For decades it has been suspected that cult leader Charles Manson and his “family” were responsible for more murders than the nine for which they were convicted.
Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra, has been scrambling to find other possible victims of Manson and his evil minions in the summer of 1969.
Debra was only 16 when Sharon was brutally stabbed and choked to death by members of the Manson family at her Beverly Hills home.
Sharon was eight months pregnant when she died with four others.
Manson and his cult members were charged with the murders, many of whom were sentenced to death before being commuted to life imprisonment.
Since then, many have wondered if there were more victims.
Other Manson-related cases include an alleged suicide by a Manson supporter’s friend in England; the drowning of an attorney Manson declared in the middle of his trial that he “never” wanted to see again; and a man killed during a game of Russian roulette with family members present.
In addition, the Manson family is suspected by some to be involved in the stabbings of two young women on Mulholland Drive and a few young Scientologists, among many other unsolved murders, which met similarly grisly ends.
Manson himself has repeatedly claimed that there were more victims, and even once boasted to his cellmate that he was solely responsible for 35 murders, although the identities of these apparent victims were never disclosed.
Also, Susan Atkins, one of the Manson followers involved in the murders, is reported to have boasted to her cellmate shortly after her arrest that there were “three people in the desert they did it to,” though never bodies have appeared.
More rumors swirled about hitchhikers visiting the Manson family ranch and never being seen again, and runaways drifting into camp and being killed after falling from grace — but again, there’s no concrete evidence of that allegations surfaced.
Debra reached out to Manson while he was still behind bars at Corcoran State Prison in central California, and to her surprise, said she received a response.
“Charles Manson’s letter just rattled along as did he,” Debra said of the tedious scrawl she allegedly received from the killer.
“He wrote about how he was an outlaw and that he lived by the rules of the outlaws, which means he would never betray any of his brothers and sisters, even though some of them did to him.
“But he drew me a little picture that was an exact replica of the Panamint Mountains, the range surrounding Barker Ranch where Manson hid after the murders and was eventually captured,” Debra said.
“There was also what at first glance looked like a sun rising over the hills, but when you looked closer it was actually a little picture of Charlie because he had a little ‘X’ on his forehead.”
Also in the foreground of the hand-drawn sketch were small X-marks, which Debra believes could be burial sites for other Manson family victims.
“I think that was his way of speaking to me and answering my questions while staying true to his own doctrine of living the life of an outlaw,” she said.
At the urging of Debra and others, excavations have already been conducted at Manson’s Barker Ranch, although no human remains have been found.
Debra was involved in a 2008 dig around the ranch after she, an off-duty police detective, and forensic scientists found what they believed to be evidence of two, maybe three, human graves linked to the Manson cult stand.
The potential burial sites were located using highly trained tracker dogs and ground-sensing equipment and radar, which were used to detect signs of backfilled holes in the ground.
In May of this year, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department and the National Park Service approved excavations of only up to 3-4 feet at Barker Ranch, but nothing was found.
At the time, Debra and her detective team felt the officers simply hadn’t dug deep enough.
A second unsuccessful dig took place in 2014 at the former Manson hangout, although Debra is certain there are more victims of the cult buried out there.
FIGHT FOR JUSTICE
Today, Debra says she tries to remember her sister’s way of life rather than the tragic and violent circumstances in which she was killed.
“It was a daily duty to avoid the horror on the front pages of the newspapers when Sharon was killed,” Debra said, “but I wanted to remember the good — and now that’s all I remember.”
“I remember she would take me out with her teenage friends well after bedtime because my mom trusted her, Sharon bought me my first horse… or when she took me to the park and let me sit on the bench next to her while she spoke to a young suitor.
“I remember all of those things,” Debra added. “I’ve pretty much tried never to bring the horrible reality into my daily consciousness.
“In other words, I don’t want it to rob me of all the good memories I have with her.”
To keep the memory of her older sister alive, Debra has dedicated the last few decades of her life to petitioning to keep the remaining members of the Manson cult behind bars through her website noparoleformansonfamily.com.
The 69-year-old also supports other traumatized families.
It was Debra’s mother, Doris, who first started the effort. Doris was recovering from years of depression after hearing that a family member of Manson’s was applying for parole.
She collected 350,000 signatures and helped keep the killer in prison.
Doris also successfully lobbied to change state laws to ensure the right of victims’ family members to testify during sentencing and the parole hearing.
Doris Tate died in 1992. Her youngest daughter Patti followed her after a battle with cancer in 2000, and now Debra, who is also battling the disease, is attending the parole hearings alone.
“I will continue to fight like hell to make sure these people stay behind bars,” Debra said.
“My mother asked me to continue this work for her, so I will do that.”
Charles Manson died behind bars on November 19, 2017 while serving a life sentence at Corcoran State Prison. He was 83 years old.
“I cried when he died and prayed for his soul,” said Debra von Manson.
“I told God he’s his problem now.”
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