Susan Atkins aka Sadie Mae Glutz: 1948 – 2009




1948 – 2009

“I understand this, and my life doesn’t mean that much to me, I just want to see what is taken care of.” – Susan Atkins upon her arrest in 1969.

Susan Atkins', aka Sadie Mae Gultz, mug-shot from her 1969 arrest for the murder of seven people, including actress Sharon Tate.

It’s hard to forget Susan Atkins.  The images of her twisted smile, her glazed eyes and her haunting giggles has chilled us to the bone since her arrest in connection to the vicious Tate/LaBianca murders in 1969 as part of the infamous Manson Family.  However, on September 24th Atkins’ laughter was silenced, her eyes closed and she drew her final breath.  At age 61 Atkins ended a long battle with brain cancer.

Why remember Susan Atkins?  Why take the time to pay homage to a woman who helped commit one of the cruelest and most memorable murderers of the 20th Century.  Why show sympathy or remorse for a killer?  Well, along the pop culture journey we come across a lot of figures, both good and evil.  However, every now and then we come across a figure that is colored in many shades of grey.  Susan Atkins was a controversial figure.  Although famed for her crimes, she spent more of her lifetime aiding people.  However, no matter how many people she helped or counseled, she could not erase the memories of the evil acts that she committed in 1969.  I am not here to make judgment upon Susan Atkins.  I am not going to say that she was a good person or a bad person.  I am not here to say that there is a special place in hell where her soul will rest, nor that she will finally find peace and forgiveness in death.  But, I will argue that Susan Atkins was much more then a killer.  Most of us remember the beautiful girl who sang on her way to the court room, but what do we know about who she was, or who she became?  Whether she was evil or not, Susan Atkins was a human being.  She lived, she breathed, she loved, she laughed, she cried.  She was a runaway, a mother, a prisoner, a wife, a social worker, a student, a friend and a Christian.  She had many faces and many sides and, like all of us, made mistakes.  However, her mistakes were much bigger then most, and for it she paid the price.

Susan Atkins was like many nineteen year old girls when she ran away to San Francisco in 1966.  The daughter of alcoholic parents and abandoned by her father after her mother’s death, Susan did what she could to survive.  She worked a number of jobs including that of a secretary, office girl and topless dancer.  However, the bright lights, free love and psychedelic drugs of Haight-Ashbury during the summer of love was calling her name, and like many teenagers, Susan got in with a bad crowd.  However, unlike most teenagers, Susan’s bad crowd was a bit worse then the usual.   Susan’s earliest encounter with evil was with Satanic high priest Anton LaVey, who founded the church of Satan out of his fabled “black house” during the 1960s.  Although LaVey’s people were usually just rich weirdos looking for kicks and orgies, it was the beginning of the strange and dark path that Susan Atkins would turn down.  Her association with LaVey was brief, in which she performed the part of a vampire in one of his productions.  However, not long afterwards Susan met a charismatic young folk musician named Charles Manson.  Weeks later, when Atkins found herself suddenly homeless after police raided the place she was squatting, Manson offered her to come on a road trip with him and his growing “Manson Family.”  Young, impressionable, alone and down on her luck, Manson offered the young girl a place to belong, a family to take care of her and an endless sea of drugs to keep her high.  The deal was more then tempting.  However, little did she know was that she was making a deal with the devil.

Susan Atkins and Charles Manson

Susan Atkins and Charles Manson

Susan lived at the Spahn Ranch with Manson and the Family from 1967 until her incarceration in 1969 where she lived under the moniker Sadie Mae Glutz.  During that time she bore a son with fellow Manson follower Bruce White, whom Manson named Zezozosa.  A year later he was taken away from her when Susan was arrested for her part in the brutal murders of nine people, including actress Sharon Tate.  She would never see or hear from her son again, who was quickly renamed and adopted.  His whereabouts remain to be unknown, and he very likely has no knowledge of who his real mother was.  The murders committed by Susan and the Manson Family, under the guidance of Charles Manson, not only marked the end of the free spirit of the sixties, but put Susan and cohorts into the national spotlight under a sea of fear and fascination.  Photographs of her along with her Manson sisters smiling and giggling on the way to the courtrooms shocked and sickened the public.  There was something just not quite right about these girls, who had been severely brainwashed by the enigmatic Manson.  In 1969 Atkins was given the death sentence for her involvement in the murders, but the ruling was eventually overturned to life in prison.

