Manson follower Susan Atkins dies in prison
Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff and News Services
Saturday, September 26, 2009
CHOWCHILLA, MADERA COUNTY -- Susan Atkins, the Charles Manson follower and convicted murderer who lost her last chance at parole this month, died Thursday at the women's prison in Chowchilla (Madera County), state corrections officials said.
She was 61 and had been suffering from brain cancer.
Ms. Atkins was convicted of seven murders committed in the summer of 1969, including the stabbing of actress Sharon Tate, who was 8 1/2 months pregnant.
The bodies of Tate, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring were discovered Aug. 9, 1969, in the home Tate shared with her husband, film director Roman Polanski. He was not at home at the time of the slayings.
Ms. Atkins admitted she had stabbed Tate to death as Tate begged for her life and that of her unborn son. Ms. Atkins said she and other cult followers acted on orders from Manson and were on LSD.
She was sentenced to death, but her sentence was changed to life imprisonment when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 1972. The death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Between 1976 and this year, Ms. Atkins was denied parole 13 times. The state parole board rejected her final bid on Sept. 2, after Ms. Atkins had undergone a cancer-related leg amputation.
Parole Commissioner Tim O'Hara said that he and the other commissioner who presided over the hearing, Jan Enloe, based their decision on the "atrocious nature" of the 1969 killings and said that Ms. Atkins never fully understood the magnitude of her crimes.
Ms. Atkins was incarcerated at the California Institution for Women at Corona (Riverside County) for 37 years. She was transferred to a community hospital on March 18, 2008, before moving to the Chowchilla prison's nursing center exactly a year before her death.
Of all the women in prison in California, Ms. Atkins had been behind bars the longest, authorities said.
E-mail Henry K. Lee at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page C - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle