Born “no name Maddox” in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 12, 1934, Manson was the illegitimate son of Kathleen Maddox, a 16-year-old prostitute. His surname was derived from one of Kathleen’s many lovers, whom she briefly married, but it signified no blood connection. During 1936, Kathleen filed a paternity suit against one “Colonel Scott,” of Ashland, Kentucky, winning the grand monthly sum of five dollars for the support of “Charles Milles Manson.” Scott instantly defaulted on the judgment, and he died in 1954, without acknowledging his son.
In 1939, Kathleen and her brother were sentenced to five years in prison for robbing a West Virginia gas station. Charles was packed off to live with a strictly religious aunt and her sadistic husband, who constantly berated the boy as a “sissy,” dressing him in girl’s clothing for his first day of school in an effort to help Manson “act like a man.” Paroled in 1942, Maddox reclaimed her son, but she was clearly unsuited to motherhood. An alcoholic tramp who brought home lovers of both sexes, Kathleen frequently left Charles with neighbors “for
an hour,” then disappeared for days or weeks on end, leaving relatives to track the boy down. On one occasion, she reportedly gave Charles to a barmaid, in payment for a pitcher of beer.
By 1947, Kathleen was seeking a foster home for her son, but none was available. Charles wound up in the Gibault School for Boys, in Terre Haute, Indiana, but fled after ten months, rejoining his mother. She still didn’t want him, and so Manson took to living on the streets, making his
way by theft. Arrested in Indiana, he escaped from the local juvenile center after one day’s confinement. Recaptured and sent to Father Flanagan’s Boy’s Town, he lasted four days before his next escape, fleeing in a stolen car to visit relatives in Illinois. He pulled more robberies en route and on arrival, leading to another bust at age 13. Confined for three years in a reform school at Plainfield, Indiana, Manson recalls sadistic abuse by older boys and guards alike. If we may trust his memory, at least one guard incited other boys to rape and torture Manson, while the officer stood by and masturbated on the sidelines.
In February 1951, Manson and two other inmates escaped from the Plainfield “school,” fleeing westward in a series of stolen cars. Arrested in Beaver, Utah, Manson was sentenced to federal time for driving hot cars across state lines. Starting off in a minimum-security establishment, Manson assaulted another inmate in January 1952, holding a razor blade to the boy’s throat and sodomizing him. Reclassified as “dangerous,” Manson was transferred to a tougher lock-up, logging eight major disciplinary infractions – including three homosexual assaults – by August 1952. He was moved to the Chilicothe, Ohio reformatory a month later, and suddenly turned over a new leaf, becoming a “model” prisoner almost overnight. The cunning act was rewarded by parole in May 1954.
Arrested a second time for driving hot cars interstate, in September 1955, Manson got off easy with five years probation. He celebrated by skipping a court date in Florida, on pending charges of auto theft, and his probation was promptly revoked. Picked up in Indianapolis on March 14, 1956, he was sent to the federal prison at Terminal Island, California, winning parole on September 30, 1958. Seven months later, on
May 1, 1959, he was jailed in Los Angeles, on charges of forging and cashing stolen U.S. Treasury checks. Once more, he escaped with probation, swiftly revoked with his April 1960 arrest for pimping and transporting whores interstate. Entering the lock-up at McNeil Island, Manson listed his religion as “Scientologist”; his IQ was tested at 121. Paroled on March 21, 1967, over his own objections, Manson was drawn to San Francisco and the teeming Haight-Ashbury district.
In was the “Summer of Love,” when thousands of young people flocked to the banner of drugs and “flower power,” heeding Timothy Leary’s advice to “tune in, turn on, drop out.” The streets and crash-pads over-flowed with teenage runaways and drifters, seeking insight on the world and on themselves. Behind the scenes, a minor army of manipulators – gurus, outlaw bikers, pushers, pimps and Satanists – stood ready to squeeze a grim profit from the Age of Aquarius.
In San Francisco, Manson displayed a surprising charisma, attracting young drop-outs of both sexes, drawn from all strata of white society. Some, like Mary Brunner, were college graduates. Others, like Susan Atkins and Robert Beausoleil, were involved with Satanic cults. Most were hopelessly confused about their lives, adopting Manson as a combination mentor, father-figure, lover, Christ incarnate, and the self-styled “God of Fuck.” They drifted up and down the state in fluctuating numbers, with the “family” topping fifty members at its peak. From Mendocino and the Haight to Hollywood, Los Angeles, Death Valley, Manson’s nomads followed their leader as the Summer of Love became a nightmare. Along the way, they rubbed shoulders with the Church of Satan, the Process Church of Final Judgment (worshipping Satan, Lucifer and Jehovah simultaneously), the Circe Order of Dog Blood, and –some say – the homicidal “Four Pi Movement.” Manson grew obsessed with death and “Helter Skelter,” his interpretation of a Beatles song predicting race war in America. In Manson’s view, once “blackie” had been driven to the point of violence, helpless whites would be annihilated, leaving Manson and his family to rule the roost.
