Charles Manson first gained notoriety as the leader of the cult Manson Family. He found further fame in 1969 after his followers brutally murdered nine individuals at four locations. Manson and his followers were arrested the same year, and they generated national attention after one of them admitted to killing Hollywood actress Sharon Tate.
While the murders themselves were horrific and was intensely covered by media, the connection to actress and model Sharon sensationalized the incident. As a result, the American cult and its leader were all over the media. And to this day, people are interested to know more about the cult leader, Charles Manson's life, and the reason behind the murders.
Charles Manson's Early Life
Charles Milles Manson was born as Charles Miles Maddox, in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 12, 1934. Manson's mother, Kathleen Maddox, was only sixteen at the time of his birth, while his father was rarely mentioned in documents. However, according to Accuracy Project, his father was Colonel Walker Scott from Pike County, Kentucky. He took his stepfather William Manson's last name.
According to CNN, as a child, Charles Manson was sold by his alcoholic mother to a woman who wanted children in exchange for a pitcher of beer. Manson's uncle found the woman and brought his nephew back to his sister.
American author Jeff Guinn wrote a biography on Charles Manson where he mentioned that the criminal never met his father. Also, Jeff wrote that Manson's mother, Kathleen, and uncle, Luther Maddox, were arrested for assault and robbery. Guinn also mentioned that after Kathleen's conviction Manson went through several reform schools and was later placed with his aunt Glenna Thomas and uncle Bill Thomas in West Virginia.
Coming from a broken home, Charles Manson's first offense came at a young age. In an interview with journalist Diane Sawyer, he said that he had set his school on fire at the age of nine. Then at 12, Manson was sent to Gibault School for Boys for stealing. The school is situated in Terre Haute, Indiana, and was run by Catholic priests.
Charles Manson continued to commit various crimes, which led him to be in and out of various reform schools. According to Guinn's book, he was caught raping a boy at knifepoint and sent to Federal Reformatory, but then transferred to maximum security reformatory after committing further crimes.
However, his first arrest came in March 1956 after failing to appear at a hearing regarding federal criminal charges for driving a stolen car across the states. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment at Terminal Island in San Pedro, California. He received five years' parole in 1958 but the following year pleaded guilty to a charge of attempting to cash a forged Treasury check. The charge was dropped, and he received a ten-year suspended sentence and probation.
Manson violated the probation and was arrested for the second time from Laredo, Texas. He was sent to Los Angeles County Jail, and after unsuccessfully trying to appeal the revocation of his probation, he was transferred to United States Penitentiary in Washington. Then in 1966, Charles was sent to Terminal Island and was then released in March 1967. Till then, he had spent more than half of his thirty-two years in prisons and reform homes.
Cult Formation And Tate-LaBianca Murders
After his 1967 release, Charles Manson started attracting people, mostly young women, around California. As the group started to grow, they became known as the Manson Family. They had approximately fifty members and were known to use hallucinogenic drugs like LSD (Lysergic acid Diethylamide). Followers of this cult included convicted criminals like Charles "Tex" Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, Mary Brunner, and Leslie Van Houten.
Sometime after its formation, the Manson Family cult developed into a doomsday cult. Charles was fixated on the upcoming apocalyptic race war in America between the Black population and white populations. It is believed that Manson was obsessed with the English rock band Beatles' album, White Album, and even adopted the term "Helter Skelter" from it.
Charles Manson formed the cult Manson Family after he was discharged from prison in 1967. Image Source: Social Media.
Even though there is no concrete evidence behind it, Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi argued that Helter Skelter was a nickname for a race war, and Charles encouraged his followers to start it by committing murders around Los Angeles. One of the Manson Family members, Bobby Beausoleil, killed music teacher Gary Hinman at his home on July 25, 1969, and this started the series of murders that the cult members carried out.
Only a few days after the first murder, on August 8, 1969, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Tex Watson, and Patricia Krenwinkel, under Manson's direction, killed actress Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Ann Folger at Tate's rented house which she shared with husband, Roman Polanski. They also killed Steven Parent, who had been visiting William Garretson, the caretaker of the property.
The following night, Leslie Van Houten and Steve "Clem" Grogan accompanied Susan, Linda, Tex, Patricia, and Charles Manson to Waverly Drive. Charles was said to be displeased by the previous night's actions and wanted to show the killers how to do it. The group went to the home of married couple Leno LaBianca and Rosemary LaBianca and first tied them up. Manson reportedly left the house, and his followers carried out the murder.
Murder Investigation And Trial
While the Sharon Tate murder created a nationwide sensation due to its connection to Hollywood, investigators could not find those responsible for the crime. Also, for quite some time, the LaBianca murders and Tate murders were believed to be unrelated by LAPD.
While the investigations of the murders were ongoing, Manson and 25 of his followers were arrested as suspects in an auto theft ring on August 12, 1969, but were released a few days later. The Manson Family members were again arrested after officers from California Highway Patrol, and National Park Service Rangers raided the Myers Ranch and Barker Ranch. Manson was found hiding in a cabinet of Barker's bathroom sink.
The similarities between the Tate, LaBianca, and Hinman case was discovered in mid-October; however, there were still no suspects. The breakthrough came after Susan Atkins talked about her involvement in the crimes with her bunkmates Virginia Graham and Ronnie Howard. The pair reported this information to authorities, and later LAPD announced the involvement of various suspects in the LaBianca and Tate case.
Charles Manson was already in custody, and the trial began on June 15, 1970. After long and tedious trials, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. However, after capital punishment was overturned by California Supreme Court in 1972, his sentence was reduced to life in prison.
