When Charles Manson was cremated in 2017, the cult leader’s fandom didn’t die with him. For months, a battle raged between his family and his obsessive fans as to who could claim his remains. Jason Freeman, one of Manson’s grandsons, eventually won, having said he would cremate and spread the ashes of the man who inspired his followers to kill seven people.
Tattoo artist and self-proclaimed “professional weirdo” Ryan Gillikin claims he got his hands on some of these ashes through a man named Tony Miller, a friend of Manson’s grandson. As Gillikin tells it, “Long story short, Miller grabbed a handful of cremains at the spreading of the ashes.... Miller and [Jason] Freeman then had a falling out over Miller selling funeral pamphlets without giving Jason his cut.”
Gillikin used the ashes he’d acquired to make a number of controversial and morbid artworks, and more recently worked them into the ink in a face tattoo for Manson enthusiast Patrick Boos, a 45-year-old who delivers concrete mix to job sites in New York. Boos paid $600 (£437) for the words “Helter Skelter” to be etched above his right eye, as well as the “X” that Manson famously carved into his own forehead during his murder trial.
“Helter Skelter”, by the way, is a Beatles song coopted by Manson to refer to a race war he wanted to spark, in the belief that he and the Manson Family would rule over any Black people who remained once the fighting was over.
I DM’d Boos some questions about his tattoo.
VICE: What’s the story with the tattoo?
Patrick Boos: The tattoo was a once in a lifetime opportunity to me. A piece of history. I contacted Ryan to see if he had any cremains left [after making the artworks], to get the tattoo. I think people are fascinated by how the typical serial killer’s mind works, or why they did it. We really don’t know if Charles Manson did anything other than being a cult leader – he may have sent others to kill, but he claims he had nothing to do with it. It’s weird that Charles is a part of me now. Kinda creepy, I guess. And I don’t think it will affect me in any way.
He always claimed that he was just preaching to his followers and that they decided to go out and kill. Do you think he was responsible for the violence?
I think he did send the Family out for the murders. Maybe he was tripping when he told them to do it and doesn’t remember saying to do it, I don’t know. It’s sad for the victims of what happened, but, unfortunately, he is now forever infamously part of history, and I chose to have that DNA history a part of me.
Do you think his victims’ families would be upset about the fandom surrounding him?
I would think so. I think a lot of families of murderers and serial killers would feel that way. That’s why a lot of people are in the closet about collecting [serial killer memorabilia]. There’s just a fascination with these people, and probably clout [associated with] having something from these killers.
Why do you think people are “in the closet” about collecting murderabilia?
Most people are afraid of what their friends and family would think about them. They might not trust them anymore, thinking it could affect them, or that there’s something wrong with them. I think there’s stigma around collecting this stuff. Personally, I don’t give a shit what others think. But that’s just me.
What sort of reactions have you had to the tattoo?
People have said all sorts of stuff, like I’m crazy or I’m sick. Or the cremains are probably fake. It doesn’t bother me. Ryan told me to be prepared for the backlash. I told my wife to be prepared also. It affected her more than me.
How did it affect her?
She just didn’t like all the mean stuff people were saying, because she cares about me. I knew how people were going to be. Art is supposed to make people feel – especially if it has anything to do with murder or serial killing.
I decided to go all out and add the Helter Skelter because of all the chaos going on today, which is still going on, with this virus and all the political bullshit and Black Lives Matter. Charlie was a prophet, if you listen to some of his interviews.
When Manson referred to “Helter Skelter”, he was talking about the race war he hoped would happen. Do you agree with that message?
For him, maybe, but not me. I think I stated what it meant for me: all the chaos going on today in the world around us, how crazy things are right now. [It] has nothing to do with race for me. I get along with everyone, pretty much. If I don’t like someone, it’s not by the colour of their skin, it’s their character and actions.
So to clarify: you don't think there will be or should be a race war?
No. People need to unite together. It's bullshit that everyone can’t get along because of each other’s point of views or beliefs.
What do you think Manson himself would have thought about your tattoo
He’d probably think I was crazy. Remember when he was interviewed and was asked, “Who is Charlie Manson?” His reply was, “Nobody.”
Was there a certificate of authentication or anything for the cremains?
I trust Ryan. He’s also a collector of murderabilia, and has a museum with oddities. I think the cremains are real – he knows a lot of people.
What do your family think about the tattoo?
My family don’t think much of it, they just see it as a regular tattoo
Do you want to be like Manson?
I don’t want to be like him at all. I’m a nobody – I’d rather be home with my family than be around people. I’m just trying to get by in this world, and I like weird and bizarre things.