Crime File

Charles Manson-I The Dark Beginning

Charles Milles Manson, the head of a cult group now known as the Manson Family, is among the most notorious mass murderers ever. The members of the Manson Family, which was basically a quasi-commune that arose in California in the late 1960s, committed nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969. Charles Manson was never anything less than a career criminal, and became a cult leader by twist of fate. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the Manson story from the beginning to the near end.


Charles Manson, one of America’s most talked about serial killers, appeared on the scene in the late 1960s in California when the region was in a kind of cultural flux. He founded a quasi-commune generally referred to as the Manson Family, which was later found involved in a series of murders. The followers of Manson killed nine people at four different locations over a period of five weeks in the middle of 1969. Finally, on January 25, 1971, Charles Manson was found guilty of conspiracy to commit seven murders, including the murder of actress Sharon Tate, the 26-year-old wife of French-Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski, on August 9, 1969. However, by that time he had already become a dark cult figure, who came to represent the depressingly insane culture of mindless violence. But if someone expected things to turn out any different with Manson than they did, the person was living in a fool’s paradise given Manson’s long history of crime as a teenager and a young man.

Charles Milles Manson was born on November 12, 1934, to an unmarried 16-year-old Kathleen Maddox, in Cincinnati General Hospital, Ohio, and was initially called “No Name Maddox” because he had no name to start with, and was then named Charles Milles Maddox a few weeks later. When his very young mother married a labourer by the name William Manson, Charles Milles Maddox became Charles Milles Manson. Manson’s father is said to be one “Colonel Scott”, against whom Kathleen Maddox filed a paternity suit, which concluded in a judicially approved agreement between the parties in 1937.

However, except for the fact that some “Colonel Scott” was the father of Manson, nothing much can be said with certainty about Colonel Scott. However, Manson’s mother, according to one of her family members, was a heavy drinker, and once sold her son to a childless waitress for a pitcher of beer. Later, Manson’s uncle got him back from the waitress. Manson’s mother had a criminal record of her own. In 1939, Kathleen and her brother were sentenced to a five-year imprisonment for robbing a service station at Charleston, West Virginia, and during the period of their incarceration, Manson was with an uncle and aunt in McMechen, West Virginia, from where he was picked by his mother when she was released on parole in 1942. Manson would later recall that her embrace after she came back from the prison was the only happy memory of his otherwise sad childhood.
Manson’s mother, Kathleen Maddox, tried to get him into a foster home in 1947, but could not because there was no home available. The court, however, sent Manson to Gibault School for Boys, in Terre Haute, Indiana. Manson did not stay there for long and fled the school ten months later and returned to his mother, who refused to take him back.

Having been effectively abandoned by his mother, Manson had no option but to live on his own. He burgled a grocery store to rent a room, and then took to committing burglaries for a living. But that did not last very long either, and he was caught stealing. His next home was an Indianapolis juvenile centre, but he stayed there only for a day and ran away the next day only to be recaptured and placed in Boys Town. But Boys Town, too, could not keep him for long, and four days later he ran off from there with another boy. He now had an accomplice, and the two of them committed two armed robberies on the way to the house of the uncle of Manson’s new partner in crime.

At the age of 13, Manson was caught again and was send to the Indiana Boys School. Later, Manson claimed that during his stay at the Indiana Boys School he was assaulted both sexually and otherwise. Finally, he managed to escape in 1951. This time with two other boys. But the three of them were caught soon enough in Utah driving to California in stolen cars. The trio had burglarized several gas stations en route. Since taking stolen cars across state line is a federal crime, Manson landed in National Training School for Boys at Washington, D.C. Four years of schooling and an I.Q. of 121 did nothing to remove Manson’s illiteracy. One of the caseworker described Manson as aggressively anti-social.

On the recommendation of a psychiatrist, Manson was moved to Natural Bridge Honor Camp, a minimum security institution in October 1951, but that did not do much good for Manson, and when he was less than a month short of his parole hearing scheduled in February 1952, Manson “took a razor blade and held it against another boy’s throat while he sodomized him” resulting in his transfer to the Federal Reformatory, Petersburg, Virginia. He was classified as “dangerous”. He had no plans to mend his ways. In September 1952, after a series of grave disciplinary offences, he was transferred to a more secure Federal Reformatory at Chillicothe in Ohio. Surprisingly, he improved this time. He became a model inmate and developed good work habits and also rose from lower fourth to the upper seventh grade in terms of education. Consequently, he was released on parole in May 1954.

Manson honoured the parole condition according to which he was to live with his aunt and uncle in West Virginia. However, he later moved to live with his mother in Virginia itself, and in January 1955 married Rosalie Jean Willis, a hospital waitress. According to Manson, with Rosalie he found a genuine marital happiness though it did not last long. He supported his married life with menial jobs and auto theft.

Manson drove a pregnant Rosalie to Los Angeles in a car that Manson had stolen in Ohio, and in October 1955, three months after their arrival, he was arrested for committing a federal crime of taking a stolen vehicle across state lines. After a psychiatric evaluation Manson was handed down a five-year probation. However, when he did not appear before the court in Los Angeles for a hearing on an identical charge brought against him in Florida, he was arrested in Indianapolis in March 1956, which ended in the revocation of his probation and a three-year imprisonment at Terminal Island, San Pedro, California.

