The Surprising Stories Behind the Manson Murders

Notorious murderer Charles Manson died Nov. 19, at the age of 83. The killer was denied parole 12 times and finally succumbed to natural causes. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi told CNN, “He was the dictatorial ruler of the [Manson] family, the king, the Maharaja. And the members of the family were slavishly obedient to him.” While he became a cultish figure in macabre popular culture, a lot of people don’t know these fascinating facts about the notorious murderer.

1. The ‘family’ wanted to start a race war

charles manson mugshot

Charles Manson died serving a life sentence for grisly murders. | California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Getty Images

The New York Times reports that a small group of his “family members” brutally murdered five people at the Benedict Canyon home of director Roman Polanski, near Hollywood in August, 1969. In total, they killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent. Manson “family members” Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel committed the murders, while Linda Kasabian kept a lookout.

The next day, Manson accompanied the others — joined by Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan — on the prowl for more victims. After several hours, the group came upon the house of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. Watson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten murdered them. Over the course of two nights, the killers inflicted 169 stab wounds and seven .22-caliber gunshot wounds.

Next: He had a terrible childhood.

2. His mom sold him for next to nothing

a silhouette of a man drinking a beer

The future cult leader’s mom literally sold him off. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

According to CNN, Manson’s mother reportedly sold him for a pitcher of beer to a woman who wanted to have children. His uncle had to find the woman so that he could get his nephew back. Manson later bounced around a lot as a kid and went to a string of reform schools. The New York Times reports he also once held a razor to a boy’s neck and raped him.

Next: He gets a lot of mail, and a girlfriend out of the deal. 

3. Brings a whole new meaning to ‘mail-order bride’

the tops of letters with postage on them

Manson got a ton of mail, and one of his correspondents became his bride. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

A Rolling Stone profile reveals that Manson received more mail than any other inmate in history, up to 60,000 letters per year. A 25-year-old pen pal, who Manson christened “Star,” said she considers Manson her husband. The imprisoned cult leader, however, called Star’s story “garbage.” She began writing him in high school, and remains one of his most ardent admirers.

Next: Manson rose to prominence in this religion (maybe).

4. The killer rose to high levels in this religion

the church of scientology flag building

The Church of Scientology’s Flag Building. | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Manson studied Scientology and gleaned a lot of his life philosophy from the religion, according to Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson. The precipitous killer has both called the religion “crazy” and bragged he reached its highest echelons. As with so many Manson stories, this one comes with a shaker of salt.

Next: He eschewed these medical devices.

5. No glasses for this cult leader or its members

a model with pairs of eye glasses

No glasses for Manson Family members. | Jacobsen /Three Lions/Getty Images

The Life and Times of Charles Manson also notes that Manson’s cult banned books, wristwatches, calendars, and clocks. “Eyeglasses weren’t allowed,” author Jeff Guinn wrote. “[He believed] whatever the state of their vision, that was their natural way to see the world, and only natural things were good.” The cult leader took away new members’ glasses immediately. As a result, some of them developed permanent squints.

Next: Strange things happened to key witnesses.

6. His followers tried to kill (at least) two witnesses

LSD tabs on a US quarter

LSD blotter tabs on top of a US quarter coin. | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Crime Museum notes that members of the Manson family attempted to silence prosecution witness Barbara Hoyt. Two women lured her to a restaurant and gave her a hamburger laced with lethal doses of LSD. Hoyt made it to a hospital in time. Witness Paul Watkins also suffered severe burns in a suspicious fire in his van.

Next: Manson actually released several original tracks.

7. The prisoner harbored musical aspirations

marilyn manson sings onstage with a knife microphone

Marilyn Manson is one of the singers who used Manson’s songs. | STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

According to The New York Times, Manson learned how to play guitar in prison, and loved Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also named his movement — intended to incite an apocalyptic race war — “Helter Skelter” after a Beatles song. He released several albums of his own from prison, writing between 80 and 90 songs in 1966 alone. Some of his music even got recorded by famous musicians. Those include the Beach Boys, Guns & Roses, and Marilyn Manson.

Next: Did the cops ever catch all of the family killers?

8. Are there more bodies buried somewhere?

police tape across a blurred outdoor landscape

Family members claim there are more bodies, but no one ever found any. | Larry W. Smith/Getty Images

According to The Guardian, the cult leader was convicted of the murders of nine people, thanks to Kasabian’s testimony. That said, he and his followers claimed they “offed” a total of 35 people whose bodies they buried in the desert. Bugliosi later called those numbers “high,” but police have never found the rumored corpses.

The killer’s death might represent the end of an era, but so did the notorious murders. “The Manson murders sounded the death knell for hippies and all they symbolically represented,” Bugliosi said. “They closed an era. The 60s, the decade of love, ended on that night, on 9 August 1969.”

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