Charles Manson died

Charles Manson, the most hated and feared criminal of our time, who, curiously, attracted many followers, died yesterday of “natural causes” at age 83. If you’ve followed the news, this was almost inevitable, for he’d been hospitalized since November 15 and reported on the brink of death. He died at Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, California after transfer from the California State Prison in Corcoran.

As you’ll know, and I remember well, in 1969 Manson masterminded (but did not participate in) two killings: the “Tate murders” and “LaBianca murders” over two nights in Los Angeles. He was later revealed as the instigator by a prison slip of the tongue by one of the “Manson family”, Susan Atkins. Manson was convicted and sentenced to death in 1971, but that was commuted to life in prison (with the possibility of parole!) in 1972. He never got parole, of course, and spent the next 46 years in jail, largely isolated from other inmates. Given the crimes he’d committed when younger, he’d spent about two thirds of his life in jail.

He was of course mentally ill, but sufficiently charismatic to not only build up his “family”, but order them to kill people, ostensibly to ignite a race war in the U.S.

Here’s a mugshot taken in 1969; it’s perhaps the most famous photo of Manson because of those eyes:

And another shot from six years ago with a swastika tattooed on his forehead:

Here’s perhaps the most famous of four interviews of Manson. In this 45-minute clip, aired in 1986, Manson was interviewed by Charlie Rose. As I recall, in his subsequent interviews his behavior became crazier and crazier.

There’s not much more to say about the man once his crimes and mental illness have been recounted. How he became a godlike figure and attracted the love and fealty of others I’ll leave to the psychologists.


  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    The mad monk Rasputin — except Charlie knocked around the fringes of the movie and music industries rather than politics, the way Rasputin did by whispering in the czarina’s ear about her hemophiliac son.

  2. sensorrhea
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    I know the theater of his group’s murders was a bigger deal than the body count, but it’s worth noting that today a mere 7 dead would probably not even cause Republican politicians to bother to emit any Thoughts & Prayers tweets.

    The Thoughts & Prayers Calculator tool backs this up.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      I have to disagree. I think, if it happened today, they’d go nuts over it.

      If you take into consideration Manson’s political leanings – which were kinda confusedly hippy-utopian, far-left(ish. very -ish.) – and his open intention to incite a race war in which black people would rise up against racist whites, I can imagine the conservative/Republican press going after him like a pack of rabid dogs. All that, and the murders WEREN’T carried out by some gun-nut who might make gun-owners look bad – it’s a Breitbart-journo’s dream story.

      The only way it could be any more attractive to hard-right-wing media gutter press is if Manson was black.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 20, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        Manson may have been a soi-disant hippie, but his politics (such as they were) were alt-right reactionary.

        • frednotfaith2
          Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

          Yep, anyone who idolizes Hitler and wants to start a race war, expecting the blacks to win but then be easy enough for him to push aside and take over from and who was also a religious nut hardly qualifies as a “leftist”. More like he took the most outlandish utopian ideals from the fringes of the left & right as well as libertarians and mixed them up into what in practice would have been a dystopian totalitarianism in which he told everyone what to do. He wasn’t that different from other political and religious. He wanted to be Jesus, Hitler, the Beatles, Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard all rolled up into one messianic dictator. Instead he was just a mess who got a bunch of people murdered.
          By the way, he had entered the LaBianca home and tied them up, then went out and ordered Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkle and Leslie Van Houten to go in and murder then make it look as horrific as possible. He had also once been to the Tate-Polanski residence a month or so earlier, looking for former resident Terry Melcher – Sharon Tate just happened to answer the door and informed him that Melcher no longer lived there. He’d also once attended a party in a house very close to the LaBiancas, so neither home was picked entirely at random, although he neither knew nor cared who the victims were, as long as they were white and fairly well-to-do. He also personally murdered at least two other people as well as ordered the murders of others, although authorities aren’t sure of the total number of people murdered by Manson and his “Family”.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted November 20, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

          I got the impression that at the time he was a kind of fantastically ignorant wannabe revolutionary, very vaguely aligned with far-left race politics, hence the latching onto black-on-white insurrectionary violence.

          I agree that in terms of actual principles he was as far away from the left as you can get. But then so are a significant number of modern left-wingers.

          • frednotfaith2
            Posted November 20, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

            I agree, particularly in regard to those “lefties” who take common cause with radical Islamists such as ISIS or the Taliban. Sometimes one doesn’t have much choice but to ally oneself with an ideological opponent when faced with a more dangerous common foe, as when the capitalist forces of the U.K. & U.S. joined with the communist U.S.S.R. against the Nazis, but other times it defies rationality.

