manson ap

This Aug. 14, 2017 file photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Charles Manson. Manson's cremated remains have been scattered nearly four months after the cult leader died in prison. A funeral was held in Porterville on Saturday, March 17, following a court battle for the 83-year-old's remains. 

Porterville Funeral and Cremation handled private arrangements

On an unassuming Saturday afternoon, while many residents were busy with weekend chores or participating in St. Patrick’s Day activities, a group of 20 family members and friends gathered in Porterville to pay their final respects to one of the most notorious figures of the 20th century.

Funeral services and cremation for Charles Milles Manson, 83, leader of the Manson Family cult that committed nine murders in the summer of 1969, were held Saturday, March 17 at Porterville Funeral and Cremation Center at 765 W. Henderson Ave. 

The corpse of Manson, who passed away from natural causes last November in Bakersfield, had been kept in the Kern County coroner’s office pending the outcome of a March 7 court hearing, where several parties claimed to have a legitimate claim to his remains.

The court ruled in favor of Jason Freeman, 41, of Florida, who came forward in 2012 after discovering that he was Manson’s grandson.

Freeman and his wife Audrey began exploring funeral arrangements weeks ago in anticipation of a favorable court ruling. They initially contacted a funeral home in Dover, Ohio, who referred them to Peters Funeral Home in Shafter. 

Rick Woody of Peters Funeral Home subsequently referred the family to Les Peters of Porterville Funeral and Cremation because their larger facilities and location could better accommodate their wishes for a private Christian service.

Peters was initially contacted by the Freeman family about a month ago and agreed to host the services. He took great care to arrange discreet services for the controversial figure, withholding Manson’s identity to much of his 15-member staff until the day before the service.

Freeman also informed Peters that a film crew would be chronicling his personal journey through the process for an upcoming documentary.

“We wanted to keep it quiet and free of protestors and demonstrations,” said Peters. “We don’t make judgements, and we treated him like any other person. We are here to provide a dignified service for the surviving family members.”

The court officially released Manson’s remains to the Freeman family on Monday, March 12, and Peters made arrangements to pick them up the next day in Bakersfield at noon, outside of regular pickup hours. 

Accompanied by one cameraman, Peters took possession of the remains, only to discover that for the last four months they had been refrigerated, not frozen. The remains were in worse shape than anticipated, and would complicate Freeman’s wishes to pay his respects to Manson prior to the embalming process and to have an open casket service.

“He was still in his hospital gown inside of a pouch. It was very inappropriate,” said Peters.

Peters worked late into Tuesday night embalming Manson’s remains, and when the Freeman family arrived in Porterville on Wednesday they viewed the body and decided to proceed with an open casket service.

Freeman met Friday at the funeral home with Pastor Mark Pitcher of the Porterville Church of the Nazarene, who presided over the service, to discuss scripture selections and other details of the service. Also at the meeting was a local correctional officer from Corcoran State Prison who came to know Manson during his four decades there. 

Freeman never met Manson before he died, and he wanted to learn as much about his grandfather as he could from those who knew him, as well as include them in the process of making final arrangements.

“This has been quite a journey for him. He is a grandson wanting to find out anything that can be positive about his grandfather,” said Pitcher. “Charlie never had any contact with his natural father, and Jason’s dad left when he was very young and committed suicide. He wants to break the pattern of the past.”

Freeman and his wife paid their respects in private Saturday morning before welcoming guests at 9 a.m. for viewing. Privacy was again closely monitored as the names of attendees were checked against a list of invited guests upon arrival.

“Many of these people had never met each other before,” said Peters as he described the tense first moments as the diverse group of guests gathered. 

Among the 20 people who attended were Manson’s girlfriend and Manson Family member Sandra Good and her husband.

The funeral began at noon, and Pastor Pitcher and two guests spoke during the ceremony. 

“He was born into an unhealthy environment to a 16-year-old girl who was not prepared for motherhood. He was a product of his environment, and that unhealthy environment followed him,” said Pitcher as he summarized what he shared with guests during the service. “Many choices were thrust upon Charlie as a young boy that had very damaging and destructive consequences upon him, and he made choices later on that were damaging and destructive to many for the rest of his life.”

Immediately upon conclusion, pallbearers carried Manson’s coffin from the small chapel to the crematorium, where the group assembled in the witness area to view his cremation.

Peters noted that while the Freeman family’s wish to view the actual cremation is uncommon with Catholic and Protestant faiths, it is customary in many Asian cultures.

“It’s really no different than when other faiths place a handful of soil on the coffin at the grave site,” said Peters. “It’s about being there with the departed through the last steps to the very end.”

The cremation ceremony concluded at 1 p.m., and guests gathered in a circle on the lawn outside the chapel while Manson’s ashes were prepared. There they visited and played songs written and performed by Manson, as well as cover versions of his songs performed by The Beach Boys and Guns ‘n’ Roses.

Peters described the gathering as having a “hippie” quality to it. 

At 3:30 p.m., funeral staff delivered Manson’s ashes to Freeman, who expressed an interest in distributing them “free in the air” somewhere.