On October 13, 1968, two women were found beaten and strangled to death near Ukiah, California. One, Nancy Warren, was the pregnant wife of a highway patrol officer. The other victim, Clida Delaney, was Warren’s 64-year-old grandmother. The murders were ritualistic in nature, with 36 leather thongs wrapped around each victim’s throat, and several members of the Manson “family” – including two later convicted of unrelated murders – were visiting Ukiah at the time.
Two months later, on December 30, 17-year-old Marina Habe was abducted outside her West Hollywood home, her body recovered on New Year’s Day, with multiple stab wounds in the neck and chest. Investigators learned that Habe was friendly with various “family” members, and police believe her ties with the Manson group led directly to her death.
On May 27, 1969, 64-year-old Darwin Scott – the brother of Manson’s alleged father – was hacked to death in his Ashland, Kentucky, apartment, pinned to the floor by a long butcher knife. Manson was out of touch with his California parole officer between May 22 and June 18, 1969, and an unidentified “LSD preacher from California” set up shop with several young women, in nearby Huntington, around the same time.
On July 17, 1969, 16-year-old Mark Walts disappeared while hitchhiking from Chatsworth, California, to the pier at Santa Monica, to do some fishing. His battered body, shot three times and possibly run over by a car, was found next morning in Topanga Canyon. Walts was a frequent visitor to Manson’s commune at the Spahn
Movie Ranch, and the dead boy’s brother publicly accused Manson of the murder, though no charges were filed.
Around the time of Walts’ death, a “Jane Doe” corpse was discovered near Castaic, northeast of the Spahn
Ranch, tentatively identified from articles of clothing as Susan Scott, a “family” member once arrested with a group of Manson girls in Mendocino. Scott was living at the ranch when she dropped out of sight, and while the Castaic corpse remains technically unidentified, Susan has not been seen again.
In the month between July 27 and August 26, 1969, Manson’s tribe slaughtered at least nine people in Southern California. Musician Gary Hinman was the first to die, hacked to death in retaliation for a drug deal gone sour, “political” graffiti scrawled at the scene in his blood, as Manson tried to blame the crime on “blackie.” On August 9, a Manson hit team raided the home of movie director Roman Polanski, slaughtering Polanski’s wife – pregnant actress Sharon Tate – and four of her guests: Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski, and Steven Parent. The following night, Manson’s “creepy crawlers” killed and mutilated another couple, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, in their Los Angeles home.
An atmosphere of general panic gripped affluent L.A., the grisly crimes demonstrating that no one was safe. On August 16, sheriff’s deputies raided the Spahn
Ranch, arresting Manson and company on various drug-related charges, but Charles was back on the street by August 26. That night, he directed the murder and dismemberment of movie stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea, a hanger-on who “knew too much” and was suspected of discussing family business with police.
Ironically, Manson’s downfall came about through a relatively petty crime. On the night of September 18-19, 1969, members of the family burned a piece of road-grading equipment that was “obstructing” one of their desert dune buggy routes. Arson investigators traced the evidence to Manson, and he was arrested again on October 12. A day later, Susan Atkins was picked up in Ontario, California, and she soon confided details of the Tate-LaBianca murders to cellmates in Los Angeles. Sweeping indictments followed, but even Manson’s removal from circulation could not halt the violence.
On November 5, 1969, family member John Haught – alias “Zero” – was shot and killed while “playing Russian roulette” in Venice, California. Eleven days later, another “Jane Doe” – tentatively identified as family associate Sherry Cooper – was found near the site where Marina Habe’s body had been discovered in 1968. On November 21, Scientologists James Sharp, 15, and Doreen Gaul, 19, were found dead in a Los Angeles alley, stabbed more that 50 times each with a long-bladed knife. Investigators learned that Gaul had been a girlfriend of Bruce Davis, a family member subsequently convicted of first-degree murder in L.A.
And Manson’s arm was long. Joel Pugh, husband of Mansonite Sandra Good, flew to London in late 1968, accompanied by Bruce Davis. Their mission included the sale of some rare coins and the establishment of connections with Satanic orders in Britain. Davis returned to the United States in April 1969, but Pugh lingered on, and his body was found in a London hotel room on December 1, his throat slit with razor blades, his blood used to inscribe “backwards writing” and “comic book drawings” on a nearby mirror.
Charged with the seven Tate-LaBianca murders, Manson and three of his female disciples – Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten – went to trial in June 1970. The defense rested its case on November 19, and attorney Ronald Hughes disappeared eight days later, after he was driven to Sespe Hot Springs by two family associates called “James” and “Lauren.” The lawyer’s decomposing corpse was found in Sespe Creek five months later, around the time Manson’s death sentence was announced, and positive identification was confirmed through dental X-rays.
Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi believes that he has traced the fate of “James” and “Lauren,” suspected of guilty knowledge in Hughe’s death. On November 9, 1972, hikers found the body of 26-year-old James Willett, shotgunned and decapitated, in a shallow grave near Guerneville, California. Three days later, Willett’s station wagon was spotted outside a house in Stockton, and police arrested two members of the Aryan Brotherhood inside, along with three Manson women. Lauren Willett, wife of James, was buried in the basement, and an initial tale of “Russian roulette” was dropped in April 1973, when four of the suspects pled guilty to murder charges.
Meanwhile, the Manson trials continued in Los Angeles. Trigger man Charles “Tex” Watson was convicted and sentenced to die for the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1971. During August of that year, six family members – including original disciple Mary Brunner – tried to steal
140 weapons from a Hawthorne gun shop, planning to break Manson out of jail, but they were captured in a shootout with police. All were subsequently convicted, and Brunner was also sentenced for participation in the Hinman murder. Robert Beausoleil and Susan Atkins picked up additional death sentences for that slaying, while Manson, Bruce Dais, and Steve Grogan were convicted in both the Hinman and Shea murders.
Various death sentences were overturned by the US Supreme Court’s
1972 ruling against Capital Punishment, and all of the family
hackers are now technically eligible for parole. In Manson’s absence,
Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme held the family reins,
corresponding with Charlie in prison and spreading his gospel on the
streets, forging new alliances with sundry cults and racist
groups. In September 1975, she tried to assassinate President
Gerald Ford, but her pistol misfired and Squeaky was sentenced to
As for the family patriarch, commutation of his
death sentence launched Manson on a seemingly endless tour of the
California prison system – from San Quentin to Vacaville, on to
Folsom, back to San Quentin, and so no. Wherever he went, the
pattern was identical: conflicts with authority and other inmates,
various beatings and murder attempts (to date, he has been poisoned,
set on fire, and badly beaten several times), half-hearted hunger
strikes, and raving television interviews. In March 1974,
Manson was diagnosed as an ” acute psychotic” two months
later he assaulted a guard; two months after that, he was caught
passing notes about a planned escape attempt.
The Aryan Brotherhood, once Manson’s de facto bodyguard, soon turned against
him, one member sexually assaulting him at San Quentin, others
beating him up at Folsom, another team slipping rat poison into his
favorite soft drink. Still, there were rumors of Charlie
orchestrating payback: one of his AB tormentors was stabbed to death
at Folsom, while another was shotgunned by the proverbial persons
unknown, shortly after his parole. Both crimes were probably
related to the Brotherhood’s traffic in drugs or continual feuding
with blacks, but Manson was pleased to take credit for the murders
with a wink and a grin.
While eligible for parole since 1972, no
convicted killer has yet been released.
Susan Atkins and Tex Watson claim to have”found God” in
prison, Watson founding his own ministry with a small but loyal
cadre of disciples in the free world. Krenwinkel and Van
Houten insist they have changed, matured, but no public official
mindful of his future in elective office is prepared to take them at
their word. As for Manson Himself, his yearly parole hearings
– those he deigns to attend – have been converted into a theater of
the grotesque, with Manson rambling incoherently, sometimes for
hours on end, on topics ranging from the Brazilian rain forest to
his by an unjust society. Sometimes he
doesn’t show at all: in 1979, for example, he passed on the hearing
and sent the parole board a “Get Out of Jail Free” card
from his Monopoly set. And there is always more trouble
waiting for Manson, wherever he goes. In August 1997, he was
sentenced to serve seven months at California’s
“super-max” Pelican Bay State Prison, after he was
convicted of selling drugs to other inmates. He completed that
sentence in June 1998 and was transferred to yet another
lockup Also in that year, Manson had a parole hearing that
was videotaped and broadcast by Court-TV He was of course
denied. Seven months later he was put in the hole, where he
served two months, and was charged with “illegal business
dealings”. During the following eight months he was placed on
“restricted status and had visits and phone calls
curtailed. Since then Manson has continuously gone between
“the hole” and the protective housing unit. Manson’s
most recent and 10th parole hearing was on April 24, 2002.He
refused to attend. It is believed that he did not attend
because he did not want to be seen in shackles but the prison would
not allow him to go without handcuffs. His parole was again
denied.The next hearing will be in 2007. Until then he
will remain in prison which is where his headline-grabbing antics
will undoubtedly continue.
The house at 10050 Cielo Drive, rented
by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate was demolished in 1994. An
Italian-style mansion has been built in its place and the street
address has been changed. Originally, the mansion was priced
at $12.5 million, but the price was reduced to $7.7 million.
As of the end of 1999, the house still remained vacant. Most
agencies refuse to list it and believe that it will probably stay
The 43-acre property in Chatsworth, formerly
known as Spahn Ranch, was sold for an undisclosed amount to the
Church of Rocky Peak.