Los Angeles: Stephen Kay was a fresh-faced prosecutor just 27 years old and three years out of law school when circumstances handed him the Charles Manson "family" murder case .
Over the next half-century, it would come to define his career and lead to death threats that to this day he worries a Manson sycophant might try to carry out.
"I don't dwell on it, but I'm careful. I always look around to see if I'm being followed or anything," the 76-year-old retired prosecutor said recently as he paused to discuss the case that punctured the peace, love and happiness movement that flowered in the late 1960s.
Kay helped lock up Manson family members but never really relinquished the case in his nearly 40 years in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. He attended some 60 parole hearings over the years where he argued the killers should never be released.
"The crime was simply too heinous," Kay said.
It was 50 years ago this week that Manson, a small-time career criminal who had reinvented himself as a hippie guru, dispatched a band of disaffected young followers on a deadly weekend rampage that would terrorise Los Angeles and forever imprint on the American consciousness the image of the slight, steely-eyed cult leader as the face of evil.
On that first night, August 8, 1969, Manson sent a handful of his young, mostly female followers to the palatial hilltop estate of actress Sharon Tate with orders to kill everyone there. The 26-year-old actress and four friends were bludgeoned, shot and stabbed scores of times, and their blood used to scrawl the words "Pigs" and "Helter Skelter" on the walls.
Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, was eight-months pregnant, and her killers later testified that she pleaded in her last moments for her unborn baby's life. Others killed were coffee heiress Abigail Folger, celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring and Wojciech Frykowski, an aspiring screenwriter and friend of Polanski, who was out of town.
On the way into the estate, the attackers crossed paths with 19-year-old Steven Parent, who was leaving after visiting an acquaintance who lived in the guesthouse. Parent was shot to death.
The next night, Manson himself led a handful of followers to the home of wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, tying up the couple and leaving the others to butcher them with knives.
Authorities would say later that it was part of a plot Manson hatched to persuade gullible young followers to launch a race war that only he could hide them from. He'd gotten the premonition, they said, from a twisted interpretation of the Beatles song "Helter Skelter".
The killers went on trial the following year, and Kay joined the prosecution team two months later after the original lead prosecutor was dismissed and Vincent Bugliosi took over. Bugliosi's subsequent book "Helter Skelter" became one of the bestselling crime tales of all time.
Kay says the Manson trial was "definitely the most bizarre" case he ever tried, adding with understatement: "It was almost a circus."
The cult leader and his followers carved Xs into their foreheads to show their disdain for society. At one point, Manson leaped over the defense table with a pencil in hand and shouted at the judge that someone should cut off his head. At another, he grabbed a newspaper with a headline declaring President Richard Nixon had concluded he was guilty and held it up for the jury to see.
Outside the courthouse, Manson followers not implicated in the killings gathered daily to sing songs and even threaten to set themselves on fire. One day, two young female followers sneaked up alongside Kay in the courthouse parking lot.
"They said they were going to do to my house what was done at the Tate house," he said, adding both he and Bugliosi, who died in 2015, retained bodyguards throughout the trial.
Over the years, Manson, who died in 2017, would threaten Kay's life from behind bars.
When that trial was completed after nearly a year, Manson and three followers - Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel - were sentenced to death but later had their punishment reduced to life in prison. Atkins also died while serving her term, in 2009.
Another disciple, Charles "Tex" Watson, fled to his native Texas after the killings and fought extradition for nearly a year. When he returned, Bugliosi and Kay, now co-counsels, won his conviction.
Van Houten, whose attorney vanished during the first trial and was later found dead under mysterious circumstances, was granted a retrial in 1976. By then Bugliosi had left the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, and Kay was the sole lead prosecutor.
After a hung jury, he won a conviction in 1978, and Van Houten returned to prison, where she has earned bachelor's and master's degrees in counseling and leads programs to rehabilitate fellow inmates. She was recommended for parole three times in recent years, but each time the governor blocked the recommendation.
