Charles Milles Manson (born November 12, 1934) is an American criminal who led what became known as the Manson Family, a quasi-commune that arose in California in the late 1960s.
Manson was born to unmarried, 16-year-old Kathleen Maddox in Cincinnati General Hospital, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
For a period after her son’s birth Kathleen Maddox was married to a laborer named William Manson, whose last name the boy was given. Charles Manson’s biological father appears to have been a “Colonel Scott”, against whom Maddox filed a bastardy suit that resulted in an agreed judgment in 1937. Possibly, Manson never really knew him.
In the quasi-autobiographical Manson in His Own Words, Colonel Scott is said to have been “a young drugstore cowboy … a transient laborer working on a nearby dam project.” It is not clear what “nearby” means. The description is in a paragraph that indicates Kathleen Maddox gave birth to Manson “while living in Cincinnati,” after she had run away from her own home, in Ashland, Kentucky.
According to Manson, his mother, alleged to be an alcoholic, once sold him for a pitcher of beer to a childless waitress, from whom his uncle retrieved him some days later.
When his mother and her brother were sentenced to five years imprisonment for robbing a Charleston, West Virginia, service station in 1939, Manson was placed in the home of an aunt and uncle in McMechen, West Virginia. Upon her 1942 parole, Manson’s mother retrieved Manson and lived with him in run-down hotel rooms.
He would one day characterize her physical embrace of him on the day she returned from prison as his sole happy childhood memory.
In 1947, Kathleen Maddox tried to have her son placed in a foster home but failed because no such home was available. The court placed Manson in Gibault School for Boys, in Terre Haute, Indiana.
After 10 months, he fled from there to his mother, who rejected him.
— At the time the Family began to form, Manson was an unemployed ex-convict who had spent half his life in correctional institutions for a variety of offenses.
- Manson was sent, at age 13, to the Indiana School for Boys, where, he would later claim, he was brutalized sexually and otherwise. After many failed attempts, he escaped with two other boys in 1951.
- Manson was sent to the Washington, D.C., National Training School for Boys.
- Less than a month before a scheduled February 1952 parole hearing at Natural Bridge Honor Camp, a minimum security institution to which he had been transferred the previous October on a psychiatrist’s recommendation, Manson “took a razor blade and held it against another boy’s throat while he sodomized him. He was transferred to the Federal Reformatory, Petersburg, Virginia, where he was considered “dangerous.”
- In September 1952, a number of other serious disciplinary offenses resulted in his transfer to the Federal Reformatory at Chillicothe, Ohio, a more secure institution.
- He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment at Terminal Island, San Pedro, California.
Rosalie gave birth to their son, Charles Manson Jr., while Manson was in prison. During his first year at Terminal Island, Manson received visits from his wife and mother, who were now living together in Los Angeles; but in March 1957, when the visits from his wife ceased, his mother informed him Rosalie was living with another man. Less than two weeks before a scheduled parole hearing, Manson tried to escape by stealing a car. He was subsequently given five years probation, and his parole was denied.
- In July 1961, after a year spent unsuccessfully appealing the revocation of his probation, Manson was transferred from the Los Angeles County Jail to the United States Penitentiary at McNeil Island.
- In June 1966, Manson was sent, for the second time in his life, to Terminal Island, in preparation for early release. By March 21, 1967, his release day, he had spent more than half of his 32 years in prisons and other institutions. Telling the authorities that prison had become his home, he requested, unsuccessfully, that he be permitted to stay, a fact mentioned in a 1981 television interview.
On his release day, Manson requested and was granted permission to move to San Francisco, where, with the help of a prison acquaintance, he moved into an apartment in Berkeley.
In prison, a bank robber taught him to play steel guitar. Living mostly by panhandling, he soon got to know Mary Brunner, a 23-year-old University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate working as an assistant librarian at UC Berkeley.
After moving in with her, according to a second-hand account, he overcame her resistance to his bringing other women in to live with them; before long, they were sharing Brunner’s residence with 18 other women.
He handed out drugs to his followers, and when he told them to kill, they did so without question.
Manson established himself as a guru in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, which, during 1967’s “Summer of Love”, was emerging as the signature hippie locale. Expounding a philosophy that included some of the Scientology he had studied in prison, he soon had his first group of young followers, most of them female. Upon a staff evaluation of Manson when he entered prison in July 1961 at the U.S. penitentiary in McNeil Island, Washington, Manson entered “Scientologist” as his religion.
At the trial, the women copied everything that Manson did – thus proving the prosecution’s case that the family was wholly under his influence, and although he did not actually kill anybody himself, he was ultimately responsible for the killings.
Manson has made 11 failed bids for parole since 1978, the last in 2007, when he was ordered to continue serving life sentences. Manson’s next parole hearing is scheduled for 2012.