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Charles Milles Manson was the leader of the Manson Family cult, which was responsible for a series of gruesome murders in the 1960s.


Manson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1934. His mother was Kentucky-born runaway Kathleen Maddox, who was 16 years old at the time of his birth and didn't name him immediately (during his first weeks, he went by "no name Maddox"), is said to have been promiscuous and a drinker. According to family members, she once even sold Charles to a waitress for a pitcher of beer, though he was retrieved by an uncle shortly afterward. In 1936, she filed for child support from a Colonel Scott from Kentucky and was awarded it, but never received any. She was briefly married to one William Manson, who was listed as Charles' birth father on the birth certificate and gave him his name. She would be gone for days or weeks at a time, during which he was left with his aunt or grandmother. In 1939, Maddox and her brother went to prison for robbery and her son moved in with an aunt and uncle in West Virginia. Three years later, she was paroled and took him back. Growing up, Charles was a quiet loner who often moved to and from different temporary residences with his mother. At the age of nine, he was caught stealing and was sent to a reform school. The same thing happened again when he was 12. In 1947, Maddox tried to have him put in a foster home, but none could take him. Instead, he was placed in the Gibault School for Boys in Indiana by the court, but ran away the next year and tried to return to his mother. After being rejected, he started living on his own, making money through burglaries and spent time in several juvenile detention centers and childcare facilities in multiple states. During one of his last stays, he raped a fellow detainee while holding a razor blade to his throat. In 1952, Manson was placed in the Chillicothe Correctional Facility in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he became more cooperative to the keepers than he had been at his previous institutions and even became literate while there. An aptitude test estimated his IQ at 109 and said that he had an average aptitude for everything but music.

In 1954, he was paroled and spent some time living with various family members. In 1955, he married a waitress who carried his son, Charles Jr., and made a living of low-wage jobs and car thefts. When the child was born, Manson was incarcerated in Los Angeles for auto theft (his wife had driven to the city in a car he had stolen to join him). Three years into his prison term, he and his wife divorced. In 1958, he was paroled, only to start pimping a 16-year-old prostitute in Pasadena. The following years he spent doing legal negotiations on charges of white slavery and of forging a U.S. Treasury check. On March 21, 1967, he was released from the Federal Correction Institution on Terminal Island after less than a year there and moved to Berkeley, where he moved into an apartment with help from a friend from prison. He actually protested when he was due for release, saying he was happy with staying in jail and playing his guitar (a cellmate had taught him how to). He married a woman named Mary Brunner and moved in with her.

Soon there were 18 additional women living in the same apartment. He began gathering more followers, male and female, to what became his "family" (see below) and moved in with them to the Spahn Ranch in the Santa Susana Mountains, a former set used for shooting the Western shows Bonanza and Gunsmoke. The owner, 80-year-old George Spahn, allowed the Family to stay if they helped work the grounds. Manson also made some female members have sex with Spahn. They later moved to the Barker Ranch in Death Valley. Manson told the owner that they were aspiring musicians. She allowed them to stay if they helped clean up, and he sealed the deal by giving her a copy of a Beach Boys gold record, which band member Dennis Wilson had given him during a brief stay at his house. During that stay, Manson had written a song for the band's album, but producer Terry Melcher, a music producer who did a lot of work with the band, didn't offer him a contract and it wasn't produced.

The Manson Family, Killings, and Capture

The Barker Ranch.

Manson often preached about a racial holocaust that would start when the blacks began a rebellion against the whites. He named the event "Helter Skelter" after a song on the Beatles' White Album (the inspiration came from the lyrics "Look out Helter skelter Helter skelter Helter skelter/She's coming down fast/Yes she is/Yes she is"). In addition to the lyrics of other songs from the White Album, which he interpreted as a prophetic warning of Helter Skelter, he also cited chapters from the Book of Revelations, even drawing parallels between both and his own life and calling himself "Jesus Christ". He intended for the group to make another album filled with "hidden messages" about the impending racial Armageddon. Before long, they began a plan to start a racial war between blacks and whites by committing murders on members of either race and pinning it on the other, sparking retaliation from the former side, and repeating the process until a war broke out. While racist and non-racist whites fought among each other and brought themselves down, the Family would wait out the conflict in a "bottomless pit" (an alcove in Death Valley near the Barker Ranch) before bringing the blacks down and rising to power themselves. In addition to working on their album, the Family also planned an escape in the "pit" with maps and prepared vehicles.

