The deeds of Charles Manson and his “family” will forever hang like a pall over history: A cult leader and Messiah figure in the eyes of his followers, Manson directed the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders, which saw a pregnant Sharon Tate dead and her blood smeared on the walls around her.
And still, more than 30 years after a life sentence, Manson remained a cultural icon—evil to some, a punchline to others, and fascinating to all. With his death on November 20, 2017, the world’s interest in this cult of personality has been undoubtedly rekindled, so we’re peeling back that pall to get a peak inside the darkness beneath.
See, while Manson has been studied and scrutinized for nearly half a century, there are still some details about his life and rise to power you probably didn’t know. Here are 25 of them…
1. He was born with no name: While Charles Manson may be a name that infamously lives on, when he was first born to 16-year-old runaway prostitute Kathleen Maddox in 1934, he was given no name. On his hospital records, he was simply referred to as “No Name Maddox”—which was spooky in its own way—before taking on “Charles” a few weeks later.
2. He had a deadbeat dad: While the last name “Manson” originated from a man Kathleen Maddox briefly tied the knot with after her son was born, he was not Manson’s real father. That was believed to be a man named Colonel Scott Walker, whom Manson never met.
3. He’s more West Virginia and Kentucky than California: He’s often thought of as the crazy guy from California, but Manson didn’t move there until later in life. Until he was 32, Manson was immersed in the culture of Appalachia and additionally held on to his uncle’s Confederate views, which frequently clashed with 1960 California’s emerging culture.
4. A friend to Grandpa Munster: Evidently, Manson did a little babysitting on the side when he was younger, and some of the kids he watched belonged to actor Al Lewis, who most notably played Grandpa Munster in The Munsters. Lewis remembered Manson fondly, saying: “He didn’t chop no heads off. He was very nice with me.”
5. He married young: After serving a prison sentence for a burglary charge, Manson courted a waitress named Rosalie Willis and whisked her away to California. The two had a son—Charles Manson Jr.—but the marriage didn’t last long. Rosalie divorced him while he served another prison sentence.
6. He was a pimp: After that last stint in prison, Manson pimped out a 16-year-old girl named Leona. Like Rosalie, he married her, but this was no marriage of love and passion. Rather, it was merely one to exploit a loophole: while legally wed, she couldn’t be forced to testify against him.
7. He learned to play guitar from a gangster: In prison, Manson learned to play guitar from Alvin “Creepy Karpis” Karpavicz, leader of the Depression-era gang Barker-Karpis. For some time, Karpis was public enemy number one, and even he saw something dangerous in the young, imprisoned Manson: “There was something unmistakably unusual about Manson,” he wrote. “He was a runt of sorts, but found his place as an experienced manipulator of others.”
8. He studied Dale Carnegie: You may know Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People as short self-help book designed to help you pick up a few new friends and fit in at the office. Manson took the writings and courses to heart, however, and through studying Carnegie’s tactics, he developed the persuasion skills necessary to go from a simple pimp to an effective sociopath.
9. He had extensive celebrity connections: Manson drew the fascination of Deirdre Lansbury, daughter of Murder, She Wrote star Angela. While she never joined the family, Manson drew Deirdre in close enough to his inner circle that he was able to catch more young women in his gravitational pull.
10. He lived with a Beach Boy: Drummer for the Beach Boys Dennis Wilson once made the mistake of picking up a few hitchhikers who turned out to be some of Manson’s female followers. Soon after, a handful of Manson Family members—including Manson himself—flooded his home. He had to have his manager kick everyone out.
11. He built a movie set commune: With nowhere to go after Dennis Wilson kicked them out of his home, Manson and his family settled into the Spahn Ranch outside Los Angeles. The ranch had once been a major hotspot for filming old Western movies, and for room and board, the family offered the 80-year-old ranch owner manual labor and sex.
12. Bands covered his songs: Manson was a musician, but he found no success on his own. Still, his tunes made it to the airwaves with a little help from musicians such as Axl Rose and Marilyn Manson, who covered his unpublished music. Dennis Wilson swiped a Manson song known as “Cease to Exist” and turned it into a Beach Boys’ hit called “Never Learn Not to Love.” Manson was not credited for his “contribution.”
13. He was known as a Beatles fanboy: Manson believed the Beatles to be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. When the Manson Family left Spahn Ranch in 1969, they moved to a yellow house in Canoga Park that Manson dubbed “the Yellow Submarine” after the Beatles’ hit.
15. He didn’t do the dirty work: The Manson Family has a laundry list of dirty deeds to its name, but there’s no evidence Manson himself committed any murders. He led them—that’s for sure—but he wasn’t even at the scene of the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders, for instance.
16. He acted as his own lawyer: Manson ignored Legal Advice 101 and acted as his own lawyer before the murder trial; however, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut about the case—violating the pre-trial gag order—which resulted in Judge William Keene assigning one to him.
17. The case’s judge carried a gun: Judge William Keene never made it to the end of Manson’s murder case, and instead, Charles H. Older served as acting judge. After Manson jumped over the defense table trying to get his hands on him, Judge Older started carrying a gun under his robes.
18. He claimed to be the devil: Before his sentencing, Manson shaved his head and said, “I am the devil.” On April 19, 1971, Manson and four female family members were sentenced to die. They were spared, however, to life in prison once California modified its death sentence codes.
19. He did a late-night talk show: Manson appeared on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder in 1981, just two years after his sentencing. By then, the “X”he’d carved on his head before his trial had been amended to a swastika, and when asked if he was afraid to die, Manson said, “Living is what scares me. Dying is easy.”
20. His prison interviews were must-see TV: Some thought he was insane while others believed he was merely acting insane. Either way, trying to get a grip on his personality in interviews could elicit entire doctoral theses. People flocked to their TVs to witness his bizarre-yet-intriguing interviews and then dissected them at work the next day, giving Manson exactly what he wanted: a voice to the masses.
21. Scientology was too much for him: For 150 hours, Manson underwent Scientology training, but after that, he’d had enough. He claimed it was “too crazy” for him, though some sources believe he closely studied L. Ron Hubbard’s influence and persuasion techniques.
22. He was no model prisoner: Often involved in fights and with a penchant for arson—especially towards prison mattresses—Manson didn’t make life easy for guards. On top of that, he often sold drugs and refused psychiatric evaluations. In 1984, another inmate set him on fire.
23. He had quite a few parole hearings: From the time he was sentenced in 1979, until his last hearing in 2012, Charles Manson had 12 parole hearings, and, of course, he was denied every time. He had another hearing scheduled for 2027, but it looks like he won’t be making it to that one.
24. He was engaged during his life imprisonment: In November 2014, Manson made another go at marriage with 26-year-old Afton Elaine Burton. Needless to say, it didn’t work out, as reports say Burton only wanted the rights to Manson’s corpse post-death so she could open up a tourist attraction.
25. To Charles Manson, Charles Manson was always the smartest person in the room: As with all cults of personality, Manson had refined his mannerisms and personality so that people saw what they wanted in him. “Look down at me and you see a fool,” he’d said. “Look up at me and you see a god; look straight at me and you see yourself.”
If you want to see one of Charles Manson’s eye-popping, world-grabbing interviews, check out this short video below. The interviewer asked Manson to describe himself in a sentence, and his answer was eerie, stomach-churning, and a must-see…
Terrible as he may have been, there’s no doubt Charles Manson was a subject of public intrigue—a force you couldn’t look away from. And that likely meant he got exactly what he wanted.
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