Manson, Charles M. (1934-)

views updated

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 AngelesVoyteck 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 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.


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.