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Charles Manson's remains will go to purported grandson, judge rules

  • Author: Matthew Haag, The New York Times
  • Updated: March 13
  • Published March 13

Charles Manson is pictured in this July 16, 2011 handout photo from the California Department of Corrections.

Jason L. Freeman, a purported grandson of Charles Manson, claimed in court papers that he was the notorious killer's true heir.

He wanted to give him a proper burial, Freeman said in a recent interview, noting that he would invite a small "inner circle" of his grandfather's friends to a private funeral service and then spread his ashes over water.

Now, it appears, Freeman will get that chance.

In a messy legal battle over Manson's remains and belongings, a judge in Kern County, California, ruled Monday that Freeman, a Florida man who had claimed that his father was Manson's son, was the "surviving competent adult next of kin." Three other men who had also staked claims — a purported friend who said he filed Manson's will in court; and two people, including a purported son, who filed a joint petition — could not refute Freeman's assertion, the judge said.

Freeman, who could not be reached for comment Monday evening, said in an interview in January: "I'd like to grab ahold of my grandfather's name and have a little more control over it. Everybody's had a free-for-all for the past 50 years."

The ruling on Monday capped the first part of what has become a complicated tug-of-war over what Manson left behind, which some have speculated would probably not be much beyond his body. The order, which was issued by Judge Alisa R. Knight of the Bakersfield Division of the Superior Court of California, addressed only who could take Manson's body, which has been held in a storage facility in Kern County since his death at 83 on Nov. 19 while serving a sentence of life in prison.

Dale A. Kiken, a lawyer for Freeman, said the ruling would bring closure to Freeman. He said his client had struggled with his family's history, saying that Freeman's father, Charles Manson Jr., who killed himself in 1993, was also not someone he admired.

"He's trying to deal with that in his own way, and part of that is bringing part of the episode to a close," Kiken said in an interview Monday night. "That's a pretty big burden."

The second part of the legal battle, over the heir to Manson's personal belongings, was expected to continue in Los Angeles Superior Court this week.

Throughout his life, Manson acquired a bizarre celebrity status, attracting fanatical followers, pen pals and collectors of his jail-cell creations. In some ways, the legal battle after his death has mirrored Manson's mystifying grip on American pop culture that he held long after the brutal killings by his followers, known as the Tate-LaBianca murders, on two consecutive nights in August 1969.

"There is a lot of notoriety around Manson, and there still remains a cadre of peoples who hold him in high esteem," Kiken said.

The first person who filed a claim for Manson's remains was Michael Channels, a longtime pen pal with him, who said the killer gave him a will in 2002 that left everything to Channels. But Knight wrote in her ruling that the will presented by Channels did not meet California's legal requirements.

The other petition was filed by Benjamin Gurecki and Matthew Lentz and claimed that Lentz was Manson's son. But because Lentz was adopted after he was born, he forfeited any relationship with his biological parents, Knight ruled.

Kiken said Freeman planned to travel to California within the next week to receive Manson's body. In the meantime, the next legal phase moves to Los Angeles, where the same four men have made claims for his belongings.

But it is unclear what Manson, who was sentenced to prison in 1971 on seven counts of first-degree murder, left to be collected.

"What has a guy who has been in jail for 50 years have to his name?" Kiken said. "I couldn't begin to value what is there."

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