Every time I think of a cult I think of the Manson Family. There are other, more scary and very real cults out there but the Manson Family always comes to mind. As a teenager, I remember one of Manson’s parole hearings making national news. I’ll never forget that old haggard, gray-haired man shuffling around in a court room which a swastika tattooed on his forehead. I never really knew much about Manson or his cult; I naively thought that he followed the word of some other, bigger cult leader and carried out murders. He always seemed like a small, unassuming, non-abrasive guy. I guess that just means you never know who is going to make people believe enough in an idea. Scary indeed, Mr. Manson.
Charles Manson was born on November 12, 1934 originally under the name “no name” Maddox in Cincinnati, Ohio. His mother was a 16 year old unmarried mother named Kathleen Maddox. A few weeks after birth his mother finally gave him the name Charles Miles Maddox. For a short time after Manson’s birth, his mother was married to a laborer, though the marriage did not last. Manson’s mother, I’m sure, did not have an easy time raising a baby in Ohio since she was 16 and it was 1934. I would surmise that she neither knew what to do with Charlie, nor did she make an effort to be a good mother. Based on the fact that she mostly did everything she could to get rid of him during his childhood, I’d say Kathleen never really wanted Charles – though multiple interviews with Charles over the years show that he did love his mother very much despite this fact.
As a child, Manson moved from one run down hotel to another with his mother. In 1939, his mother and uncle were arrested for robbing a gas station and Kathleen was sentenced to 5 years in prison. Charles was sent to live his his aunt and uncle for a time in West Virginia. Upon Kathleen’s parole in 1942, she did return for her child only to attempt to give him up to foster care in 1947. When no foster homes were available, Charlie was, instead, sent to the Gibault School for Boys in the state of Indiana. He would be sent to 3 other schools for boys from this point through 1951 since his mother would neither keep him nor parent him.
After 10 months at the Gibault School for Boys, Charles flees and returns to his mother who rejects him. At this point, he begins what will become a lifelong string of thefts – as you’ll now see – Charles is first and foremost a thief. From 1948, at the age of 14, through 1951, it is estimated that Charlie robbed approximately 20 stores and stole a number of cars. It is of even greater note that from 1948-1950 he was, for the most part, in the Indiana School for Boys in Plainfield. This means that he would have had only a little over a year to perform all of these thefts. He did attempt to escape the school for boys approximately 18 times, however. His last attempt is successful and he never returns to the school.
Between 1951 and 1966, Charles is arrested for auto theft, sodomizing a child, burglary, forging of a treasury check, and violating multiple parole regulations including leaving the state, prostitution of a minor, and failing to show for appointed court dates. He would also be married and divorced twice and father two children, both named Charles. By the time he is 32 years old, he would spend more than half of his life in prison, juvenile detention centers, and schools for boys.
During Manson’s string of prison stays, whereby he was housed in prisons from Washington, DC to Virginia and Ohio, he is eventually transferred to California in 1956. He would remain on the West cost to eventually form the The Manson Family. For the forging of the treasury check in 1959, Manson received a 10 year prison sentence which was reduced to parole. However, by 1960 he was pimping a 16 year old girl and transporting her across state lines. This would put him in violation of the Mann Act and Manson was then ordered to prison to complete his 10 year prison sentence. In 1961, he is transferred to McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington State. It is here that Manson learns to play the guitar and gets the contact information of someone at Universal Studios. He dreams of becoming a singer and songwriter and devotes most of his prison stay to this task. He studies Scientology and also becomes obsessed with the Beatles during his stay, repeatedly listening to their songs and devising his own meaning from them. It is noted during this time in Manson’s prison files that Manson had a constant and tremendous drive to call attention to himself. In March of 1967, when he is set to be released from prison, he makes a plea to the prison to allow him to stay stating that he feels like the prison has become his home. He is denied this plea.
Manson is granted permission to move to San Francisco in 1967 when he is released from prison. It is here, in the Haight-Ashbury district, during the “Summer of Love” – the height of the hippie craze – that Manson begins to form the Manson Family and to cultivate an idea of himself as both Christ-like and powerful.
It is, of course, worth noting how little Charles had by way of family. He never knew his father and had a mother that was neither around nor wanted him. He had previously made mention in interviews that when his mother came to get him from his aunt and uncle’s home in West Virginia after her prison stay it was the happiest memory from his childhood. This leads one to believe his other family members treated him worse than his mother. While in the multiple homes for boys and juvenile centers, it is believed that Charles was sexually assaulted as he has alluded to this in interviews. And, upon leaving the final home for boys, Charles was considered illiterate. It seems that this child, raised mostly on his own to believe he was not worth much, resolved to make a family of his own and incorporate himself as the highest authority and most important and all knowing member of the family.
In part 2 I’ll fill you in on the time period from 1967-1969 which encapsulates the entire rise and fall of the Manson family brought to you by the crazed-mind of one Charles Manson. Stay tuned. It’ll be good – and by good I mean ridiculous, sad, drug-filled, and gross.