Charles Manson

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Charles Manson

Charles Milles Manson (born November 12, 1934) was convicted of murder in what became known as the "Tate-La Bianca case," after Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca —victims in two separate mass murders carried out by Manson's followers.

Manson was the leader of a group of young male and female followers, known collectively as "The Family", and had planned and ordered the murders, although he was not accused of committing them in person.

During the trial, evidence was accepted that Manson recruited and gained the trust of impressionable young people, who were typically estranged from their families or were otherwise seeking affection and support. Through his personal charisma and use of sex, drugs, and pseudo-religious mantras, Manson was able to gain a deep control over his followers, to the degree that they had even grown to believe that he was Jesus incarnate.

Manson began discussing his theory of "Helter Skelter", the ultimate race war he claimed was being prophesied by the music of The Beatles. In 1969, he told his followers that it was time to start "Helter Skelter", which he believed he could incite by gruesomely murdering prominent white people and leaving clues which implicated the Black Panthers. Over two nights in August 1969, his followers murdered seven people in Los Angeles, California, including the movie actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant. The murder case and subsequent trial were major news stories throughout the world because of the high profile victims, the brutality of the killings, and the unique backgrounds of the people accused of killing them.

Manson and several of his followers were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. However, the sentence was commuted when California repealed the death sentence. The death penalty was since reinstituted, but the appeal effectively meant the sentence would be commuted for those convicted before the repeal.



Manson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to an absentee father, and attended Walnut Hills High School. When he was thirteen, his mother attempted to put him in a foster home. When she was unable to find one for him, he ended up at Gibault School for Boys, a reform school in Terre Haute, Indiana. Within a year he ran away and back to his mother, who still wanted nothing to do with him. He began living on the streets, supporting himself by stealing. He quickly escalated from minor to federal offenses, which carried far stricter punishment. Prior to the killings, he spent more than half his life (around 17 years) in Federal prison —at one point asking not to be released.

In 1951, after a string of arrests and escapes, Manson was sent to prison for driving a stolen car across state lines. By the end of 1952, he had eight assault charges against him. He was transferred to another facility where he became a model inmate, and was released in 1954.

In January of 1955, Manson married 17-year-old Rosalie Jean Willis, and decided to move to California. Soon after the wedding, Manson stole a car and was arrested. Willis became pregnant in April. Manson's parole was revoked in 1956 when he missed a court date. Soon after his arrest, Willis gave birth to their son, Charles Manson, Jr. (d. 1993; suicide at age 38). She then left town with a truck driver and their son.

His prison and probation reports showed a consistent message:

(1950-52) "Tries to give the impression of trying hard although actually not putting forth any effort ...marked degree of rejection, instability and psychic trauma ... constantly striving for status ... a fairly slick institutionalized youth who has not given up in terms of securing some kind of love and affectiion from the world ... dangerous ... should not be trusted across the street ... homosexual and assaultative tendencies ... safe only under supervision ... unpredictable ... in spite of his age he is criminally sophisticated and grossly unsuited for retention in an open reformatory type institution"; (1958-59) "Almost without exception will let down anyone who went to bat for him ... an almost classic case of correctional institutional inmate ... a very difficult case and it is almost impossible to predict his future adjustment ... a very shaky probationer and it seems just a matter of time before he gets into further trouble".

Manson was paroled in 1958 after serving 2 years of a 3-year sentence. In 1959 he was arrested again for passing stolen checks. Once again, he was given probation which was revoked nine months later. During his probation, he met a girl named Leona, whom he married.

On June 1, 1960, Manson was arrested for solicitation of prostitution. He was ordered to serve his ten year suspended sentence for passing stolen checks. Soon after his arrest, Leona gave birth to his second son, Charles Luther Manson.

Manson was finally released in March 1967. Whilst in prison or on probation, he had raped another inmate at razor point, stolen cars, pimped inmates, and forged federal checks. His prison reports continued with the same message:

(1961-62) "He hides his resentment and hostility behind a mask of superficial ingratiation ... even his cries for help represent a desire for attention with only superficial meaning"; (1964) "Pattern of instability continues ... intense need to call attention to himself ... fanatical interests"; then finally, (1966) "Manson is about to complete his ten year term. He has a pattern of criminal behaviour and confinement that dates to his teen years ... little can be expected in the way of change."

