The Jacana

 Great Lives Site


Back to Jacana

Great Lives index


Charles Manson
1934 -


Although Charles Manson is notoriously connected to the brutal slayings of actress Sharon Tate and other Hollywood residents, he was never actually found guilty of committing the murders himself. However, he is still associated with several brutal slayings including the famous 'Tate-La Bianca' killings that have immortalized him as a living embodiment of evil. Images of his staring 'mad eyes' are still used today to illustrate countless serial-murder news stories.

Charles Manson was born Charles Milles Maddox on November 12, 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was rarely at home and his mother was both an alcoholic and a prostitute. When he was thirteen, his mother tried to have him placed in a foster home, but was unsuccessful. Instead, he was sent to Gibault School for Boys in Indiana, a reform school.

After a year, he escaped and returned to his mother's home in Cincinnati, but she kicked him out. He ended up roaming the streets and stealing to feed himself, graduating to more serious crimes. He was caught numerous times and spent most of his life in prison between 1947 and 1955. In 1951, he was sent to federal prison for taking a stolen car across state lines and released in 1954.

In January of 1955, he married a seventeen year old girl named Rosalie Jean Willis and the couple moved to California. Charles was arrested for stealing a car that same year and Rosalie became pregnant in April. His parole was revoked in 1956 after he missed a court date and sent back to prison and his wife gave birth to Charles Manson Jr. shortly after.

While Charles was in prison, his wife skipped town with a truck driver and divorced him. He was paroled in 1958 after serving two years, but managed to get arrested in 1959 for forging checks. He was given probation, but it was revoked after nine months. During his probation, he met a woman named Crystal Gosser and married her. Unfortunately, it turned out that she was a serial killer and she was thrown in an asylum while he was in prison.

After his release, he had an affair with a woman named Leona who gave birth to his second son, Charles Luther Manson. On June 1, 1960, he was arrested yet again for soliciting prostitution and sentenced to ten years at McNeil Island Prison in Washington. He was released on March 21, 1967 despite the fact that he asked to remain in prison.

Manson moved to San Francisco in late 1967, where he began to assemble a group of loyal followers whom he referred to as "The Family". They started a commune and strived to abandon all existing moral concepts. The commune was first located in Haight-Ashbury, but later moved to the Spahn Ranch in San Fernando Valley.

Manson preached to his followers that he was Jesus and had died two thousand years earlier. He dabbled in several religions during that time, including Scientology, the Process Church, and the Church of Satan.

The family's size grew quickly, reaching a peak of about one hundred people, although only thirty were totally loyal to Manson. On August 9, 1969, Manson ordered members of the Family to kill people and Charles Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins decided to target Beverly Hills. They broke into the home of director Roman Polanski and killed his wife, Sharon Tate. As they entered the home, they killed Steven Parent, a friend of Tate's gardener, and gathered everyone inside into a room.

Jay Sebring, a hairstylist, attempted to defend Sharon, but was shot in the process. Two others, Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger, attempted to escape, but were beat to death on the front lawn. Tate, still alone in the living room, begged for the life of her and her baby, but Atkins coldly replied, "I have no mercy for you. You're going to die." Following that statement, Atkins stabbed Tate to death and wrote "PIG" on the front door in Tate's blood.

The next night, Manson again called for murder and three more members of the Family murdered Leno LaBianca and Rosemary LaBianca in their home. Manson decided to join in this time and tied up the victims before departing and telling the Family members to kill them.

These were not the only homicides conducted by the Manson family, they later claimed responsibility for 35 different murders. Manson and members of his Family were arrested in late 1969 and charged with the murders.

The murders were the basis of two separate cases prosecuted by different teams of lawyers. Ronald Hughes was chosen to defend Van Houten and attempted to show that Manson had influenced Van Houten to participate in the murders. In late November of 1970, Hughes disappeared and his body was found four months later. It is suspected that Manson ordered the killing in retaliation for being implicated in court.

On March 6, 1970, Manson released a music album entitled "Lie" to fund his defense. During the trial, Manson carved an "x" into his forehead with a knife, taking advantage of the media attention. His followers did the same, creating a creepy cult appearance. He eventually turned it into a swastika, which eventually became a permanent scar on his forehead.

Although Manson was did not directly participate in the murders, he was convicted of first degree murder on January 25, 1971. On March 29, 1971 he was sentenced to death, but this sentence was changed to life in prison after a trial resulted in the invalidation of all death sentences in California.