    • biz
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I think you’re wrong here. If there is one instance in which having a gun would make you safer, it would be when five crazed satanic hippies armed with knives break into your Bevery Hills house with the intent of ritually torturing and murdering you and your family. Thus, if it happened today it would be a godsend to the Right and it would be on constant loop in right wing media.

      • sensorrhea
        Posted November 20, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        If it happened today the Manson groups would all have AR15s.

        • Posted November 20, 2017 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Yes. Criminals are entitled to their upgrades, too.

  3. Carey Haug
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    In general I don’t believe in free will and I think his reprehensible deeds resulted from some perfect storm of personality traits,mental illness, environment, luck etc. I also don’t think there’s an afterlife.

    In his case, however, it’s hard to avoid thinking of him as evil and deserving to spend eternity in Hell.

    • Vaal
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I’ll have to disagree here. Having contemplated Hell, I can not think any human could deserve an eternity of punishment.

      • Posted November 21, 2017 at 12:51 am | Permalink

        Unless of course Manson created an infinite murder loop. 🤣

        • Posted November 21, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

          Supposedly that’s almost the reason for infinite punishment – it is more correctly an unbounded punishment, or so people told me. (I.e., the denizens of hell commit another sin while there, and another during the next sentence that results, etc. indefinitely)

          • Posted November 22, 2017 at 1:52 am | Permalink

            Interesting. I thought I’d heard it all with Christianity, I just made this scenario up on the fly. This may qualify me to be a theologian!

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Another small cult that was blown up by the Hollywood media into much more. Wherever there are wackos and a media to build it up, there will be followers. Come to think of it we have one in the white house at this time.

    • Posted November 20, 2017 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      The connection is inevitable, and hopefully, pervasive.

      • Posted November 20, 2017 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        The ‘connection’ is facile and gratuitous.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted November 20, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

          I suppose you would prefer other cults with even greater damage — Possibly Jim Jones or David Koresh. Before you pass off such a comparison you should maybe read the Dangerous Case of Trump. The damage done by this one is still to be determined and possibly you are not paying close attention.

        • Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps the connection will be more vivid and undeniable when both have spent the remainders of their lives within similar institutions.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Manson fascinates in part because he seemed like the dark side of the Woodstock generation- in some ways he fit every right-winger’s negative stereotype of a hippie. His murders were around the same time as the killing at a Rolling Stone’s concert in Altamont. Manson was a symbol and reflection of the weirder aspects of the times.

      Vincent Bugliosi’s book on the case “Helter Skelter” is one of the best police procedurals ever written. Before his book, “Rolling Stone” magazine was all over the case.

      In terms of body count, David Koresh and Jim Jones are much worse, but Manson had a charisma that was hard to figure out, and lots of journalists tried to decipher.

      Bugliosi’s book had a concluding chapter on the personality similarities between Manson and Hitler which was more convincing than I expected to be.
      (Nazis killed Roman Polanski’s parents, while Manson killed his wife, Sharon Tate.)

      • frednotfaith2
        Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Also, of course, Manson lived to face trial and be interviewed, unlike Jim Jones and David Koresh. Not to mention that despite getting the death penalty, he lucked out entirely by chance in being sentenced just prior to the death penalty being deemed unconstitutional for several years and so he got to live several more decades. And although it was unlikely in the extreme that he would ever be paroled or somehow escape, there was always the possibility that either might happen. Plus, there was the fact that he got several pretty young women, one of them a high school beauty queen, and a high school football hero from a small town in Texas to commit such horrible deeds and to practically worship him to add to the public fascination.

  5. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    I seem to remember someone – Dennis Wilson, George Harrison, Neil Young; someone like that – saying his demos as a songwriter were quite good. How rancid does a mind have to be before it’s incapable of producing interesting art?

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      I think it was Dennis Wilson. IIRC there was some association between him (and maybe other members of the Beach Boys) and the Manson family for a period of time – lived with them or something. Weird.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Manson wrote a song that Dennis Wilson glommed onto and put on the Beach Boys’ 20/20 album.

      As to how “rancid” a mind might be and still be capable of producing interesting art, see the topic Art Brut, or Outsider Art as it’s sometimes called — art created by, among others, the insane and mentally handicapped.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted November 20, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        I have a huge book of outsider-art from my art degree days. Some of it is stunning. Startling, grand sculptures that look like alien landscapes, or entire buildings made from found objects. The ex-art-teacher who gave me the book started crying as he leafed through it.