One day in 1969, the Family members were told Terry Melcher would visit the compound, but he didn't come. On March 23, Manson went alone to the last address he'd known Melcher to live at, 10050 Cielo Drive. By that time, Melcher had moved and the house had two new tenants, director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant with his child. He met Shahrokh Hatami, a photographer, and friend of Tate, and asked him for Rudi Altobelli, the landlord. Hatami said he didn't recognize the name and sent him to the guest house. When Manson came back later, Altobelli was there and told him that Melcher had moved to Malibu. On May 18, the Family's ranch was visited by Melcher, who came to hear the members sing. In July, the Family took its first murderous steps towards Helter Skelter. A member, "Tex" Watson, had scammed a black drug dealer named Bernard "Lotsapoppa" Crowe for a sum of money the Family intended to use for the Helter Skelter scheme. On July 1, after Crowe had threatened to strike back at the Family, Manson shot him in his apartment and fled. The next day, Manson heard a news report about a Black Panther member being killed in the area and assumed it was Crowe. In actuality, however, Crowe, who was not really a Black Panther, survived the shooting but didn't report it. On July 25, Manson and a pack of Family members went to the home of Gary Hinman, an acquaintance, and tried to rob him of a sum of money Manson thought he had inherited. After being held hostage for a few days, Hinman was killed. On August 6, one of the involved Family members, Bobby Beausoleil, was caught driving Hinman's car with the murder weapon, a sword, in his possession and was arrested.

Two days later, Manson told the rest of the Family that it was time to begin the Helter Skelter officially and sent some followers to 10050 Cielo Drive with the instructions to kill everyone there. Just after midnight, they arrived at the house. The four people in the house were Sharon Tate (Polanski was in London at the time), hairstylist Jay Sebring, aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger, heiress to Folger's Coffee and Frykowski's girlfriend. During the night, all four were murdered, after which the Family members drew in the victims' blood the phrases "DEATH TO PIGS" and "RISE" on two walls in the living room and "HEALTHER SKELTER" [sic] on the refrigerator door. Earlier in the night, they also stopped Steven Parent, an 18-year-old student who was giving William Garretson, the house's caretaker, a ride. Garretson lived in the guest house and didn't hear anything because his stereo was being played at a loud volume. Parent, on the other hand, was killed. The bodies were found in the morning when the maid came to work. The next evening, Manson sent the same pack, along with two more members, to 3301 Waverly Drive, the home of supermarket executive Leno LaBiance and his wife Rosemary, both of whom were stabbed to death in the night.

On August 12, 1969, the Manson Family was arrested as a "major auto theft ring", having stolen several cars and converted them into dune buggies, but they were released a few dates after due to a mistake with the warrant. On August 26, the Family killed Donald "Shorty" Shea, a farm hand at the Spahn Ranch, because Manson thought he was a "snitch". A dorm mate of Family member Susan Atkins told the police about her when she talked about the Hinman murder. In custody, she talked to her cellmates about the Family's other murders, in which she had been involved. More arrests followed and the Family members were connected to the murders with physical evidence, including fingerprints and the murder weapons. Linda Kasabian, who had been present during the murders but not committed any herself, was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony. In the end, all Family members involved in the killings were found guilty on multiple counts of first-degree murder.

Initially, everyone in the group was sentenced to death, but in 1972, the state of California revoked capital punishment and their sentences were reduced to life imprisonment.

Manson on August 14, 2017. This is also the last image taken of Manson before his death

Manson himself was found guilty through the joint-responsibility rule, having directly ordered the murders, and is still serving his sentence at the Corcoran State Prison. Since 1978, he has been denied parole eleven times. On April 11, 2012, he was denied parole for the twelfth time and won't be eligible again for another fifteen years, meaning that he would never leave prison. On January 1, 2017, Manson was taken out of prison and transported to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, suffering from gastrointestinal bleeding. Some sources report Manson was too weak for doctors to perform surgery and any treatment he had received was never disclosed. By January 6, he returned to prison. On November 15, days after his eighty-third birthday, Manson was again reported to have been transported to a hospital in Bakersfield, although the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not initially confirm this.

On November 19, 2017, Manson died from natural causes while in hospital, aged 83

The Manson Family Members

Several members of the Manson Family.

