Charles Manson: The 'spark in the dark' that went out

Charles Manson, who died this week aged 83, was as criminally insane as could be. The wild-eyed satanist cult leader and hippie sex maniac occupies his own unique niche in the annals of murder

26 November 2017 - 00:00 By The Daily Telegraph

In the summer of 1969 Charles Manson masterminded one of the most gruesome massacres of modern times, when he sent a group of brainwashed followers he called The Family on two killing sprees in Los Angeles, butchering seven people including the heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of the film director Roman Polanski.
Although Manson was not present at the Tate murders, he was subsequently prosecuted for ordering them, along with his accomplices, Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel. The scene of the massacre, a mansion at 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, had latterly been occupied by Doris Day's son, Terry Melcher, a record producer whom Manson had been pestering for a recording contract.
Having thwarted Manson's recording ambitions, Melcher had sublet the house to Polanski, who was in London for talks about a film project when the Manson gang cruised up Cielo Drive. Manson had let it be known he was "looking for Melcher".
In 1969 Manson, a slight figure in his mid-30s, arrived at the rundown Spahn ranch, 55km from Los Angeles, in an old school bus painted black and carrying about 40 long-haired hippie dropouts, a few men but mostly young women and girls from dysfunctional middle-class families, spellbound by Manson's love songs and homespun philosophy.When not ranging naked over Death Valley in stolen dune buggies, "Satan's slaves" (as one account labelled them) willingly participated in drug-fuelled orgies and re-enactments of the Crucifixion, in which Manson was Jesus.
He became obsessed with the lyrics of songs from The Beatles' White Album, in particular the raucous track Helter Skelter, which, in his mind, became a battle cry in a race war to murder everyone outside The Family. On the night of August 8, Manson sent four of his followers out, clad in black, high on speed and armed with knives and a .22 pistol, to wreak havoc on the Hollywood establishment. Shortly after midnight, at Polanski's home, they murdered 26-year-old Tate; her friend, celebrity hairdresser and former lover Jay Sebring; a Polish playboy, Voyteck Frykowski; and his girlfriend, Abigail Folger, the coffee heiress.
A teenage friend of the estate's young caretaker was shot dead through his car window as he tried to drive off. The four others were stabbed to death. One of Manson's emissaries, Susan Atkins, dipped a towel in Tate's blood and daubed the word "Pig" on the white front door.
The following night, the mutilated bodies of Leno LaBianca, a supermarket millionaire, and his wife, Rosemary, were discovered in another area of Los Angeles about 20km from the first murder scene.
This time, Manson had been present, telling the LaBiancas that no one would hurt them as he tied them up before they were mutilated with knives and forks from their own kitchen. More slogans written in blood proclaimed "death to pigs".Only in mid-October, when Atkins, arrested on an unconnected matter, bragged to a cellmate about the Tate-LaBianca murders, did police make the link.
At a series of trials over several years did the extent of Manson's influence became apparent. Even celebrities like Dennis Wilson, of the Beach Boys fell prey. Beguiled by The Family's free-loving lifestyle, he had allowed Manson and his rabble to freeload at his 20-room mansion in Sunset Boulevard for several weeks, without picking up the sinister undercurrent bubbling below.
After the Tate-LaBianca murders, Wilson was terrified that he would become the next target, as was Melcher, who had auditioned Manson and twice visited the Spahn ranch. Melcher was convinced that Manson was obsessed with him because he had failed to offer him a recording contract.
Those involved in the case were certainly in no doubt that Manson was extremely dangerous. In his final statement to the jury, prosecuting lawyer Vincent Bugliosi summed up Manson as "the mephistophelian guru who raped and bastardised the minds of all those who gave themselves so totally to him".
Manson was born on November 12 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Kathleen Maddox, a feral 16-year-old prostitute who hurriedly married William Manson when the child's father, one Colonel Scott, a married petty conman, bolted. Registered at birth as No Name Maddox, the boy was later named after his dead grandfather.
When he was five, his mother went to prison for her part in a hold-up, and he was taken in by an aunt. His squalid early childhood was marked by lies, thefts and casual violence, and when his mother, on her release, enrolled him at a Roman Catholic school for delinquents, a psychologist noted his "tendency towards moodiness and a persecution complex".By the time he was in his teens, Manson was still illiterate and had added burglary and stealing cars to his criminal repertoire. A lengthy trail of petty offences, leading to armed robberies and escapes from assorted institutions, eventually landed him at the National Training School for Boys in Washington, DC, where another psychologist detected "an extremely sensitive boy" behind the rap sheet.
After being discovered raping another boy while holding a razor to his throat, Manson was moved to a maximum-security unit.
In 1954, when he was 19, he was released on parole after a rare spell of good behaviour. The following year he married Rosalie Willis, a waitress, with whom he had a son, Charles Manson jnr. But a month after the birth, Manson was again sent to prison, this time for stealing cars. His wife divorced him in 1957.
Released from jail in 1958, Manson turned to pimping, stole cheques from postboxes, and conned a young woman out of money. He was arrested in June 1960 and sent to Terminal Island Penitentiary in Los Angeles harbour. It was during this time that he learnt to play the steel guitar, and learnt more about the pimping trade, enrolling on a prison course on the teachings of Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Questioned a few months after his release after trying to cash a forged cheque, Manson swallowed the cheque. He married one of his stable of prostitutes, Candy Stevens, and fathered a second son, Charles Luther Manson.His wife divorced him shortly after he abandoned them, and on the strength of her testimony against him, Manson drew another 10-year sentence and spent the next six years in prison, where he worked at his guitar technique and churned out songs. Although never more than a mediocre musician, he came to believe himself a pop star in the making who would be bigger than The Beatles.
