Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — A woman who claimed to be Charles Manson’s sister has backed out of a dispute over the estate of the cult leader who was responsible for a string of murders across Los Angeles in 1969.
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Ruben Garcia granted the withdrawal of the petition of Nancy Claassen, a resident of Spokane, Washington, in a hearing Monday at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
The petition was “denied without prejudice,” meaning Claassen could file again, perhaps with more evidence.
Still contending for Manson’s estate are Jason Freeman, who claims to be Manson’s grandson, and Michael Channels, a longtime pen pal of Manson’s who says he has a will written by Manson that names Channels as inheritor of the estate.
In May 2021, Claassen filed a petition to claim rights to Manson’s property, claiming she was his half sister, according to court documents.
Claassen’s withdrawal Monday came after the revelation of several pieces of evidence that strengthened Freeman’s case as Manson’s grandson.
At a June 17 hearing, Garcia determined that Freeman was indeed the son of a Charles Manson Jr., according to a minute order from the hearing. But whether Manson Jr. was the son of the notorious Charles Manson himself remained in question.
Attorneys representing Freeman hoped to close that gap by filing in court last week a birth certificate for Charles Manson Jr., which shows he was born in 1956 to a 21-year-old Charles Milles Manson in Ohio.
“Hopefully that’ll put an end to whether Jason is Charles’ grandson,” said Alan Davis, who is representing Dale Kiken, an attorney advocating for Freeman’s claim to the estate. “You got the birth certificate — it’s almost conclusive.”
Garcia noted in court documents that Claassen failed to provide a sufficient rebuttal to Freeman’s claim.
A hearing was scheduled for Aug. 12, in which Davis expects Garcia to rule on the paternal relationship between Manson and Manson Jr.
Also left for the court to decide is whether the will in the possession of Channels, a Florida resident, is valid. That dispute may drag the case out for months, if not years, Davis said.
The Manson estate would land with Freeman only if the court rules that Channels’ will isn’t valid.
Under California law, if an individual dies unmarried and without a will, their estate goes to their children or grandchildren.
“I think that’s the big 900-pound gorilla in the room,” Davis said of the will, which he has previously argued is invalid and written by Channels himself.
Attorneys for Channels maintain that the will is valid and that Freeman has yet to submit any evidence to show otherwise.
“Regardless of what relative comes forward, Mr. Channels’ will takes priority,” said Tim Lyons, one of Channels’ attorneys. “They have offered zero rebuttal or any actual evidence that it is not valid in the five years since Mr. Manson died and since this case has been pending.”
Lyons said they have a handwriting expert ready to testify that it is Manson’s handwriting on the will.
Davis said he plans to call his own witnesses to poke holes in Channels’ claim.
Manson’s estate may be modest but still valuable, given his notoriety.
Davis said it includes only the items Manson possessed while incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison near Bakersfield, where he died at age 83. The items may include two or three guitars, personal writings and his clothes.
“Those are things that could potentially be worth a lot of money,” Davis said.
Channels, who was Manson’s pen pal for more than 30 years, said his fight for Manson’s estate was not about money but about defending someone whom he considered a friend.
“He became my friend over 30 years ago, and back then I saw a person in him, where others saw just some sideshow,” Channels wrote to the Los Angeles Times in an email. “Manson has always been someone’s whipping boy or source of revenue from television to newspapers all his life, so I know it is hard for anyone to understand, but I never wanted anything from him.”