All is none, all is none, all is one - Aitkens with her Manson family sisters Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel

"All is none, all is none, all is one" - Atkins with her Manson "sisters" Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel

But what became of Susan Atkins afterwards?  While the world watched and listened with fascination to the ranting of Charles Manson, Susan Atkins quietly slipped away into the prison system.  After years of therapy Susan Atkins became both a model prisoner and, by all accounts, a good person.  Becoming a born again Christian in 1974, Susan came to terms with what had happened to her in the 1960s.  Stating that she was drugged and manipulated, Susan spoke out against Manson and his followers, even publicly pleading with young people to stop idolizing Charles Manson.  She spent her time in prison actively helping with the emotional rehabilitation of her fellow inmates, including conflict resolution, AIDS victims, victims of abuse and worked as a member of other various prison based support groups.  She was also crucial, in one instance, of preventing a fellow inmate from committing suicide.  Susan was married in 1981, and again in 1987, to men who made attempts to defend her.  By all accounts Susan Atkins had rehabilitated herself.  Yet, despite her services and many awards and certificates for her work, Susan was denied parole continuously due to the fame of her crime.  At age twenty one Susan had made a mistake and was going to pay for it forever.

Paul Tate, father of Sharon Tate wrote of Aitkens I sat in a courtroom with a jury and watched with others. I saw a young woman who giggled, snickered and shouted out insults, even while testifying about my daughters last breath, she laughed.”

Sharon Tate's father, Paul Tate, on Atkins: "I sat in a courtroom with a jury and watched with others. I saw a young woman who giggled, snickered and shouted out insults, even while testifying about my daughter's last breath, she laughed.”

However, despite the fact that Susan had seemingly rehabilitated herself, did she deserve the right to walk the world as a free woman?  Sure, she may have been under the influence of drugs and Manson’s manipulation, but this was the woman who had bragged to inmates that she had “tasted Sharon Tate’s blood.”  This is the woman who, as Sharon Tate begged for the life of her and her unborn child, sneered “”Woman, I have no mercy for you.”  In 2000 Tate’s father Paul wrote of Susan, “Thirty one years ago I sat in a courtroom with a jury and watched with others. I saw a young woman who giggled, snickered and shouted out insults, even while testifying about my daughter’s last breath, she laughed.”  Despite what you become later in life, it takes a certain kind of evil to commit these monstrosities.  Whether she found redemption or not, Susan Atkins’ crimes and lack of remorse in 1969 were unforgivable on a humanitarian sense, and as a result she spent forty years in prison, making her the longest serving female prisoner in California history.

But that doesn’t stop Susan from being a person.  She was loved and respected by her fellow inmates, prison officials and the friends and family that stood beside her.  Earlier this year, when Susan was diagnosed with the brain cancer which paralyzed her, took her speech and resulted in one of her legs to be amputated, her husband, lawyer James Whitehouse, began a campaign to have Susan released from prison on compassionate grounds.  Once again, Susan’s release was denied.  As Sharon Tate’s sister Debra stated at the hearing,” She will be set free when judged by God.”  According to Whitehouse, Susan’s final words as she breathed her last breath was “Amen.”  Somewhere Susan Atkins’ soul is on trial all over again.

  1. Sigvard Mahler Dam’s avatar

    Oooooh – now we have to lament over the poor girl, who “was mislead” and killed a lot of people! What ever you say, she had her chose … she chosed to kill! In dayly life I work with children, who is moved from their homes, and who can devellop to new “Susan Atkins”, but with guidance and a steady hand they do not. There is a lot of people on this earth, who had a bad beginning on life, as you tell us abour Susan, but they need not be murderes! So free us from the “Barbara Cartland” issue of Susan Atkins – she made her choise, and God I’m glad, that she was discovered and paid for her deeds!!!