"I admit that she's a model prisoner, and I commend her for that, and I think she should keep doing her good work in prison," Kay said. "But you know, the victims in this case were dead and buried in 1969. They don't get any parole."
Retired for several years now, Kay still keeps in touch with Sharon Tate's younger sister, Debra, having grown close to the family during the trials and numerous parole hearings.
Meanwhile, new books and films about Manson seem to come out every year, but Kay says people shouldn't expect one from him.
"It would be nice if it would just go away," he said of the public's continuing fascination with Manson.
"But," he quickly added, "it's the case that never goes away."
A look at the key players
He was a petty criminal who had been in and out of jail since childhood when he reinvented himself in the late 1960s as a guru-philosopher who targeted teenage runaways and other lost souls, particularly attractive young women he used and bartered to others for sex.
He sent them out to butcher LA's rich and famous in what prosecutors said was a bid to trigger a race war - an idea they say he got from a twisted reading of the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter."
Decades after his conviction, Manson would continue to taunt prosecutors, parole agents and others, sometimes denying any role in the killings and other times boasting of them, as when he told a 2012 parole hearing: "I have put five people in the grave. I am a very dangerous man."
He died in 2017 after spending nearly 50 years in prison. He was 83.
Convicted of the Tate, LaBianca and Hinman murders, she was a teenage runaway working as a topless dancer in a San Francisco bar when she met Manson in 1967.
The Tate-La Bianca murders went unsolved for months until Atkins, in jail on unrelated charges, boasted to a cellmate of her involvement.
At trial, she testified she was "stoned on acid" and didn't know how many times she stabbed Tate as the actress begged for her life. Atkins, who became a born-again Christian in prison and denounced Manson, tearfully recounted that confrontation during a parole hearing years later.
She died in prison of cancer in 2009. She as 61.
Leslie Van Houten
A former high school cheerleader and homecoming princess, she saw her life spiral out of control at 14 following her parents' divorce.
She turned to drugs and became pregnant but said her mother forced her to abort the fetus and bury it in the family's backyard.
Van Houten met Manson at an old movie ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he had established his so-called "family" of followers.
She didn't take part in the Tate killings but accompanied Manson and others to the LaBianca home the next night. She held down Rosemary LaBianca with a pillowcase over her head as others stabbed LaBianca dozens of times. Then, ordered by Manson follower Charles "Tex" Watson to "do something," she said she picked up a knife and stabbed the woman more than a dozen times.
Van Houten, 69, has earned bachelor's and master's degrees in counseling while in prison and leads several prison programs to help rehabilitate fellow inmates. She has been recommended for parole three times, but former Gov. Jerry Brown blocked her release each time.
She was a 19-year-old secretary when she met Manson at a party. She left everything behind three days later to follow him, believing they had a budding romantic relationship.
After he became abusive and bartered her for sex, she said she twice tried to leave him but followers brought her back, kept a close watch on her and kept her high on drugs.
She testified at a 2016 parole hearing that she repeatedly stabbed Folger, then stabbed Leno LaBianca in the abdomen the following night and wrote "Helter Skelter", ''Rise" and "Death to Pigs" on the walls with his blood.
Krenwinkel, 71, remains in prison.
Charles "Tex" Watson
He was a college dropout from Texas when he arrived in California in 1967 seeking "satisfaction through drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll," as he explains on his website.
He recalled meeting Manson at the house of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson after seeing Wilson hitchhiking and giving him a ride home.
Watson, 73, led the killers to the Tate estate, shot to death Parent as he was attempting to leave and took part in the killings that night and the next at the LaBianca home.
He became a born-again Christian in prison and formed a prison ministry in 1980 that he continues to lead. Watson, who has authored or co-authored several books while in prison, maintains he has changed and is no longer a danger to anyone. He has repeatedly been denied parole.
The 26-year-old was a model and rising film star after her breakout role in the 1966 film "Valley of the Dolls." She was 8-months pregnant when she was attacked, and she pleaded with her killers to spare her unborn son.
Tate's mother, Doris, became an advocate for victims' rights in California and was instrumental in a 1982 law that allows family members to testify about their losses at trials and parole hearings.
