Biography of Serial Killer Charles Manson

Charles Manson
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Charles Manson was a convicted serial killer who has become an icon of evil. In the late 1960s, Manson founded a hippie cult group known as "the Family" whom he manipulated into brutally killing others on his behalf.

A Troubled Childhood for Manson

Charles Manson was born Charles Milles Maddox on November 12, 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio to 16-year-old Kathleen Maddox. Kathleen had run away from home at the age of 15, presumably out of rebellion from her religious upbringing.

Shortly after his Charles' birth, she married William Manson. Despite their brief marriage, her son took his name and would be known as Charles Manson from then on.

Kathleen was known to drink too much and spent periods of time in jail, including prison time for strong-armed robbery in 1940. It also seems as if she really did not want to be a mother, as demonstrated by one story that Manson often tells:

"Mom was in a cafe one afternoon with me on her lap. The waitress, a would-be mother without a child of her own, jokingly told my Mom she'd buy me from her. Mom replied, 'A pitcher of beer and he's yours.' The waitress set up the beer, Mom stuck around long enough to finish it off and left the place without me. Several days later my uncle had to search the town for the waitress and take me home."

Since his mother couldn't take care of him, Manson spent his youth at the homes of various relatives.

These were not good experiences for the young boy. His grandmother continued the religious fanaticism she pushed onto Manson's mother and one uncle ridiculed him for being too girly, even dressing him as such for school. In another situation, the uncle he was staying with committed suicide because his land was being seized by authorities.

Teen Years in Reform Schools

After an unsuccessful reunion with his mother because of her latest boyfriend, Manson began to steal at the age of nine. His first encounter with incarceration was at Indiana's Gibault Home for Boys. This would not be his last reform school and it wasn't long before he added burglary and auto theft to his repertoire. He would escape a school, steal, get caught, and be back in a reform school again, over and over.

As a teenager, Manson was a loner and often lived on his own when not incarcerated. This is when he started to become the master manipulator that would shape his adult years. He became adept at knowing what he could get out of whom.

When he was 17, he drove a stolen car across state lines, leading to his first federal offense and a stint in federal prison. During his first year there, he racked up eight assault charges before being transferred to another facility.

Manson Gets Married

In 1954, at age 19, Manson was released on parole after an unusual bout of good behavior. The next year, he married a 17-year-old waitress named Rosalie Willis and the two took off for California in a stolen car.

It was not long before Rosalie became pregnant. This was beneficial for Manson because it actually got him probation rather than prison time for stealing a car.

His luck would not last, though. 

In March 1956, Rosalie gave birth to Charles Manson Jr. (he committed suicide in 1993), just one month before his father was sent to prison after his probation was revoked. The sentence this time was three years in Terminal Island Prison. After just one year, his wife found someone new, left town, and divorced Manson in June 1957.

Manson the Con Man

In 1958, Manson was released from prison. While out, Manson began pimping in Hollywood. He also conned a young woman out of money and, in 1959, received a 10-year suspended sentence for stealing checks from mailboxes.

He also married again, this time to a prostitute named Candy Stevens (her real name was Leona), and fathered a second son, Charles Luther Manson. She would divorce him shortly after his next prison sentence.

This arrest occurred on June 1, 1960. The charge was crossing state lines with the intent of prostitution and it led to the immediate revocation of his parole. He was sentenced to seven years and sent to the McNeil Island Penitentiary off the coast of Washington State. Part of his sentence would be served back at California's Terminal Island.

It was during this prison sentence that Manson began studying Scientology and music. He befriended the infamous Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, a former member of Ma Barker's gang. After Karpis taught Charles Manson to play the steel guitar, Manson became obsessed with making music. He practiced all the time, wrote dozens of original songs, and started singing. He believed that when he got out of prison, he could be a famous musician.

Manson Gets a Following

On March 21, 1967, Manson was once again released from prison. This time he headed to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury where, with a guitar and drugs, he blended in and began to get a following.

Mary Brunner was one of the first to fall for Manson. The UC Berkeley librarian with a college degree invited him to move in and her life would change forever. It was not long before she started doing drugs and quit her job to follow Manson where ever he went. She was the key figure who helped entice others to join what would be called the Manson Family.

Lynette Fromme soon joined Brunner and Manson. In San Francisco, the trio found many young people who were lost and searching for a purpose in life. Manson's lengthy prophesies and hypnotic, coercive songs led to a reputation that he had some sort of sixth sense.

He relished this new position as a mentor and the skills of manipulation he had honed in childhood and prison only fueled his attraction to those who were vulnerable.

He and his followers saw Manson as a guru and prophet and they would follow him anywhere. In 1968, Manson and several of his followers drove to Southern California.

The Spahn Ranch

Manson was still hoping for a music career. Through an acquaintance, Manson met and hung out with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys even recorded one of Manson's songs, which appeared as "Never Learn Not to Love" on the B-side of their "20/20" album.

Through Wilson, Manson met Terry Melcher, Doris Day's son. Manson believed Melcher was going to advance his music career but when nothing happened, Manson was very upset.

During this time, Charles Manson and some of his followers moved to the Spahn Ranch. Located northwest of San Fernando Valley in Chatsworth, the ranch had been a popular location to film westerns in the 1940s and 1950s. Once Manson and his followers moved in, it became a cult compound for "the Family."

Brunner also gave Manson his third son. Valentine Michael Manson was born on April 1, 1968.

Helter Skelter

Charles Manson was good at manipulating people. He took pieces from various religions to form his own philosophy. When The Beatles released their "White Album" in 1968, Manson believed their song "Helter Skelter" predicted an upcoming race war.

Helter Skelter, Manson believed, was going to occur in the summer of 1969 when blacks were going to rise up and slaughter all the white people.

He told his followers that they would be saved because they would travel to an underground city of gold located in Death Valley.

However, when the Armageddon that Manson had predicted did not occur, he said that he and his followers must "show the blacks how to do it." Their first known murder was a music teacher named Gary Hinman on July 25, 1969. The Family staged the scene to look as if the Black Panthers did it.

Manson Orders the Murders

On August 9, 1969, Manson ordered four of his followers to go to 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles and kill the people inside. The house once belonged to Terry Melcher, the record producer who refused Manson his dreams of a music career. However, Melcher no longer lived there; actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, had rented the house.

Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian brutally murdered Tate, her unborn baby, and four others who were visiting her (Polanski was in Europe for work). The following night, Manson's followers brutally killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their home.

Manson's Trial

It took the police several months to determine who was responsible. In December 1969, Manson and several of his followers were arrested. The trial for the Tate and LaBianca murders began on July 24, 1970. On January 25, Manson was found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. On March 29, 1971, Manson was sentenced to death.

Life in Prison

Manson was reprieved from the death penalty in 1972 when the California Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty

During his decades in prison, Charles Manson received more mail than any other prisoner in the U.S. He died in November 2017. 

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Biography of Serial Killer Charles Manson." ThoughtCo, Nov. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/charles-manson-cult-leader-serial-killer-1779365. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2017, November 20). Biography of Serial Killer Charles Manson. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/charles-manson-cult-leader-serial-killer-1779365 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Biography of Serial Killer Charles Manson." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/charles-manson-cult-leader-serial-killer-1779365 (accessed December 14, 2017).