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In this world there are cults everywhere. Whether they're in the US,
China, or maybe next-door there is always one common factor, control. Charles
Manson was a cult leader in southern California during the sixties. Like all
cult leaders Manson had his own small band of followers. His influence was so
great that his followers were willing to kill for him at his smallest whim.
Charles Manson was very paranoid and was under the influnce that there
was to be an upcoming race war. He called this race war “Helter Skelter”.
Charles M. Manson was born in Cincinnati on November 11, 1934. His
mother Kathleen Maddox, a teenage prostitute, his father was a man remembered as
“Colonel Scott.” In order to give her bastard son a name she married William
Manson. He quickly abandoned the both of them. In 1939 Kathleen Maddox was
arrested for robbery and Charles was sent to live with his aunt and grandmother.
Charles remembered his aunt as a harsh disciplinarian and favored is uncle
because he gave him money for the movies and took him on frequent fishing trips.
Only when his uncle became ill did his unfit mother come and reclaim her
unwanted son and moved to Indianapolis.
When Mrs. Manson reclaimed her son she promised that she would take care
of him and provide for his every need. Unfortunately, all these promises were
soon shattered by liquor and men. She frequently neglected Charles by telling
him she would be back in an hour and then not show up for the rest of the night.
Sometimes when her guilt took her over she would give him fifty cents and
another promise; and at other times she just abused him.
When Mrs. Manson got fed up with taking care of Charles she arranged to
have Charles put in a foster home, but arrangements fell through. As a last
resort she sent Charles to Gibault School in Terre Haute. Mrs. Manson couldn't
keep up the payments and once again Charles was sent back to his mother's abuse.
At only fourteen Manson rented himself a room and supported himself with odd
jobs and petty theft. His mother turned him into the juvenile authorities.
Once there Manson met Rev. George Powers who had him sent to Boys Town near
Omaha, Nebraska. Charles spent a total of three days in Boys Town before
running away with his new friend Blackie Neilson. They were arrested in Peoria,
Illinois for robbing a grocery store and returned back to Indianapolis. Charles
was then sent to the Indiana Boys School in Plainfield where he ran away another
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Boys in Washington D.C.
After his release in 1954 he went to West Virginia and not before long
married Rosalie Jean Willis. She became pregnant and Charles started stealing
cars. By the time the baby was born he was in a Los Angeles jail.
Rosalie moved to California to be near Charles. Her mother-in-law had a
seldom streak of maternal sympathy and came to help care for her grandchild.
In 1958 Charles got out of Prison his wife, child, and mother had left
him alone again. Several arrests for car theft and pimping followed; in 1960,
Charles was given ten years for forging government checks. While he was serving
his ten year sentence at McNeil Island Penitentiary he studied philosophy, took
up guitar, and taught himself sing and compose songs. He was constant probation
violator and was not eligible for parole. He served seven years until his
release in March, 1967.
This long stretch had left its mark. “If Charlie has any roots in the
penal system,” Said one acquaintance (New York Times Magazine January 4, 1970).
“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. Every time 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 went off to Haight Ashbury, where the
hippie movement was coming about. At the time the true hippies, the gentle ones
who believed in peace, love, and sharing with others, were like a primitive
tribe suddenly exposed to civilization. As the media spread their story, the
hippies became overwhelmed with teenyboppers, motorcycle gangs, and a wide
variety of the mentally deranged.
Manson's probation officer remembers he was “shaken” by the friendliness
of the hippies, but before long Manson learned how to exploit it. A slim man,
about five feet seven inches tall, brown hair and eyes, Manson started to
collect a harem of impressionable girls searching for community of love as
advertised by the media. With a guitar, a pleasant voice, boyish smile, sinuous
mannerisms, and being a smooth talker were Manson's traits that appealed to his
Whenever Manson succeeded in making a new recruit 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.
“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.”(Roberts pg.31)
Susan Atkins remembers bleakly, “I never questioned what Charlie said. I just
To his girls Charles Manson was a “beautiful man” who “loved us all
totally.” Many outsiders found him to be a relentless recruiter who came on
strong with every girl he met, a cynic who treated his harem like possessions
and seldom showed any real affection to them. A close friend explained, “In
away he was very frank and truthful, but in away he was very treacherous with
words, but there was no meaning behind them.” 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 system.