  • Charles "Tex" Watson (b. December 2, 1945)
    • Shot three victims of the 10050 Cielo Drive massacre
    • Stabbed both of the LaBiancas
    • Involved in the murder of Donald Shea
    • Became a born-again Christian in 1975
    • Wrote an autobiography, Will You Forgive Me?, with the help of his chaplain. It was published n 1978.
    • Got married in 1979 while in prison and had four children with his wife through conjugal visits
    • Divorced in 2002
  • Susan Atkins (May 7, 1948 - September 24, 2009)
    • Also went by the name "Sadie May Glutz"
    • Involved in the Hinman, Tate and LaBianca murders
    • Published an autobiography, Child of Satan, Child of God, in 1977
    • Died in prison from cancer in 2009
  • Linda Kasabian (b. June 21, 1949)
    • Accomplice
    • Testified against the other Family members in exchange for immunity
  • Bobby Beausoleil (b. November 6, 1947)
    • Aspiring musician and actor
    • Boyfriend of Leslie Van Houten
    • Had parts in a few softcore pornography movies, one of which was shot at the Spahn Ranch, and was set to star in the short film Lucifer Rising, but had a falling out with the director and was replaced. Some of his footage was included in a revival of the project. During his incarceration, he was allowed to compose and record the soundtrack for the film.
    • Was briefly a member of The Grass Roots (which later changed its name to Love) in 1965
    • Stabbed Gary Hinman to death
  • Leslie Van Houten (b. August 23, 1949)
    • Girlfriend of Bobby Beausoleil
    • Involved in the LaBianca murders
    • Has been denied parole over 20 times
    • Has written a number of short stories in prison and done some secretarial work there
    • Granted parole in September 2017 following a total of 21 appearances before a parole board
  • Steve "Clem" Grogan (b. May 24, 1952)
    • Musician
    • Was kept under observation at a mental hospital for indecent exposure in 1969
    • Involved in the LaBianca murders and the Shea murder
    • Released from prison in 1985
  • Patricia Krenwinkel (b. December 3, 1947)
    • Involved in the Tate and LaBianca murders
    • Is reportedly a model prisoner, but has been denied parole thirteen times, most recently in 2011, and won't be eligible again until 2018, but was denied parole once again early in June 2017
  • Mary Brunner (b. December 17, 1943)
    • Lived with Manson when he first came to California
    • Bore one of Manson's children, Valentine Michael, in 1968
    • Was involved in the Hinman murder
    • Was in jail for attempting to use stolen credit cards along with Sandra Good during the Tate and LaBianca murders
    • Led a robbery and attempted hostage taking in Hawthorne, California in 1971 and was injured after being shot by police
    • Was released in 1977. Has since changed her name, regained custody of her son and currently lives in the Midwest
  • Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (b. October 22, 1948)
    • Was arrested on suspicion of involvement in an Aryan Brotherhood-related murder, but was released due to a lack of evidence
    • Attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford on September 5, 1975
    • Paroled in 2009
  • Catherine Share (b. December 10, 1942)
    • Born in Paris the daughter of a Hungarian father and a German mother
    • Had a relationship with Bobby Beausoleil
    • Involved in the Brunner-led attempted hostage taking in Hawthorne, California in 1971
    • Was convicted of multiple counts of fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property
  • Sandra Good (b. February 20, 1944)
    • Off and on university student
    • Was in jail for attempting to use stolen credit cards along with Mary Brunner during the Tate and LaBianca murders
    • Was convicted of "conspiracy to send threatening letters through the mail" in 1975
    • Paroled in 1985
    • Is still devoted to Manson, but is forbidden from going to the state of California
  • Bruce McGregor Davis (b. 1942)
    • Involved in the murders of Hinman and Shea
    • Vaguely suspected of being the Zodiac Killer
    • Became a preacher in the prison chapel during his incarceration
    • Despite getting several recommendations from the state parole board, he has been denied parole by the governor and remains in prison

Modus Operandi

Manson targeted people with whom he was directly or indirectly associated. They were all attacked in their residences. The only victim Manson is known to have attacked personally is Bernard Crowe, who was shot, but survived. The other victims were attacked by his followers and were usually viciously stabbed several times. A few were also shot with a .22 Hi Standard "Buntline Special" revolver.

Known Victims

Manson and his family's victims.

