Star Power: Charles Manson Is Engaged

It’s been a big year for celebrity weddings: George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and, soon, Charles Manson and a woman named Star. Oh, you didn’t hear? Twenty-six-year-old Afton Elaine Burton, who now goes by Star, is living every girl’s dream of getting engaged to an 80-year-old convicted murderer. Maybe she got tired of waiting around for babelier serial killer Night Stalker Richard Ramirez, who died on death row last year at the age of 53. Somewhat predictably, Star looks like Lana Del Rey crossed with Shelley Duvall and runs a Manson fan website. She has lived in Corcoran, California, for nearly a decade; she moved there to be closer to the imprisoned Charlie. Burton’s mother has given the union her blessing, saying the couple share an interest in “environmentalism.” She thinks “he does” really love her daughter. Yes, for Charles Manson, love is in the Air, Trees, Water, and Animals.

Star claims to believe that Manson is innocent, a view shared by Manson fanatics who like to point out that Manson didn’t carry out the Tate/LaBianca murders himself but just convinced a bunch of loyal semi-brainwashed followers to murder some people for him. Manson went to jail on charges of conspiracy, since he was the mastermind behind the plot, but his fingerprints were not on the knife per se. Manson family members Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Tex Watson, who carried out the murder of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four of her friends as well as the murders of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, are in jail. The third-most famous Manson girl, Susan Atkins, died in jail in 2009.

What is particularly, toxically, and timelessly fascinating about the Manson Family saga, including its new chapter, is that it blends traditional Los Angeles new age spiritualism with sinister intentions. Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan was just into orgies, not murdering! The Manson murders signaled a bitter end for ’60s utopian idealism. The counterculture created its own counter-problems. Manson certainly isn’t the first charismatic charlatan to psychically exploit damaged people, but he was the first one to do so under a perceived tie-dye flag, which forever damaged the peace-and-love reputation of hippies, communes, and the Beach Boys. Manson studied Scientology in prison in the ’50s, and he may have applied some of its concepts toward creating his own extreme cult. Manson’s followers were predominantly young women with histories of sexual abuse who willingly adopted Manson as their new father figure. He was far from the only would-be guru milling around Southern California in the ’60s; part of the freakiness was in how many famous upscale bohemians Manson had brushed shoulders with in the L.A. hills just before the murders took place. The shocking murder of beautiful, pregnant movie star Sharon Tate was a spontaneous decision; the killers had come for Terry Melcher. But it was Manson’s thwarted desire for fame (owed to him by Melcher) that fueled the murders, and the association of Tate with the Manson Family made the case notorious. Sociopathic narcissist Manson became permanently infamous worldwide, just like he’d always dreamed. His swastika-emblazoned forehead and crazy-eyed face is as recognizably iconic as any film star’s visage. Hence the New Hollywood downer ending to the 1960s: the 1970s.

But Charles Manson was never really that unconventional to begin with. He was merely a faddist. He adopted hippie fashions because that was what was popular. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the onetime practitioner of polyamory would end up in a regular old monogamous marriage to a woman he met through the Internet. How very simultaneously modern and retrograde of him. The marriage will be unconventional in at least one respect: It will remain unconsummated. Manson is not allowed conjugal visits, so there will be no more baby Mansons.

What’s sad about Star’s worship and pursuit of Manson is that it plays right into Manson’s early strategy: He really did become the biggest rock star of the serial killer world. He’s still attracting young and lissome groupies, even in his old age.1 Even with him behind bars and out of the spotlight for decades, nothing can dim his cult of fame. Young Charlie Manson “fans” like Star thrive on a nostalgia for an era they didn’t have to live through, romanticizing the brutal, disgusting murders of innocent people. The pitiable part about Star’s infatuation with Manson is how predictable it is. For every unrepentant sociopath, there is some sad person who thinks that unrepentant sociopaths just need care and affection. Maybe the secret message of “Helter Skelter” is “All You Need Is Love.”

Filed Under: Weddings, charles manson, manson murders, Los Angeles, prison wedding, Afton Elaine Burton

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert