During the summer of 1969, Charles Manson and his brainwashed, blood-thirsty “family” wreaked havoc on the world. Responsible for dozens of murders, Manson was sent to prison without possibility for parole. He's made it to the cover of countless magazines, books and newspapers and has been the subject of dozens of movies and documentaries. Crime experts, law enforcement, and psychological analysts have studied the case for years and have explained to us every painstaking detail. No doubt, the Manson Family case is one of America's most notorious and fascinating cases and has been discussed for years.
But what about Manson before the blood-shed? What do we really know about the boy who was born to a southern prostitute, who never knew his dad and was passed around, seemingly unwanted, like a tainted piece of fruit?
Before the Hollywood homicides, the TV interviews, and 24-hour media exposure, Manson was a two-bit car thief with a passion for music and a rap sheet as long as his hair. The twists and turns in his life, which shaped him into a master manipulator and a cult-of-personality and complex and long. Before ever amassing a cult following and preying on weak-minded, peace loving hippies in San Francisco, he was a pre-teen boosting cars and sticking up liquor stores. Before he was 30 he had already spent half his life in prison, studied Scientology, and even rubbed elbows with some of Hollywood's biggest stars. He was a talented musician and even a loving husband. To say he's tortured and disturbed is an understatement. Let's take a look at 15 facts which should shed some light on who Charles Manson is and how he became a criminal mastermind.
15 He Met Bryan Cranston In 1968
A lot of people know Bryan Cranston as the goofy dad from Malcolm in the Middle or as meth-cook extraordinaire Walter White in Breaking Bad. However, before he was cooking meth in his underpants, a young Cranston spent his formidable years riding horses at the very same ranch where the Manson Family lived and worked.
Cranston recalls, “There were about eight or so people, and there was a man in the middle on a horse but he wasn’t holding his own reins—there was someone on the horse in front holding the reins—and Charlie [Manson], I guessed, was this comatose, bearded, long-haired guy with big eyes riding as if he’s just stuck to the back of a horse. Totally zoned out. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. My cousin turned back to me and said, ‘Wow, that guy’s weird.’ When we passed him and their whole group, she turned around again and said, ‘That must be Charlie,’ and I said, ‘Yeah… and Charlie’s freaky!’ We didn’t think anything of it."
It wasn't until a year later that Cranston and his cousin turned on the evening news and saw “Charlie's” picture plastered all over the screen and heard the dozens of reports of him being linked to multiple gruesome homicides.
14 He Was A Scientologist
Of the many far out and wacky trends to hit Hollywood and the entertainment industry, Scientology has to be among the most bizarre and controversial. From Tom Cruise to Jason Lee, countless celebrities and entertainers are involved with the religion and vigorously praise it for all the good it has done for people and the world. Even Charles Manson took to the movement in the very early 1960s.
One 1961 prison report claims that Manson made tremendous efforts at self-improvement by studying Scientologist literature while serving time at McNeil Island State Penitentiary. Some reports claim that he spent up to 150 hours doing audits! It is unclear what factors lead to his severed relationship with the church once he was released from prison and there is no evidence that L. Ron Hubbard's teachings had any influence on Manson's later actions.
13 He Burned His Classmates' Christmas Presents
If you read any information on Manson, it soon becomes painfully clear that he didn't have the best childhood. He was born to an unwed mother, he never knew his father and he was passed around to different family members, reform schools and other programs available at the time for children who did not have stable families. Needless to say, this sort of treatment has tremendous effects on a young child and Manson regularly acted out at his lack of stability.
As a result, after a Christmas where he received no gifts from his family, Manson burned all of the gifts that his classmates received in order to ease his rage. Instances such as these, on top of Manson's twisted home-life and difficult upbringing had such an impact on him that some experts believe that it is what caused him to develop psychological disorders.
12 His Mother Once Sold Him For Beer
Speaking of Manson's upbringing, there's no doubt that a major cause of his terrible childhood was because of his mother. At the age of 16, and while working as a prostitute, Kathleen Maddox gave birth to an illegitimate son. A mere five years later she was serving time in jail for robbing a gas station and out of Manson's life. However, her problematic relationship with alcohol plagued their time together once she was released.
In 1942, after reclaimed her son, she exposed him to an unrelenting stream of booze-fuelled binges, multiple lovers, and week long stints when she would completely disappear. One evening she learned that a waitress at her local bar was unable to have children. Poor, desperate and addicted, she pawned her own son off in exchange for a pitcher of beer. Thankfully Manson's uncle, who was at least slightly less depraved, was able to retrieve young Charles. It does raise the question, however, of what would have happened to Manson if he had stayed with his new “mother”.