  2. Sam Tweedle’s avatar

    Thank goodness you are there to work with the children you work with to provide them that helping hand so that they wont make the same “choices” that Susan Aitkens made. Perhaps Susan could have used a person like you when she was young. However, in the end only her personal God can truely judge her. Susan Atkins, and all women who went what she went through, are true modern tragedies.

  3. Emilie’s avatar

    I agree with Sigvard. What this woman did was sick and no matter what she did or said in the years following it cannot change the profound impact she had on the world and her poor victims families. I am sick and tired of the world feeling sorry for horrible people once they die.

  4. Rachel’s avatar

    In the picture of the three girls together, the one on the right is not Linda Kasabian, that is Leslie Van Houten.
    Linda Kasabian testified against Leslie, Patricia, and Susan during the 1971 trial.

  5. Patrick’s avatar

    She should have been freed to die. What is gained by keeping her in jail to die? What measurable benefit is there to gain by keeping mute amputee in prison a few extra days? What more can you extract? Yes she did horrible things, and yes she paid the price with her life. However by all accounts she rehabilitated and reformed and ended up helping more than many free people do their entire lives. Shouldn’t we, as a “civilized” people, after 40+ years show her and others the example of compassion even though she failed to show it in 1969? Aren’t we suppose to try and be the better people? Or are we really more like she was then, completely compassionless?

  6. ebg’s avatar

    Reform & remorse are two different things. Yes, as per social standands she reformed…but she was sentanced to death based on social moral justice. Social moral justice is a judement upon a persons morals, not social status. You say “I’m not judging if she was a good or ad person”, but that what conviction of a capitol crime is…a conviction upon moral charactor. She put herself in that position to be morally judged. Has a teenage pycho-path she disassociated herself emotionaly from the crime by cold confession. But in your old age, as a pycho-path she disassociates herself emotionally be calm narrative of past event. Thers no shck in her eyes as she retells the events of killing Sharon tate. I’ve never seen her in a parole hearing ever fall to her knees and weeping uncontrollable and crying and begging the spirit of Sharon tate for “sneeking” up on her, horrible stabbing her to death, and then hanger her body from the house rafters. did she every in prison cry for weeks in total remorse of what she did?? That what the parole board always wanted to see. They never saw it..

  7. Bob’s avatar

    Let he, who is without sin cast the first stone.

  8. dk66343’s avatar

    I thought that the writer of this article did a fair an honest write-up of Susan; However, I will tell you this: It is easy to fool the people, but very difficult to convince the people they have been fooled…..You must study the history of our Government and realize that there are things in this world that you don’t want to know…..I defend Susan, Pat, Leslie; Tex, and even Charlie. I know, you don’t understand, but I do…..more than you will ever know.

  9. dk66343’s avatar

    Because the majority of people in this country do not realize that they have been fooled by this case, I will tell you this: It is easy to fool the people, but harder to convince the people that they have been fooled. Anyone who looks into this case will tell you that Helter Skelter is a ridiculous fabrication of the motive for these killings. Having said that, what was the motive? No one can really say. Susan and some of the others say it was to free Bobby….That’s insane. It makes absolutely no sense. So, again, we have no motive. If you look into the past crimes of these people before the murders, you will not see any history of the kind of violence they supposedly committed. They have no history of violent acts that would explain this kind of brutality….none. All violent criminals will have a history of violence in their past that explains their crimes. I will tell you that these guys were telling the world about a crime that they did not commit…..that’s correct. I know this because of my extensive research into all aspects of this case….nothing adds-up to these guys doing this……there is a far more and very complicated situation going on in this case. There are things that people just accept as truth from the “official” story. I could go over so many impossibilities of the crime scene that would have you saying, “this doesn’t make sense.” If it doesn’t make sense, then somebody is lying. This case will never be solved by believing the official narrative, but rather by looking at what is “reality.” I know that these guys were framed into telling the world that they did this. I will give you one piece of actual evidence that is very telling into why I think this way. There’s a man who was a witness to seeing Tex, Susan, Pat, and Linda at his house when they were washing themselves off after the murder at the Tate house. He said that he saw them at 1am using his outside hose. It was established that they were at the tate house around 12:15am when they encountered Steve Parent. If you look at how long it would have taken to kill Steve and then go up to the house and kill the other four, then jump into the car and drive to this man’s house by 1am, you would have to say that this is highly unlikely. This man was certain about the time he saw them…..something is very wrong with this. You cannot do the kind of destruction they supposedly did in 45 minutes, plus driving to this man’s house….impossible. This is just one of hundreds of impossibilities. You can believe what you want, but I know that this whole thing is not what you think.

