Charles Manson: Who was the infamous cult leader and what did he do?

Charles Manson, the cult leader who orchestrated a series of gruesome murders by his “family” of young acolytes in Los Angeles during the momentous summer of 1969, died on November 19, 2017 at the age of 83 after suffering cardiac arrest attributed to colon cancer war of his crimes continue to unfold.

Earlier this year, Linda Kasabian, the gang’s getaway driver who became a key prosecution witness at Manson’s trial in 1970-71, died in Tacoma, Washington, at the age of 73. She went to her grave saying she felt a unique sense of guilt about her notorious past.

On Tuesday, another member of the Manson family, Leslie Van Houten, who served 53 years behind bars for her involvement in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, was released from prison after California Governor Gavin Newsom’s appeal against a state appeals court ruling making the recommendation parole against the wishes of the survivors of her victim’s families.

These developments followed a resurgence of interest in the Manson family murders following the death of Charles Manson at Kern County Hospital in Bakersfield, California, thanks in part to the boom in true crime podcasts and the popularity of the films Charlie says (2018), in which Matt Smith played the cult leader and Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist version of the murders Once upon a time in Hollywood (2019), in which he makes a brief appearance, played by Damon Herriman.

At the time of his death, Manson was serving a life sentence at nearby Corcoran State Penitentiary for ordering the murders of nine people, most notably actress Sharon Tate, partner of then-pregnant Polish film director Roman Polanski.

who was he?

Born Charles Milles Maddox on November 12, 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a 16-year-old mother, Manson spent much of his youth commuting between relatives and juvenile prisons.

At 13, he was convicted of armed robbery.

By the start of the 1960s sexual revolution, the charismatic, guru-like Manson, a frustrated rising pop star who had befriended beach boy Dennis Wilson, had surrounded himself with a collection of runaways and other lost souls he duly dispatched to the rich and famous Butchering in LA was an attempt to start a race war, prosecutors say – an idea he allegedly got from a twisted rendition of the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter.” The White Album.

The murders, which took place during “Two Nights of Chaos” in August 1969, horrified the world and, along with the deadly violence that later erupted during a Rolling Stones concert at California’s Altamont Speedway, exposed the dangerous drugging downside of the counterculture movement and seemed to mark the sad demise of the era of “peace and love” once and for all.

Serial killer Charles Manson has died at the age of 83

Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Manson maintained throughout his turbulent trial that he was innocent and society itself was guilty.

“Those kids who attack you with knives, they’re your kids. You taught them; I didn’t teach them. I was just trying to help them get up,” he said in a courtroom monologue.

How did he get his notoriety?

The Manson family, as his followers were known, butchered five of their victims on August 9, 1969 after breaking into Tate’s home during a dinner party.

The victims included the actress herself, who was eight months pregnant at the time, coffee company heiress Abigail Folger, famed hairstylist Jay Sebring, Polish film director Voityck Frykowski, and Steven Parent, a friend of the property’s property manager.

Polanski, then known as an acclaimed director knife in the water (1962), rejection (1965) and Rosemary’s baby (1968) was out of the country at the time.

The next night, a wealthy grocer and his wife, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, were stabbed to death at their home across town.

The killers scrawled phrases like “pigs” and “Healter Skelter.” [sic] in blood at crime scenes.

Three months later, a Manson follower was jailed on a different charge and told a cellmate about the bloodbath that led to the arrest of the cult leader.

Manson was also later convicted of the murders of musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea.

Why did he carve an “X” on his forehead?

Manson denied his request to represent himself during his nine-and-a-half-month trial and appeared in court with an “X” in his forehead, which he later changed to a Nazi swastika.

Co-defendants Susan Atkins, Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel then cut “X’s” on their foreheads, shaved their scalps, sang songs written by Manson and giggled during their chilling testimony.

Charles Manson, pictured in 2009

(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation/Getty)

His trial nearly collapsed when then-US President Richard Nixon said Manson was “directly or indirectly guilty.”

Arguing that he had been wrongly prejudiced, Manson grabbed a newspaper and held up the front-page headline for the jury to read: “Manson Guilty, Nixon Explained.”

Lawyers called for a mistrial but were denied.

At one point, Manson attempted to leap over the defense table onto the judge, snarling, “In the name of Christian justice, you should have your head cut off.” The judge then began carrying a gun.

How long was he in prison?

After the nearly year-long trial, Manson and three of his followers – Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten – were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

Another defendant, Charles “Tex” Watson, was later convicted. All escaped execution and received life sentences after the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972.

Over the decades, Manson and his supporters appeared sporadically at parole hearings, where their demands for freedom were repeatedly denied. The women claimed they had been rehabilitated, but Manson himself stopped participating after 1997 on the grounds that the prison had become his home.

What are some of his scariest quotes?

One of Manson’s most outrageous comments comes from an interview in which he was asked to describe himself in one sentence.

The cult leader jumped forward in his chair, giggling, raising eyebrows and grimacing like a goblin before replying, “Nobody.”

After a dramatic pause, he continued, “I’m a nobody. I’m a vagrant, a bum, a vagrant. I am a boxcar and a jug of wine. And a razor if you come near me.”

After serving a 10-year sentence for check forgery in the early ’60s, he reportedly begged authorities not to release him as he considered prison his home.

“My father is the prison. “My father is your system,” he later said in a monologue on the witness stand.

“I’m just what you made me. I’m just a reflection of you.”

Was he related to Marilyn Manson?

Brian Hugh Warner, the musician best known for his controversial stage persona as Marilyn Manson, formed his nickname by juxtaposing two American pop culture icons: Charles Manson and Marilyn Monroe.

Gothic rock star Marilyn Manson


Other than adopting the name as a shock tactic, there is no other connection between the two.

Similarly, Leicester indie band Kasabian took their name from the Manson family member of the same name.

Additional reporting by agencies

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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