    • frednotfaith2
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Neil Young had openly admired Manson’s songs, but it was Dennis Wilson who picked up a couple of the Manson women he saw hitchhiking and shortly thereafter inadvertently wound up hosting Manson and the Family at his rented home for some time until he got freaked out enough to leave. Before that, however, he had introduced Manson to Terry Melcher with talk of Melcher producing an album of Manson’s music. That never happened, but Wilson did record one of Manson’s songs, with a few lyrical changes, and released it on a Beach Boys’ album in early 1969, with himself credited as sole writer. If Manson had had his way both Wilson & Melcher would have been x’d out of existence. After Manson’s involvement with the Tate murders became public, Wilson spent years terrified that the Manson Family would get him somehow.

  6. helenahankart
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Its technically called “hybristophilia” (literally “love of arrogant rule breaking”) and its interesting indeed. We have a paper under review about it. PM me if interested

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Can you specify what you’re referring to when you say “it’s” in re “hybristophilia”? The term, as I find it in Wikipedia means “a paraphilia in which sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.” I’d never heard of that before — how does it apply here?

      • helenahankart
        Posted November 20, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        Jerry Coyne mentioned that Charles Manson had no shortage of female followers and admirers and that he would leave explanations of this to the psychologists. I’m one of those. Charles Manson is not alone. If you want to see a parade of attractive women then visiting time in the Cat A part of the prison is better than one of Trump’s beauty contests.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted November 20, 2017 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          Ah, what do you know, more similarity.

        • Posted November 20, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          Such killers seem more likely to attract stupid, ordinary, unattractive women, especially marriage-minded ones. Unless the media is deliberately not publishing photos of “the parade of attractive women.”

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

            To me the only key interest here is how does someone, such as Manson brainwash these people to do such things? What kind of followers must they be. And with Trump, regardless of his actions, seen almost daily, draws in these people more in favor of him than ever before. These are weak and despicable human creatures. Most of Trump’s followers may not be ready to kill for him, but what they might do should be a concern.

            • Jeff Rankin
              Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

              Trump supporters are like Manson followers?

              Likely one of the most hysterical (in more ways than one) statements I’ve seen yet. I’d thank you for the laugh but this is the kind of over the top rhetoric that will get Trump elected to a second term.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted November 20, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                Yes, when you can get lots of poor, white people to vote for the rich racist, predator and beat up outsiders at his rally’s that is hysterical. And it is really funny when we have a president who grovels at the feet of Putin, does business with many in the Russian mob and pays no taxes. What do you do to get over the top? Jaywalk.

            • helenahankart
              Posted November 20, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

              Brainwash? A light rinse seems to do the job. Our next paper explores the obsessive fans of these killers. Calling it brainwashing is absolving people of personal responsibility.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted November 20, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                I certainly do not want the word to absolve them from any of it. Whether it is to murder or to be made to believe that it might be good to have the scam artist, con man, in charge of our country and it’s nuclear weapons. The responsibility still lies with the person doing the murder or voting. As they say in the book on Trump, the professionals are not doing an analysis of the guy, they are simply giving us the danger which they feel it is their duty to do.

              • helenahankart
                Posted November 20, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

                There’s rarely a shortage of people willing and eager to have sex with psychopaths and narcistists. Where do people think all the little psychopaths and narcistists come from? Whatever else Trump did he managed to get (at least) three smart beautiful women to look at him and go “I want my genes spliced with that”

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted November 20, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                I suspect he is like electricity in that regard. When the first wife reaches 40 he turns this one in for 2 20s. I know, old joke.

  7. ladyatheist
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I was at the age of “confirmation” in my church during this time. I went through with the ceremony, but having learned that there could be more than one person with devoted followers who attributed godly qualities to him put a dent in my belief. (I didn’t know about Islam or Mormonism or Scientology at the time).

  8. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    the most hated and feared criminal of our time

    I’d say Osama bin Laden has him beat in both categories.

  9. Posted November 20, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I’m happy any surviving family members can now rest in peace, knowing they won’t have to worry about another parole hearing or media interviews of any kind.

  10. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    “Charles Manson, the most hated and feared criminal of our time” in US perhaps, I have barely heard of him. Anders Behring Breivik is that criminal around here in modern times with 10 times the body count.

    Further back, Stalin perhaps?

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