Birthday: May 7, 1948
Died At Age: 61
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Susan Denise Atkins
Born in: San Gabriel, California
Notorious As: Murderer
Spouse/Ex-: Donald Lee Laisure (m. 1981–1982), James W. Whitehouse (m. 1987–2009)
father: Edward John Atkins
mother: Jeanette Atkins
children: Zezozose Zadfrack Glutz
Died on: September 24, 2009
place of death: Central California Women's Facility, Chowchilla, California
Susan Denise Atkins was an American criminal and member of the ‘Manson Family.’ Led by Charles Manson, the members of the ‘Manson Family’ committed a series of murders in the summer of 1969. Atkins had a troubled childhood as both her parents were alcoholics. She lost her mother to cancer when she was 15 years old. She dropped out of high school to support herself when her father abandoned her and her brothers. She took up odd jobs before committing armed robberies along with two escaped convicts whom she met at a local coffee shop. After serving 90 days in jail, she became a topless dancer. She later quit her job and joined Charles Manson’s group. Manson was an American criminal, cult leader, and musician who formed the ‘Manson Family.’ He had a profound effect on Atkins. A series of nine murders were committed by Manson’s followers in California. Atkins was convicted for her association in eight of these murders, including the ‘Tate murders’ that gained international attention. Atkins received death sentence which was commuted to life imprisonment. She spent almost 40 years in prison which made her the longest-serving female inmate in California at the time.
Childhood & Early Life
Susan Denise Atkins was born on May 7, 1948, in San Gabriel, California, US. She was born to Jeanette and Edward John Atkins. She attended ‘Leigh High School’ in San Jose and was later enrolled at ‘Los Banos High School.’
Atkins called her parents alcoholics. She lost her mother to cancer in 1963 which was followed by a series of hardships including the gradual breakup of her family, frequent relocations, altercations with her father, living with different relatives, and finally dropping out of high school. She left home and moved to San Francisco to start an independent life.
After leaving home, she took up odd jobs including that of a waitress at a coffee shop. While working at the coffee shop, she met two escaped convicts with whom she committed several robberies. She eventually landed in jail for 90 days when she was convicted of armed robberies. Following her jail term, Atkins became a topless dancer for a show called the ‘Witches' Sabbath.’
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Meeting Charles Manson
Atkins was introduced to Charles Manson in 1967, by a group of friends. When the police raided the house where Atkins and her friends were staying, Atkins became homeless. Subsequently, Manson invited Atkins to join his group. Atkins was nicknamed ‘Sadie Mae Glutz’ at the time of creating her fake ID.
Manson established himself as the leader of a commune in San Francisco. His group, ‘The Manson Family,’ was formed in California. The group had many young women from middle-class backgrounds. Atkins, a member of the group, later mentioned that Manson’s followers believed that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ as claimed by him.
The group established a base at Spahn Ranch in Los Angeles County, California. While living in Spahn Ranch, Atkins gave birth to a son on October 7, 1968. Atkins lost parental rights over her son when she became a murder convict. Atkins’ son was later adopted as none of Atkins’ relatives assumed responsibility for the child. Atkins had no contact with her son after her incarceration in 1969.
Crimes with the Manson Family
Police suspected Manson and his commune of auto thefts during the summer of 1969. Hence Manson planned to shift his base from Spahn Ranch to a desert. To raise the money required to shift his base, Manson encouraged his followers to sell illegal drugs. During this time, Manson was informed that an old friend of his named Gary Hinman had inherited a large sum of money. Manson then tried to convince Hinman to join his group, hoping that Hinman would contribute with the inherited money.
On July 25, 1969, Atkins, Mary Brunner, and Bobby Beausoleil were sent to Hinman’s home. Hinman was tortured to shell out the inherited money. When Hinman said that he had not inherited any money he was beaten severely by Beausoleil. Subsequently, Manson showed up in person and severely wounded Hinman. Gary Hinman was finally stabbed to death by Beausoleil a couple of days later. Bobby Beausoleil was arrested on August 7.
On August 8, 1969, Manson instructed Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel to follow the orders of a man named Charles ‘Tex’ Watson. Watson led the group to invade the home of celebrity couple, director Roman Polanski and actress Sharon Tate. Watson carried out the murder of Sharon and four of her visitors, namely Steven Parent, Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Abigail Folger. Sharon was eight months pregnant at the time of her murder. Before leaving the house, Atkins wrote ‘PIG’ on the front door with Sharon’s blood.
Not satisfied with the modus operandi of the killings, Manson wanted to show his followers ‘how it’s done.’ On August 10, 1969, he took Atkins and some of his other followers to the home of Leno LaBianca who owned a grocery store in Los Feliz. He then murdered LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. After the couple was murdered, Manson instructed his followers to leave writings in blood. He then asked them to hitchhike their way back to Spahn Ranch.
In her autobiography ‘Child of Satan, Child of God’ (1977), Atkins mentioned that the group carried out the killings to convince the authorities that Beausoleil had been wrongly convicted for the murder of Gary Hinman. However, during the trial of the murders, it was said that Manson’s intention to trigger ‘Helter Skelter’ was the motive behind the killings.
Arrest, Trials & Conviction
Members of the ‘Manson Family’ were arrested in October 1969 from their Barker Ranch location on auto theft charges. While serving her sentence in prison, Atkins told about her participation in the Tate and LaBianca murders to two middle-aged women whom she had befriended in jail. The confession led to the arrests of others who had participated in the murders.
The most striking part of the trial proceedings was that Atkins and her co-defendants neither showed any remorse nor had any concern for their future. They sang songs written by Manson while entering the courtroom and made attempts to disrupt the proceedings. On March 29, 1971, Atkins was given death sentence which was later commuted to life imprisonment.
Life in Prison, Death & Legacy
According to Atkins, she became a born-again Christian in 1974 after having a vision of Christ in her cell. While serving her sentence, Atkins remained involved in various prison programs. She married Donald Lee Laisure on September 2, 1981. She divorced Laisure and married the ‘Harvard Law School’ graduate James W. Whitehouse in 1987. Whitehouse represented Atkins during her parole hearings in 2000 and 2005.
On September 24, 2009, Atkins died at the ‘Central California Women’s Facility’ in Chowchilla. According to a statement released by Whitehouse, the last word that she whispered was ‘Amen.’
In 1976, Nancy Wolfe played Atkins in the made-for-TV film ‘Helter Skelter.’ In 2004, Marguerite Moreau played Atkins in the remake of ‘Helter Skelter.’ In 2003, Atkins was portrayed by Maureen Allisse in the crime horror film ‘The Manson Family.’ Atkins was subsequently played by several other actors in various projects.