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Charles Manson is known as one of the most sinister and evil criminals of all time. He organized the murders that shocked the world and his name still strikes fear into
American hearts. Manson's childhood, personality, and uncanny ability to control people
led to the creation of a family-like cult and ultimately to the bloody murders of numerous innocent people.
Charles M. Manson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 11, 1934. His mother, Kathleen Maddox, was a teenage prostitute. Manson's father walked out on the
still pregnant Maddox, never to be seen again. In order to give her bastard son a name,
Ms. Maddox married William Manson. He soon abandoned the both of them.
Manson's mother often neglected Charles after her husband left her. She tried to put him into a foster home, but the arrangements fell through. As a last resort she sent
Charles to school in Terre Haute, Indiana. Mrs. Manson failed to make the payments for
the school and once again Charles was sent back to his mother's abuse. At only fourteen,
Manson left his mother and rented a room for himself. He supported himself with odd
jobs and petty theft. His mother turned him into the juvenile authorities, who had him sent to "Boys Town," a juvenile detention center, near Omaha, Nebraska. Charles spent a total of three days in "Boys Town" before running away. He was arrested in Peoria, Illinois for robbing a grocery store and was then sent to the Indiana Boys School in Plainfield, Indiana, where he ran away another eighteen times before he was caught and sent to the National Training School for Boys in Washington D.C. Manson never had a place to call "home" or a real family. He spent his childhood being sent from one place to another, and trouble always seemed to follow him. His mother's negligence left Manson without a home and without much of a future. Manson turned to crime to support himself, and he soon became very good at it. When just a child, he became a criminal and spent his last years of childhood in a correctional facility.
After his release from the training school in 1954, a new period of Manson's life
began. He went to West Virginia and soon married a girl named Rosalie Jean Willis. She
became pregnant and Manson had a child. This was Manson's first real family, but he
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necessary to support his new family. By the time the baby was born, Manson was in
prison on Grand Theft Auto charges.
In 1958 Charles was released from prison. His wife and child had left him, leaving
Charles alone once again. Several arrests for car theft and pimping followed; in 1960
Charles was given ten years imprisonment for forging government checks. While he was
serving his ten year sentence at McNeil Penitentiary, he studied philosophy, took up guitar, and taught himself sing and compose songs. His newfound musical skills would later attract followers. His study of philosophy helped create some of his outlandish ideas that later appealed to his would-be followers. Manson was released in March, 1967 after serving seven years. By the time Manson was thirty-two years old, he had spent seventeen years, more than half of his life, in prison.
This long stretch of incarceration had left its mark. "If Charlie has any roots,
they're in the penal system," 1 said one acquaintance.
"Inside, you have to be aware of everything, and when he came out, Charlie was like a cat. Nothing got by Charlie if something happened within a hundred miles of him, he
made sure he knew about it. Everytime he came into a room, he cased it, like an animal. Where were the windows? What was the quickest way out? He never sat with his back to the door."
Soon after his release, Manson traveled to Haight Ashbury, where the "hippie"
movement was in full force. At this time, hippies were gentle people, believing in peace, love, and sharing with others. This was a perfect environment for Manson to gain
followers. Manson's probation officer remembers he was "shaken" by the friendliness of
the hippies, but before long, Manson learned how to exploit it. He started to collect a
retinue of impressionable girls searching for a community of love. With a guitar, a
pleasant voice, sinuous mannerisms, and sweet talk with empty promises, Manson
convinced many young-adults to leave their lives and families to be with him. The
beginnings of his "Family" took shape.
Whenever Manson succeeded in gaining one of these followers, the first thing he
did was to deprogram both their ego and their "hang ups," about conventional society. By
"hang ups," he meant anything he did not like. Richard DeMargeno, a criminologist,
believed Manson was able to control these people by replacing their father figures.
"It wasn't a very difficult process. He was dealing with lonely insecure people in need of a father figure, people who didn't have much ego to begin with. What he did, in effect, was to tear down that ego and substitute himself, thus gaining enormous control over his followers." 2
To his girls, Charles Manson was a "beautiful man who loved us all totally." Later, a group of young women outside of Manson's murder trial replied, "We're waiting for our father to be set free," when asked why they sat on the street-side corner.
