28 Bizarre Facts About Charles Manson

In August 1969, the 60s came to a horrific close. California was gripped in fear over the murder of Sharon Tate and the La Bianca family. The optimism and hope that defined the decade were lost. At the center of these events was Charles Manson, a jailbird and conman from Ohio who looked like any other hippy in the LA area, but he was much more. Read on for the bloody story of one of the world’s most famous cult leaders.  

1. Manson Was Originally Named “No Name Maddox”

Manson was born November 12, 1934, to a 16-year old prostitute named Kathleen Maddox. She did not identify the father or name the child, so he was registered under “no name Maddox.” Eventually, she called him Charles. The last name Manson came from Kathleen’s short-lived marriage to a man named William Manson.  

Charles Manson's mother, Kathleen Maddox
Kathleen Maddox in 1971 – ABC/YouTube

2. He never met his biological father

Charles Manson’s father was Colonel Walker Henderson Scott, a farm laborer who claimed to be in the US Army. Ironically, Colonel was his first name. Once Manson’s mother was pregnant, Scott left on “army business,” and never returned.  

Baby Charles Manson
Baby Charles Manson

3. His mother possibly traded him for a pitcher of beer 

The story goes that Kathleen Manson took Manson when he was a baby to a bar and struck up a conversation with a waitress. The waitress joked that Manson was cute and that she would buy him. Kathleen replied, “A pitcher of beer, and he’s yours.” Manson was left with the waitress until his uncle tracked him down a few days later and brought him home.

Young Charles Manson, Ohio
Young Charles Manson, Ohio – La Nouvelle Gazette

4. Manson’s Monther Committed a Robbery…with Ketchup

After Kathleen’s marriage ended, she teamed up with her brother Luther to rob people. Kathleen would lure men to Luther, who would assault and rob them. In one case, they robbed a man with a ketchup bottle posed as a revolver.  

5. After receiving no presents, he burned other’s kid’s gifts as punishment

Manson grew up in extreme poverty, making Christmas an unhappy time of year for him. One year, the only present he received was a hairbrush from his grandmother. The sight of other neighborhood kids with toys of all kinds drove Manson into a rage. He gathered all the neighborhood toys he could, stacked up some wood, and lit them on fire.  

Kathleen Maddox (left), with 5-year-old Charles and her mother 1939-1940
Kathleen Maddox (left), with 5-year-old Charles and her mother 1939-1940

6. Manson’s Mother Shipped Him Off To Boarding School at 13

When he was 9, Manson and his mother moved to Indianapolis, where she married again. While it seemed like his mother was turning her life around, things quickly went bad. Charlie responded to his chaotic home life by shoplifting and cutting class. In response, his mother sent him to the Gibault School for Boys, a boarding school for delinquent kids. He escaped after being severely flogged, only to have his mother ship him off once more.  

Charles Manson, age 13, in 1947

7. Manson Escaped From Multiple Schools

After returning to Gibault, Manson escaped once again and went on a crime spree, robbing cash registers to pay rent. A few weeks later, the police caught up with him and sent him to the Boys Town facility, made famous by the Mickey Rooney movie of the same name. After two more escapes and crime sprees, the state sent him to the Indiana School for Boys in Plainfield.

Gibault School for Boys

8. Guards and Inmates Severely Abused Manson

With knowledge of his previous escapades, the guards made it their mission to make Charles’ life a living hell. They regularly beat him and instigated brutal gang-rapes by other inmates. The humiliation and psychological trauma here are a significant reason why Charles Manson turned out the way he did.

9. Even A High-Security Location Couldn’t Hold him

Despite the heightened security at the Indiana School for Boys, he escaped twice. On the second attempt, he made it all the way to Utah before being caught. Because he crossed state lines, they charged him with a federal crime and sent him to Washington DC. While there, he underwent a revealing psychological review. Despite a 109 IQ, he was illiterate and ‘aggressively anti-social.’ Also, it reported that ‘behind all this lies an extremely sensitive boy who has not yet given up in terms of securing some kind of love and affection from the world.’

Manson on trial in Indanapolis
Manson on trial in Indianapolis – Gannett

10. By 32, he spent half his life in prison

Every time he was released, Manson quickly crimes like pimping, robbery, forging checks, and even parole violations sent him back to prison. During this period, he was even married for a short period. Much like his mother, he never could make a marriage stick. In 1967, he was released from Terminal Island, Los Angeles, and moved to San Francisco where he would start the Manson Family.

Charles Manson’s 1968 mugshot – Wikimedia Commons

11. Manson begged to stay in prison

The thought of freedom deeply disturbed Manson. There was no safety net, and Manson had no idea what to do once he got out. On his release, he begged the officer escorting him out to let him stay.

12. The Manson Family started by chance

Shortly after being released, Manson met Mary Brunner, a librarian in San Francisco, and moved in with her. His alternative world views offered a respite from her mundane life. Soon after, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme joined their relationship, and they began traveling the West Coast, adding alienated young middle-class women looking for a world outside their boring middle-class existence. Sex was the primary motivator for Manson, but eventually, he began recruiting men like Danny Decarlo and Tex Watson into the family.

13. His Guitar Teacher was Alvin “Creepy” Karpis

Alvin “Creepy” Karpis was part of the infamous Ma Barker Gang during the Great Depressions. His exploits killing at least ten people and kidnapping many more earned him the FBI’s “Public Enemy No. 1” designation for a short period. While Manson was in Washington state prison, Karpis taught him how to play guitar. This fueled Manson’s desire to be a famous musician and obsession with the Beatles. Without Karpis, the Manson murders may have never happened.  