By the time he struck out for stardom at a chaotic recording session in Los Angeles following his release in 1967, Manson, now with a dark mane of hair and a bush of a beard, had acquired a string of women followers, including Atkins, a former topless dancer. Within a year his retinue had grown to around 20, including a handful of men who aspired to be his second-in-command.
Scavenging for food in bins and group doses of LSD were part of the daily round in Topanga Canyon, where they lived. In 1968 they moved to the Spahn ranch and assembled an arsenal of guns and knives, but when Manson's much-heralded recording contract failed to materialise, defections started, and he posted trusted devotees on sentry duty.
After the killings in Cielo Drive, Manson visited the house to check the crime scene, draping a US flag near Tate's body to make it look more theatrical. When he judged press coverage to be inadequate, he ordered more killings, this time on a street where The Family had attended a party, and where the LaBiancas were unlucky enough to live.
This time Manson was present, armed with a sword and gun, and tied up Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, although he let his lieutenant, "Tex" Watson, and two of the women, strike the blows using a serrated kitchen knife.The Manson trial opened in July 1970 and lasted more than nine months, during which Manson managed to use a razor-blade to etch a swastika on his forehead. Although charged with only a single murder and conspiracy in seven more, Manson claimed responsibility for as many as 35. But when the judge refused his request to conduct his own defence, Manson refused to testify.
Sentenced to death in the gas chamber in 1971, along with three of his women followers, he was moved from San Quentin's "death row" the following year after the death penalty was abolished in California.
Diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, Manson preferred to serve his sentence in solitary confinement. Interviewed in the 1990s, he said prison had mellowed him, but he was "still willing to get out and kill a whole bunch of people ... I am a spark in the dark".
- The Daily Telegraph, London
• At 1.57m, a few centimetres over five feet, Manson was an unlikely figure to evolve into the personification of evil.
• When Manson was five years old his mother, Kathleen Maddox, was sent to prison for trying to rob a petrol station armed with a bottle of ketchup.
 •Manson was placed in a string of reform schools. At one institution, he held a razor to a boy's throat and raped him.
• At a reform school in Indiana, 13-year-old Manson was frequently beaten with a strap by the staff. Shortly after he arrived, he was gang-raped by several older boys. After a guard discovered the assault, he told Manson, "You, Manson, go wash your face and stop all your crying."
• As a young adult, Manson was in and out of prison.RABIDLY RACIST
• Manson was rabidly racist. His philosophy included a mix of Scientology, hippie anti-authoritarianism, Beatles lyrics, the Book of Revelation and the writings of Hitler.
• Most of his band of killers had fled middle-class homes. Susan Atkins had once sung in her church choir. Leslie Van Houten was a homecoming princess from Monrovia, California; Patricia Krenwinkel was a former Sunday school teacher; and Charles "Tex" Watson had been a high school football star.
• Linda Kasabian, a pregnant 20-year-old with a baby daughter, said she was asked to go along that night because she was the only one with a valid driver's licence. She testified against the others in return for immunity.
• Manson's "family" took copious amounts of LSD, but he always abstained or took a much smaller dose and then orchestrated orgies to "break down taboos".
• Manson was convicted of nine murders in all. The seven most notorious of these occurred on two consecutive nights in 1969.
• Late at night on August 8 that year, he dispatched four Family members to the home of actress Sharon Tate in the Hollywood hills. Tate was eight and a half months pregnant.
Shortly after midnight three of them entered the house while one waited outside. During a frenzied orgy of shooting, stabbing, beating and hanging, they murdered Tate and four others in the house and on the grounds. In Manson's peculiar logic, the killings were supposed to look like the work of black militants.
• On the night of August 10, Manson and a half-dozen followers drove to a Los Angeles house he appeared to have selected at random.
Inside, Manson tied up the residents - a wealthy grocer named Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary - before leaving. After he was gone, several Family members stabbed the couple to death. The phrases "Death to Pigs" and "Healter Skelter," misspelt, were scrawled in blood at the scene.
• Before the killers were apprehended, gun sales and guard dog purchases rocketed. Off-duty police officers were hired to guard homes in affluent neighbourhoods and security firms tripled in size.'EVIL HAS ITS ALLURE'
• During the trial, Manson jumped over his attorney's table and made a dash for the bench. While the bailiffs were dragging him out of the courtroom, Manson shouted to Judge Charles Older: "In the name of Christian justice, someone should chop off your head!" The judge began packing a .38-calibre revolver under his robe.
• Manson was also held criminally responsible for the deaths of music teacher Gary Hinman and farmhand Donald Jerome Shea. Hinman, who introduced Manson to Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, was killed in July 1969 by three Manson followers. Motive was never established.Shea objected to Manson's racism. He was beaten and stabbed to death in August 1969, allegedly by Manson and five male followers
• Outside the courthouse, chanting Family members kept vigil. One of them, Lynette Fromme, nicknamed Squeaky, would make headlines herself in 1975 when she tried to assassinate US president Gerald Ford.• Lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi wrote in Helter Skelter, his account of the trial: "Manson became a metaphor for evil, and evil has its allure."
• In 1984 Manson was treated for second- and third-degree burns after being doused with paint thinner by a fellow inmate and set ablaze.
• Manson broke prison rules dozens of times: possessing cellphones and a hacksaw blade, throwing hot coffee at a staff member and spitting in a guard's face.
• Manson received in prison an average of four fan letters a day. When he turned 80, Manson and a 27-year-old fan obtained a marriage licence, but it expired before the paperwork was completed.
• After the trial he told prosecutors:"Prison is my home, the only home I ever had."
- Sources: New York Times, LA Times, Daily Telegraph..

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