Charles Milles Manson was (and probably still is since he is in jail and is yet to be paroled four decades after being sent there) a notorious criminal. Manson is perhaps famously known for leading a vicious cult that, under his commands, committed a series of brutal murders in the late 1960s, in California. Because of his misdemeanors, Manson came to symbolize the dark side of an American era that has often been associated with relative peace, free love and an emerging hippy culture that advocated for recreational drug use. His mother was sixteen when he was born, and a father was never present to take care of him. Manson’s early life was never going to be smooth, since he was born to an irresponsible teenager. In fact, he had to undergo abandonment, abuse and neglect while growing up. By the time that he was thirty two, he had spent more than sixteen years in various institutions (and a jail cell). However, his release from prison in 1967 was the catalyst of his (and his disciples’) heinous acts that shocked America (Jenkins, 2012). This paper looks at Manson’s life in crime.
Charles Milles Manson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 12th 1934. His mother, Kathleen Maddox, when she was a sixteen year old runaway while his father is believed to be Colonel Scott who hailed from Ashland, Kentucky. When Charles was two years old, Kathleen reportedly filed a successful child support suit against Scott. However, it is not clear whether she received any monetary support from Scott. This is because it was not long before she married, albeit very briefly, William Manson whose surname Charles adopted (Jennifer, 2005).
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There have been many stories regarding Kathleen Maddox especially her lifestyle and behavior. First of all, she was a runaway teenager when she gave birth to him. This simply means that she could not give Charles the most ideal of environs, in which he could properly grow up. In addition, Charles has always defended her by claiming that she was only looking for acceptance and love, but nonetheless made poor decisions in this quest. Maddox could disappear periodically leaving the young Charles under the care of relatives. Her criminal activities were exposed in 1939 (when Charles was five years old) when she sent to jail after she was found guilty of armed robbery. She had committed the crime with her brother (Charles’ uncle). With his mother incarcerated Charles was forced to stay with his relatives in McMechen, West Virginia. Charles recalls of one day when he was made to wear a dress to school as punishment for crying. This punishment was presided over by his uncle. At eight years old, Charles was finally reunited with his mother after her release in 1942. He is quick to point out that this reunion and the years that followed were the happiest ever moments in his entire life. However, this happy spell, in particular, was to end after four years when his mother remarried and handed him to the state (Jennifer, 2005).
Charles’ Life in Crime
Manson first got into trouble when he was nine years old. The young boy was sent to reform school, after being caught stealing. This did not help, however. At twelve, he was again caught stealing and thus sent to a boys’ reform school, Gibault School, in Indiana. His stay at this school did not last a year, however, as he somehow managed to escape and go back to his beloved mother, only to be disappointed. Charles had hoped that his mother would protect and hide him. On the contrary, she handed him straight back to the authorities. Charles knew there and then that he had to charter his own life without his ‘not so protective’ mother. Therefore, when he successfully managed to escape, not for the first time, he had to survive on his own (at the tender age of thirteen). For such a young boy, stealing was his only means of survival. However, he was caught again and sent to Boys’ Town (Jennifer, 2005).
Charles had been sent to three reform institutions by the age of thirteen. It was expected that the young boy would be reformed during these stints. On the contrary, his misdemeanors only became more intense, and serious, during his institutional stays. For instance, at just thirteen years old, and at Boys’ Town, Charles was found guilty of committing two armed robberies! As a consequence, he was sent to the most brutal, dangerous Indiana Schools for Boys, Plainfield. Here, the young Charles was violently attacked by his peers and guards several times. A hardened criminal that he had become, he successfully escaped from this institution and set off to the West Coast by virtue of stealing cars and committing crimes here and there to survive. All these happened when he was still sixteen years old! On reaching Utah, however, Charles was rearrested and sent to the National Training School for Boys, a federal reformatory in Washington. Here, he underwent numerous psychological and literacy tests; they proved inconclusive as he faked most of them. Charles had learnt from the ‘system’. He spent three years at this institution before being released (Jennifer, 2005).
In 1955, Charles married Rosalie Willis who was then working as a waitress. Not long after their marriage, Rosalie conceived much to the delight of her husband. However, Charles had spent much of his early life in reform institutions. As a result, he lacked the necessary professional skills that could earn him a proper job to support his ‘soon to expand’ family. His only option of supplementing his meager earnings was through stealing. He formed the habit of stealing cars. Just like in earlier cases, he was caught, arrested and thereafter sent to Terminal Island prison in San Pedro. He had already been incarcerated by the time Charles Jr. was born. Although Rosalie continued to visit him for one year, she lost patience and found another man. This hurt Charles Manson deeply. In late 1958, he was paroled (Jennifer, 2005).
It was expected that Charles had abandoned his criminal ways before his release. However, this was not the case. He was soon in trouble, for pimping. During the years that followed, Charles was caught and punished for stealing a government check and trying to cash it. Charles was lucky as he was only placed on probation instead of serving ten years in prison. This placement did not deter him from further crime as he was arrested for stealing a car a few months later. However, he was left scot free due to lack of evidence. In 1960, he was found guilty of conning a woman into investing in a fictitious company and, in addition, raping her friend. His earlier probation was consequently revoked and, thus, was required to serve seven and half years in prison. His was alternated between Terminal Island and McNeil Island. In March 1967, Charles was released. He was only thirty two years old, yet he had spent about seventeen of them in institutions (Jennifer, 2005).
