In 1971, Charles Manson (“Manson”), the leader of the Manson Family cult, was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of nine people in July and August 1969. He was originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life with the possibility of parole after the suspension of the death penalty under both California and federal law (California's adoption in 1978 of a death penalty that qualified under federal guidelines and the sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole could not be applied retroactively to Manson). After 46 years of incarceration, Manson died on November 19, 2017 of acute cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, and colon cancer. What has ensued, however, is an estate proceeding that has been complicated by a number of factors:
(1) the question as to whether Manson died as a domiciliary of Kern County, California, the location of Corcoran Prison, where Manson was last housed and died, or as a domiciliary of Los Angeles County, the location of the Spahn Ranch, a property used for film productions, Manson's last voluntary residence;
(2) the fact that separate disputes are brewing over the rights to Manson's assets (presumably consisting of the rights to his image, memorabilia, and songs);
(3) the fact that four claimants have come forward as Manson's rightful heir or heirs; and
(4) the fact that two wills have been produced, with evidence produced by an attorney representing the Kern County coroner that Manson told guards at Corcoran that he had no will.
There are four claimants to heirship:
(1) Jason Freeman (“Freeman”), a Florida resident, claims to be Manson's grandson and the son of Charles Manson Jr., who committed suicide in 1993. A DNA test performed on Freeman was negative, and court papers show that Manson denied being related to Freeman. Freeman won the battle as to the legal right to Manson's body; he had the decomposing corpse cremated, and he scattered the ashes after a brief private funeral in March.
(2) Michael Brunner (“Brunner”) claims to be Manson's sole surviving son (a question has arisen as to whether he is Manson's biological son, but there is a possibility that he was adopted by Manson). Brunner's mother is believed to have been a member of the Manson Family, and this has led to the belief that Brunner is indeed Manson's offspring. Brunner was interested in claiming both Manson's body and estate. He lost the battle over Manson's remains, and his later adoption by his maternal grandparents will most likely interfere with his claim to the estate. Also, Brunner's lawyer has filed papers to drop his case.
(3) Michael Lentz (“Lentz”) claims to be Manson's son, having been conceived at an orgy in Wisconsin in 1967. Lentz, a musician, claimed to be interested only in the rights to a particular song written for him by Manson. Lentz tracked down his biological mother and pieced his paternity together; however, it appears that he was adopted, which might preclude his claim as Manson's heir. Moreover, Lentz appeared late for a hearing at the Los Angeles County Court and was given until a July 13, 2018 hearing to show why he should not also be dismissed from the case.
(4) Michael Channels (“Channels”), who befriended Manson by mail more than 30 years before Manson's death and sold his songs and artwork through a website, claims to be the sole beneficiary of the estate under a will that he has filed, naming him as executor. Two problems arise with this will: (a) Channels has a conflict of interest in that the purported will names him as both sole beneficiary and as one of the witnesses—this does not violate California probate law but shifts the burden of proof to Channels to show the absence of undue influence, fraud, and duress; and (b) the date of the witnesses' signatures predates the date of the will's execution. Channels also claimed Manson's remains but was defeated in that regard by Manson's purported grandson, Freeman.
Channels claims that Manson sent him a last will and testament about 15 years ago, awarding him the entire estate. Channels operates a website presenting Manson's photos, writings, and stories.
A man from Santa Monica says he is in possession of another final will and testament executed by Manson. The man's colleague claims to be Manson’s biological son. Neither has filed court documents as of this report.
In a later development, Los Angeles judge, Clifford Klein, in a ruling on July 13, 2018, eliminated the two purported sons and narrowed the case down to the purported grandson, Freeman, and the memorabilia collector and pen pal, Channels.
Joseph Serna, Fight over Charles Manson's estate will take place in Los Angeles County, judge rules, L.A. Now, Jan. 26, 2018,
Brian Melley, Purported son of Charles Manson drops out of estate fight, USA Today, May 8, 2018,
Stephanie Becker, Judge decides grandson will get Charles Manson's body, CNN, Mar. 13, 2018,
The Flanigan Law Group (Blog), Several Claims Filed for Probate of Charles Manson's Estate,