who has filed what he says is Manson’s will in court; and two men — including one who claims to be Manson’s son — who also have presented a purported will entitling them to dispose of the remains.

California officials have said Manson had repeatedly indicated that he had no will or relatives, so they assumed that dealing with his affairs would be relatively straightforward.

“It hasn’t gone as smoothly as we might have hoped,” conceded Bryan Walters, a lawyer for the Kern County coroner’s office, which accepted Manson’s body from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “He’s a figure of public scrutiny, so the simple is just not possible.”

Manson, who died on Nov. 19, became notorious in the late 1960s as the leader of the Manson family — a murderous group of young drifters who fell under his influence. He would eventually be convicted of nine murders, and he became known in particular for seven brutal killings collectively called the Tate-LaBianca murders, which his followers committed on two consecutive August nights in 1969.

The Tate-LaBianca killings and the seven-month trial that followed both frightened and mesmerized the public and carved out a dark place for Manson in American culture.

Over the decades, his bizarre celebrity status has helped foster an online market for his art, music and even locks of his hair. So, to Andy Kahan, a victim advocate for the city of Houston who has long served as a watchdog over the sale of what he calls “murderabilia,” it is no surprise that several people are jockeying for whatever is left to be had.

“Capitalism at its worst,” he said in a telephone interview, as he ticked off items he was finding online. One website was selling a voodoo doll made by Manson for $4,000; a necklace he signed was listed at $10,000; his “prison owned” dentures — which Kahan conceded were “one of a kind!” — required $100,000.

“Manson is still the king of murderabilia,” Kahan added. “They’ve been making money off him for years, and now the opportunity to make a lot more is available.”

Speaking in general, a spokeswoman for the Corrections Department said that after an inmate dies, the agency disposes of anything deemed to be “waste.” Items considered “personal property,” however — such as books, arts and purchased materials — are released to next of kin.

California courts will begin trying to sort out who gets what at a hearing scheduled for Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court. A lawyer has filed a probate petition there on behalf of the purported grandson, Jason L. Freeman, and the man Freeman nominated to serve as the administrator of Manson’s estate, Dale A. Kiken.

Kiken acknowledged there might not actually be much property to fight for.

“You’d anticipate they pretty much have the clothes on his back,” he said of Manson. “But there may be value with some of the things he had.”

Freeman, who lives in Florida, said in a telephone interview that he is most concerned about procuring his grandfather’s remains so he can give him a “proper burial.”

If given the remains, Freeman said, he would invite a small “inner circle” of his grandfather’s friends to a private service, adding that he would spread the ashes himself.

“I’d like to grab ahold of my grandfather’s name and have a little more control over it,” Freeman, 41, said. “Everybody’s had a free-for-all for the past 50 years.”

But court records show that another man — a purported friend, who Freeman said claims to be have been a pen pal of Manson’s — has filed court documents objecting to the hearing in Los Angeles. Records show that the man, Michael A. Channels, filed a purported will in Kern County, about 130 miles north of Los Angeles. He has also petitioned the court in Kern County to allow him to administer Manson’s estate; the court has said Kern County is not the proper venue.

Attempts to reach Channels were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for the Kern County coroner’s office — which took the body because the Corrections Department did not have a cold storage facility — said Freeman, Channels and one other party have made competing claims for Manson’s remains.

The other party consists of Benjamin Gurecki, of Illinois, and Matthew Robert Lentz, who lives in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles, according to Walters, Freeman and court documents.

Walters and Freeman said Lentz claims to be Manson’s son and to have a will. The exact relationship between Manson and Gurecki was not clear, but Freeman called him an “acquaintance” of Manson who had also done work for him.

Attempts to reach Lentz and Gurecki were unsuccessful. But Gurecki told The Los Angeles Times recently that the entire ordeal had been like “a circus.”

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