Alvin “Creepy” Karpis  – FBI.gov

14. Charles Manson and Scientology

Manson built a cult that believed he was a reincarnation of christ who would lead them through an impending race war and apocalypse. Despite his deranged beliefs, he considered Scientology to be too crazy for him after attending 150 hours of classes.

15. What made Charles so charismatic?

To many, it is unfathomable that an uneducated jailbird who spent most of his life in prison was able to build a cult around himself. Manson’s charisma wasn’t natural – he credits his charisma to the Dale Carnegie novel “How To Win Friends & Influence People,” which read in prison. The book taught Manson how to make others take ownership of concepts and ideas that orginated with him.  

16. Manson banned items like watches and calendars

Manson denied his followers items like glasses, watches, calendars, and clocks to keep them disoriented and malleable. His excuse was that these items kept them from seeing the world more naturally. Some of his followers had permanent squints from living without glasses.  

17. Manson originally just wanted to be a musician

Manson and the family’s initial goal was to make him a famous musician. Stars like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and eventually the Beatles were strong influences on his music. You may even have heard a song written by him without knowing it – the Beach Boys, Guns & Roses, Marilyn Manson, and Redd Kross have all covered his songs.  

18. Manson had some famous friends

An early friend of the Family was Deidre Lansbury, the daughter of Murder, She Wrote star, Angela Lansbury. Another friend was Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson, who they met hitchhiking in LA. The Manson Family ended up living with him for a period until Dennis couldn’t handle it anymore. Dennis introduced Manson to producer Terry Melcher, who rejected Charles Manson’s music. Melcher lived at 10050 Cielo drive, which is why that location picked as the target of the Sharon Tate murders.

Photo of Dennis Wilson , 1970 – Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

19. Spahn Ranch 

After floating around for a long time, Manson and his Family settled on Spahn Ranch. They traded manual labor and sex with owner George Spahn, allowing them to stay there for free.  

Manson Family at Spahn Ranch – Michael Haering/Los Angeles Public Library

20. Helter Skelter

The White Album by The Beatles heavily influenced the cult’s bizarre worldview. The Family believed that a race war between whites and blacks would wipe out all of the whites. The Family would survive by hiding out in their desert until one day, black society would beg Charlie to lead them. The clues to this were supposed to be in Beatles songs like “Helter Skelter” and “Revolution 9.” Interestingly, Charlie didn’t even like the Beatles that much. Many indicators point to him not believing anything he was saying.  

21. He never murdered anyone

Despite ordering all of the murders conducted by his Family, Charles Manson never actually killed anyone. Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian carried out the Sharon Tate murders. During the La Bianca murders, Manson tied the couple up, then quickly left. He attempted to kill drug dealer Bernard Crowe, but unknown to Charles, Crowe survived.  

Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate – Getty Images

22. They were arrested by chance

The LAPD spent four months trying to find the La Bianca-Tate murderers but came up with nothing. They caught Manson and some of the Family on an unrelated charge by chance – stealing cars and vandalism. While in jail, Susan Atkins bragged about her role in the murders, implicating Manson and the rest of the Family.

23. The Family tried to stop a key witness with LSD

Barbara Hoyt was a former Manson Family member who became a witness for the prosecution. To stop her from testifying, she was lured to Hawaii and fed a Hamburger with ten tabs of LSD. Luckily, she realized what was happening and was able to get help. Later on, her testimony was critical in Manson’s conviction.   

24. He purposefully hired a boring lawyer

The “brilliant” Manson thought that hiring a boring lawyer would help his case. He chose Irving Kanarek, who was well known for dragging court testimony and numerous court objections. Kanarek wasn’t able to save him, and Manson received the death sentence after a 7-month trial.  

Manson being led to court in LA.
Manson being led to court in LA – WALLY FONG/AP

25. The trial didn’t end the crime spree

Not all of Manson’s followers ended up in prison, and many continued to follow him. In 1973, four followers attempted to rob a gun store in Hawthorne, California and ended up in a gun battle with the police. They planned to break Charles out of prison with the weapons they stole. Two years later, in 1975, Lynette Alice “Squeaky” Fromme, one of his most fervent followers, attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford.

"Squeaky" Fromme at her trial for the assassination of Gerald Ford
“Squeaky” Fromme at her trial for the assassination of Gerald Ford – Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

26. The CA Supreme Court Saved Him

In 1972, the California state Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as cruel and unusual in People v. Anderson.  Everyone on death row got bumped down to life in prison, including the Manson family.  

27. Another inmate almost burned him alive

Manson accrued quite the disciplinary record while in prison, racking up 108 serious violations by his final parole hearing in 2012. This made him a significant target for other inmates. In 1984, another inmate doused him in paint thinner and lit him on fire. He survived, though 20% of his body was covered in burns.  

28. He was briefly engaged before he died

In 2013, news came out that 79-year-old Charles Manson was engaged to a 27-year-old woman named Afton Elaine Burton. In an amazing twist, it came to light that Burton only married Manson to lay claim to his body and put it on display. Manson called off the wedding, but weirdly, this didn’t bother him much. He seemed to really believe that he would never die. His death in 2017 proved him wrong.  

Afton Elaine Burton and Charles Manson – ansonDirect.com/POLARIS
Alan Behrens

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