Susan Atkins has died in prison at age 61. Atkins was infamous for her role in the Charles Manson "Helter Skelter" murders of August 1969. The victims included actress Sharon Tate, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Hollywood hairdresser Jay Sebring and others. Most of the victims were stabbed to death in one of the most heinous crimes in California history. The crime scene photos can be viewed here. (Note: These are not for the squeamish.)
Charles Manson and some of his followers were convicted of the murders and all but one sentenced to die in California's gas chamber. However, their lives were spared in 1970 when the California Supreme Court vacated all death penalties pending a restructuring of the law. Susan Atkins then moved from death row to a life in prison.
Over the next 38 years Susan Atkins was a model prisoner, taught and counseled other prisoners, became religious and painted some stunning artwork. Her personal webpage can be viewed here. Her site hints at a life that could have been happy, useful and productive, but for those horrible crimes.
Susan Atkins had brain cancer and last applied for parole at the beginning of this month (September 2009). Her parole was denied. See my previous post on Susan Atkins here.
The Manson followers illustrate the dangers of group-think and slavishly following a single charismatic leader. Subordinating oneself to the dictates of a fanatic can lead to tragic results.
The Los Angeles Times has more at this link.