In the wake of Charles Manson's death, there are all sorts of retellings of the tales of his wrath in Los Angeles during the 1960's and how one man's twisted mind could scare an entire society and influence a massive group of followers to do his bidding despite his demands being horrific in nature. Known as the "Manson Family," Charles Manson was able to prey on the easily influenced and young minds of those who believed in his cause. There are rumors that the family killed as many as 35 people but, in the end, were given jail time for just seven deaths.
Most people know Manson as one of the most notorious mass murderers in U.S. history, yet he didn't actually kill anyone. He left that for his "family," and if you wanted to be in the Manson Family, there were certain rules you had to follow. Many of these rules came long before being asked to kill on Manson's behalf.
It is assumed that many of these rules were to help Charles Manson keep a tight grip on things but also to test the levels to which his family members would go. He needed to know how far he could push his followers in order to determine if they would go so far as to commit murder. Clearly, he was successful.
If you were in his group you couldn't read, tell time or be a single parent. You were expected to work hard, like the same music, do the same drugs, move around from place to place, and most of all, stay completely loyal to your leader. Below is a list of 15 crazy and mostly-unknown rules the Manson Family had to follow.
15 Couldn't Wear Glasses
We aren't sure exactly why none of the Manson Family were allowed to wear glasses but we assume it was a control thing or just another way for Manson to impose his dominance over the rest of the group. Speculation is, Manson wanted his followers to "see" the world for its natural beauty and not a closeup "fake view" that glasses would give them.
As we explain later, we do know the followers were not allowed to read books so those who couldn't wear glasses but needed them probably also didn't ask to read books which helped Manson maintain that sense of control and manipulation.
Weird Fact: The band he idolized the most (The Beatles) had a number of members who wore glasses.
14 No Watches, Clocks, Or Calendars
Manson also banned pretty much every mode or method of being able to tell time. If you were a part of the Manson Family, you were not allowed to own or carry watches, clocks, or calendars with you. Again, we're not sure exactly why this was a rule. But if you think of it the same way you view a casino that doesn't post the time anywhere, you realize that theory is that if people don't know how long they've been doing something or working with you, they might be less prone to asking questions.
For example, if Manson wanted people to take on a task that seemed arduous, perhaps not knowing you'd been at it for hours helped him ensure that they didn't complain or ask too many questions. Manson and his family did, however, go on to realize how long time can last when they were imprisoned on multiple life sentences for their crimes.
13 Had To Be A Beatles Fan
To be in the Manson Family meant learning to have a never-ending love for The Beatles. That probably wasn't too tall an ask since almost everyone loved the Beatles back then but Manson held a special place in his heart for the group, and their song "Helter Skelter" was completely misunderstood by Manson and used to convince his followers that the Beatles were suggesting that the world was ready for a race war.
The Manson Family learned to love the group so much, and it became so well-known they were fans that during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine after the murders, some of the Manson Family members tried to convince the magazine to reach out to the band and tell the Beatles to call Manson. To most people, that was never going to happen. To Manson's followers, they couldn't understand why The Beatles didn't love them back.
12 Had To Remain Fiercely Loyal
If you want an example of how loyal the Family members had to be, look no further than the unexplained death of lawyer Ronald Hughes, who dropped Manson as a client during the trial and took up representing Leslie Van Houten (another family member). At first it was believed, Hughes was murdered while camping. But another school of thought is that he was taken out by Manson Family members during a brief recess in the trial because he didn't fully back Manson.
If you were in the family, you were expected to follow Manson, always. Even if he couldn't directly ask a task of his followers, they were to act on his behalf. In some cases, that meant drugs, s*x, and even murder.
Weird Fact: Hughes' body was found in 1970 (nearly three months after he went missing) while he was camping, and coroners could not determine a cause of death.
11 He Watched While...
It shouldn't come as a surprise to hear that a cult or group of people (mostly women) who loyally followed one person would be asked and expected to perform certain "favors". The Manson Family was no different. Charles Manson would often get the members of his group to have intercourse with each other as large groups as he watched.
It was already a fairly "free" and s*xually open time period in society but the group had so many different relationships that they were kicked out of Dennis Wilson's (a member of the Beach Boys) house for causing too much damage and having too many intimate "parties". Eventually, many of the women started having kids, and the family literally grew to include members born into the group.
10 Embrace The Celebrity Lifestyle
It was well-known that Charles Manson wanted to be famous. He tried for years to make himself into a music star, and he worked to be around famous people. He was actually pretty good at it as he ended up having a song on the Beach Boys' record 20/20 and later, a song on a Guns n' Roses album. He didn't, however, become the star he wanted to be and instead moved to the Spahn Ranch (where TV westerns were filmed), lived there, and had his Manson Family make a death list that included a ton of big celebrity names.
I guess if Manson wasn't going to get famous on his own, his plan was to become famous for killing famous people. His family was expected to embrace that vision, and they helped him make his death list all while trying to make him become a star.
9 Had To Take Drugs
One way to control a large group of people is to take away their ability to think clearly. An easy way to do that is to convince them all to take hallucinogenic drugs, and Manson did that. It was speculated that many of the family members were on these drugs when they lived at the Spahn Ranch where the murders were planned, and again on these drugs as the murders were actually committed.
