Charles Manson: The Story of an American Criminal Serial Killer

Half a century after the gruesome Tate-LaBianca murders, the infamous perpetrator of this crime, Charles Manson, is still talked about. Charles Miles Manson is deep-rooted into American popular culture as a cult leader and a delirious criminal. Equipped with his manipulative abilities and a predisposition for crime, the renowned man was considered the epitome of evil. A significant number of factors molded him into the man he became. 


Early Life And Childhood


Charles Miles Manson was born on 12th November 1934 to a 16-year-old girl named Katherine Maddox, in  Cincinnati, Ohio. He was initially referred to as “no-name Maddox” before being called Charles. His father, though initially unknown, was thought to be Colonel Waker Scott, against whom his mother filed a lawsuit for childbirth outside marriage. Scott was believed to be a conman, who abandoned Kathleen when she was pregnant. She then married William Manson, whom she divorced after a marriage three years. Maddox would apparently engage in excessive drinking and theft. She was considered to be extremely promiscuous and would often leave Charles with babysitters while she was away. When Charles was at a tender age of 6, his mother and his uncle were convicted of an armed robbery at a gas service station. After this Charles was put under the care of his aunt and uncle. Charles’ mother was soon paroled and mother and son were reunited. In fact, Charles fondly remembered the reunion as the happiest time in his life. 

 Promptly after she returned, Maddox again took to theft and other crimes. She sought several foster homes before sending Charle to a boarding school for delinquent boys named Gibault, run by Catholic priests. It is believed that Charles was a taught student. He showed little interest in education and was excessively detached from his surroundings.


Troubled Teenage Years


Manson started on his list of offenses at a very young age. While in school, he frequently tried to run away to his mother, but in vain. After several attempts, at the age of 13, he fled to the city of Indianapolis where he rented a room for himself and made money by stealing from stores at night. He was eventually caught and sent to a juvenile home, from where he escaped yet again, this time to live with his uncle, who was also a professional thief. 

He was imprisoned for the first time, at the age of 16, for stealing a car and driving it across state lines, which was a federal crime. He was sent to a correctional facility in Washington D.C, where aptitude and psychological tests concluded that he was severely antisocial. After a psychiatrist’s advice, he was sent to a minimum-security institution, during which his aunt tried to gain custody of him. However, he was caught sexually assaulting a young boy at knifepoint, after which he was sent to a reformatory. He was labeled as dangerous and was sent to another high-end, maximum-security institution, where he was to stay until he turned 21. However, he was released a year earlier than his expected date of release, in 1954, due to good behavior.


Early Adult Life


Charles Manson married a 17-year-old nurse named Rosalie Jean Willis in 1955. She soon got pregnant and they moved to Los Angeles, California, where Manson was apprehended yet again for moving a stolen car across state boundaries. He was given probation, after which he failed to show up at his court hearings. He was caught in Indianapolis and was imprisoned yet again, now with a sentence of 3 years. While in prison, his wife, who was living with his mother, gave birth to a son named Charles Manson Junior. However, by 1957, she began living with another man, as informed to Charles by his mother. 

After being released from prison in 1958, Charles again went back to his old ways. He was newly divorced, free, and engaging in pimping. He was caught yet again in 1959, trying to cash a forged U.S Treasury check and was given 11 years of probation.  He was arrested in New Mexico a year later, for engaging in the prostitution of two women. This federal offense cost him 10 years in prison in Los Angeles County prison.

During his prolonged stint in prison, Charles kept himself busy. After trying to apply for probation unsuccessfully, he was transferred to a penitentiary in Washington. While in prison, Manson took up guitar lessons from a renowned gang leader names Alvin Karpis. He also obtained contacts in Hollywood from other inmates. It is believed that Charles was in a relationship with a prostitute named Leona “Candy” Stevens and that she gave birth to his son, named Charles Luther. He also claimed to turn to Scientology, a controversial religious movement, while in prison. Legend has it; he auditioned to be a part of the infamous pop-rock band, the Monkees. However, this is unlikely as he was imprisoned until 1967. 

The Manson Family


When Charles was to be released, he apparently begged to be allowed to stay in prison as it had become home to him. After his release, he went to San Francisco, which was at the centre of a counter-culture movement. He soon met Mary Brunner, a 23-year-old library assistant at the University of California. He moved in with her and commenced his transformation into some sort of a guru or messiah. He became a prominent leader of counter-culture amidst the “Summer of Love” era, which was another term for the hippie movement. He attracted several followers, mostly young, suggestible women, and professed his ideologies. He taught them that they were the reincarnations of the first Christians and made them believe that they he was their Christ. 

 Henceforth, the Manson Family was formed, consisting of abandoned teenagers, runaways, prostitutes and petty criminals. Most of the family had no sense of belonging to the world and were looking for a purpose. Owing to Manson’s charisma and his manipulative nature, they were easily swayed and invested in all his teachings. One of the “Manson’s girls” said that he taught them to love themselves and another. Though he would frequently have intercourse with nearly all the women who were a part of the family, he told them that they only belonged to themselves and not to him. It is said that they gave birth to several children but were unsure of whether they were the children of Manson.