11 Originally, His First Name Was “No-Name”
Obviously, Manson's mother, Kathleen Maddox, was a less than stellar parent when it came to raising her son. Even on the day of his birth she couldn't be bothered to come up with a real name. So, for the first few weeks of his life, Charles Manson was known as “No Name Maddox”. It doesn't seem like she would even spend much time at PTA meetings or hanging finger paintings on the fridge.
It is unclear where the first name “Charles” originated. But, shortly after his birth, Kathleen married a laborer named William Manson, Charles' step-dad, and the infant was given William's last name. Charles Manson's biological father is a mystery to this day. Kathleen filed a paternal suit against a “Colonel Scott”, but records are quite shady about if a man by that name ever existed. It becomes even more difficult organizing Manson's childhood origins because he himself often changes details and give inconsistent accounts of events.
10 He Was A Babysitter
Despite his nightmarish roots, Manson later became a babysitter to the stars. Considering his affinity for music and demand for attention from peers, Manson experts agree that his life-long dream was to be famous. As an attention-seeking, pop-singer wannabe, Manson yearned to rub elbows with ultra famous power players in Hollywood. His dreams came true...sort of...and he was able to infiltrate Hollywood and become close with dozens of notable 60s musicians and actors.
Probably one of Manson's oddest celebrity connections was actor Al Lewis. Lewis was famous at the time for starring as Grandpa Munster on the now cult-classic TV series The Munsters. Throughout his life, Lewis was quite the charitable fellow and would often meet with fans on Fridays nights in downtown LA and take 50-60 of the poorest and most down-trodden out for a lavish dinner on his own dime. On one fateful evening, Manson was among the group and was able to get some one on one time with Lewis. Grandpa Munster offered him a job watching his kids and later said, “Charles Manson babysat my kids. He didn't chop no heads off. He was very nice with me.” Lewis went on to say, “He sat for four or five hours, he amused the kids, he brought the guitar and he played, no big deal, no sweat." Who knew one of the world's most depraved minds was also capable of entertaining kids.
9 One Of The Beach Boys Paid For His STD Treatments
Continuing with the theme of Manson's celebrity connections, the most notable would have to be Dennis Wilson, the drummer for the famous surf-rock band The Beach Boys. Wilson met Manson during a rough divorce in the summer of 1968. He moved to the Sunset Strip. Thanks in part to Manson's cadre of beautiful followers, Wilson was soon seduced and even allowed Manson and his “family” to take up residence with him in his lavish house.
Oddly enough, Wilson foot the bill for just about every need and want the Manson Family could need and want, including $21,000 in treatments for sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, the family destroyed one of Wilson's cars. In total, the Family fleeced Wilson out of over $100,000. Although he wanted them gone, he never kicked them out. Instead, at the end of the summer, they moved on to the now infamous Spahn Ranch and went on to commit their horrible murders.
8 He Had A Relatively High IQ
Okay, so maybe Manson wasn't a genius – or even above average. But clocking in at an IQ of 109 he wasn't a dummy, either. Having spent his childhood being shoved between different family members and institutions and then spending the vast majority of his teen years up until his early 30s in reform schools and prison, Manson didn't exactly have a lot of opportunities to learn. Still, during his various stays in the big house, he managed to do what he could.
Manson was illiterate and had less than an elementary school education until first stint in the slammer in the early 1950s. It wasn't until he realized that he could get an early release on good behavior if he hit the books and upped his education. And, after a month, he managed to rise from a fourth grade level to seventh and earn parole in 1954.
7 He Was Inspired By A Book
While he wasn't inspired by any writings of L. Ron Hubbard, he was very much inspired by another author. In 1936, author Dale Carnegie published the acclaimed How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book became wildly successful and has sold over 30 million copies to date. Although the book has influenced numerous great minds, such as Warren Buffet, it was also worshiped by Charles Manson.
Around the time of his continued education during his first visit to prison, Manson picked up Carnegie's book and was immediately drawn in. After finishing the book cover to cover he later took classes based on the book. Manson was particularly drawn to chapter 7, which covered how to gain cooperation. In this chapter, Carnegie urges readers to, “Let the other fellow feel that the idea is his” which is what Manson would later do when encouraging his “family” members to do his bidding in 1969.
6 He Was Once Happily Married
Before amassing a group of dedicated followers, preaching of race wars and mass chaos and orchestrating the horrific murders during the summer of 1969, Manson was no stranger to jail cells. By the age of thirty, he had already spent more than half his life either behind bars or living at reform schools for at-risk youths. However, after one of his more lengthy stays behind bars in the late 1950s, Manson met and fell in love with a woman names Rosalie Willis. While little is actually known about Willis, we do know that she was working as a waitress when she met Manson.