Manson had obviously replaced these girls' father figure, placing himself at the center of their lives. Manson soon recruited dozens of girls into his "Family." Yet, many outsiders found him to be a relentless recruiter who came on strong with every girl he met, a cynic who treated his followers like possessions and seldom showed any real affection to them.
Alan Springer, a man Manson once tried to recruit, said, "In away he was very frank and
truthful, but in away he was very treacherous with words."3 Dr. David Smith, founder and
director of the free clinic in Haight Ashbury, thought that these two sides of Charles
Manson were not contradictory:
"To take an example, if you get to know any paranoid schizophrenics it won't puzzle you at all. The schizophrenic usually believes in a mystical system in which he is right,
and he can plan in the most calculating and cunning way possible. He himself does not really know he is a con man, or whether he really does love the girls. He vacillates
between one emotion and the other, one of the characteristics of a schizoid personality is the inability to sustain one emotion. It doesn't confuse me that he would be
able to convey sincere emotion and carry on in a very plotting way. Of course, he would hide the cunning side as much as possible from those he wanted to involve in his
When a new girl came into Manson's group, their biggest conflict was the idea of sex on demand. Charles could be very brutal when necessary and any girl that stayed with
him accepted the idea of having sex with him or anyone else he wanted. He preached that
women should be submissive to men. Surprisingly, these girls came to believe as he did.
Obviously, Charles had an unbelievable talent of manipulating people. According to Paul
Watkins, a one time follower of Manson, he soon had almost complete control over his
"I lived with Charlie for about one year straight and on and off for two years. I know Charlie. I know him inside and out. I became Charlie. Everything I once was, was Charlie.
There was nothing left of me anymore. And all of the people in the Family, there's nothing left of them anymore, they're all Charlie too." 5
Charles packed his crew of fourteen, consisting of nine girls and five boys, into an
old school bus and headed south in the spring of 1968. The "Family" settled at Spahn
Ranch in the Santa Susana Mountains, just north of San Fernando Valley. The owner of
the Ranch, eighty five year old George Spahn, was blind and feeble and allowed the family to stay with him. Manson ordered one of his girls to care for the man so that the "Family" could might stay there as long as they wished. Mr. Spahn soon grew desperately afraid of Manson and only allowed him to stay because he enjoyed the attention he got from the girls who cooked and cleaned for him. It was at this ranch that Manson seriously started developing his cult.
Manson's following grew and many more people were recruited in the "Family."
He started preaching to his followers in bizzare ways. He would have the group take acid
trips then listen to him as he spun twisted stories that put ideas into their heads.
Charles would reenact the Crucifixion of Christ, trying to instill upon his follower's minds that he was Jesus Christ, that he was a higher power that they all needed to follow unquestionably. Manson convinced his followers that a war of the races was coming, which he named Helter Skelter. He got the name from a Beatles song, and had his
followers prepare for the upcoming war by collecting guns and other weapons. Manson
turned the ranch into a fortress. He started to change his following from being a group of freedom searching people into an organized army-like force. A prosecution witness in the later murder trial said, "..., he [Manson] wants to build up a thing where he can be leader of the world. He's crazy." 6 The men would target practice and guards were posted.
Escape routes to the desert were planned. Caches of gasoline and other necessities were
buried all over the Death Valley area. Then Manson had his followers start the crimes,
then he had them start the killings.
On August 9th, 1969, Manson ordered a party of his followers to burglarize a
residence in the Los Angeles. All of the people going knew they were supposed to kill
everyone there, yet they didn't think twice about doing it for Manson. Before they left,
Manson told the party, "If you're going to do something, leave something witchy." 7 This
order was later followed to a hideous extent. The residence targeted by Manson for the
robbery and murders belonged to Roman Polanski, a movie director, and his pregnant wife
Sharon Tate, an up-and-coming movie star. Mr. Polanski was in Europe. His wife had
Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski staying with her until his return.