Manson is still in prison at Corcoran State Prison in California after numerous failed attempts at getting parole. He has received more mail than any other prisoner and reportedly receives more than 60,000 letters a year.


Charles Manson was a would-be musician and charismatic petty criminal who found his way to San Francisco when the 1960s drug culture was at its height. By the end of the decade, he and several members of his "family" settled on borrowed land outside of Los Angeles. Believing he was a modern incarnation of Jesus Christ, and figuring he could benefit from a race war in America, Manson convinced followers to go on a murderous spree in 1969, during which they killed seven people. The most prominent victim was actress Sharon Tate, the wife of film director Roman Polanski. The subsequent murder trial lasted seven months (at the time the longest and most expensive in U.S. history), and resulted in guilty verdicts and death sentences for Manson and his followers. In 1972 California outlawed the death penalty, and Manson was sentenced instead to life in prison.

Many biographies list his name at birth as "No Name Maddox," but a copy of his birth certificate shows he was given the name Charles Milles Manson several days after his birth. Vincent Bugliosi, the district attorney who prosecuted Manson, wrote a best-selling book about the case titled Helter Skelter. Manson was fascinated with The Beatles and used the title of their song "Helter Skelter" as a name for his expected apocalypse. Manson was played by Steve Railsback in the 1976 film Helter Skelter and by Jeremy Davies in the 2004 TV movie of the same name.


A living, walking example of the hippie dream gone terribly awry, before Manson and his family went on the killing spree that virtually undermined and eventually destroyed the peaceful atmosphere of the Southern California community, the fledgling musician tried several times unsuccessfully to land a recording contract.

First venturing to California in the mid '50s, Manson soon found himself serving yet another stint in prison (by age 30 he had lived half of his life behind bars). But, after a time spent living in Washington state, Manson arrived in Southern California in 1967 in hopes of becoming a hippie singer-songwriter. Settling in Topanga Canyon, the quasi prophet met several of L.A.'s most prominent musicians including Neil Young, Dennis Wilson and Doris Day's son, producer Terry Melcher. The very idea that someone like Manson was fraternizing with a Beach Boy and the son of Doris Day is indicative of the blurred reality that existed in Southern California at the time. Yet, though his music and views are easily dismissible today, at the time several people in the community, including Neil Young, believed in Manson enough to try and secure him a record contract. Throughout 1968 Manson made demo tapes with Gregg Jakobson and Terry Melcher and, with the influence of Dennis Wilson, came close to inking a deal with Brother Records, the imprint of the Beach Boys. In fact, the group reworked Manson's "Cease To Exist," re-titling it "Never Learn Not to Love" and included it on their 20/20 LP. By 1969, however, Manson and his family of hippie outcasts had suitably scared away any potential recording contracts with their increasingly disturbing behaviour and Manson never released an album of his work as a free man.

After his arrest, however, the impending media blitz of the trial created interest in Manson's music, albeit for somewhat dubious reasons, and fringe labels such as Performance and White Devil released his albums such as Lie and Commemoration. Manson also saw one of his songs recorded by the biggest rock n' roll band in the world at that time when Guns n' Roses included a poorly received Manson composition on their 1993 covers album, the Spaghetti Incident?


Habitual criminal who was born on November 12, 1934, and achieved notoriety as charismatic leader of the infamous "Family" that indulged in sex orgies and brutal murders. Manson demonstrated that drugs, sex, occultism, and crime can be an incredibly dangerous mixture.

As a young man, he was frequently arrested on such charges as car theft, parole violation, and stealing checks and credit cards. He spent most of the 1960s in jail, where he learned to play the guitar and studied hypnotism and various occult and metaphysical teachings. He was an avid reader on contemporary culture, including the Vietnam War, peace rallies, rock and roll, and the music of the Beatles. He was greatly impressed by Robert Heinlein's science-fiction story Stranger in a Strange Land, which related how an alien intelligence formed a power base of sex and religion on the Earth.

In 1967 Manson was released from jail and wandered around Berkeley, California, as a guitar-toting minstrel, picking up girls and spending time in the Haight-Ashbury section, experiencing the drug scene, occult boom, and communal living. Eventually he collected a kind of tribal family, mostly young adults, and established a hippie-style commune at various locales in the California desert, ranging over Death Valley in stolen dune buggies in an atmosphere of drugs and sex.