After they married in 1955 the couple was reportedly very happy. Manson took to married life very well and had possibly one of his longest streaks going without prison cells, judges and court. Had he not gotten into legal trouble, the two could have stayed married forever and lived a very happy life together. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and when Manson was arrested and sent to prison again for driving a stolen car across state lines the couple eventually divorced. Mr. and Mrs. Manson did manage to have a son while Charles Manson was doing his time. During the divorce, though, Mrs. Manson remarried , moved and took the son away.
5 His Dad May Have Been Black
Little is known about Manson's childhood, in part because his own accounts often change and cannot be trusted but also because his mother's records are not detailed enough and record keeping, in general, wasn't as great as it is today. Still, there is evidence of a man known as “Colonel Scott”, or “Colonel Walker Scott” possibly being Manson's biological father.
There are little to no records about Scott to be found. But in a 1953 case file lines concerning Manson's family background could shed some light on this confusing subject: "Father: unknown. He is alleged to have been a colored cook by the name of Scott, who got promiscuous with Charles's mother at the time of her pregnancy." Manson, of course, disagrees with this evaluation and suggests that his father was a white transient worker who spent some time working and living “nearby” his mother.
4 He Wouldn't Allow Female “Family” Members To Wear Glasses
Of the many strange aspects of Manson's “family”, his rules for the group to follow had to be the most bizarre. Among them, one of the oddest had to be the banning of glasses. Supposedly, Manson wanted his followers to “see the world around them” with “natural” vision, instead of something that was man-made and inorganic. Other banned items included money, books, watches, and calendars. Without access to these basic items, the group members likely had to rely on Manson more – thus putting him in control.
Other odd rules included frequent mandatory dosages of hallucinogens at the Spahn Ranch and for every member to maintain the same sort of long-haired vagrant look as Manson himself. These rules, in Manson's mind at least, were created to awaken the spirit and reprogram the minds of his follows and prepare them for the impending war and Armageddon that would soon take place within America and ultimately throughout the world. In reality it just further demonstrates the manipulative psychopath that is Charles Manson.
3 Before Being Released From Prison For the Second Time, He Requested To Stay Behind Bars
Studies have shown that repeat criminal offenders often commit crimes because they enjoy life behind bars much more than a life of freedom and choice. As odd as it sounds, there are numerous cases of prisoners being released from the confines of their assigned clothing, metal bars, and strict rules only to end up back inside, on purpose again. Charles Manson may have been one of these cases as seen when in 1967, on the day of his release, Manson plead with prison officials to remain in prison because it had become his home.
Despite his hesitation he was freed from prison on March 21st, 1967 and forced to decide what to do next. At this point in his life, he spent more than half of his 32 years of life behind bars. With few options he made his way to San Francisco, which was at the height of the notable “Free Love” movement. This is where Manson became ingrained in the counterculture and where he would begin the initial stages of forming the Manson Family. Obviously, prison officials could not have let him remain in prison for the rest of his life. But a lot of death and blood-shed could have been avoided if they had listened.
2 He Committed His First Crime Before Age 13
If there's anything that can be learned from this list, it's that Manson's life has been plagued by crime and violence. The fact that Manson has spent most of his life behind bars and locked away from the rest of society proves that point well. It should be no surprise then that Manson's life of crime began at a very early age. Criminal records indicate that Manson's criminal record begins well before even his 13th birthday!
Manson's first foray into the criminal underworld began with a series of break-ins and robberies involving a liquor store. With his earnings from the heist he was able to rent a small rooms. He followed up with a series of further offenses, including numerous liquor, grocery, and other service stores. Manson was eventually caught at age 13 and sent to a reform school in Indiana.
1 Manson Learned Guitar From “Public Enemy #1”
Alvin “Creepy” Karpis was a depression era gangster, bank robber and at one time “Public Enemy #1” of the United States of America. While serving a life sentence, Karpis was transferred to McNeil Island Penitentiary and soon met Charles Manson. As well as a notable member of the Ma Barker Gang and a ruthless bank robber, Karpis was also an experienced guitar player and Manson approached him to learn guitar.
Karpis, feeling a bit of sympathy for Manson reflected in his memoir: “I decide it's time someone did something for him, and to my surprise, he learns quickly. He has a pleasant voice and a pleasing personality, although he's unusually meek and mild for a convict. He never has a harsh word to say and is never involved in even an argument”. Manson explained that he would become a big star and perform under the name “Little Charlie”. Clearly, he developed different plans.