Profile of Charles "Tex" Watson of the Manson Family

Charles Manson's Right-Hand Man and Killing Machine

Charles Watson Being Interviewed
Charles 'Tex' Watson served as the inmate assistant pastor at California Men's Colony. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Charles "Tex" Watson went from being an "A" student in his Texas high school to being Charles Manson's right-hand man and a cold-blooded murderer. He led the killing spree at both the Tate and LaBianca residences and participated in killing each member of both households. Found guilty of killing seven people, Watson is now living his life out in prison, he is an ordained minister, married and father of three, and claims he feels remorse for those he murdered.

Charles Watson's Childhood Years

Charles Denton Watson was born in Dallas, Texas on December 2, 1945. His parents settled in Copeville, Texas, a small impoverished town where they worked at the local gas station and spent time at their church. The Watsons believed in the American dream and worked hard to provide better lives for their three children, of which Charles was the youngest. Their lives were financially modest, but their children were happy and following proper paths.

Early Teens and College Years

As Charles got older he became involved in his parent's church, the Copeville Methodist Church. There he led devotions for the church youth group and regularly attended the Sunday night evangelistic services. In high school, he was an honor roll student and a good athlete and earned the reputation as a local track star by breaking records in high hurdles. He also worked as the editor of the school paper.

Watson was determined to attend college and worked at an onion packing plant to save money. Living in his small hometown was beginning to close in on him and the thought of gaining freedom and independence by attending college 50 miles away from home was appealing. In September 1964, Watson went to Denton, Texas and began his first year at North Texas State University (NTSU).

His parents were proud of their son and Watson was excited and ready to enjoy his newfound freedom.

At college academia quickly took a second seat to going to parties. Watson joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity in his second semester and his focus switched from his classes to sex and alcohol. He participated in some of the fraternity pranks, some more serious than others. One involved stealing, and for the first time in his life, he had to disappoint his parents by admitting he broke the law. His parent's lectures failed to deter his wish to get back to the campus fun.

Watson's First Exposure to Drugs

In January 1967 he began working at Braniff Airlines as a baggage boy. He earned free airline tickets which he used to impress his girlfriends by taking them for weekend trips to Dallas and Mexico. He was getting a taste for a world away from Texas and he liked it. During a visit to a fraternity brother's home in Los Angeles, Watson was taken in by the psychedelic atmosphere of drugs and free love which took over Sunset Strip during the 60s.

From Texas to California

Against his parents' wishes, by August 1967, Watson left NTSU and was on his way to total freedom -- Los Angeles. To keep a promise to his parents to finish college he began attending classes at Cal State in business administration.

His cherished frat clothes were tossed away for the cooler hippie look and his preferred "high" switched from alcohol to marijuana. Watson enjoyed becoming part of the group who separated themselves from the establishment and they accepted him.

Within months of being there, Watson took a job as a wig salesman and quit Cal State. He moved to West Hollywood and then to Laurel Canyon in a house behind the strip. His mother came to visit him just one time after he was hurt in a serious car accident. Unimpressed with his lifestyle, she begged him to return to Texas and although a part of him wanted to return to his hometown, pride kept him from going. He would not see her again until after he was on the run for killing seven people.

Watson began dealing marijuana and he and his roommate opened a wig shop called Love Locs.

It closed quickly and Watson began relying on drug dealing to pay for his new Malibu beach home. His desires to earn money soon dissipated to wanting to get high, go to rock concerts and lay on the beach. He finally evolved into what he thought was a full-time hippie and he felt he had found his place in the world.

The Meeting That Changed His Life Forever

Watson's life changed forever after picking up a hitchhiker who was Dennis Wilson, a member of the rock group, the Beach Boys. After arriving at Wilson's Pacific Palisades' mansion, Wilson invited Watson up to see the house and meet the people hanging out there.

He was introduced to various people, including Dean Moorehouse, an ex-Methodist minister, and Charlie Manson. Wilson invited Watson to return to the mansion anytime to hang out and swim in the Olympic-sized pool.

The mansion was filled with dropouts who hung out doing drugs and listening to music. Watson eventually moved into the mansion where he mingled with rock musicians, actors, children of stars, Hollywood producers, Charlie Manson and members of the Manson "Love Family." He was impressed with himself, the boy from Texas -- rubbing elbows with the famous and he was drawn to Manson and his family, drawn to Manson's prophesizing and to the relationship his family members seemed to have with one another.

Heavy Hallucinogens

Watson began doing heavy hallucinogens regularly and became consumed by a new drug-induced perspective in which he believed love and deep bonds to others were formed.

He described it as a "kind of connection even deeper and better than sex." His friendship with Dean had deepened as well as with many of Manson's "girls," both of whom encouraged Watson to rid himself from his ego and join the Manson family.

Joining the Manson Family

Wilson began to pull away from the regulars who were living in his mansion after complaints of sexual child abuse circulated. His manager told Dean, Watson, and others living there that they would have to move. With nowhere to go, Dean and Watson turned to Charlie Manson. Acceptance wasn't immediate, but in time Watson's name changed from Charles to "Tex", he turned over all of his possessions to Charlie and moved in with the family.

