Charles Manson Is Dead—But the Morbid Business of Manson Merch Lives On

November 20, 2017, 2:44 PM UTC

Charles Manson was a horrible human being. There aren’t many people who would argue with that. But he was also a big business—and that’s not likely to slow down in the years to come.

The fascination with the grisly nature of the murders he and his followers committed helped create the pop culture of crime. And while Manson never got rich off of the phenomenon he created, he did benefit, as did numerous others.

Arguably, no one made more from Manson Inc. than the person who prosecuted him. Vincent Bugliosi, who died in 2015, authored Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders in 1974. The book went on to sell over 7 million copies.

The book was adapted into a 1976 television film, which premiered with a household share of 36.5, ranking it the 16th highest rated movie to air on network television. It was nominated for three Emmy awards. And in 2004, Helter Skelter was adapted again.

A new cinematic version of the Manson murders is apparently in the works as well, with Quentin Tarantino at the helm. Variety reports that, while no stars are attached, Tarantino could approach Margot Robbie or Jennifer Lawrence to play victim Sharon Tate, and Brad Pitt could be tapped to play Bugliosi.

There’s also a staggering amount of Manson merchandise available, from stickers to patches to shirts, a field that’s largely unregulated and almost entirely unauthorized, meaning there’s no way to calculate its precise value. But Manson did manage to profit from his image in at least a limited way. In 1993, the New York Times reported Manson received a small portion of the sale of every t-shirt featuring his image and the phrase “Charlie Don’t Surf,” a line from the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now. The owner of the company at the time wouldn’t divulge how much Manson had taken in, but said it was a nominal amount.

Manson additionally sold art he created in prison online.

Finally, there’s the morbid market of crime scene curiosities. As with any major crime event, people’s fascination creates a secondary market for items that are tied directly (or indirectly) with the crime. In February, a bidder paid $14,000 for a Victorian bed frame because it once belonged to Manson family murder victim Abigail Folger. That was nearly three times what the auction house had predicted it would fetch.

Almost certainly, the value of those sorts of products will jump significantly with Manson’s death.