In the summer of 1969, Susan Atkins stabbed to death a pregnant Sharon Tate a gruesome 16 times at Tate’s Benedict Canyon mansion. Later, Atkins told fellow inmate and Beverly Hills matchmaker Virginia Graham that the 26-year-old actress begged for her life and the life of her unborn child.
“She told me this thing with great glee,” said Graham who shared a dorm room with Atkins at the Sybil Brand Institute for Women in the fall of 1969. After killing Tate, prosecutors said Atkins tasted the actress' blood and used it to scrawl “PIG” on her front door. On that dreadful night, the Manson Family also killed Abigail Ann Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Steven R. Parent, and Jay Sebring.
The following day, on August 10, members of the Manson family – excluding Atkins – bludgeoned to death Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary at their home in the Los Feliz hills. Atkins, then 22, was convicted of killing Tate and music teacher Gary Hinman. Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were soon charged with the other grisly murders.
Susan Atkins in 2001
Manson had preached of an apocalyptic race war he said was predicted in the Beatles song “Helter Skelter.” His followers including Atkins believed they would eventually control the United States — if they performed heinous crimes for Manson.
Almost 40 years later, Atkins, now 59, is asking for “compassionate release.” Atkins, who is dying from brain cancer, is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole, making her eligible for release.
Graham, who later became a key witness in the prosecution's case against Atkins, told the LA Weekly in a recent interview that she remembered Atkins as a “young silly ass teenager” who felt no remorse for the brutal attack on Tate.
Asked if Atkins should be released? “Absolutely not,” said Graham. “Why should she?…She murdered in cold blood a woman who was going to have a baby. I will never forget the joy and glee when she was telling me how it was done.”
In the fall of 1969, after being arrested for the murder of music teacher Gary Hinman, Atkins was moved to Sybil Brand Institute for Women. On the same day, Graham, in her late 30's, was moved into the same dorm. Graham was in jail for writing a bad check, and violating her parole.
“When I first saw [Atkins] she was doing cartwheels up and down the aisle,” said Graham, now 75. “She was in a total state of happiness. Truthfully I thought she was in for a drug bust.”
The two women were given jobs as “runners,” carrying messages back and forth to the prison guards. When there wasn't a lot of work, the girls would sit around and talk.
“I asked her what she was in for,” said Graham. “I thought she would say possession of marijuana. She said murder. The next day or day after that is when she plopped herself down on the cot and started talking about murders up in Benedict Canyon. She said, ‘Well you know who did it don't you?' I said no. She said, 'you are looking at her.' I didn't believe her. [But] I was nosy enough to question her.”
Atkins obliged. “She was somewhat proud,” added Graham. “She believed by killing these people that she was sending them to another world and that you really had to love them to kill them.”
Atkins in 2005
After the sensational murder trial, Graham moved to Hawaii to change her life around. She said she opened up a health spa and became an art broker. Atkins became a model prisoner, married a lawyer, and became a born again Christian at the California Institution for Women where she lived for 37 years until she was hospitalized on March 18.
“A doctor determined [Atkins] needs to be in the hospital,” said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Terry Thornton. “At this point, she is too sick to go back to prison.”
The California Institute for Women approved her request for “compassionate release” last month. However, her bid for release must still be approved by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the state Board of Parole, and then by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.
It is a long shot. Only 10 inmates out of 60 were granted “compassionate release” by a judge in 2007. If she is granted compassionate release, Atkins healthcare expenses are no longer the responsibility of the state.
As it stands now, the former waitress and topless dancer will probably not be alive by the time her request even reaches a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. She will most likely die in a hospital room at taxpayers expense far away from the prison cell where she was housed for so many years.
“I know she was young,” said Graham about Atkins. “But this born again stuff. They all find Jesus when they go to jail. I am not a cold lady…but this was so terrible. Why in the world should she be given any compassion? What goes around in life comes around. I wonder what Sharon Tate must have gone through. I have no empathy for this one at all. Hasta la vista baby.”