Charles Milles Manson was born in November 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Kathleen Maddox, an unmarried 16-year-old girl, and an unnamed father.
He would rapidly fall foul of the law, and by age 32 had spent more than half his life in prisons and juvenile facilities.
As a petty criminal, Charles Manson had been taught to play guitar by 1930’s bank robber Alvin Karpis (one of the last surviving members of the Ma Barker gang) while in prison for fraud, and boasted he would be “bigger than The Beatles“.
When he was released from Terminal Island in Los Angeles in March 1967 he was so institutionalised he begged to remain in jail. He liked jail. He had captained the basketball team there, made friends, read widely and continued his criminal education. In Jail, Manson felt like a somebody.
Manson drifted north to San Francisco, arriving to see the Summer of Love unfold. He found it all too easy to bend teenage girls to his will, especially if they were already addled from acid. Very soon he had an entourage – “The Family” – who survived by panhandling and petty crime.
In 1968, Manson and his coterie of followers moved into Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson’s home and persuaded him to record one of Manson’s songs, Cease To Exist (with modified lyrics as Never Learn Not To Love).
Charlie became fascinated with just how far he could push the faithful. He wanted to find out if The Family would kill for him. He would have his answer in the late summer of 1969, at three different crime scenes . . .
The first was the home of music teacher Gary Hinman who, on Charlie’s instructions, was stabbed to death by Family member Bobby Beausoleil, aided by Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins, apparently over money and drugs.
Two weeks later, on the night of 8 August, came the killings that made world headlines.
While Charlie sat outside in the car, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasbian and Patricia Krenwinkel entered 10050 Cielo Drive, Beverly Hills – the rented home of film director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate. They killed eight-months-pregnant Tate and her friends Wojciech Frykowski, hairdresser Jay Sebring and Abigail Folger, plus passer-by Steven Parent.
The next night the Tate killers, plus Leslie Van Houten and Steve ‘Clem’ Grogan hit the Waverly Drive home of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary, killing them in a similar manner.
For months the LAPD failed to connect the killings, but once Manson and his followers had been arrested, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi leaned on Family testimony that revealed Manson’s belief in – and desire for – an apocalyptic race war based on his interpretation of the Book of Revelation and The Beatles‘ White Album.
Manson was sentenced to death but cheated the gas chamber when the California State Supreme Court suspended the death penalty in 1972.
Manson will reside in maximum security detention until the end of his days.
An oft-repeated urban-myth claims Manson was one of the 400 people who turned up to auditions for The Monkees in September 1965.
Manson was in fact still an inmate in McNeil Island penitentiary in Washington at that time and didn’t return to Los Angeles until 1967.