In November 1968 Tex left the Manson family and moved to Hollywood with his girlfriend, Luella. The two were financially comfortable drug peddlers and Tex changed his dirty hippie image for a more stylish Hollywood look. As the couple's relationship fell apart, Tex's desire to reunite with the Manson family grew. By March 1969, he was back at Spahn Ranch and back in the inner Manson circle. But the family focus had changed into something sinister -- something the family called "Helter Skelter."

10050 Cielo Drive

For several months, Manson spent long hours talking about Helter-Skelter. But the revolution was not happening quickly enough for Manson and a plan to kick-start things went into place. On August 8, 1969, the first phase of Helter-Skelter was to begin. Manson put Tex in charge of family members -- Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian. He instructed Tex to go to 10050 Cielo Drive and kill everyone inside the home, make it look bad, but most importantly make sure each girl participated.

The Tate Murders

With Watson in the lead, the four entered the home of actress Sharon Tate-Polanski. Once inside they brutally beat, stabbed and shot all occupants inside the home including the eight-month pregnant Sharon Tate, who begged for her baby's life and cried out for her mother as they stabbed her 15 times. Also found shot to death was 18-year-old Steven Earl Parent, who was visiting the caretaker and caught by the Manson group as he was leaving the residence.

The LaBianca Murders

The next day Manson, Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten and Steve Grogan drove to the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Manson and Watson entered the home and bound the couple, then Manson left and sent in Krenwinkel and Van Houten. The three stabbed and beat Leno then his wife Rosemary. They then scrawled on the walls in blood, the words "Healter Skelter" (sic) and "Kill the Pigs". Manson had issued the order to kill but left before the killing began.

Donald "Shorty" Shea

On August 16, 1969, just eight days after the Cielo Drive murders, police raided Spahn Ranch and rounded up several members on auto theft charges. After the raid the family headed for Death Valley, but not before Manson, Watson, Steve Grogan, Bill Vance and Larry Bailey killed ranch hand Donald "Shorty" Shea. Manson believed Shea was a snitch and responsible for the raid.

Leaving the Manson Family

Watson stayed with the Manson family until the first of October 1969, then he decided to return to Texas. But the dramatic change from when he first left home in 1964 to who he was five years later made it difficult to stay. He decided to go to Mexico but felt the strong pull to go back to Charlie and his real family. He then flew to L.A. and made his way closer to where the family was staying, but stopped short because he believed Charlie would kill him if he did return.

Watson returned to his family in Texas, only this time he cut his hair and began trying to blend into his unfamiliar family world. He reunited with an old girlfriend and his drug use became minimal. The future began to show an inch of promise with parts of his old life returning. All of that stopped on November 30, 1969, after he was arrested for the Tate and LaBianca murders and charged with seven counts of murder, charges his mother took years to accept and believe.

Tex Watson Charged With Seven Murders

Some of the members of the Manson family had provided the D.A.'s office in Los Angeles with what they heard around the ranch the days following the murders, but it was Susan (Sadie) Atkins who couldn't resist bragging about the Manson family and the murders while in Sybil Brand Institute for Women in Los Angeles. Later she told the same story to the grand jury and described Watson's involvement in the murders. It was not long after that Tex was located in Texas and arrested.

After fighting for extradition back to California for nine months he was finally returned on September 11, 1970. By this time Manson, Sadie, Katie, and Leslie were in their third month of trial. The extradition process prevented Watson from being tried with the group. It also allowed Tex the opportunity to find out who was being blamed for what crimes so when it came time for his trial he knew what to admit to and what was already being blamed on the others.

Mental Breakdown

Once in California, Watson began suffering from acute paranoia and regressed to a fetal state, stopped eating and reached 55 pounds before being sent to Atascadero State Hospital for a 90-day evaluation period to see if he was fit to stand trial. It was not until August 2, 1971, that Charles Tex Watson would finally go on trial for his brutal murders.

The Trial: 

District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi had successfully prosecuted the others involved in the Tate-LaBianca murders and now began the trial of the last, and most culpable of all parties involved. Dressed in a suit and holding the Bible, Watson pled not guilty by reason of insanity yet was sane enough to admit on the stand only those crimes which he knew the prosecution was already aware. He failed to admit to killing Sharon Tate or being with Charlie when the LaBiancas were first taken captive and bound.

After two and a half hours of deliberation, Charles "Tex" Watson was found sane during the murders at the Tate and LaBianca homes. For his crimes, he received the death penalty.

Born Again, Marriage, Father, Author

Tex spent from November 1971 until September 1972 on death row at San Quentin. After California outlawed the death penalty for a short time, he was moved to California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo. There he met Chaplain Raymond Hoekstra and became a born-again Christian. Charles Watson, five years after merciless murdering seven people in cold blood, was teaching Bible studies which eventually led to his forming his own prison ministry -- Abounding Love Ministries.

During his stay at the Colony he wrote an autobiography called, "Will You Die for Me" in 1978, he married Kristin Joan Svege and in 1979 he gained the trust of Suzanne Struthers (Rosemary LaBianca's daughter) who fought for his release during a 1990 parole hearing.;

Through conjugal visits, he and his wife had four children, however, in 1996 conjugal visits were banned for prisoners serving life sentences.

Where Watson is Today

Since 1993 he has been at the Mule Creek State Prison. In 2003, he and his wife divorced. To date, he has been denied parole 13 times.


  • "Desert Shadows" by Bob Murphy
  • "Helter Skelter" by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
  • "The Trial of Charles Manson" by Bradley Steffens