Manson had a strange connection with the entertainment industry. After Denis Wilson of the Beach Boys picked up too female hitchhikers who were a part of the Manson Family, he unwillingly found himself in the company of Charles Manson.  Charles and his followers would frequent his house and live off of his money. Wilson introduced Manson to several big-shot music producers, in order to kick-start his career. It was Wilson who introduced him to Rudy Altobelli, who was the owner of the house in which actress Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski lived. 

Manson and the family were eventually evicted from Wilson’s house. They moved into an abandoned movie and television set named Spahn ranch, where the women acted as look-outs and were made to engage in sexual activities with the owner, George Spahn. They were also encouraged to consume drugs and such substances while in the community.  It is over here that Manson developed an obsession with the The Beatles, a world-renowned band. He started seeing hidden meanings in their songs and began spreading several teachings based on the lyrics of their music. He believed that their songs predicted racial uprisings, social turmoil, and impending disasters. Manson also believed that an apocalypse was to strike the world, and referred to this event as “Helter Skelter”, after a song by the Beatles of the same name.


The Tate-LaBianca Murders


Charles Manson and the Family were infamous due to their inexplicable and rogue murder spree, that shook Hollywood and America to its core. A total of 7 people lost their lives between 8-9 August 1969. On the night of 8th August, Manson sent Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel to murder Terry Melcher, a record producer who has snubbed Manson and his musical abilities. The occupants of that house were movie actress Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski, a revered movie producer. At the time, Tate was 8.5 months pregnant and Polanski was abroad on a film project. A get together in the house consisting of Tate’s friends and wealthy socialites, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger was taking place. The four members of the family broke into the house, armed with guns and knives and proceeded to brutally murder all its occupants of the time. Tate was found with several knife stabs, with the word “pig” written on the floor with her blood.

The following night, Manson took his Family out to commit yet another murder, in the correct way, as he was displeased with the commotion caused by the murders of the previous night. He chose to kill supermarket executives, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Manson tied the couple up and gave precise orders to his Family on how to kill them. He wanted each of the women present to play a part in stabbing the couple. This order was executed and the Family left a gruesome scene as they fled.

The police took Manson and the Family on accounts of vandalism and destruction of property in October 1969. They were unaware of their connection with the murders until Susan Atkins confessed to the crime. Their trial began in June 1970, and Charles was asked to be his own attorney as his actions were extremely strange and inexplicable. He came to the court with an “X” carved on his forehead, saying that he was not competent enough to stand up for himself. The prosecution was in a tight spot as the murders were seemingly meaningless. The jurors required a clear motive for the crimes in order to pass a sentence. This was when the prosecutors Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry solidified on Charles’ delusion of “Helter Skelter”. The jury was convinced and the perpetrators of the murder received a death sentence while Charles’ sentence was modified from death to life sentence.


Illness, Death, and Legacy


Charles gave several interviews for mainstream television. Several of his interviews had to be cut short due to his unruly and wild ideologies and behavior. He was popularised due to his eccentric appearance after he shaved his head and converted the X on his forehead into a Swastika, a Nazi symbol. He committed several disciplinary offenses in prison. He would frequently engage in physical fights with inmates and was even caught trafficking drugs. His paroles had been repeatedly denied as experts concluded that he has a history of mental disorders including schizophrenia, delusion disorders and psychopathic tendencies. 

On January 1st, 2017, it was reported that Manson was suffering from gastrointestinal problems while in California State prison. His health worsened through the year and on 19 November 2017, it was reported that he had passed away due to cardiac arrest and respiratory failure. 

Manson was without a doubt a Neo-Nazi hero. Left-wing newspapers hailed him and he was revered by teenagers who had found purpose in his teachings. After the murders, he became the cover story of several magazines, including the Rolling Stone. This wide coverage further increased his popularity. The names of the members of the Manson family have been adopted by several musical artists including Kasabian, Marilyn Manson, and Spahn Ranch. Manson’s music has been released by bands such as The Beach Boys and Guns N’ Roses. 

There have been numerous documentaries and films based on and inspired by Manson and the gruesome murders. The first one was a 1973 documentary titled Manson, directed by Robert Hendrickson and Laurence Merrick. The latest documentary was released in 2019, titles Manson: The Women, featuring interviews from the surviving women who once comprised the Manson Family. Several movies have been centered on him, the most famous one being the 2019 film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, directed by Quentin Tarantino. 

The memory of Charles Manson is slowly but surely losing its true form as the depiction of a crazy, delusional and incontrollable madman, who is believed to have been involved in around 35 murders. He has morphed into a character in movies and popular culture. According to the director of Manson: The Women, James Buddy Day, “In more contemporary times, you’re starting to see him on T-shirts and in movies, and he’s kind of become this American character of a person. I think many people have forgotten who he really was and what he was convicted of.”


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