Infamous serial killer Charles Manson, whose name became synonymous with evil after his arrest in connection with the 1969 killings of actress Sharon Tate and eight other people, has died of natural causes.
He was 83 and serving nine life sentences in California’s Corcoran State Prison at the time of his death.
"I said a prayer for his soul,” Sharon Tate’s sister Debra tells PEOPLE of the moment after she received a call from a prison official informing her of Manson’s death Sunday evening.
A career criminal who spent over half his life in prison before masterminding one of the most notorious mass killing sprees of the 20th century, Manson became the leader of a group of young followers he convinced to murder for him and who became known as the Manson “family.”
The savage slayings shocked and terrified the nation and were part of Manson’s efforts to launch a race war — which he named “Helter Skelter” after the Beatles song.
“Some people glorify him as a sort of master outlaw,” Vincent Bugliosi, who successfully prosecuted the cult leader in 1971, told PEOPLE in 2015. “But he really was nothing more than an evil, very sophisticated con man.”
On Aug. 8, 1969 — having already orchestrated the death of Gary Hinman a month earlier — Manson dispatched three of his female followers to the rented Los Angeles home of pregnant Hollywood star Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski, and ordered them to kill everyone there.
L.A. police officers who arrived at the hilltop home the next morning stumbled upon a scene of unimaginable brutality that unnerved even the most hardened homicide detectives. At the property at 10050 Cielo Drive were five bodies, including that of Tate, 26, who was eight-months pregnant. She had been stabbed 16 times and had an “X” carved into her stomach.
The next night, Manson ordered his followers to kill again: They descended upon the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and murdered the couple. The word “war” was carved into Leno’s stomach and “Helter Skelter” was scrawled on the couple’s refrigerator in blood.
The murders terrified the residents of L.A., who flocked to gun stores to purchase unprecedented numbers of firearms for protection. The sale of burglar alarms skyrocketed.
Two months later, Manson — who at the time referred to himself as “God” — was arrested after he was found hiding in a bathroom cabinet at a ramshackle ranch in Death Valley, California. Between the Tate-LaBianca killings and Manson’s arrest, he and some of his followers killed again, murdering Donald “Shorty” Shea in late August 1969.
The nation quickly became both fascinated and sickened by the case, which grew even stranger and more macabre as details behind the killers slowly began to emerge.
After a nine-month trial, Manson was sentenced to death in 1971 for conspiracy to commit seven murders. The sentence was reduced to life in prison one year later when California abolished the death penalty.