Cult killer was ‘a coward’
Charles Manson, the serial killer who terrified a nation, started out as a petty criminal and had an insatiable need to control others, writes Paul Valentine
CHARLES Manson, the fieryeyed cult master whose lemming-like followers staged a bloody two-night murder rampage in Los Angeles in 1969 that gripped the city with fear and shocked the US, died last Sunday at a hospital in California. He was 83. Manson was serving a life sentence at California State Prison in Corcoran.
The sheer incomprehensibility of the acts – mutilation and ritual stabbings of seven victims, among them rising Hollywood starlet Sharon Tate, then eight months pregnant by her movie director husband, Roman Polanski – left the public aghast and police investigators stumped for months.
For many, Manson and his ragtag entourage of runaways, two-bit criminals and blindly loyal worshippers also symbolised the dark, even contradictory, excesses of the drug-driven, free-love 1960s, especially in California.
There, Manson and his so-called “family” members wandered the countryside, scavenging, stealing and preparing for an apocalyptic race war prophesied by their leader and dubbed “Helter Skelter” after the Beatles song.
A prelude to the conflagration was the slaughter of the seven victims in two affluent Los Angeles neighbourhoods. Orchestrated by Manson on two successive nights in August 1969, the killings were calculated to hasten the race war by making them appear committed by black militants. That, he told his followers, would stir white sentiment against blacks, triggering widespread violence by blacks.
The scheme bore surface plausibility with the rash of urban explosions throughout the 1960s, culminating in the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King jr in 1968 and nationwide rioting.
Investigators, however, said the attacks also appeared motivated, at least in part, by Manson’s uncontrolled rage in the weeks leading up to the murders, when Hollywood agents rejected his selfproclaimed musical talents.
The slayings – known collectively as the Tate-LaBianca murders – led to the arrest and conviction of Manson and four of his followers in 1971. All were sentenced to death in the California gas chamber, but the sentences were reduced to life in 1972 when the state Supreme Court abolished the death penalty.
Over the years, the “Helter Skelter massacres” attained macabre folklore dimensions, generating books, songs, movies and even an opera.
Manson transfixed the nation with his roving, luminous eyes and courtroom theatrics during the months-long trial in which he and three female followers – Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten – were convicted. A fourth family member, Charles “Tex” Watson, was convicted in a separate trial.
Manson and the women, as well as family supporters outside the courtroom, repeatedly disrupted the proceedings with antics, shouting often unintelligible slogans and chanting protests in unison. Once, Manson was restrained by bailiffs when he lunged at the judge.
“Look at yourselves,” he shouted another time, glaring at the spectators. “You’re going to destruction.”
Vincent Bugliosi, the hardcharging deputy district attorney who prosecuted Manson, described the Manson name as “a metaphor for evil”.
Manson was a study in stark contrasts. Small and scrawny, he was also charismatic and held an almost hypnotic power over his followers, especially women. Some believed he was divine.
Investigators, academic researchers and journalists found him alternately erratic and focused, a proficient guitarist, a lover of animals, a racist and anti-Semite with a left-leaning hatred of the “establishment” and corporate America, and bitterness over his rejection by the music celebrity world of Hollywood.
He was not crazy, but he could fake it and had an insatiable need to control others, prompting him to recruit naive and malleable acolytes to his family, according to behaviouralists who studied his life.
“Basically, Manson was a coward,” Eric Hickey, dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University, told Maclean’s magazine in 2012. “He was the kind of guy who had other people do his bidding, and I think he enjoyed taking advantage of people who were gullible.”
Charles Milles Manson was born on November 12, 1934, in Cincinnati, the son of an unmarried 16-year-old girl who supported herself on petty crime. He never knew his father and, with his mother periodically jailed, he was shunted among various relatives in small-town West Virginia and Kentucky. He began engaging in petty theft himself and ended up in a series of foster homes and reformatories.
His education stopped at the seventh grade. While only sketchily literate, he scored a high-normal IQ of 121 while in prison.
Married and divorced twice, he leaves one son. Another son committed suicide in 1993. – Washington Post
Charles Manson in March 2009. He carved the swastika on his forehead while on trial in 1971.
Charles Manson back in the 1970s.
Actor-singer David Cassidy.