In time, Manson developed paranoid fantasies of a forthcoming doomsday situation, supposedly revealed to him by songs on a Beatles album, particularly "Helter-Skelter" and "Piggies." Manson and his followers shared a delusion that "Helter-Skelter" symbolized an uprising of blacks that could be exploited by the Family.

In 1969, under Manson's influence, some members of his Family accepted him as a saviour figure and followed his orders to commit a number of sadistic murders. Manson, Patricia Krenwinkle, Susan Atkins, and Leslie Van Houten were found guilty of murdering actress Sharon Tate and four other people at her Bel-Air home in Los Angeles—Voyteck Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent, as well as Leno La Bianca and his wife Rosemary, also in Los Angeles. Nine weeks after the verdict, the jury voted death sentences for all the accused. The trial, which opened July 21, 1970, took 32 weeks. During 1976, a movie reconstructing the trial, titled Helter-Skelter, was shown on television in the United States.

On February 18, 1972, the California State Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in California, converting the sentences of condemned persons to life imprisonment. Manson and his accomplices now regularly appear at parole hearings, but the state has shown no hint of favour toward his requests for parole.

Manson has become an antihero who still commands attention in the media and in countercultural elements in North American society. Books continue to retell his story, especially amid the wave of true crime books that became popular in the late 1980s.

The violence associated with Manson did not cease with his imprisonment. In September 1984 in Vacaville prison, California, Manson was drenched with paint thinner and set on fire by another convicted killer, who claimed that Manson had threatened him for being a member of a Hare Krishna sect. His head scorched and most of his hair and beard were burned, but Manson survived.


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 neighbours "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 centre 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 lockup, 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. It 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 crashpads overflowed 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 persons 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 than 50 times each with al 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 off 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 Hughes's death. On November 8, 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 gunshop, 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 Davis, and Steve Grogan were convicted in both the Hinman and Shea murders. Various death sentences were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, 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 life imprisonment. Family remnants survive to the present day, and members have been linked with groups promoting child pornography and sexual abuse, as well as rumored human sacrifice.


Although Charles Manson is notoriously connected to the brutal slayings of actress Sharon Tate and other Hollywood residents, he was never actually found guilty of committing the murders himself. However, he is still associated with several brutal slayings including the famous 'Tate-La Bianca' killings that have immortalized him as a living embodiment of evil. Images of his staring 'mad eyes' are still used today to illustrate countless serial-murder news stories.

Together with Manson, The Family (his young, loyal drop-out disciples of murder) are thought to have carried out some 35 killings. Most were never tried, either for lack of evidence or because the perpetrators were already sentenced to life for the Tate/La Bianca killings. Today Manson is sill carrying out a life sentence and is technically due for release in 2007. However, this is unlikely due to his notoriety.

He was born Charles Milles Maddox to Kathleen Maddox, a 16 year old girl, who was both an alcoholic and prostitute. Kathleen later married William Manson, but the marriage ended quickly and Charles was placed in a boys school. Despite running back to his mother, she didn't want anything to do with him. Soon Charles was living on the streets and getting by through petty crime.

By 1952, Manson was soon spending more time in prison. In total he spent more than half his life (17 years) incarcerated. He was noted for being a 'model prisoner'.

A new chapter in his life began in 1955 when he married a 17 year old girl and moved with her to California. She became pregnant, but Manson resumed a life of crime again, this time stealing cars. It wasn't long before he was back behind bars and by 1956 his estranged wife had left with their child and her new lover. Manson later had another child with a different girl while out on probation.

He was described by probation reports as suffering from a 'marked degree of rejection, instability and psychic trauma' and 'constantly striving for status and securing some kind of love'.

Other descriptions included 'dangerous' 'unpredictable' and 'safe only under supervision'.

From 1958, Manson was in and out of jail for a variety of offences including 'pimping' and passing stolen checks. He was sent to McNeil Island prison in Washington State for ten years. During this time he had also raped a fellow male prisoner while brandishing a razor. Paradoxically, it was whilst he was incarcerated that he tapped into his creative talents and learnt how to read music and play the guitar. He was finally released on March 21, 1967.

The following year he was to spearhead a murderous campaign that would make him one of the most infamous figures in criminal history.










This web page was last updated on: 24 December, 2008