  10. Stev832’s avatar

    Thank you for one of the best articles I have read on this subject. I was ten years old in 1969 – didn’t care much about it then.
    Completely by accident, I recently discovered that Susan Atkins had passed away in 2009. I became fascinated with the case, and did quite a bit of research involving it. I have learned some things:
    First and foremost, above all else, I have pity and sorrow for Miss Atkins. I look at the photos of her in her youth, and I do not see what a lot of people have seemed to see: a murderous monster.
    I see a beautiful young girl who was lost; a weak girl that was manipulated, brain washed, naïve, gullible, ignorant, and drug-fueled, who thought she had found something worth while when that sadistic son-of-a-bitch sank it’s claws into her. With little to no parental guidance as a teen, she represented any teen girl of that era in her situation. Anyone’s daughter, or sister. Maybe I feel the way I do because I am a parent.
    I cannot help it: I cry for her.
    We are responsible for our actions, regardless of the “reasons” we do them. We must be held accountable for what we do, or we fail as a society. There must be law and order, or we are finished.
    I do not believe that Miss Atkins should have been granted parole, but not for the seemingly popular reasons. From information that is available, she had made a good life where she was, and showed everyone the good person that she really was deep down. She helped others. She was loved. It was her home. She should stay. She spent the better part of her life doing good, but society as a whole will not recognize it. Society didn’t want her back. Public opinion may, though not likely, change one day, but that day has not yet arrived. I don’t believe that she changed in prison. I believe that the real Susan Atkins emerged again. I can’t help but think that her life probably would have taken a different path had she lived on the East coast in August 1969.
    Peace, love, and music, Miss Atkins.
    Rest in peace.

  11. Thomas G’s avatar

    Love you Susan so much….you are missed everyday. There is not a day goes by that I don’t think of you or miss you….Susan Atkins Forever!!

  12. fayez a’s avatar

    I just ran across this page by…you know how links are…
    anyway, there are several points I will make, which are based on facts:
    I knew Susan for a short while, around a month before the crimes.
    She is not an ‘evil’ person and if Manson and August 9, along with drugs were not there, that night, she would just have had another day. But, she was there when Manson said, Tex, you and her and her and her go to…

    The first picture up there, on this page is not of Susan Atkins. No, it’s probably an actress from one of the movies or docs. I’m sure of it but I don’t know which of them.
    Susan did not murder Sharon Tate.
    Tex did.
    Susan did show remorse in prison and she was there as over 1,000 lifers were released from 2008 to 2012, including murderers,
    and so forth in California.
    Susan was guilty of, at the most, one murder by being with Tex as he attacked Sharon, as an accomplice.
    second degree is another charge I could see, added, though that’s for the Gary Hinman murder.
    So, you have people who say, seriously, that she she should not have been released to her relatives even as she lay there with a leg gone and brain cancer? But all those criminals released are not a danger to society, but she was? Compassion and common sense is what was called for! Thank You

  13. Panamint Patty’s avatar

    That is not Susan Atkins in the mugshot. It’s Texas Terri. You’ve been punked


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