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Susan Denise Atkins (May 7, 1948 September 24, 2009) was a convicted American murderer who was a member of the "Manson family", led by Charles Manson. Manson and his followers committed a series of nine murders at four locations in California, over a period of five weeks in the summer of 1969. Known within the Manson family as Sadie Mae Glutz, Atkins was convicted for her participation in eight of these killings, including the most notorious, the "Tate/LaBianca" murders. She was sentenced to death, which was subsequently commuted to life in prison. Incarcerated from October 1, 1969 until her death a period of time one week shy of exactly 40 years Atkins was the longest-incarcerated female inmate in the California penal system, having been denied parole 18 times.
At trial, the prosecution stated Manson's desire to start "Helter Skelter" (an apocalyptic race war) was the motive for the crimes. Initially, Manson told the group that during this war, they would hide in a hole in the desert, and would emerge when the war was over. He said the blacks would win the war, but would be unable to govern and would turn to Manson. In the weeks prior to the murders, Manson began to say that the war wasn't starting fast enough and the group would have to start it by murdering wealthy white people. As evidence for this motive, several witnesses testified to Manson's statements regarding "Helter Skelter" and his obsession with the Beatles' music, and the individuals convicted for the murders have testified at various parole hearings that this was the motive (e.g., Leslie Van Houten testified to this at her 1993 parole hearing). During Beausoleil's trial for the murder of Hinman, the defense, in order to discredit the prosecution's case, argued that the crimes were copycat murders made to misdirect police suspicion away from Beausoleil. The prosecution discounted this claim. In her 1977 autobiography Child of Satan Child of God, Atkins also stated that the Tate/LaBianca murders were carried out to convince authorities that Beausoleil was the wrong suspect in the Hinman case.
In later years, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi stated that he believed the murders had numerous, disparate motives, all of which served to benefit Manson. The home where Tate and Polanski were living with friends was known to Manson and Watson, who had been there once and knew where it was, and Manson knew that wealthy, famous people lived there. One former tenant of the home was Terry Melcher, Doris Day's son, a record producer who Manson believed had made promises to him which had never materialized. Prosecutor Bugliosi suggested Manson may have very briefly encountered the eventual murder victims when he went to the home looking for Melcher and was reportedly turned away by Sharon Tate's photographer.