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Charles Manson

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A mugshot of Charles Manson.

A mugshot of Charles Manson.

(Public domain)

Who Was Charles Manson?

Charles Manson is 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.

Dates:

November 12, 1934 --

Also Known As:

Charles Milles Maddox, Charles Milles Manson

Childhood of Charles Manson

Charles Manson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to 16-year-old Kathleen Maddox. Kathleen had run away from home at the age of 15 and spent the next few decades drinking too much, with periods of time spent in jail.

Since his mother couldn't take care of him, Charles spent his youth at the homes of various relatives and often at special reform schools and boys homes. By age nine, Charles Manson had already started stealing and soon added burglary and stealing cars to his repertoire.

Manson Gets Married

In 1954, at age nineteen, he was released on parole after an unusual bout of good behavior. The next year, he married Rosalie Willis, a waitress, and they had a son together, Charles Manson Jr. (born March 1956). Even while married, Manson had continued making extra money by stealing cars. In April 1956, he was again sent to prison. After Manson had been in prison for a year, his wife found someone new and divorced Manson in June 1957.

Manson the Con Man

In 1958, Manson was released from prison. While out, Manson began pimping, stealing checks from mailboxes, and conned a young woman out of money. He also married again, to a prostitute named Candy Stevens (real name Leona), and fathered a second son, Charles Luther Manson. Manson was again arrested on June 1, 1960 and sent to the McNeil Island Penitentiary off the coast of Washington. His wife soon divorced him.

Music in Prison

Manson spent the next six years in prison. It was during this time that he befriended the infamous Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, 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 where, with a guitar and drugs, he began to get a following. In 1968, he and several followers drove to Southern California.

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 did record 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 into the Spahn Ranch. Located northwest of San Fernando Valley the Spahn 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."

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 go underground, literally, by traveling to an underground city of gold located in Death Valley.

However, when the Armageddon that Manson had predicted did not occur, he said he and his followers must show the blacks how to do it.

Manson Orders the Murders

Manson told four of his followers to go to 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles and kill the people inside. This house once belonged to Terry Melcher, the man who had not helped Manson with his music career. However, Melcher no longer lived there; actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, had rented the house. On August 9, 1969, four of Manson's followers 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 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. Charles Manson now serves a lifetime sentence and periodically comes up for parole.

Though he's been in prison for over three decades, Charles Manson has received more mail than any other prisoner in the U.S. Charles Manson is currently being held in California's Corcoran Prison.

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