BAKERSFIELD, CA — Charles Manson died on Sunday, November 19, 2017. He was 83 years old.
The man who electrically terrified the world for nearly 50 years as Charles Manson initially emerged among us as Charles Milles Maddox in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 12, 1934. From that moment, people always called him “Charlie.”
Following the August 1969 Tate-LaBianca massacres perpetrated by members of the Manson Family cult that followed him, Charlie forever after transformed into America’s psycho-demon-hippie-Nazi true-crime boogeyman — and he’s been scaring us all ever since.
At the peak of the “flower power”-era, the poisonous weed that was Charles Manson seemed to confirm the mainstream’s worst fears regarding counterculture youth. Following the shock of Hollywood’s rich and famous getting gruesomely slaughtered by the Family, Charlie erupted into the popular consciousness as a longhaired, wild-eyed, doomsday-spouting hate guru who seduced innocent flower children and corrupted them into killers.
1. YOUNG CHARLES MANSON
Manson’s mother, 16-year-old Kathleen Maddox, eventually married William Manson, a laborer, which prompted her son’s name change. It is likely that Charles never knew his biological father.
Nonstop abuse and parental criminality set young Charlie down a path that quickly and with great impact included reform schools, jails, and other official institutions. In total, Manson was only “free” for 13 years of his life — the rest he spent in one form or another of state lock-up.
The barely five-foot-tall Manson survived in captivity both by acting out in “insane” fashion and by practicing the techniques espoused in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. He is also said to have studied Scientology.
During his brief respites of liberation, Manson married and divorced twice, and added pimping, forgery, and car theft to his palette of criminal talents. He ended up doing hard time in various California prisons before emerging on March 21, 1967, at the dawn of the Summer of Love.
2. THE MANSON FAMILY
At large among the hippies and spiritual seekers of the late 1960s, Charlie wasted no time gathering dewy, psychedelically enhanced acolytes who sat mesmerized by his preaching a signature mix of cosmic speculations, environmental compassion, and apocalyptic furor.
At last, in this time and place, all the skills Manson had developed came to the fore, particularly his mastery of behavioral manipulation and his street-smarts regarding how to maintain an outlaw lifestyle.
His new flock came to be called the Manson Family and, with an endless stream of sex, drugs, and other high thrills going down nonstop at the group’s desert compound, Charlie seemed to have wrought his own version of reality into existence.
What Manson could not pull off, though, was his dream of becoming a rock star. Transfixed by the power of the Beatles and the array of mega-talents presently at work in L.A.’s nearby Laurel Canyon, singer-songwriter Charlie repeatedly attempted to break in to the music business (despite a popular myth, though, Manson never did actually audition for the Monkees).
Manson came closest after befriending Dennis Wilson. One afternoon, the Beach Boys drummer picked up a pair of Charlie’s girls who were hitchhiking. In short order, the entire Manson Family took up residence at the wealthy rock star’s beachfront abode.
Wilson introduced Manson to several record company executives and even other performers (including Neil Young), but Charlie only freaked them out. Wilson eventually got the Family to vacate his premises.
Perhaps sensing a change of fortune, Manson upped his Armageddon ravings and concocted the plot that became the reason humanity still remembers, and trembles at the mention of, his name.
3. THE TATE-LABIANCA MURDERS
The Manson Family mounted their most incendiary offenses on the heels of committing multiple other crimes, up to and including murder, at least one of which — the torture and killing of acquaintance Gary Hinman — directly involved Manson himself.
On August 9, Family disciples Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel crashed a party at a home being rented by pregnant Hollywood actress Sharon Tate, the wife of acclaimed filmmaker Roman Polanksi.
Charlie’s Family murdered Tate, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and two other attendees. Upon exiting, Atkins smeared the word “PIG” on the front door.
The very next night, Manson devotees Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan joined the quartet of killers to execute another horror: the murder of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary LaBianca.
This time, the messages left behind included “Healter Skleter” [sic] smeared in blood on the couple’s refrigerator and the word “WAR” carved into Leno’s stomach, from which a barbecue fork was left protruding. Waves of alarm and existential terror reverberated all over the globe.
Manson’s alleged aim in propagating the murders was to ignite “Helter Skelter,” a race war Manson declared inevitable after interpreting “messages” he found in Beatles songs.