Personal Victims

  • Unspecified dates:
    • 1948: A victimless burglary
    • 1948-1952: A victimless armed robbery
    • 1952: Unnamed male victim (sodomized only)
    • 1997: A victimless arson
  • 1969:
    • Unspecified date: Unnamed victim (raped only)
    • July 1: Bernard "Lotsapoppa" Crowe (attempted; shot, but survived)
    • October: A victimless arson

Victims by Proxy

  • 1969:
    • July 25: Gary Alan Hinman, 34 (held captive for days, cut his ear off, and stabbed in the chest with a sword)
    • August 9: Five killed in the 10050 Cielo Drive massacre. The victims are:
      • Sharon Marie Tate, 26 (stabbed 16 times; was eight months pregnant)
      • Jay Sebring, 35 (shot with a .22 revolver and stabbed seven times)
      • Wojciech Frykowski, 32 (struck with a gun, then shot twice; was also stabbed 51 times)
      • Abigail Anne Folger, 25 (stabbed 28 times)
      • Steven Earl Parent, 18 (incidental; slashed in the wrist with a buck knife, then shot four times in the chest, abdomen, and face with a .22 revolver)
    • August 10: Leno and Rosemary LaBianca (both killed in the 3301 Waverly Drive attack)
      • Leno LaBianca, 44 (stabbed 26 times in the neck and abdomen and carved "WAR" into his abdomen)
      • Rosemary LaBianca, 38 (stabbed 16 times in the back and buttocks, then stabbed 25 times post-mortem)
    • August 26: Donald "Shorty" Shea, 35 (struck with a pipe wrench, stabbed, and brutally tortured)

On Criminal Minds

  • Intro: Manson is among the many criminals whose mugshot is shown during the show's intro.
  • Season One
    • "Extreme Aggressor" - Hotch mentioned that his wife wanted to name their son Charles, but he wouldn't allow it because it reminded him of Manson.
    • "Won't Get Fooled Again" - Manson was mentioned by Reid as a comparison to Adrian Bale, who developed a similar cult in prison.
    • "The Popular Kids" - Manson and his cult were mentioned by the BAU as an example of killer cults.
    • "The Tribe" - Like the previous episode, Manson and his cult were mentioned as an example of killer cults. They also appear to have been an inspiration for Jackson Cally and his tribe - Both were racial cults who resided in deserts, stabbed most of their victims to death, and their aim was ultimately to start a race war between Caucasians and an ethnic minority group (blacks in Manson's case, Native Americans in Cally's).
    • "Somebody's Watching" - JJ mentions that the media are calling the ongoing murders, in which people related to the movie industry are being killed, as the biggest celebrity homicide since the Manson Family's murder of Sharon Tate.
  • Season Three
  • Season Four
    • "Memoriam" - Manson was brought up when it was stated that a man's corpse found in close proximity to the Barker Ranch in 2001 was assumed to be one of the Manson Family's victims upon discovery.
  • Season Five
    • "The Performer" - Manson was notably referenced when the team talks about music on the plane and Rossi mentions that Hotch's favorite album is the Beatles' White Album. Hotch argues "Just because Manson hijacked it doesn't have to ruin it for the rest of us", referring to how Manson named the Helter Skelter scenario after the Beatle song from the album.
    • "Outfoxed" - During a lecture that Reid is attending, neuroscientist James Fallon mentions Manson was one of five violent sociopaths (the others being Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gacy, and Dennis Rader) whose brain patterns he has studied.
    • "...A Thousand Words" - Manson was mentioned as an example of serial killers who have children (although Manson isn't technically considered a serial killer).
  • Season Seven
    • "A Thin Line" - Manson and his cult were notably referenced in this episode. Reid initially compared Manson to Trevor Mills, the case at hand, before Morgan later believed Trevor was more like Manson's followers. Manson also seems to have served as some inspiration for both Trevor and his dominant partner Clark Preston; Trevor killed Caucasian families and pinned the familicides on people of ethnic minorities in hopes of starting a racial war like Manson tried to do, while Preston manipulated Trevor to carry out his orders as Manson did with his followers (although Preston actually intended to use the killings to further his mayoral campaign, something Trevor wasn't aware of).
  • Season Eleven
    • "Tribute" - Manson's mugshot was seen on the cover of the book America's Deadliest Killers, which was read by Michael Peterson.
  • Season Twelve
    • "Seek and Destroy" - While Manson and his cult were not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, they appear to have been an inspiration for Ezekiel "Zeke" Daniels and his gang - Both had mothers with substance abuse problems, were raised partially by their aunt and uncles, committed petty crimes prior to their gangs forming, and both their groups committed home invasions that involved casualties, were active in California (though Daniels' group was also active in other states), and had both male and female members.
    • "True North" - Manson and his cult were mentioned when the BAU initially believed the case at hand to be the work of a similar cult operating in the desert.
  • Season Thirteen
    • "False Flag" - Manson was mentioned as an example of murderers who read J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye and claimed to have been influenced by it.
  • Season Fourteen
    • "300" - Manson was referenced again.

On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders