Charles Manson was born "No name Maddox" on November 12th, 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His mother was a prostitute name Kathleen Maddox. Charles was shuttled from relative to relative, picking up the last name "Manson" from a man his mother became involved with, along the way.
His childhood was filled with abuse and neglect, and Manson has even reported being sent to school dressed as a little girl, and claimed to have been living on the streets at age 10.
Manson's criminal history began when we was just 12, when he and another boy robbed a store.
In and out of institutions and prisons, Manson eventually settled down with a woman long enough to have two children, both sons. Shortly after this only real family broke apart, the troubled Charlie met the first girl who was to become part of his new "family".
Charlie was released from prison in 1967, against his wishes, and started off on his journey to fame, selecting those who would be along for the ride. Among the first few girls were Mary Brunner, Susan Atkins, and Lynette Fromme (pronounced Fum-me). This small family and its associates would eventually grow to several dozen.
Charlie preached love, and offered and acceptance that many of the young women felt they did not receive from their families. Many were still teenagers when they dropped their unhappy lives to follow the mysterious man that they believed was a prophet.
Manson learned in prison how to sense vulnerability in a person, and how to use it. He became a master manipulator. Dizzying philosophy preached through a haze of drugs drew the young women in. The women he used in turn to draw in men.
It was the late '60s and the Summer of Love attitude was sweeping the nation. There didn't seem anything strange about a group of hippies cruising California in a revamped school bus, or living in a small isolated colony.
In the late '60s, it has been estimated that there were over 100 communal living groups with thousands of members, in Northern California and Oregon alone. When Charlie Manson settled his Family in Death Valley, no one blinked an eye.
George Spahn, elderly and blind, allowed the group to live on his old movie ranch when they said they'd help out with the horses and maintenance.
When Charlie started preaching about the apocalypse, the Family started getting ready to survive the End. In addition to the produce they pulled out of dumpsters for food, they began stealing cars, to build dune buggies.
To fund what they couldn't steal, Charlie planned to get some money out of a Family friend. Manson sent Family members Susan Atkins (aka Sadie), and Mary Brunner to convince Gary Hinman to give them the money they have heard he recently inherited. They needed it, they told him, to repay some people Family member Bobby Beausoleil had sold drugs to, who were complaining and demanding their money back.
When Hinman refused to give them any money, Charlie came down to handle things. They didn't end up with any money, even after holding Hinman hostage for several days and slashing his ear nearly off, but in the end, the Family killed Hinman, making him their first victim.
On the wall, written in blood, they left the words "political piggy" and a paw print, trying to implicate the Black Panther Party. Later, when Bobby was caught in Hinman's car, he said he had obtained it from a black man. He remained in prison on suspicion of murder.
Charlie desperately wanted to get Bobby out of jail. He speculated that if there were more murders with enough similarities, the police would think the killer was still on the loose and let Bobby go.
The following weeks would terrify California, and the nation....
On Saturday, August 9th, 1969, Family members Charles "Tex" Watson, Patricia "Katie" Krenwinkle, "Sadie" Atkins, and Linda Kasabian drove to 10050 Cielo Drive. Climbing over the fence, they began one of the most infamous crimes in American history. Shooting the first person they encountered, Steven Parent, and then making their way to the house, they stabbed to death 4 people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate, who was just 26-years-old, and in her last trimester. Sadie later reported that she considered cutting the baby out, but decided that they didn't have time, and that it would probably die. She did, however, have time to taste Sharon Tate's blood, allegedly licking it off her fingers and declaring "what a trip!
The Family also left behind the bodies of Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger coffee fortune), Voytek Frykowski, and famous hair stylist Jay Sebring, as well as another message in blood: "pig", which was printed on the front door in Sharon Tate's blood.
The next murders came shortly after. Charlie, Tex, Katie, Sadie, Linda, Clem Grogan, and Leslie VanHouten drove to the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Charlie went in first, tying the couple up, and then left the dirty work to his followers, who stabbed the pair to death with their own flatware. "death to pigs" and misspelled "Healter Skelter" were left in blood, and word "war" was left carved into flesh.
Police initially failed to see any connection between the three incidents.
The whole thing blew up in Charlie's face when Susan Atkins, in jail on a prostitution charge, told the whole story to a fellow inmate, who reported it to the authorities.
Raids on Spahn Ranch produced all the remaining suspects.
Manson, Krenwinkle, Atkins, and VanHouten were prosecuted together in a theatrical trial, where the girls followed Charlie's lead in lashing out against the legal system, shuffling lawyers, shaving their heads, and cutting and burning X's into their foreheads.
Outside, free Family members also followed Charlie's lead. A group of bald girls with X'ed out foreheads held a 24-hour vigil on the corner near the courthouse. The responsibilities of the Family now fell to Lynette Fromme (aka Squeaky, aka Red), who was possibly the most devoted and loyal member. Joining her on the corner were other devotees including Sandra Good (aka Blue), and Ruth Anne Moorehouse (aka Ouisch).
After a lengthy trial, all defendants received the death penalty on April 19, 1971.
Mary Brunner and Linda Kasabian received immunity for helping the prosecution.
Charles Manson, Family associate Bruce Davis, and Clem Grogan were later charged with and convicted of murder and conspiracy in the deaths of Gary Hinman and Donald "Shorty" Shea, a ranch hand at Spahn Ranch that had gone missing (and whose body has never been found).
Charles "Tex" Watson was tried separately for 7 counts of murder, and was sentenced to death.
Susan Atkins plead guilty to the murder of Gary Hinman and was given a life sentence. Bobby Beausoleil received the same sentence.
All of the death sentences were reduced to life in imprisonment when capital punishment was suspended by the Supreme Court in 1972. The murder statutes in effect in 1971 did not offer life without parole, so ex-Family members are regularly eligible for parole and release.
Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkle, and Leslie VanHouten are serving life at the California Institution for Women. Bobby Beausoleil and Tex Watson are serving life at the California Men's Colony. Charlie Manson is in the California State Prison.
Lynette Fromme was imprisoned after pulling a gun on then president Gerald Ford. Without Lyn to keep the Family together, any remaining chance for unity collapsed. Many Family members turned against Charlie or swore allegiance to new men in the early '70s. Charlie's spell could not hold through prison walls.
Though the prosecution tried to tie Manson to the Beatles in an elaborate philosophy involving a race war, Charlie claims that the Beatles were not his time. That philosophy, however,--known as "Helter Skelter" after a Beatles song--is still selling well. Charlie's face helped sell over 40,000 T-shirts in 4 months for one manufacturer, and Charlie's art and music which he created in prison is well valued by collectors.
Still unwilling to accept his guilt, Charlie had this to say in an interview that he gave in prison: "And I found out that in California, in order to get justice you must buy it."