Forever cloaked in infamy, the life of Charles Manson will forever symbolize the capacity for violence that lies within the human spirit. Responsible for the murder of Hollywood starlet Sharon Tate, Leno & Rosemary LaBianca and six others in 1969, Charles Manson’s propensity for brutality spawned from an unsettled childhood. The son of a 16-year old alcoholic mother, it is said that she once attempted to sell her son for a pitcher of beer to a childless waitress. Enduring a tumultuous upbringing, Manson bounced around various foster homes and short stints with relatives as his mother continued to quench her thirst for alcohol. When she was arrested for robbing a West Virginia service station, Manson was sent to live with his aunt. Upon her return five years later, Manson claimed that their initial embrace was the only happy moment of his childhood.
Incurring numerous stints in prison for various crimes, by the time Manson was 32 he had spent over half of his life behind bars. In 1967, Manson was released from prison and soon after moved to San Francisco. At the pinnacle of the hippie culture, he transitioned into this psychedelic world with ease. Initially moving in with Mary Brunner, a 23-year old college graduate living in Berkeley, Manson quickly monopolized the environment, bringing in 18 other women to live alongside him inside Mary’s home. Championing the principles of Scientology, he began to acquire a contingent of female followers, who were drawn to his message and purpose. Traveling throughout the country, Manson and his followers used old buses and vans to get from place to place. Visiting much of the Southwest and even Mexico, the group’s shared experiences provided the foundation for the construction of Manson’s demonic family.
Combining various elements from different religions with a steady dose of drugs, particularly LSD, Manson was able to build his cult following of impressionable youth. A chance occurrence in the spring of 1968 brought him to the doorstep of Beach Boys singer Dennis Wilson’s house. Managing to enter the artist’s home with the help of his female followers, the two met on Wilson’s front porch, their initial meeting laying the groundwork for their unusual relationship. Gradually becoming a fixture of Wilson’s home, Manson brought more women into Wilson’s place over the following months. Often times Manson and Wilson would spend their days talking and making music, using the female cult members as their personal servants.
When The Beatles released the White Album in 1968, Manson was greatly moved by the music. Gravitating to the words of the song “Helter Skelter,” Manson interpreted the lyrics to signify the beginning of a race war in America. Manson spoke to his followers about the increasing social tensions between blacks and whites, claiming that The Beatles lyrics alluded to a similar conflict between the races. Manson and the Family then began to produce songs speaking to the impending apocalypse.
Using “Helter Skelter” as a call for action, Manson equipped his family with weaponry, aiming to build a concerted front against blacks in preparation for the social apocalypse. The Beatles song would serve as motivation for the family’s exploits. Through Wilson, Charles he became an acquaintance of record producer Terry Melcher. Eager to create his own music, Manson and the family began recording songs together. Intent on utilizing Melcher to launch The Family’s music career, he visited his home one day in March of 1969. However, unbeknownst to Manson, Melcher had actually moved out prior to his visit. Renting the residence from the producer while he was gone, director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate were living at Melcher’s home when Manson arrived. When he showed up at the door, he was greeted by a friend of Tate. This seemingly insignificant encounter serving as a dark prelude to their next meeting.
On the night of August 8th, Manson sent Family members up to the house of Melcher with instructions to “totally destroy everyone in it.” Breaking into the home, the members embarked on a night of terror. Climbing a wall close to the entrance, the Family members stopped suddenly, when they encountered a flood of headlights. Behind the wheel was 18-year old Steven Parent, an acquaintance of Melcher’s housekeeper, he had ran into the Manson family as he was leaving the residence. As he attempted to leave, family member Charles Watson stopped the youth, first slashing him with a knife, before unloading four shots into the boy’s body and head.
Breaking into the home shortly thereafter, the family encountered four unassuming people. Inside, Sharon Tate was spending time with friend Jay Sebring, screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski and his wife Abigail Folgers when the family arrived. Initially encountering a startled Frykowski, the writer was approached by Watson who stated that he was the devil, and had come to do the devil’s work. Quickly debilitating Frykowski with gun blows to the head, the writer was stabbed 51 times over the course of the carnage, slowly bleeding to his untimely death.
Stabbing Folger to death as well, the family tied Tate and Sebring together by the neck, slinging the rope over a beam in the ceiling. Pleading to live long enough to have her baby, Tate offered to be used as hostage bait in return for her life to be spared. Ignoring her pleas, the family members shot Sebring to death while stabbing Tate 16 times. Tate died shortly after. She was eight months pregnant.
The following night, six of Manson’s Family members drove to the house of supermarket magnate Leno LaBianca, and his wife Rosemary. Dissatisfied with the frantic nature of the previous night’s murders, Manson accompanied the family members on the excursion. Situated in the hills of Los Feliz, Manson had attended a party close to the house a year prior, and had now targeted the LaBianca’s specifically. Breaking into the house with ease, Manson ordered the death of Leno and Rosemary, instructing Watson to tie them up and cover their heads with bed sheets. Dissatisfied with the weapons used from the night before, Watson began stabbing Leno with a chrome plated bayonet. The first thrust plunged into Leno’s throat. Stabbing him another 12 times, Watson carved the word “WAR” into Leno’s stomach, while Mrs. LaBianca received 41 stab wounds from the family members. Writing the words “Rise” and “Death to Pigs” in Rosemary’s blood throughout the house, the words epitomized the sinister acts committed on behalf of Manson.
The murders spawned a media frenzy. Characterized by peculiar antics within the courthouse, several members of the Manson Family including Watson and Manson himself were given life sentences. Donning an “X” that was later changed to a swastika, Manson’s character and image became a symbol of darkness, becoming a seemingly larger cult figure after his incarceration.
In many ways August 8th, 1969 defined the life of Charles Manson. In addition to the vicious nature of his crimes, the murders marked a stark turning point in American culture. Coupled with the height of the Vietnam War, the Manson murders marked a symbolic end to the peace and love era of the 60’s. Forever linked to the face of fear and evil, Manson is currently serving his life sentence in Corcoran State Prison in California.