He lived a life of infamy, a life of manipulation, a life of viciousness. He will always be looked at with disgust. This is the Charles Manson Story.
Charles Miles Maddox (Manson) was born on the 12th of November 1934. His mother, Kathleen Maddox, who was only 16 years old at the time, didn’t even give him a name, electing to call him ‘No name Maddox’. Manson was also without a father in his life. His biological one, who had him convinced those around him that his name was Colonel Scott, fled on ‘army business’ after finding out that Kathleen was pregnant. Scott was not in the army and was likely a low-life trying to escape any resemblance to parenthood.
When Manson was only five years old, Kathleen and her brother, Luther, were sent to prison for five and ten years respectively, after robbing their wealthy drinking acquaintance. Manson was sent away to live with his aunt and uncle; two people who would become a recurring theme in his life. His mother then returned home in 1942, in a time that Manson described as the happiest weeks of his entire life.
Shortly after her return, they moved to Indianapolis, where she started attending Alcoholics Anonymous and he began his life of crime, stealing from stores and homes. Kathleen decided she could no longer bear the burden of looking after a rebellious Manson, and after failing to find him a foster home, he was sent away to Gibault School for Boys. However, he had already developed a strong affection for his mother, and fled back home to her but was returned straight away.
The Christmas of 1947 saw Manson return to his aunt and uncle. This tenure was only short-lived after he was caught stealing a gun and was sent to ‘Boys town’. There, he met one of his friends named, Blackie Nielson. Together, they escaped and robbed a casino. After the robbery, they fled to Nielson’s uncle who was a professional thief. He took them under his wing and they became his ‘apprentices’. However, after only their second robbery attempt, Manson was caught and sent away to Indiana Boys School.
During his time there, Manson claims that he was raped, which was encouraged by a staff member. He developed a method of self-defence that he called the ‘insane game’. While he was being attacked, Manson would screech and yell, pretending he was insane to ward off his attackers. After only a short time at the school, he escaped in 1951 with two others. The trio was attempting to drive to California, but only reached Utah, where he was arrested and sent to the National Training School for Boys. Although Manson was illiterate, he was subject to testing there and had an above average IQ of 109.
In the year of 1951, through the recommendation of a psychiatrist, Manson was transferred to Bridge Honor Camp. He then found refuge with his aunt once again, who took him in and tried to help him find a job. This plan ultimately failed when Manson was found raping a boy at knifepoint. He was transferred to the Federal Reformatory in Petersburg, where he was said to have committed “eight serious disciplinary offences, three involving homosexual acts.”
Manson’s troublesome behaviour got him sent to another security reformatory, where he was meant to stay until his 21st birthday. He was deemed to have shown good behaviour and was released a year early. In 1955, Manson, living as a free man, met his wife at the time, Rosalie Jean Willis, and got her pregnant. They fled together in a stolen car to Utah. However, since crossing state lines in a stolen car is a federal offence, he was arrested and given 5 years of probation; which was later changed to 3 years’ imprisonment due to his failure to attend a hearing. Manson was visited by his wife and son, Charles Manson Jr., during his time in prison. This led to him becoming enraged in 1957 when he found out his ‘wife’ had left and was living with another man. Two weeks before his scheduled release, Manson tried to escape and was given another five years’ probation without parole.
By 1958, he had become divorced from Willis and had started pimping a 16-year-old girl. This did not last long after he received a 10 year suspended sentence from trying to cash a forged U.S. Treasury check. The suspended sentence came after the girl he was pimping claimed to be deeply in love with him, going as far as becoming married in 1959 to prove these claims. Manson, continuing with the prostitution, took two women to New Mexico, where he was questioned for violations of the Mann Act. He was found to have violated the act, being sent back to Los Angeles to serve his 10-year sentence.
He was incarcerated at McNeil Island, where he started taking guitar lessons from Alvin Karpis, which would be the starting point of Manson’s passion for music. While he was serving his time, Manson’s mother also moved to be closer to him. On March 21st, 1967, Manson was released after spending much of his life in prison or other institutions. He had actually requested to stay in prison, as it had become his ‘home’, but was denied.
Manson had far from an easy upbringing and was subject to a life of crime for a very early age. He had already become institutionalised and a part of the prison system. It was clear through this that Manson had many psychological problems and troubles. Something that would only become deeper and more tragic in the following years.