Manson was released on March 21, 1967, and requested permission to move to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, California, where he would start recruiting his "Family."

"The Family"

By 1967, when he was finally released, Manson had spent most of his adult life in prison, mostly for offenses such as car theft and credit card fraud. He also worked some time as a pimp. He gathered a group of followers, which Vincent Bugliosi referred to as the Family, a commune bound together by fanatical loyalty to Manson, and a negation of all moral precepts.

He soon afterwards moved to Los Angeles, at first basing himself and the Family in Pacific Palisades and then taking over an un-used ranch in the western San Fernando Valley formerly used to make western movies, the Spahn Ranch. Inspired by the Beatles song "Helter Skelter" and other songs of the White Album, he became convinced of an impending race and nuclear war, based on Biblical prophecy in the Book of Revelation.

He implied to his followers that he was Jesus Christ, saying he had died before, some 2,000 years ago. However, when asked directly in court he said, "I may be Jesus Christ. I have not yet decided who I am." Around the time the family was formed, he is said to have begun calling himself by a slightly different name, Charles Willis Manson (his real name was "Charles Milles Manson"), allegedly because it could be read symbolically as "Charles Will Is Man's Son". He had also been strongly influenced by Scientology and, it is hypothesized, an obscure cult known as The Process (also known as the Church of the Final Judgement).

Although only a few members of the Family came to national attention, the Family itself seems to have been quite a significant size, estimates of up to 100 people (of varying degrees of involvement) associated with the Family have been quoted beyond the "hard core" of around 30.

The killings

On the night of August 9, 1969, Manson directed some members of the Family to commit murder. These were Charles "Tex" Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins. At or around midnight, they entered the home of actress Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski, who was eight months pregnant, and murdered her along with her friend, Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring, and houseguests Abigail Folger, the coffee heiress, and her lover Wojciech Frykowski (frequently misspelled as Voytek Frykowski). Before entering the house, they had shot Steven Parent, an 18-year-old man who was leaving the property and had unwittingly seen the intruders, to death. The Family had also intended to kill novelist Jerzy Kosinski, who was also supposed to be at the house, but Kosinski was stranded in New York due to a missed connecting flight.

Linda Kasabian was the look-out and driver, and later received immunity for submitting evidence against the group. She told Manson, "I'm not like you, I can't kill," and evinced shock and horror at finally seeing the pictures of the killings in court. The victims had been stabbed ferociously many dozens of times, and words such as "pig" and "helter skelter" were left on the walls in their blood.

The following night in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles, California, businessman Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were also murdered in their home, once again by members of the Family (Watson, Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten). On this occasion, Manson apparently went along to "show them how to do it" with less tumult, and pacified the victims, tying them up before returning to the car to tell his followers to commit the murders. There was no apparent connection between the victims of the murders, but the crimes were prosecuted by Los Angeles assistant district attorney Vincent Bugliosi in a single trial.

Members of the Manson Family had previously been responsible for the murder of Gary Hinman, a music teacher in Topanga, and were suspected of other murders. They claimed a total of some 35 killings, not counting those after the trial, of which several were considered likely or plausible, but were not tried on most of these either for lack of evidence, or because the perpetrators were already sentenced to life for the Tate/La Bianca killings.

Barker Ranch, inside California's Mojave Desert, is known as the last hideout of Charlie Manson and his "family" during and after the gruesome LA murder spree. The local county sheriff department & National Park law enforcement captured Manson and his group in 1969. At the time of his arrest, they were unaware of what they had on their hands. They wanted to prosecute the persons responsible for vandalizing a portion of the National Park further north, not even knowing that they had a mass murder suspect, plus a cult following of druggie kids.

(For further details of the killings see individual articles related to those involved)

Possible motive

The murders were on the surface motiveless and unconnected to Manson, but some key motives were later identified.

  • Manson was highly hostile to society, pathologically so, and wanted revenge.
  • Manson had been rejected by the music industry and wanted revenge.
In the spring of 1968, Charles was introduced to record producer Terry Melcher, son of actress Doris Day, by Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, who had picked up a couple of the Family members as they were hitchhiking. Manson and the Family moved into Wilson's house, where they lived for a year, and the Beach Boys recorded a song Manson wrote. At the time, Melcher and his girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen, were living at the Tate house, and it was there Manson met him. Manson auditioned for Melcher, but Melcher decided not to sign him to a contract. Although Manson knew that Melcher and Bergen had moved to Malibu, Bugliosi has suggested that he targeted the house because it represented his rejection by the show business community he wanted to enter, and that it was of no interest to him who his actual victims would be.
  • Manson got a 'kick' out of death and control.
During the trial, one witness commented that "he [Manson] doesn't know about love... love is not his trip. Death is his trip".
  • The killers were attempting to clear the blame from Bobby Beausoleil.
This was a motive stated by the killers during interviews with them, featured in a 1972 Manson documentary. They claimed that the motive for the murders was to clear Bobby Beausoleil, whom they described as a brother to them. Stating that they were willing to sacrifice their lives, (meaning the death penalty) to clear his name, they committed copycat murders to cast doubt on Bobby's guilt.
(This motive was substantially discredited during the penalty phase of the trial, where it became apparent that the "free Beausoleil" motive was contradicted by other testimony of the killers. Additionally, despite declaring they would die for Manson, the other accused claim to have waited until the main trial was over and the death penalty was being discussed, and then only on redirect, to introduce this as a motive. It was dismissed by the prosecution as an attempt to clear Manson by means of the other defendants taking the blame)
  • Manson had come to believe Armageddon was imminent, in the form of race war, and believed he was destined to be the ultimate beneficiary of it.
Manson viewed race war as imminent, describing it as Helter Skelter, "all the wars that have ever been fought, piled on top of each other". He told his followers that this was imminent, but that there was a secret underground world reached by a hole underneath the desert, where they would wait out the war in bliss. He described this many times, and it was a part of their communal belief, so much so that they stocked up supplies and searched for the hole prior to the crimes. Blacks would win the war, but be unable to run the world through lack of experience, and the Family would therefore emerge and run it for them as a benevolent autocracy, with Manson at the head of this new world order. The war would be triggered by "some black people coming out of the ghetto and doing atrocious crimes... killings... writing things in blood." However, by summer 1969, Manson was heard to say that blacks did not know how to start its role in this war, so he would have to show them.

Although all five were possible motives, in the trial the prosecutor placed the latter as the main motive, despite its unusual nature. There have been claims that the prosecution abandoned the fourth motive in favour of Helter Skelter, which they purportedly made up in order to connect Manson to the murders. This view has has not had much support.


The two cases were not well researched by police, principally due to rivalries between the Tate team (older) and the La Bianca team (younger), in which the Tate team were not readily open to suggestions that the two cases were connected. As a result of this, Bugliosi himself played a significant and active role in gathering the evidence needed to convict.

Ronald Hughes, a young lawyer with an extensive knowledge of alternative culture, was the final state-appointed attorney for defendants Manson and Van Houten (several other attorneys were appointed and then dismissed during the trial). He suggested to Manson that he obtain a different attorney for himself, Irving Kanarek, and continued to defend Van Houten, apparently so that he could defend Van Houten more effectively. He hoped to show that Van Houten was acting under the influence of Manson, and to portray Manson as controlling her actions. This may have cost him his life. In late November 1970, Hughes went camping near Sespe Hot Springs. He disappeared, and his decomposed body was discovered four months later. It is thought that other members of the Family killed him in reprisal for impugning Manson in court; one member of the Family described this as "the first of the retaliation killings".

On March 6, 1970, Manson released an album titled Lie to help finance his defense. The album was put out by ESP Records and included the song that had previously been recorded by the Beach Boys.

Although Manson himself was not present at the Tate/La Bianca killings, he was convicted of first degree murder on January 25, 1971, for ordering and directing them, and on March 29 was sentenced to death. The death sentence was later automatically commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court's People v. Anderson decision resulted in the invalidation of all death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972. The killers, giggling in court, were asked if they felt remorse, and gave answers that indicated they did not.

A different view which is not widely accepted is given by Manson supporters, who claim that the trial was politically motivated, and that Manson was a peaceful man.


The Family survived the incarceration of Manson. After his arrest, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, one of Manson's shrewdest, toughest and most obedient followers, effectively took command of the management of the Family in his absence. With a handful of other followers, mostly women, she perched on the steps of the Los Angeles courthouse during the trial, shaved her head to protest his conviction and, copying Manson, gouged an X into her forehead as a sign of loyalty. She later explained: "We have X'ed ourselves out of this world."

On November 13, 1972, Michael Monfort, James Craig, Priscilla Cooper, Nancy Laura Pitman and Lynnette Alice Fromme were held for the murder of James T. Willett and his wife.

On September 5, 1975, Fromme unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate U.S. President Gerald R. Ford in Sacramento. "Time" article Sept. 15 ( It appears that although she managed to get close to Ford, by mistake the chamber of her .45 Colt was empty. She was heard to say, "It didn't go off. Can you believe it? It didn't go off!" She stated she had committed the crime so that Manson would appear as a witness at her trial, and thus have a worldwide platform from which to talk about his apocalyptic vision. She escaped prison in December 1987, apparently to try to reach California and Manson, but was recaptured 2 days later.

Manson remains imprisoned to this day (2005); all of his applications for parole have been denied, most notably in 1986 when he appeared before the parole board with a swastika embossed on his forehead. During his stay in prison, Manson has received more mail than any other prisoner in the United States prison system. It is said that he gets over 60,000 pieces of mail a year, much of it fan mail from young people hoping to join the Family. He currently resides in California's Corcoran State Prison.

News cuttings and other material related to the Manson family and the activities of its members from 1969 - 2005 here (

Media Influence

It seems hundreds of musicians, most unknown or minor, have recorded songs related to Manson. Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" is likely the best known, perhaps because he knew Manson. System of a Down wrote the song "ATWA" on their Toxicity album about the media's viewpoints on Manson. Guns 'n Roses drew the most notice when they recorded a song (Look at your game girl) authored by Manson. Part of the profits would have gone to him but legal action diverted them to victim Frykowski's son, instead. Marilyn Manson took the 2nd half of his stage name from Manson. Alkaline Trio have also recorded a song called "Sadie" relating to Manson and the Family. It appears on both their BYO Records split with the band One Man Army and on their 2005 cd "Crimson". Manson is often referred to in rap music as well.

The Tate-La Bianca Murders have been dramatized in movies several times, most notably in 1976's Helter Skelter, starring Steve Railsback as Manson, and its 2004 TV movie remake, which starred Jeremy Davies as Manson, Bruno Kirby as Bugliosi, and Clea DuVall as Kasabian.

Parole hearings

Of the eight Manson "family" members convicted in the nine murders that law enforcement was able to establish, only one, Steve (Clem Tufts) Grogan, has been paroled. Grogan, convicted in the killing of Donald (Shorty) Shea, was released in 1985 having served 13 years, after showing the authorities where Shea's previously undiscovered remains were buried in 1979. This was in part supported by a letter from Superior Judge Burton Katz, who had prosecuted the case and praised Grogan's later cooperation.

In 2000, a judge ordered the parole board to justify Van Houten's continued incarceration, citing that in effect sentencing her to life without parole was not an authorized sentence. An appeal court found that the seriousness of the crime had been appropriately weighed by the parole board, and upheld the denial of parole on that occasion. The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the state Board of Prison Terms had made a "serious, deliberate and thoughtful" decision in June of 2000 when it denied Van Houten parole for the 12th time. The appeals court said the board had used the correct standard when it found that the seriousness of Van Houten's crime, which she committed when she was 19, outweighed her rehabilitation behind bars. "We find ample evidence that the crime was of such a heinous, atrocious and cruel character that this factor alone justified the board's determination that Van Houten was unsuitable for parole," the court said.

Fromme, eligible for parole since 1985 following the 1975 incident, has consistently waived her right to a hearing, presumably to show solidarity with Manson.

Manson was last entitled to a parole hearing in 2002, and was denied early release, in particular due to a "litany" of offenses ranging from drug trafficking to arson to assaulting guards. He is next eligible for parole in 2007. Several Manson family members are due their next parole hearings in 2005.

See also

Books and films





External links

es:Charles Manson fr:Charles Manson nl:Charles Manson pt:Charles Manson fi:Charles Manson sv:Charles Manson


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