Throughout the trial, Charles Manson maintained his innocence. Various sources also question his involvement in the Tate-LaBianca crimes as he physically did not murder anyone. However, many accept that these murders would not have happened without Charles as the center of the operation.
Charles Manson's Career And Net Worth
With such gruesome murders and several other crimes joined with his name, it is hard to imagine Charles Manson working normal jobs and earning a significant amount of money. He had been stealing and committing several petty crimes since childhood and lived off of them. However, he supposedly sold paintings, clothes, and photos and earned a fortune through them. And according to Celebrity Net Worth, Charles Manson's net worth at the time of his death was estimated to be $400 thousand.
While petty crimes were always the way to gain money for Charles, he apparently tried to reform and got a job delivering messages for the financial company Western Union. However, this did not last long, and Manson went about stealing from stores, which then led him to jail at times.
While his total earnings before the Tate-LaBianca murders are a mystery to all, Manson reportedly amassed a fortune of $400,000 while he was serving a life sentence in prison. As per Celebrity Net Worth, Charles was not legally permitted to profit from his images or crime but managed to make money by selling paintings and photos. Also, the several interviews and websites he apparently operated also helped increase his earnings. However, the notorious criminal could not directly access the money he earned throughout the years.
Charles Manson's net worth was estimated to be around $400 thousand at the time of his death. Image Source: Social Media.
Apart from his crimes, Charles Manson is also recognized as a struggling musician during the late 1960s. He wanted to make it big in Hollywood and even wrote and recorded several songs. Over the years, much of Charles' music has been released. Bands like The Beach Boys and Guns N'Roses have recorded and covered a few of Manson's songs, while others have reused his lyrics on their own songs. It is unclear how much of his music has helped increase Charles Manson's net worth.
After he died in 2017, Forbes reported that three people had claimed to Charles estate, pen pal and collector, Michael Channels, grandson, Jason Freeman, and Matt Lentz, who claimed to be Manson's son. The Kern County Superior Court decided in favor of Jason in regards to Manson's body. However, he and Michael still have petitions at California courts regarding the late criminal's estate.
Marriage And Children
Before gaining fame as a cult leader, Charles Manson was married twice and was a father of two. He first married a hospital waitress named Rosalie Jean Willis. The pair wed in January 1955, and a few months later, Charles was charged with a federal crime for taking a vehicle across the state line. While he was in prison, Manson's ex-wife, Rosalie, gave birth to his first child, Charles Manson Jr.
Charles Manson's son, Charles Manson Jr., was raised by his mother and later changed his name to Jay White to get away from his father's shadow. Manson Jr. died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head on the 29th June 1993. Through his eldest son, Charles Manson has a grandson named Jason Freeman.
Charles Manson and Rosalie Jean Willis divorced in 1958. His second marriage was to Leona Stevens, and the duo got married in 1959. As stated in the book Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders, Leona had an arrest record for prostitution. And after marrying Charles, Stevens was taken to New Mexico along with another woman for purposes. The pair divorced a few years later.
Some sites suggest that Leona gave birth to Charles Manson's second child, Charles Luther Manson. However, CNN has stated otherwise and said that the name of the woman is not publically available. Another contrasting fact about the American criminal is that he has a third son with a woman named Mary Brunner. Valentine Michael Manson was born on April 15, 1968, but was renamed Michael Brunner by his grandparents after gaining full custody of the child.
In addition to his relationships before the Tate-LaBianca murders, Charles Manson was also engaged to a twenty-six-year-old woman named Afton Elaine Burton while he was serving a life sentence for the aforementioned crime. According to Rolling Stone, Burton was the person who ran Manson's social media sites. The state of California had granted the pair a marriage license, but the wedding did not happen.
While the facts about Charles Manson's children and other family members keep changing in relation to the sources, there is no doubt that the notorious criminal has left behind a devastating legacy that still haunts those with Manson as their last name.
Movies And Documentaries
While many cases about cult and murders make the headlines, Charles Manson's case gained even more attention due to its connection to Hollywood. Since actress and model Sharon Tate was among the nine people murdered by the Mansion Family members, media were all over the case. Also, Charles was said to be a struggling musician, and this information added more fuel to the already raging fire.
Not only did the murder case and the subsequent investigation gained national media coverage, but Charles Manson's past and his life story was also a topic of interest for many. As a result, several documentaries and movies surrounding his life have been made throughout the years. Many television series and movies have also fictionalized the criminal's life story, the most popular being the 2019 film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino. Few other projects that are based on or inspired by the American criminal's life story are listed below:
- Life After Manson (Documentary)
- Charles Manson Superstar (Documentary)
- Inside the Manson Cult: The Lost Tapes (Documentary)
- I Lived with a Killer: The Manson Family (Documentary)
- Helter Skelter (TV series)
- The Manson Family (Crime Film)
- House of Manson (Biographical Film)
- Zeroville (Film)
Several other television shows like Law & Order: LA, American Horror Story has also mentioned either Charles Manson or the Tate-LaBianca murders in a few episodes. The public's fascination towards the cult leaders and the gruesome murders has helped keep Charles Manson's story and his criminal history alive.
- Charles Manson reportedly had a mental illness, including schizophrenia and paranoid delusional behavior.
- While he was convicted of the Tate-LaBianca murders, Charles maintained his innocence till his death.
- Singer Marilyn Manson derived his name from the American criminal.
- While serving his sentences in 1961, Charles studied Scientology and, after his release, traveled to Los Angeles to meet the followers.