After his release, Charles Manson received permission to move to San Francisco. He started begging to try and earn himself a living, but this only lasted a very short time. Manson had moved during the ‘Summer of Love’. The summer was a social phenomenon that attracted as many as 100,000 to the bay area. People were coming to embrace a higher being and it became the epicentre of counter-culture. It was a continuation of the beat generation, where the masses that had converged were championing for sexual freedom and liberation. One important aspect of this ‘hippie culture’ was the finding of oneself. Many of those who were attracted by the message were young people trying to find their place in life. They were attempting to discover an authority figure outside of their parents to lead them along their journey.
Self-proclaimed ‘gurus’ preyed on these feelings and started preaching in the streets. Manson admired what they were doing, and through the experiences and philosophies he had learnt previously in his life, became a guru himself.
Robin Altman in Sympathy for the Devil: Charles Manson’s Exploitation of California’s 1960s Counter-Culture, described this aspect,
Manson joined their ranks and began using his well-established charm to lure young people to his burgeoning flock. As Jeff Guinn describes, Manson’s philosophy consisted of Beatles song lyrics, biblical passages, Scientology, and the Dale Carnegie technique of presenting everything dramatically.
One of the people that Manson met during this time was a 23-year-old university student, Mary Brunner. He soon moved in with her, and after overcoming her initial resistance, Manson progressively moved 18 more females into the house. This was an early example of Manson’s manipulative powers and ability to deceive people into believing.
Manson continued to gather a group of followers around him, which he called the Manson Family. He took 8 members of the family and lived with them in a renovated school bus that represented the hippie culture at the time. Brunner, the first member of the family, became pregnant with Manson’s son, Valentine Michael, in 1967.
Manson wanted to establish the first home for the family at Spahn’s Movie Ranch, which had previously been used for the filming of western movies. By 1968, the ranch’s predominant source of income had been diminished to horseback rides. Manson ordered the family members to do work on the grounds and have sex with the near-blind, 80-year-old owner in exchange for free living at the ranch. One home was not enough for Manson, and he established a second in Death Valley soon after.
In January 1969, the family escaped the cold of the winter and moved back to Los Angeles in Canoga Park. They lived in a canary-yellow home, which Manson called the ‘Yellow Submarine’, through his love of The Beatles.
Manson had a strong affinity towards music, and it would become the passion of his life. He inspired to be a professional musician. Manson tried and failed to record his own music, with his first debut album being a profound failure. Despite this, Manson spent considerable time throughout the 1960’s living and interacting with musicians.
While hitchhiking in 1968, Manson was picked up by the Beach Boy’s drummer, Dennis Wilson. The pair quickly became friends, and the entire family had soon moved into Wilson’s home. However, this ultimately led to another failure in Manson’s music aspirations. Wilson invited him to record some music together, and described Manson to the Record Mirror, “He drifted into crime, but when I met him I found he had great musical ideas. We’re writing together now. He’s dumb, in some ways, but I accept his approach and have learnt from him.”
Manson didn’t appreciate his recordings being tampered with by the producers. This culminated in him pulling a knife during one of the recording sessions. The family moved out soon after the incident.
By February 1969, Manson had completed his vision for the family.
He had used various manipulative techniques to collect his family and foster their ‘love’ for him. Manson portrayed himself to his followers as the next coming of the Messiah; a charismatic leader whose vision for the world can transform their lives into something meaningful. People were inclined to follow along with him, out of hope he had them led in the right direction. This is a phenomenon called ‘optimism bias’.
Tali Sharot defined optimism bias in Current Biology (Volume 21, Issue 23),
The optimism bias is defined as the difference between a person’s expectation and the outcome that follows. If expectations are better than reality, this bias is optimistic; if reality is better than expected, the bias is pessimistic.
This belief that things will continue to be better in the future is a part of our human nature and was a key aspect as to how Manson was able to manipulate his followers into staying. We have a tendency to underestimate the chance of something bad happening and are inclined to feel a bias towards the positives. This subconsciously played on the minds of the family members and is an explanation to the despicable feeling we have towards their decision to stay involved with Manson.
Manson’s main inspiration for this manipulation and the murders he would go on to commit came through his belief in ‘Helter Skelter’, which he borrowed from a Beatles song of the same name. Manson described it in 1970, “Helter Skelter is a nightclub. Helter Skelter means confusion. Literally. It doesn’t mean any war with anyone. It doesn’t mean that those people are going to kill other people. It only means what it means. Helter Skelter is confusion. Confusion is coming down fast. If you don’t see the confusion coming down fast, you can call it what you wish.”