As one might expect, many of the members got highly addicted to the drugs that Manson gave them which, of course, meant that they became dependent on him to get their fix. If you have people who not only believe you but feel like they have to follow you to get what their body feels it needs, people would be prone to doing unthinkable things.
8 Understand And Obey The Hit List
When we talked about Manson's desire to be famous earlier, that included the "family" not being allowed to commit crimes against anyone but the people Manson deemed appropriate targets. That's where the death/hit list became so important.
Family members were expected to help create the list, and it was critical that only those on the list were to be taken out. Among the names included were Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Elizabeth Taylor, and Steve McQueen. The idea behind these murders is that it was to draw the most attention to the cause, and killing these famous celebrities would be something that no one could ignore. Fortunately, the family and Manson got caught before they could get to most of their list. Why they chose who they chose is still a mystery.
7 Manson Could Never Actually Kill Anyone
It was imperative that despite all the carnage the group laid upon Los Angeles at the time of the deaths, The Manson Family had to ensure that Charles himself was not the one committing the murders. It was never to be Charles Manson as he couldn't get caught and he wasn't to do more than direct and give incentive. He would either leave just before the murders so he wasn't there when they took place or he would send his followers after specific instructions.
Fortunately, the law proved that because of his involvement before the murders took place and his instructions and actions at the murder scenes were enough to find him guilty and he was charged anyway. The Family actually committed all of the murders and Manson himself never killed anyone.
6 Frame The Black Panthers
Charles Manson also instructed his family to make it seem like the murders were committed by members of the Black Panthers organization. They were to use blood from the scenes to leave messages or make it look like something the Panthers would do.
Manson believed and had convinced his family that the world was ready for a race war and that these killings were a part of that vision. One of the groups most known for arguing race at the time was the Black Panthers, and it was believed that people wouldn't be shocked or hard to convince that the Panthers were behind these murders if done correctly.
Strange Fact: Manson received more fan mail than any other inmate in history. It was reported that he got up to 60,000 letters per year. Much of that might have had to do with people's belief in his race cause.
5 Books Were Not Allowed
Manson was known to be in love with a book by famous author Dale Carnegie. It was called “How To Win Friends And Influence People.” While he followed the guidelines and suggestions in that book religiously, he also used it to get through his many years in prison, especially the part about taking ownership of an idea or concept. Ironically, the members of the Manson Family were not permitted to have books on the Spahn Ranch.
It was likely because he didn't want them educating themselves and creating their own ideas and thoughts outside of the information he was feeding them. Information is education and power, and Manson wanted to ensure that he always held the power in his dealings with his followers. There were likely other things not permitted, but books posed a major threat to his ability to influence his "people." It probably worked too if they were illiterate, but it's tough to expect that was the case. Although, they did misspell Helter Skelter when they wrote it in blood on the wall after one of the murders.
4 Had To Contribute Labor On The Ranch
Part of Manson's deal to live at Spahn Ranch rent-free was that he and his family would provide free labor on the property. It's not known if all members of the family had to contribute, but it's safe to assume that many of them did.
For starters, Manson would probably never do all the dirty labor himself if he had others to do the work for him. Second, it would have been a way to prove their loyalty to him and a way for Manson to measure how much his family members and followers believed in him. It was probable that small tasks led to bigger tasks, and before they knew it, they were following Manson to the point that they were willing to commit murder for him.
I'm sure if the landlord had known that this is what Manson was up to, he would have sought out a different tenant.
3 Had To Be Willing To Move Around A Lot
If you were part of the Manson Family, it was expected that you understood you were going to be asked not to get too familiar with one place and be ready to move on a moment's notice. Part of that was because the group wore out their welcome in certain places (such as Beach Boys' member Denis Wilson) but also because Manson was constantly on a recruiting mission.
Manson was quite good at getting people to open their homes to him, and his group and the idea was to impress upon new and fresh minds that they should join him and his family. Everywhere they went, they picked up new followers, and the family was expected to help in that regard.
Manson and the Family traveled between abandoned houses, hippie communes, and ranches in the desert. On each occasion, the family grew in size.
2 Forced Into Bulimia
We can only assume that in the same way Manson forced the family members to take drugs, do the deed (leading to children), and follow other rules that gave Manson control over his surroundings, not feeding the family properly was all part of that plan. Many of the women who wound up in jail actually claimed to have eaten better in prison than they did while they were part of the group. Some of them actually became paranoid that they were getting too skinny and Manson would no longer find them attractive.
As a result of their fondness for Manson, when they went to jail, they made a pact to throw up their food instead of gaining weight. They learned how to stick their fingers down their throats, rid themselves of the food, and regain control of the situation (at least that's how they viewed it).
1 Children Were Raised Collectively
As a result of all the group intercourse and how often the women had relations with the men, it was natural that babies began to become part of the equation. In some cases, women who were recruited actually brought their children into the group with them.
Many were not Manson's biological children but they were raised that way, and the group as a whole was responsible for being the parents and guardians of all these kids. In almost all cases, the children in the Family were raised collectively by the members. They did everything as a group, including breastfeeding the newborns.
Strange Fact: When babies were removed and mothers were in trauma, the other women would actually breastfeed off the mother to give her that sense of still having her child and helping with her bodies' responses to needing to breastfeed.