While Manson served his sentence in California, Rosalie gave birth to their son, Charles Manson, Jr. Both his mother and his wife visited Manson in his first year at the Terminal Island. They were living together in Los Angeles. However, eventually his wife stopped visiting him in 1957 and Manson’s mother told Manson that Rosalie had moved in with another man. A mere two weeks short of a parole hearing, Manson attempted an escape by stealing a car. He got another five-year probation and his plea for parole was turned down.

In 1958, Manson received a five-year parole and Rosalie a decree of divorce, but by November 1958 Manson was back to his deviant ways and had started pimping a 16-year-old girl. A year later, in September 1959, he found himself left with no option but to plead to attempting to cash a forged U.S. Treasury check, for which he got a 10-year suspended sentence and probation, which was primarily because a young woman, Leona, who had a record for prostitution and went by the name Candy Stevens, pleaded with the court tearfully that she and Manson were deeply in love, and if Manson was let go of, the two could marry and start a family together. The court took a lenient view and handed down a suspended sentence, and Manson was released on parole. The woman did marry Manson, which could have been in part to ensure that she could not be forced to testify against Manson.

However, Manson did not quite settle down and make a family with her. He was arrested by the police when he took Leona and another woman from California to New Mexico to engage in prostitution. He was questioned and was almost charged under the Mann Act (The White-Slave Traffic Act, 1919), which makes it punishable to “transport any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or illegal sexual acts”. However, he was released, but the investigation was far from over, which is also what Manson suspected, having had more than his fair share of run-ins with the law.

Having disappeared, Manson was in violation of the terms of probation, which got him a bench warrant, and, to make matters worse, he was charged with the violation of the Mann Act in April 1960. Manson was arrested in Laredo, Texas, in June 1960, and was sent to Los Angeles when one of the women he was pimping was arrested for prostitution. The violation of parole conditions in the forged Treasury check case led to his being sent to prison to serve the 10-year sentence he had been awarded.
Manson appealed the revocation of his probation several times with no luck, and was sent to the United States Penitentiary at McNeil Island from the Los Angeles County Jail in July 1961. The authorities chose to drop charges under the Mann Act, but the sentence in the forged Treasury check case kept Manson behind the bars. Leona obtained a divorce in 1963 and alleged during the proceedings that she and Manson had a son named Charles Luther.

Manson landed in Terminal Island in June 1966, and was finally let out on March 21, 1967, by which time he had spent over half of his 32-year life in correctional institutions and prisons. He was well adjusted to the prison life and did in fact request to be allowed to stay back in prison. The request was denied and Manson was released.

At the time of his release Manson’s request for permission to move to San Francisco was allowed, and Manson came to Berkeley and found an apartment with the assistance of a prison friend. While Manson was in prison, he learnt to play steel guitar from Alvin Karpis, a bank robber. He did not really have a job. So, Manson was basically begging on the streets to get by. He came across one Mary Brunner, a 23-year-old University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate, who was then working as an assistant librarian at the University of California, Berkeley. Soon enough they got close and Manson started living with her. Manson somehow managed to persuade her into allowing him to bring other women over, and a time came when there were 18 women apart from Mary living under the same roof with Manson.

Manson started preaching some form of Scientology that he had picked in prison, and soon found a group of young followers, mostly women, around him. At the U.S. penitentiary in McNeil Island, Washington, Manson had given his religion as “Scientologist” in July 1961. Manson and his group of followers started travelling around from Washington State to Los Angeles, Mexico, and the southwest, and then returned to the Los Angeles. There are conflicting accounts of how Manson managed to put together the infamous “Manson Family”, but it was during this time in 1967.

In the spring of 1968, Dennis Wilson, the famous co-founder of The Beach Boys, reportedly picked up two of Manson’s women, who were hitchhiking, and brought them over to his house at Pacific Palisades. The women stayed over for a couple of hours. The next morning when Wilson got back home in the small hours of the morning, he found Manson emerging from Wilson’s house. Wilson was not sure if this stranger was there to do harm to him, but Manson assured that he intended no harm. He began kissing Wilson’s feet instead, which left Wilson puzzled. Later, when he entered the house, he found it occupied by 12 strangers. Most of his new guests were women. They had made his house their home, uninvited. They stayed over not for days but for a few months, during which time their number doubled. The stay left Wilson poorer by some $100,000, which included the medical bill raised for the treatment of gonorrhea and $21,000, which he had spend to get his uninsured car repaired after some of the family members crashed it. Wilson spent most of his time with the family singing and talking to Manson while the women served them both like servants.

In addition to that, Wilson also paid the studio charges for recording the songs written and performed by Manson. Wilson also introduced Manson to the personalities of the entertainment world like Rudi Altobelli, Gregg Jakobson and Terry Melcher. It was Rudi Altobelli’s house that was rented to actress Sharon Tate and her husband, film director Roman Polanski. Wilson was not alone in paying the studio charges for Manson’s recordings. Jakobson was also quite impressed with Manson, and he, too, paid for recording Manson.

However, in Nuel Emmons’ Manson In His Own Words, Manson says that he had met Wilson the first time in San Francisco at a friend’s house, where Manson had gone to get some marijuana. It was then that Wilson gave Manson his address and invited Manson to pay a visit if and when he was in Los Angeles.

…to be continued

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