Judge to pick battlefield for court fight over Manson's body
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Charles Manson orchestrated murders in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, served time in a state prison in Corcoran and died in a hospital in Bakersfield.
The legal battle for his body or possessions could land in any of three California counties where those cities are located as friends and purported kin wage a court fight Friday that includes nasty accusations about profiteering off the death of the cult leader.
At least three parties have staked claims to collect Manson's body from the Kern County morgue two months after he died and take control of any assets, which could include potentially lucrative rights to the use of his image and songs he wrote and any other property.
"It's a circus show," said a frustrated Ben Gurecki, one of two pen pals who hold dueling wills allegedly signed by Manson. "It's despicable that I'm still sitting here 60 days later and I can't get my friend cremated."
But first a Los Angeles Superior Court judge must decide which court takes up the separate issues of Manson's remains and his estate.
A Florida man, Jason Freeman, claims he's a grandson and the rightful heir and that the killer left no will. He's been challenged in Los Angeles by Michael Channels, another pen pal and collector of Manson memorabilia, who holds a will bearing what appears to be Manson's signature and names him as executor and sole beneficiary.
Gurecki, who like Channels also sells Manson mementos to fans of so-called murderabilia, has filed a will with the Kern County coroner's office bearing Manson's purported signature. It names Gurecki as executor and leaves everything to his "one living child," Matthew Lentz, a Los Angeles musician. Lentz and Gurecki have yet to file the will in court.
The Kern County coroner, who has held Manson's body since he died Nov. 19, is asking Judge Clifford Klein to transfer the case regarding Manson's remains to that county, where a hearing is scheduled Wednesday.
Klein will also decide what forum is the correct place to decide who controls Manson's estate. Channels originally tried to file the will in Kern County, but it got rejected. He then filed it in Kings County, where Manson was incarcerated for years.
Freeman's lawyer, Alan Davis, wants the estate litigated in Los Angeles because that's where Manson lived before his convictions in the 1969 killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and eight other people.
While the one previous hearing focused largely on procedure, the parties have lobbed insults and jabs outside court.
Channels said Lentz is a fraud and that Gurecki forged Manson's signature on the will he allegedly received in the mail in January 2017.
Gurecki said the will that Channels holds was written by Channels and given to Manson to autograph during a prison visit. It was dated the same way Channels stamped Manson memorabilia he peddled.
A spokesman for Lentz, Mike Smith, said he fears Channels and Freeman plan to profit off the body of Manson, possibly selling photos of the body to a tabloid.
"We're going to expose both of them as charlatans," Smith said.
Both wills could have significant problems of their own.
Deputy Kern County Counsel Bryan Walters said the will Channels holds is partly illegible and appears to contain his own signature as one of two witnesses, which puts its validity into question because he's the beneficiary. Channels signature as a witness also appears to be dated four days before Manson's signature.
"It's almost like 'Back to the Future,'" Walters said. "I think that story is probably going to unravel pretty quickly in court."
The will naming Lentz as sole heir lacks a required signature from a second witness.
Lentz could face a more significant hurdle beyond having to prove a genetic link to Manson. Because he was adopted, he can't make a claim to his biological father's estate under California law, said Davis, Freeman's attorney.
"I don't think he's got a leg to stand on," Davis said.