That night, Jay Sebring and Steven Parent were visiting Mrs. Tate. Manson's
followers broke into the residence, and viciously murdered everyone there. They were very brutal in the slayings, acting without remorse or guilt. Manson had them believing there was nothing wrong with murdering these people. One of Manson's girls, Sandra Good,
said, "Whatever is necessary, you do it. When somebody needs to be killed, there's no
wrong. You do it, then you move on." 8 Manson's followers mutilated the bodies, Ms.
Folger's corpse was so bloody that her once white night gown appeared to be red. Sharon
Tate's body was no different. She was covered in stab wounds and had a rope tied around
her neck that ran over a rafter in the ceiling and was bound to Mr. Frykowski's neck.
The word 'PIG' was scrolled with blood on the front door of the home, thus Manson's orders of leaving something "witchy" were followed.
Susan Atkins, one of Manson's followers, claimed to have almost enjoyed these
murders, saying it gave her a sort of trip.
She had wanted to cut out the baby, Susan said, but there hadn't been time. They wanted to take out the eyes of the people, and squash them against the walls, and cut off their
fingers. "We were going to mutilate them, but we didn't have a chance to." 9
The next night following the Tate murders, Manson and his followers struck again.
The target was the home of Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca. This time, Manson himself
accompanied his family members to the residence. After the group broke into the home
and detained the LaBianca's, Manson issued orders to kill the couple and then left.
Manson's followers stabbed Mrs. LaBianca fourty-one times, stabbed her husband to
death, left a fork and a knife in his chest, and carved the word "WAR" into his stomach.
The words "RISE", "HELTER SKELTER", and "DEATH TO PIGS" were scribbled on the walls and the refrigerator in the victims' blood. These brutal slayings demonstrate the evil
in Manson's warped mind. He was able to convince normal human beings to commit
unspeakable acts of violence the likes of which the world had never seen. In a sense,
Manson molded his followers' beliefs and values to represent his own. He had once again
ordered his "Family" members to slay innocent people in his name and they gladly did so.
It wasn't long before Manson and his followers were arrested for the savage murders.
Manson carved an "X" into his head, that he later turned into a swastica, claiming that he "X'd" himself from our world. Many of his women quickly followed suit.
Even when faced with the death penalty for the murders, Manson's followers still believed in and loved their leader. The murder trial attested to Manson's twisted mind even more.
He often burst out with strange comments or demands, and freely spoke of his strange
ideas in front of the jury. It soon became obvious that Manson had some sort of
psychological problam. Yet, through the whole trial, Manson contested that he was
innocent, that he didn't force any of his followers to do anything. This showed he had no love for his followers, he didn't care what happened to them. Manson said to the
prosecuting attorney, "You know, I only made love to her [a women follower] two or three
times. After she had her baby and lost her shape, I couldn't have cared less about her."10
The prosecution attorney did an excellent job of proving the murderers' guilt, and
all persons charged, including Manson, were found guilty. The jury sentenced all of the
murderers to be put to death, but because the state of California soon after abolished the death penalty, the sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.
To this day, Manson and his followers are still in prison. Manson is eligible for
parole, and has had several hearings. He still claims that he wasn't responsible for the
murders and acts as if the bloody slayings were of no importance.
Manson was a criminal to the core. In his life he had committed almost every
crime imaginable. His life of crime developed a warped mind that he used to sinister ends.
His never having a loving family deadened him to having any morals or guilty feelings.
He felt no remorse for the killings and acted as if the people he had killed did not deserve to live. His uncanny ability to control people allowed him to gather the followers he needed to accomplish his devilish tasks. He was able to convince these followers into sharing his beliefs and used these people as killing machines. The murders of numerous innocent people were a direct result of Manson's ability to control people and his corrupted childhood that created created his criminal mind.
Babitz, Eve, The Manson Murders, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1974.
Bugliosi, Vincent, Helter Skelter, Bantam Books, October, 1975.
Roberts, Steven, "Charles Manson: One Man's Family," New York Times, 45:1-3,
January 4, 1970.
Sanders, Ed, The Family, New York, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1971.
"The Manson Women: Inside the Murders," Turning Point, New York, ABC, November
The Internet (Universal Relay Languange Addresses Available.)
Unknown, "The Power of a Cult," Glamour, 11:160-183, January, 1995.
Encyclopedia of Occultims and Parasychology, Gale Research, Inc., 1991.