Even in death, Charles Manson is troublesome.
A month after the mass murderer died in a Bakersfield, Calif., hospital, several people claim his remains. This has put the final disposition of Manson in limbo, setting the stage for a macabre and unusual legal battle.
With so many parties competing for the body, Kern County lawyers filed paperwork in Los Angeles County Superior Court in hopes of determining who should receive the remains.
The Kern County coroner doesn’t want to release the remains to the wrong person and end up getting sued, the county attorney said.
“This is a really weird legal case,” said Bryan Walters, a deputy attorney in the Kern County counsel’s office. “We’ve had pen pals that claim they have written wills. It’s like a circus, and nothing is clear where we should hang our hat on.”
Kern County became the custodian of Manson’s body by chance — he just happened to die in its jurisdiction.
“We have the following problem we’re trying to cope with here: The Department of Corrections asked the Kern County Coroner to receive the body because we have refrigeration and they don’t,” Walters said. “When we received it, we thought no one would claim the body. We assumed it would be an easy matter to take care of.”
But this is Charles Manson, the mastermind of the gory rampage that claimed the life of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others on two August nights in Los Angeles in 1969.
A grandson in Florida and pen pals in California and Illinois all say they have a right to the remains. Two men who say they are Manson’s sons — one in Van Nuys, the other in Wisconsin — could also stake a claim, according to Kern County attorneys.
Ben Gurecki is one of those people. Gurecki lives in Illinois and maintains a website dedicated to his correspondence with Manson and the killer’s music. His YouTube channel, Manson’s Underworld Productions, includes videos of Gurecki talking about Manson and listening to recordings of his phone conversations with the killer.
Gurecki said he is working with Matthew Robert Lentz, who says he’s one of Manson’s sons, to bury him. Lentz, of Van Nuys, has claimed that the killer sent him a signed will giving him his entire estate.
“It’s a circus. It shouldn’t even be a question. He’s got a son, his son has got the will,” Gurecki said Friday. “We want to give him a proper burial.”
Another person who appears ready to stake a claim is Michael Channels of Los Angeles County, according to the Kern County court filing. Channels runs the website Mansonsbackporch.com, an online museum dedicated to the killer on which he posts images and recordings going back more than 40 years.
Soon after Manson’s death, the celebrity news site TMZ reported that it had obtained a copy of a last will and testament from Channels signed by Manson and stamped “Charles Manson AUTHENTIC.” It’s unclear whether the will is authentic.
Channels did not respond to a request for comment.
Walters, the Kern County counsel, said the only court filing he’s found regarding Manson’s remains belongs to Jason Freeman, Manson’s reported grandson in Florida.
In Freeman’s petition, filed in Los Angeles County through two intermediaries he hired to handle the case, he provides his birth certificate and a judgment of entry from 1986 that shows he is the son of Charles Millis Manson Jr.
Freeman’s father killed himself in 1993. He has taken it upon himself to do what he says is right by his grandfather.
“I think of my father. My father would do the same steps that I’m doing to bury his father,” he said. “Blood is thicker than water and the roots run deep. I’m a fighter, I’ve always been a fighter and I know my grandfather has been too.”
Freeman said if he were given Manson’s estate and his body, he would try to reverse the pop-culture tide that has raised his grandfather’s legacy to iconic status.
He would cremate Manson’s body, spread the ashes in a small, private service and not disclose the location to anyone.
“It’s not fair to the victims of this situation,” he said. “It causes a ripple effect. It moved from my grandfather’s generation into my father’s generation and into my generation. I hope through the course of time to tell the other side.”
Before finding out who gets Manson’s corpse, officials must determine the venue for that court battle, Walters said.
The proper jurisdiction for administering a decedent’s estate is the county where they were “domiciled,” according to state health and safety code.
“What is the domicile of Charles Manson? He would’ve returned to Los Angeles? He could’ve been shipped everywhere by the prison system. Is it where he was housed?” Walters said.
Manson lived in Los Angeles County before he was imprisoned and was arrested in Death Valley, in Inyo County. He was incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison, in Kings County. He died Nov. 19 at age 83 in a Kern County hospital.
Santa Ana-based attorney Alan Davis filed the petition on behalf of Freeman in Los Angeles this month. Davis said he’s not surprised others are seeking to claim Manson’s estate.
“I’m sure there will be more. People will come out of the woodwork whenever someone famous dies,” he said. “I didn’t really expect that we were going to make a lot of money out of it. It’s just like any other probate to me.”
Walters said his office is considering seeking a court order to determine who should get Manson’s body. That request would be filed in Kern County because that’s where the body is stored.
“The corpse is here, so that court should have jurisdiction,” he said. “Of course, I can’t find any case law. It kind of follows the general feel of jurisdiction.”