At first glance it’s easy to see why Afton Burton would want to leave Bunker Hill, Illinois. With a population of 1,800, the one-stop-sign town offers about as much as thousands of other farm villages across the heartland: not much.
Down a one-lane gravel road sits the house Burton left seven years ago. On top of a small rise in the surrounding flats of cornfield, the home is a picture of Midwest comfort—wide, wooden front porch, American flag hanging by the front door, a lake glinting in the sunlight—but the picturesque environs weren’t enough to keep the 26-year-old there. She fled Bunker Hill at the age of 19 with $2,000 she’d saved. Her destination was Corcoran, California, where Charles Manson is spending his remaining days in a state prison. Her goal: marry the convicted murderer.
He is “the most famous guy in the world,” Burton, who goes by Star, told Rolling Stone.
Certainly famous enough to be known in Bunker Hill, where the barb goes like this:
“How do you explain to your family you’re bringing Charles Manson home for Thanksgiving dinner?”
That’s obviously not going to happen, unless by some miracle America’s most famous killer is granted parole. But the crude quip is indicative of what some in the small, rural town feel about Burton’s engagement.
“I just don’t want any of the teachers involved in that situation,” said Matthew Smith, the principal of Bunker Hill High School, where Burton graduated in 2006. Smith was responding to a request to speak with Burton’s former educators during a brief sit-down in his office Thursday afternoon. He was protecting them from something they, and apparently the family, don’t really want to talk about. Getting engaged to Charles Manson isn’t exactly an easy conversation starter.
“I just feel bad for her family,” said a man in Marco’s Pizza Pub. I would have asked for his name, if not for the comment that followed the concerned remark. “Whenever the media comes to town we need to tell ‘em to fuck off.”
Burton’s mother, Melissa, didn’t return several calls and the door went unanswered at her home. A neighbor across the road said she didn’t want to talk about that. Manson, from his cell 2,000 miles away, has caused a chill.
Burton became enamored with Manson after a friend introduced her to his environmental stance—ATWA, which stands for air, trees, water, animals. Who that friend was, while a pressing question, is probably less important than what Burton found in Manson’s writings on the environment. Of all the people to look up to for a back-to-nature stance, why the monster from Spahn Ranch?
Whatever the reason, Burton was committed enough to leave tiny Bunker Hill to seek out her beau. Her mother told ABC News she believes Manson loves her daughter, and that “she has been good to him.” Clearly. At 80, Manson is doing pretty well for himself with his doll-faced bride to be, and to the money coming in from his fans who buy personal items when corrections officers occasionally clear out his cell. Burton helps to manage that, in addition to acting as caretaker for Manson’s online presence, which includes a MansonDirect.com. There, you can donate to the cause and join the “mass number of Manson supporters worldwide.”
For most people, just saying the name Manson is enough to prompt discomfort. The name—like Hitler or Hussein, Dahmer or Bundy—is synonymous with evil. Not for Burton. She’s willing to take it as her own.