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Charles Manson in a Californian (USA) courtroom in 1970
Image Credit: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Charles Manson in a Californian (USA) courtroom in 1970

Charles Manson

A biography of Charles Manson who, along with some members of his bizarre cult, the ‘Family’, was found guilty of seven murders at the beginning of the 1970s.


12th November 1934


Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Date apprehended:

31st July 1967

Counter-Culture Killer

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 immortalised 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.

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 cheques. 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 21 March 1967.The following year he was to spearhead a murderous campaign that would make him one of the most infamous figures in criminal history.

In many ways Manson reflects personality traits and obsessions that are associated with gurus of cult-quasi-religious groups that began to emerge in the 60s and are still with us today. He was pathologically deluded into believing that he was the harbinger of doom regarding the planet’s future, in much the same way that cult and evangelist figures today claim prophetic knowledge of the world’s end.

Manson was also influenced, not only by drugs such as LSD, but by art works and music of the time such as The Beatles song ‘Helter Skelter’ from their 'White Album'. He had a strong belief and interest in the notion of Armageddon from the Book of Revelations. Scientology and more obscure cult churches such as Church of the Final Judgement were also fleeting interests.

After 1967 Manson gathered a group of followers who shared his passion for an unconventional lifestyle and habitual use of hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD and magic mushrooms. ‘The Family,’ as they became known, moved to San Francisco and later to a deserted ranch in the San Fernando Valley. His followers, numbering around a hundred, also included a small hard-core unit of impressionable young girls. They began to believe, without question, Manson’s claims that he was Jesus and in his prophecies of a race war.

The Crimes

The murders that Killed a movement

In August 1969 a series of Hollywood murders were to shock the world and tarnish the 60s 'free love and peace' legacy. Manson gathered a group of his most loyal Family followers to carry out a massacre among Tinseltown’s elite and ‘beautiful people’.The first victims on the 9 August 1969 were guests at Roman Polanski’s Beverley Hills home at 10050 Cielo Drive, that included Sharon Tate, the film director’s seven months pregnant wife. The following day Manson instigated another killing spree, this time at the home of wealthy couple Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.Manson chose four of his most obedient comrades, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian, to carry out these heinous crimes. Kasabian acted as the getaway driver and was to become the star witness during the trial.

The victims; actress Sharon Tate, writer Wojciech Frykowski and his partner, coffee bean heiress, Abigail Folger, together with celerity hairstylist Jay Sebring, had all returned to the Polanski residence after dining out. Polanksi himself was away in London shooting a film.Manson himself took no part in the actual killings, but directed his murderous disciples to the address and instructed them to kill everyone. The first victim was 18-year-old Steven Parent who was a friend of Tate’s gardener. He was shot as he just happened to walk down the drive and noticed the intruders.

Linda Kasabian was horrified by the shooting of the boy. She remained outside to keep watch. When the other three broke into the house they herded the occupants into the living room and tied them up.

Jay Sebring was shot and brutally kicked as he tried to defend Ms Tate. During the terrifying fracas both Frykowski and Folger managed to escape from the house but were chased and stabbed to death. At the trial Kasabian described how she saw Frykowski staggering out of the house covered in blood and was horrified at the sight. She told him she was ‘sorry’, but despite her pleas to his attacker to stop, the victim was bludgeoned repeatedly. Folger herself having escaped from the house with terrible injuries was caught on the front lawn and stabbed 28 times.

Manson's Manipulation

The most inhumane killing had to be of Sharon Tate, who despite pleading for the life of her unborn child was mercilessly stabbed in the stomach by Susan Atkins. Kasabian told of Atkins’ chilling words to Tate before she stabbed her: “Look bitch, I have no mercy for you. You’re going to die and you’d better get used to it”.

Atkins then used Tate’s blood to write the word ‘PIG’ on the front door.Instead of this brutal massacre sating the pathological Manson, he instead criticised the murderers for being sloppy. The following night on the 10 August 1969, he took Family members Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten to the Los Feliz district address of wealthy supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.

Manson went with his three accomplices to the house. After breaking in he tied the LaBiancas up and then returned to the car to tell Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten to kill them.Krenwinkel and Van Houten stayed with Rosemary LaBianca in her bedroom while Leno her husband was tied downstairs. She began to panic when she heard him screaming as Watson began to stab him to death. Krenwinkel then stabbed Mrs. LaBianca several times killing her. Van Houten stabbed her between 14 and 16 times, most likely after the victim was already dead.

These were not the only killings alleged to have been committed by Manson’s Family. A music teacher by the name of Gary Hinman was also killed in Topanga Canyon by Manson member Bobby Beausoleil. In total the Manson Family claimed to have killed around 35 victims.After the terrible murders, Roman Polanski, husband of Sharon Tate, together with other Hollywood actors, offered a reward of $25,000 for information that would lead to conviction of the killers.

The Arrest: Hollywood Hell

Ironically, Manson and his Family were arrested not on suspicion of the murders but simply on the belief that they had vandalised a portion of the Death Valley National Park while they were hiding out in the Mojave Desert. In 1969, the local county sheriff had them in custody not realising that he had murder suspects on their hands. But it was the confessions of Susan Atkins, while held in detention on suspicion of murdering Gary Hinman, that led detectives to realise that Manson and his followers were involved in the Tate/La Bianca killings.

Various motivations were examined during the course of the trial. The most feasible being that Manson’s pathological ego, insanity and belief in Armageddon were influences that led him to carry out a trail of destruction.

Manson believed that he was the new Messiah and that after a ‘nuclear attack’ he and his followers would be saved by hiding in a secret world under the desert. His prophetic visions included a belief that after the race war ‘blacks’ would triumph. Manson along with his ‘Family’ members would have to mentor the black community as they would ‘lack experience’ to run the planet.As Manson and the Family were to be the beneficiaries of the race war, he told his followers that they had to help initiate it. According to defence witness and killer Van Houten, this was the primary reason why they murdered the LaBiancas. Manson had taken the wallet of murdered Rosemary Bianca with the intention that he would deposit it in a section of LA, where a person of ethnic origin might find it, use it and then possibly have the murders pinned on them.

Later in court Van Houten, who was just nineteen when she took part in the LaBianca killings, alleged that Manson had taken advantage of her vulnerability and dislike for her mother. She believed, like the other members, that he was a man of vision.

Thirty years later during a parole board she was to say that she was horrified by what she had done that night and desperately wanted to redeem herself. Van Houten’s next parole board was in 2006.

Susan Atkins, possibly the most disturbed of all the killers, admitted in initial confessions to fellow prisoners that she had wanted to cut out Tate’s unborn baby, but didn’t have the time. Other grisly and macabre acts were to be perpetrated against the victims. Atkins also revealed that a list of other high profile Hollywood stars were on a list to be killed and mutilated. These included Elizabeth Taylor and husband Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen and Tom Jones. When asked why they wanted to kill such people, Atkins replied that they (Manson and Family) wanted to commit murders that would shock the world and make people take notice.

The Trial: The Fall of the Manson Family

The trial began on the 18 November 1969. Ronald Hughes was a young lawyer with experience and knowledge of 1960s counter-culture. He was assigned as Manson and Van Houten’s attorney, but decided to drop Manson in favour of defending Van Houten who he thought could convince the jury that she was under the influence of Manson. The move may have cost him his life. In 1970, Hughes went camping and disappeared. His decomposed body was found several months later. It is thought he was the victim of ‘retaliation killing’ by members of Manson’s Family for, in their eyes, betraying their leader.

During the trial Manson released an album titled ‘Lie’ in order to raise money for his defence. Previously when he had known Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys fame he had written several songs, one of which was recorded by the popular wholesome group. Manson revelled in media attention and during court proceedings turned up with an X carved into his forehead. Some of his female followers copied the act and shaved their heads, sometimes sitting outside the court house. The X was gradually modified until it turned into a swastika.

Throughout the trial the killers often giggled and exchanged grimaces with Manson. They showed no remorse for their crimes.

On 25 January 1971 Manson was convicted of first degree murder for directing the deaths of the Tate/La Bianca victims. He was sentenced to death but this was automatically commuted to life in prison after the Californian’s Supreme Court invalidated all death sentences prior to 1972. He is now still serving time in Corcoran State Prison, California.

All convicted killers are still serving life sentences except Kasabian who was granted immunity for her part in acting as star witness.

The Aftermath: An Awful Legacy

Manson’s Revenge: One interesting aspect to this disturbing saga was the emergence of record producer Terry Melcher, son of Doris Day. Melcher knew Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys fame both as a friend and producer of the band’s music. Manson and his Family, before their murderous spree, had stayed at Wilson’s home after The Beach Boys’ singer had picked some members up who were hitchhiking. It was through this association that Manson got to audition for Melcher, who at the time lived at Polanski’s house. Melcher was not interested in signing a contract with Manson.

According to one of the Family member’s statements, the Polanksi household had been targeted because it ‘represented’ Manson’s rejection by the showbiz world and society. The original house owned by the Polanskis at 10050 Cielo Drive has since been demolished. The property that replaced it still stands empty. No agents will include it on their books.Medical issues: In January 2017 Manson was taken to hospital from Central Valley prison due to an "undisclosed medical issue". The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation refused to comment on Manson's case, but did confirm that he is alive.

Key Figures - Victims

Sharon Tate

Wojciech Frykowski

Abigail Folger

Jay Sebring

Steve Parent

Leno LaBianca

Rosemary LaBianca

Ronald Hughes

Manson and Van Houten’s lawyer. Victim. (Unknown killers)

Key Figures - The Manson Family

Charles ‘Tex’ Watson

Murdered Wojciech Frykowski and Leno LaBianca.

Susan Atkins

Murdered Sharon Tate.

Patricia Krenwinkel

Murdered Rosemary LaBianca and Tate victims.

Linda Kasabian

Acted as getaway driver. Star witness.

Leslie Van Houten

Stabbed Rosemary LaBianca.


Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
12th November 1934
Tate Household killings, Beverley Hills, LA, USA
9th August 1969
LaBianca killings, Beverley Hills, LA, USA
10th August 1969
Manson Trial
18th November 1969
Manson convicted of first degree murder
25th January 1971
Charles Manson mugshot from April 1968
Image Credit: PBH / Alamy Stock Photo / Background: | Above: Charles Manson mugshot from April 1968
An abandoned 1942 Dodge Power truck said to be driven by the Manson Family in Ballarat, California, USA
Image Credit: Jason Sponseller / | Above: An abandoned 1942 Dodge Power truck said to be driven by the Manson Family in Ballarat, California, USA