Manson, Charles M. (1934– )
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 savior 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 HelterSkelter,
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 favor 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. A group of Manson’s songs, performed by
him and recorded prior to the Tate–La Bianca murders, has
been issued by Awareness Records (LP disc 0893-0156). The
mediocre quality of these songs only enhances their sinister
provenance.
Sources
Atkins, Susan, with Bob Slosser. Child of Satan, Child of God.
Plainfield, N.J. Logos International, 1977. Reprint, London
Hodder & Stoughton, 1978.
Bugliosi, Vincent, with Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter. New
York W. W. Norton, 1972. Reprint, New York Bantam, 1975.
Emmons, Nuel. Manson in His Own Words. New York Grove
Press, 1986.
George, Edward. Charles Manson’s Life Behind Bars. Griffin
Trade Paperback, 1999.
Livsey, Clara. The Manson Women A Family Portrait. New
York Richard Merek Publishers, 1980.
Sanders, Ed. The Family. New York E. P. Dutton, 1971. Reprint,
New York Avon, 1972.

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