His theory stated that Black people would defeat whites in the conflict, but the victors would then require “leaders,” and only the Manson Family would qualify. Charlie hoped the police would blame the Black Panthers or other radical African-American fronts.
Instead, active investigations and general suspicions regarding the Manson Family led police to their desert commune at the Spahn Movie Ranch just outside Los Angeles fairly quickly.
4. MANSON AND THE FAMILY ON TRIAL
The Manson Family trial commenced on June 15, 1970. Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi prosecuted the case, which hinged largely on the testimony of Linda Kasabian, a former Manson Family member who was granted immunity in return for her turning state’s evidence. Kasabian had not committed any of the killings.
Initially, Charles Manson received permission to act as his own attorney. His theatrical and frightening outbursts before the trial even started — such as carving an X in the center of his forehead (which he’d later refashion into a swastika) — squashed that notion.
Throughout the hearings, other knife-carrying Manson Family members with X’s carved into their foreheads camped outside the courtroom and repeatedly disrupted the proceedings.
Manson babbled repeatedly about being both God and the devil. On October 5, he leapt across the defense table and attempted to attack the judge. His codefendants Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel stood up and chanted in Latin during the melee.
Finally, on January 25, 1971, the jury found the defendants guilty on all counts. The court sentenced them to death. That sentence was subsequently overturned after California outlawed capital punishment.
5. AFTER THE FAMILY: MANSON VS. HUMANITY
Charles Manson continued to jolt the public from behind bars for the rest of his life.
In 1975, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, one of the Family members who kept the trials lively with sudden distractions, attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford. Her gun jammed.
The following year, CBS aired Helter Skelter, a two-part TV movie adaptation of a book by the same name written by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. The film set ratings records and, largely via an electrifying performance by Steve Railsback as Manson, newly ignited a fascination with the case that never really abated.
Over the ensuing decades, Manson granted several major interviews to the media, each of which proved to be a sensation in itself.
Charles Manson and the Manson Family have also inspired countless other books, films, documentaries, songs, T-shirts, websites, and even an acclaimed opera. At the time of Charlie’s death, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino was rumored to be basing his next movie project on the Manson Family, with superstar Tom Cruise potentially playing the lead.
Throughout it all, Charlie has acted up behind bars, reportedly incurring dozens if not hundreds of infractions on his behavioral record. In 1985, an incensed cellmate even set Manson on fire.
On the other hand, Manson has always had his “fans” — interested parties, perverse or otherwise, who correspond and/or visit with modern America’s most infamous embodiment of the “crazed killer” concept.
Among those was Afton “Star” Burton who, in 2015, obtained a marriage certificate and announced her plans to marry Charles Manson. Their romance allegedly crumbled following reports that Burton primarily wanted to wed Manson so that, once he died, she could charge the public money to look at his corpse.
6. CHARLES MANSON: THE END
On January 17, 2017, authorities rushed a “gravely ill” Charles Manson to a hospital. Initial reports indicated he was lingering on the brink of death. Doctors even pronounced him “too frail” to survive surgery and moved him back to prison.
Alas, Manson dodged the Reaper’s scythe that time and on several more occasions throughout the year.
Drama arose when men purporting to be Manson’s “son” and his “grandson” took to social media to complain about being barred from seeing their alleged patriarch for any face-to-face farewells.
Star Burton also reemerged, prompting Charlie to request that his sperm be preserved so that he could father still more children after his demise. State officials shot him down.
The true end began on November 15, with Manson once more being transported from jail to a Bakersfield hospital, again in “grave” condition. His last hospitalization was followed bizarrely by several erroneous “fake news” hoax reports of his passing.
Finally, Sunday night, November 20, the first report that seems to be authentic hit the news. TMZ reported that Corcoran State Prison was contacting the families of the victims of the Manson Family to inform them that Charlie is finally gone. Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra Tate, relayed the news to TMZ.
Tate told People that after she received the call from the prison, she said a prayer for Charles Manson’s soul.
To learn more about Charles Manson, watch Investigation Discovery’s Manson: The Prison Tapes on ID GO now!
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Main photos: Charles Manson mug shots: 1969 [LAPD] and 2017 [Corcoran State Prison]