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

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OBITUARIES -

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

PIC­TURES: AP

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.

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