Her younger sister, Debra, also dedicated her life to victims' rights and has testified at countless parole hearings for the killers, demanding they never be released.
Tate's husband, director Roman Polanski, was out of the country the night of the killings and has said it took him years to recover from the grief of losing his wife and baby.
A hairdresser to Hollywood's stars, Sebring was Tate's former boyfriend and also begged the killers to spare her unborn child. He was shot, kicked in the face and stabbed multiple times.
Sebring had transformed the male haircare industry after graduating from beauty school in Los Angeles, and his clients included Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. He founded Sebring International in 1967 to market hair products and to franchise his salons internationally.
Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger had dined with Tate and Sebring earlier that night.
The 32-year-old Frykowski was a friend of Polanski's from Poland and an aspiring screenwriter. An autopsy found he was stabbed more than 50 times and shot twice.
His 25-year-old girlfriend was the heir to the Folger coffee fortune. She managed to escape the house but was tackled on the front lawn and stabbed 28 times.
Steven Parent, a recent high school graduate planning to attend college in the fall, had dropped by a guest house on the property to visit the estate's 19-year-old caretaker, a casual acquaintance named William Garretson. He was leaving the property when Watson confronted him at the front gate and shot him to death.
Garretson, who was briefly taken into custody, returned to his native Ohio soon after the killings. Except for his testimony during the murder trial, he rarely spoke publicly about that night. He died of cancer in 2016.
Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, who owned a chain of Los Angeles grocery stores, had no connection to Sharon Tate or her glamorous friends.
Their home was chosen at random by Manson, who tied them up and then, before leaving, ordered his followers to kill them. Among the weapons used was a chrome-plated bayonet.
Vincent Bugliosi was an ambitious but anonymous deputy district attorney when he was handed the Manson family murder trial after a more experienced prosecutor was removed for mocking one of the defendants to reporters.
Bugliosi denounced Manson as the "dictatorial maharajah of a tribe of bootlicking slaves," calling Manson's followers "robots" and "zombies."
After their convictions, he recounted the case in "Helter Skelter," one of history's best-selling true-crime books.
Bugliosi, who left the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office in 1972, went on to write 11 more books. He was 80 when he died of cancer in 2015.
Stephen Kay was a 27-year-old deputy district attorney when he joined the prosecution team two months into the trial.
He also joined Bugliosi as co-lead prosecutor during a trial of Tex Watson, who was tried separately after fighting extradition to California from Texas for nine months. Kay later successfully prosecuted Van Houten after she won a retrial.
In subsequent years Kay attended some 60 parole hearings to argue that the killers should never be released from prison. He's now 76.
OTHER PROMINENT PLAYERS
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a Manson family member who was not implicated in the Tate-LaBianca murders, was sentenced to prison for pointing a handgun at President Gerald Ford in 1975. Since her release in 2009, she has lived quietly in upstate New York.
Linda Kasabian, the trial's key witness, was granted immunity from prosecution. She had accompanied the killers to the Tate house but was posted outside as a lookout, a position from which she said she saw some of the killings.
The next night she remained in a car outside the LaBianca house as Manson tied up the victims, then left with him as the others stayed to kill them.
The 20-year-old moved in with the "family" a few weeks before the killings and fled immediately after. She turned herself in to authorities after the others were arrested. Kasabian later changed her name and has for the most part lived out of sight for the past 50 years.
Bruce Davis was convicted of taking part in the Hinman and Shea murders but was not involved in the Tate-LaBianca killings.
He testified at his 2014 parole hearing that he attacked Shea with a knife and held a gun on Hinman while Manson cut Hinman's face with a sword. "I wanted to be Charlie's favorite guy," he said. Parole panels have repeatedly recommended his release, but the governor has blocked it.
Steve "Clem" Grogan, once a ranch hand at the old movie ranch where Manson had located his followers, was sentenced to life in prison for taking part in Shea's murder. In 1977 he told authorities where Shea's body was buried.
Grogan was paroled in 1985 and lives in Northern California.