They all wanted the corpse.
For four months, while Charles Manson’s remains stayed on ice under a fake name in a California coroner’s officer, a local court heard arguments on behalf of at least four parties seeking the right to send off the notorious cult leader.
There was the serial killer memorabilia collector Michael Channels.
And there was Michael Brunner, who claimed he was Manson’s son with an early cult member.
Another claimant, a Los Angeles musician named Matthew Lentz, said he was conceived by Manson at a 1967 orgy.
And finally, came Manson’s grandson, Jason Freeman, a former mixed martial arts fighter from Florida who recently appeared in a Facebook Live video alongside a puppet version of the murderer. “We’re going to do things as a family with Grandpa,” he said in the video as his own young son dangled the puppet, which featured wild hair and a swastika on its forehead. “There’s nothing wrong with that . . . finally, I get to take him fishing. Finally.”
Untangling the claims – which were complicated by issues of paternity as well as two dubious wills – was Kern County Superior Court Commissioner Alisa Knight.
On Monday evening, Knight made a decision, determining grandson Freeman was Manson’s “surviving competent adult next of kin,” according to a written ruling.
Although the decision settles the question of who will take possession of Manson’s body, it is only the first act in the courtroom tussles to come. A court in Los Angeles is scheduled to hear arguments regarding the control of Manson’s actual estate.
Manson – who was serving a life sentence for his role in a two-night killing spree carried out by his followers in 1969, terrifying the nation and deflating the idealism of the Flower Power generation – died on Nov. 19 at 83. The death put local officials in an odd place. Where would the body go?
“It’s unusual for the coroner to be in this situation,” Kern County Attorney Bryan Walters recently told the Daily Beast.
The issue arose in part because of the competing wills. According to the decision released this week, the first document was lodged by Channels, who had been a pen pal and friend of Manson’s for 30 years.
“Really, I’m the only one who knew what Charlie wanted,” he told the Daily Beast. “We talked about a lot of things. A lot of things wouldn’t work though. Like being buried in Hollywood Cemetery with a big old shrine. But that wouldn’t work. Plus I ain’t got the money for that and neither did he.”
According to this week’s ruling, the will was problematic. Signed in February 2002, the two-page document named Channels as Manson’s sole beneficiary. But Channels was also one of the witnesses to the will. He signed as a witness four days before Manson purportedly executed the document. “[U]nless there are at least two other subscribing witnesses to the will who are disinterested witnesses,” the ruling stated, under the law there is a suggestion that the witness may have procured the document “by duress, menace, fraud or undue influence.”
A second will dated January 2017 was filed by Lentz, who, according to the New York Post, claimed he was conceived by Manson at an orgy in 1967. Lentz’s mother, Terry Bruegger, put him up for adoption one week after his birth. The ruling noted: “Lentz has not provided any documentation to demonstrate that he is a child of” Manson. “No DNA test results were provided.”
Brunner, another claimant, was Manson’s child with Mary Brunner, one of the members of Manson’s cult. Brunner showed evidence he was the murderer’s actual child. But he was later adopted by his maternal grandparents without Manson’s consent, the ruling states. Brunner’s and Lentz’s adoptions are significant because they cut them off from the right to be an heir to a birthparent under California law.
That left Freeman.
He was the only child of Manson’s son (Charles Manson Jr.) from his first marriage to Rosalie Willis. Although the couple divorced in 1958, Charles Manson Jr. later changed his name to Charles Jay White. He committed suicide in June 1993, leaving behind one son – Jason Freeman.
“I’ve always known who my grandfather was, from as far back as I can remember,” Freeman told Rolling Stone recently. The two never met in person but developed a relationship over the phone during Manson’s last decade.
“I am a grandson working to take the proper steps to show my respect to my grandfather and his true close friends,” he added to the magazine. “I’m not only doing this for me.”
Manson’s longtime friend Channels told the Associated Press he was disappointed with the decision. “All I wanted to do was take the dude’s ashes and dump them in the desert where he wanted.”