Despite being adamant that it did not represent war, he believed that a race war between the blacks and whites was imminent. Helter Skelter had developed into the family creating an album that would be the spark of the conflict, causing the white youths of America to revolt and become a part of the family.
Manson’s inspiration for this belief came through the music of the Beatles, and the New Testament’s Book of Revelations. In his twisted mind, he believed that their songs contained coded and hidden messages. Manson had twisted his interpretation of the music to fulfil his own desires of Helter Skelter. He deatiled this in chaotic words, “Look at the songs: songs sung all over the world by the young love. It ain’t nothing new… It’s written in… Revelation, all about the four angels programming the holocaust… the four angels looking for the fifth angel to lead the people into the pit of fire… right out to Death Valley. It’s all in black and white, in the White Album – white, so there ain’t no mistakin’ the colour.”
Despite the previous history of Charles Manson and the family, what they have become most known for is the murders that they committed.
The first of these murders was that of Bernard Crowe. Manson’s desire for Helter Skelter coming to fruition led him to want to show the ‘blacks’ how to start it. Manson tasked one of the family members, Tex Watson, with obtaining money to help prepare for this impending conflict. In his quest, Watson defrauded the drug dealer, Bernard ‘Lotsapoppa’ Crowe. Crowe retaliated by threatening to wipe out the entire family. Manson personally murdered Crowe on July 1st, 1969 as a direct response to his threat.
The second of the murders also came through Manson’s desire to obtain more money. He sent family members Bobby Beausoleil, Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins to persuade music teacher, Gary Hinman, to give them the money that he had inherited. They held Hinman hostage for two days, during which Manson showed up to the residence with a sword and slashed his ear off. Beausoleil latter stabbed Hinman to death, via the direct orders of Manson.
One of the family members wrote ‘Political piggy’ and a panther paw on the wall in Hinman’s blood. Beausoleil was arrested shortly after on August 6th, which led Manson to exclaim to the family members that, “Now is the time for Helter Skelter.”
In what has become the most known of the murders, Manson instructed Watson to take family members, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel to the home of a celebrity couple, actress Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski. They proceeded to kill all five residents inside, which included the eight months pregnant Tate. Polanski was not at the residence at the time as he was away filming a movie. Along with Tate, the murdered were Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski who were also living at the residence, as well as Steven Parent who was visiting.
The motivation behind these murders was the previous owner of the residence, Terry Melcher, who had snubbed Manson a chance of a recording contract, leaving him disgruntled.
On August 9th, 1969, only one night after the Tate murders, Manson took the family members from the previous attack, along with Leslie Van Houten and Steve ‘Clem’ Grogan to the residence of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Manson decided to accompany the group this time as he wanted ‘to show them how to do it.’ Manson firstly entered the home alone, returning saying that he had tied up all the residents. He returned with Watson and they snuck in one of the unlocked back doors. They captured the couple, covering their heads with pillowcases and tying them with lamp cords.
Manson then proceeded to stab Leno with a chrome-plated bayonet and carved ‘WAR’ into his abdomen. He continued into the room with Rosemary and stabbed her after she started swinging around the lamp tied to her neck. Manson ensured that each of the women took part in the stabbings to make them feel ‘ownership’ over the atrocities. The family concluded with the trademark of their killings, with Krenwinkel writing ‘Rise’ and ‘Death to pigs’ on the fridge in blood.
Manson’s last words before his death, “Nothing will everyone and everything over and gone to start backwards again and again to nowhere and nothing again. To where you know it is all forever and some more, nothing again to where you know it is all forever and some more. Love for all. You are or could maybe and more. Not at…” The call was cut-off.
The convoluted nature of these words epitomizes the life that Manson has lived. He was incarcerated on April 22nd, 1971, for seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. His initial sentence of death was later diminished to life without parole after the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in 1972. This is yet another example of Manson evading his ‘freedom’ being taken away.
On January 1st, 2017, Manson began suffering from gastrointestinal bleeding and was taken to Mercy Hospital in Los Angeles. On November 15th, 2017, Manson returned to the hospital, where he died of natural causes four days after. This would put an end to his infamous life and the terror he created. Manson has left a legacy to be ashamed of, and whether he is truly insane or not, he will always be looked on with condemn and disgust. The Charles Manson story is something we hope is never repeated.