Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Manson, Charles
from The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America

Charles Manson (1934–) was an illegitimate, unplanned child, born to a 16-year-old mother. His mother was irresponsible, into drugs and criminal activity, and utterly unable to care for a child. She reportedly sold him when he was a young child for a pitcher of beer. As a result, Manson bounced from relative to relative and eventually began practicing the same behavior as his mother. He was first caught stealing at age 9, and his crimes got progressively worse as he was transferred from one "school for boys" to another across the nation. He was found to be emotionally needy, criminally sophisticated, and moderately intelligent, with an IQ of 106. Although eventually he was released from the juvenile placement centers, his patterns of behavior did not change, even after the 1955 birth of his child, Charles Manson, Jr. His offenses ranged from pimping and the theft of government checks to grand theft auto and rape. He was in and out of jails and prisons through March 21, 1967, when he was released and put on a bus to San Francisco.

The "Family"

Proficient with a guitar, Manson was soon able not only to blend into the hippie lifestyle but to collect followers. He kept these individuals, mostly emotionally battered young women, under control by twisting their notions of good and evil and plying them with LSD and other amphetamines. The main idea behind Manson's infamous Helter Skelter, named after the Beatles song of the same name, was that Armageddon was soon going to occur: The black populations of the world were going to rise up against the whites and kill and enslave them; however, according to Manson, they would be unable to retain their power, so he and his followers would hide out in a hole in the desert until they had amassed a population of 144,000, at which time they would come out of hiding into a world that was now theirs. Charles Manson was the fifth angel, also known as Jesus Christ. The Beatles were the other four.

Manson decided that he needed to jump-start Helter Skelter and sent his "Family" out on separate occasions to brutally murder high-profile individuals, crimes they hoped would be blamed on the blacks. The most notorious of these was actress Sharon Tate. Tate was eight months pregnant with her husband Roman Polanski's child. She and her group of friends (Abigail Folger and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski, and Jay Sebring) were gathered together in a gated ranch house off Cielo Drive, above Beverly Hills. They, along with Tate's unborn child and Steve Parent, a young man who came to visit the caretaker, were all stabbed, beaten, or shot to death August 9, 1969. When the police arrived, they found "PIGS" hand-painted in blood on the wall. The next night, Manson's followers murdered Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in much the same way: shooting, then multiple stabbings (approximately 42 to Rosemary, alone). This time, they left a misspelled "HEALTHER SKELTER" and "DEATH TO PIGS" in blood.

Within a month after the LaBianca murders, a gun matching ballistics was found and turned in to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and tips had come in from several different sources. However, the entire truth was still unknown until Susan Atkins disclosed a detailed description of both series of murders to two inmates, Virginia Graham and Ronnie Howard. Both inmates managed to inform the proper authorities, and in conjunction with several outside reports about the Manson family, the LAPD felt they finally had a solid case and made the arrests. It took the grand jury only 20 minutes to hand down the final indictments: Charles Manson, Charles "Tex" Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Linda Kasabian were each charged with seven counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder; Leslie van Houten was charged with two counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. On January 15, 1971, after a long, drawn-out trial, during which a lawyer and a witness had been murdered and the judge was violently threatened by Manson himself, the verdict was guilty on all counts.

On March 29, the death penalty was imposed for all the defendants. In 1972, the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in the state; all of the defendants are now serving life sentences. Manson has been a relatively unruly prisoner since incarceration, ending up in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) several times, and always for offenses such as distributing drugs or threatening prison staff. He had been eligible for parole every five years but did not show up for his hearings in 2007 or 2012. The denial of his 2012 bid likely means that he will never be granted parole as he will not be eligible again until 2027, when he would be 92.

See Also: 1961 to 1980 Primary Documents; California; Capital Punishment; Serial and Mass Killers.

Further Readings
Brandy B. Henderson
University of South Florida
© 2012 SAGE Publications, Inc

Related Articles


Full text Article CHARLES MANSON
Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime

Charles Milles Manson was born on November 12, 1934, in Ashland, Kentucky. His final arrest took place in Los Angeles County, California, on...

Full text Article Manson murders
Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable

A series of gruesome murders in California in 1969 that saw the Hippie dream turn to nightmare. The murders were perpetrated by a mini-cult...

Full text Article Manson, Charles
Conspiracy Theories in American History

The leader of a bizarre, conspiracy-minded cult that committed several murders, Charles Manson (often known simply as “Charlie”) became a...

See more from Credo