While Charles was in prison, a lot had happened in California. The hippie culture was just setting in, and scores of young men and women were into drugs and rock and roll. Therefore, when he came out of prison, Charles had a group, in which he could fit immediately. He soon became popular amongst the young people who were willing to follow his views. It was also during this time that he teamed up with Mary Brunner, a devoted environmentalist and future mother of his third child. The two managed to win over the trust of the naïve young persons. Charles had such a compelling influence on them that he managed to take them (there were eighteen) to an abandoned ranch in the Californian hills. Surviving on discarded food, Charles and his eighteen disciples lived like a commune in this ranch; drug abuse and sex became part and parcel of this ‘family’. This ‘family’ later transformed into a violent cult; Charles was their spiritual leader (Gillis, 2012).
Charles had always believed that lyrics from the song Helter Skelter (by the Beatles) predicted an impending race war. His fanatical followers never doubted him whatsoever. This total devotion led him to manipulate them in a never seen before manner. In the summer of 1969, Charles ordered for the murder of Terry Melcher (a music producer that had denied him a promotional chance). By this time, however, Terry had already moved and his house was being occupied by Roman Polanski and pregnant actress Sharon Tate. However, the blood thirsty ‘Family’ followers could hear none of it once they came knocking. That night, Tate and her four friends were murdered in cold. It is reported that the five victims suffered eight gunshot wounds and 169 stabbings. The victims’ blood was used to write ‘Death to Pigs’ on the walls. The night thereafter, Leno LaBianca was also stabbed twenty six times while his wife Rosemary was stabbed forty one times by the same murderers. Just like the previous night, the victims’ blood was used to write ‘Death to Pigs Rise’ and ‘Healter Skelter’ on the walls. These heinous acts were carried out by four of his most devoted followers; Susan Atkins, Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian. Watson used a bayonet twelve times to carve ‘WAR’ on Leno’s lifeless chest (Gillis, 2012).
The two spates of murder shocked the whole world. However, the killers were at large and truly much unknown. This would not last for long as Susan Atkins was arrested for the murder of a drug dealer. In her defense, Susan implicated against Charles and his ‘family’ that she was just carrying out orders. With their criminal activities now in the limelight, the whole group was captured from their hideout. The trials began in earnest. Most of the cult’s members were sentenced to death in 1971 although the sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. Their pleas for parole have always been ignored (Gillis, 2012).
Explaining Charles Manson Criminal Behavior
First and foremost, Charles did not have an ideal childhood. His parents were clearly not ready to have him. This is outlined by the fact that his supposed father was disinterested in taking care of him. His mother was only sixteen, had escaped from home, naïve and gullible. His two uncles were cruel. All these imply that Charles did not quite have a conventional upbringing; idealized attention, affection, emotional attachment, a sense of belonging etc. There was no one he could look up to or model his behavior. As a result, he had to charter his own life on his own. In addition, it can be argued that he was denied some physical aspects of childhood (such as toys). This is perhaps why he started stealing at a remarkably young age. At nine years old, it was the responsibility of parents to punish and reform him. However, they turned to the state to reform Charles. On his part, he believed that only his mother could truly love and protect him, not the state. Therefore, when he realized that his mother was incapable of meeting his childhood demands, he made the resolve depend on no one but himself (when he was thirteen). With no proper skills to undertake any meaningful job and since he was underage, Charles could only steal to sustain himself. A troubled upbringing or a failed relationship can lead persons to develop criminal tendencies (Fennell, 1993).
As time went by, it was only natural that his crimes became more than mere stealing. With no family to go to, Charles decided to search for friends. However, his company only aggravated his criminal tendencies. For instance, he committed his first and second armed robberies with a friend (at only thirteen). When he was taken to the Indiana school, he was subjected to violent attacks by the guards and colleagues rather being reformed. This simply means that he could not trust anyone; he had many enemies. Shunned by family and community, Charles had no one to turn to at the time of need. This only increased his criminal resolve (Fennell, 1993).
From the account of Charles’ criminal activities, it can be concluded that he was a narcissist, unremorseful, lacked empathy, megalomaniacal, manipulative and could not accept responsibility. In psychological terms, Charles can be described as being a psychopath (Spinney, 2004; Gillis, 2012). His lack of remorse is exemplified by the fact that, even at a tender age, he repeatedly committed petty crimes. He was taken to various reform schools, but he never straightened. In fact, he always schemed ways of escaping from the schools and continue to commit a crime. Charles even raped a woman while on probation. This clearly demonstrates that he did not find any problem in committing crime, even if he had been spared. After being found guilty of ordering the murders, he has yet to apologize to the public. In fact, he has always reminded everyone what a person he is. In addition, the manner of which his victims were treated showed that he is a man that lacked empathy. In the same breath, in his earlier defense, he claimed that even though he had ordered the murders, he was not there physically when the acts were being carried out. Therefore, he was not responsible for the crimes! Charles was indeed a psychopath. This disorder came about probably due to his extremely troubled upbringing (Spinney, 2004).
Charles’ psychopathic behavior made him such a manipulative individual. It is hard to understand how a normal person can manipulate other people to the point that they are willing to do just about anything for him; to the extent of stabbing a victim several times and using the victim’s blood to write on walls. Even at trial, many of his followers could not testify against him. This simply means that they had been totally brainwashed and manipulated. His megalomaniacal behaviors led him to come up with a terribly dangerous cult. Charles had always hoped that he could gain many followers due to this cult. In fact, he had envisioned the whole African American community turning to him when convinced that the race war would happen, in real terms. His quest for power was extremely intense. Luckily for him, he easily found gullible young people that readily carried out his commands. This was helped in part by the fact that almost of all them were hardcore drug addicts (Spinney, 2004).
Until this day, more than forty years after he was sentenced, is still in prison for the grisly murders. His pleas for parole have often been ignored since he has never shown any remorse for the murders. Moreover, the fear is that Charles Manson will be killed instantly, if he is ever free. However, with such a personality, and with such a criminal record, it is for the good of the society that he remains in jail forever.
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