When the girls came into the group their biggest conflict was the idea
of sex on demand. Charles could be very brutal when necessary, any girl that
stayed with him accepted the idea of having sex with him or anyone else on
demand. He preached that women should be submissive to men; this idea was put
into one of the Beach Boys songs. Charles titled it “Cease and Resist,” and
although the Beach Boys changed it to “Never Learn Not To Love,” they kept the
lyric “Submission is a gift, give it to your lover.”
As Haight Ashbury was being taken over by drug pushers, psychotics, and
rapists, Charles packed his crew in to an old converted school bus and headed
south in the spring of 1968. The group of fourteen consisting of nine girls and
five boys were arrested near Oxnard for sleeping nude in a field; the mother of
a newborn infant was arrested and charged with child endangerment. But the
charges were dropped when they agreed with authorities to leave Ventura county.
Once in Los Angeles the crew stayed in Topanga Canyon, which, originally
was a haven for hippies, which, like Haight Ashbury, had been overrun with
panhandlers. For a while they stayed with Gary Hinman, a musician. Then one of
the girls met Dennis Wilson, a member of the Beach Boys singing group. He
invited the entire family to stay in his luxurious home in Pacific Palisades.
Manson attempted several times to pursued Wilson to join with the family.
Wilson never gave in and after several attempts Manson and his family left the
They finally settled at Spahn Ranch in the Santa Susana Mountains.
Spahn Ranch was an old movie set, just north of the 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. George Spahn soon grew desperately afraid
of Manson, he only allowed them to stay because he enjoyed the attention he got
from the girls who cooked and cleaned for him. The Family stayed at the Ranch
for an entire year before they left because the deputy sheriffs had staged
several raids looking for stolen vehicles. It was then that the family headed
off to the dessert where they made their last home until their arrests.
While living in the desert Manson's fears of the Black race grew
substantially. Manson was an avid believer in the law of karma, an eastern
religious idea that all events come in cycles and have previous causes. Manson
was convinced that the black man would revolt and oppress the white man in the
way that the whites had previously oppressed the blacks. He believed that this
revolt would lead into an all out race war that he called Helter Skelter.
Manson was under the impression that after the race war happened that only he,
his family, and anyone else that escaped to the desert would survive.
Believing this, Manson turned his home in the desert into a fortress.
Guns appeared at the ranch, and the men would frequently take target practice.
Guards were posted. Escape routes to the desert were plotted. Caches of
gasoline and other necessities were buried all over the Death Valley area.
Manson was pro-race war. So much so that he preached it and attempted
several times to provoked it. Manson tried to provoke Helter Skelter by having
his family carry out several murders and then make it look as if people of the
Black race had committed the crime. The people he killed ranged in the upper-
class and some famous. His most famous victims were Sharon Tate, a movie star,
and her husband Roman Polanski. Other victims included Leno and Rosemary
LaBianca, Abigail Folger and her fiancé Voytek Frykowski, Jay Sebring, Gary
Hinman, Steven Parent, and Donald Shea.
Manson's victims were savagely mudered. The killers used guns, knives,
forks, and blunt objects. With their victim's blood they wrote on the walls, “
Death to pigs.” When the police found Abigail Folger, her white dress appeared
red after being stabbed twenty-three times. And when they found Leno LaBianca a
fork was sticking out of his chest.
On August 16, 1969, during a police raid, Charles Manson and his family
were arrested for murder. The trial soon followed. Leading the prosecution
Babitz, Eve. “The Manson Murders.” Esquire. August 1994.
Bugliosi,Vincent. Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders.
W.W. Norton & Company Inc. New York. C.1974.
Roberts, Steven V. “Charlie Manson: One Man's Family.” New York Times
Magazine, January 4, 1970.
Sanders, Ed. The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack
Battalion. E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc. New York. 1971.
“The Manson Women: Inside the Murders.” Turning Point. Interviewer Diane
Sawyer.ABC, New York. November 9, 1994.
Unknown. “The Power of a Cult.” Glamour. January, 1995: 160-183.