Charles Milles Manson (born November 12, 1934) is an American criminal and musician who led what became known as the Manson Family, a quasi-commune that arose in California in the late 1960s. He was found guilty of conspiracy to commit the murders of Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca carried out by members of the group at his instruction. He was convicted of the murders through thejoint-responsibility rule, which makes each member of a conspiracy guilty of crimes his fellow conspirators commit in furtherance of the conspiracy's objective.
Manson believed in what he called "Helter Skelter," a term he took from the song of the same name by The Beatles. Manson believed Helter Skelter to be an impending apocalyptic race war, which he described in his own version of the lyrics to the Beatles' song. He believed his murders would help precipitate that war. From the beginning of his notoriety, a pop culture arose around him in which he ultimately became an emblem of insanity, violence and the macabre. The term was later used by Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi as the title of a book he wrote about the Manson murders.
At the time the Family began to form, Manson was an unemployed ex-convict, who had spent half of his life in correctional institutions for a variety of offenses. Before the murders, he was a singer-songwriter on the fringe of the Los Angeles music industry, chiefly through a chance association with Dennis Wilson, founding member and drummer of The Beach Boys. After Manson was charged with the crimes of which he was later convicted, recordings of songs written and performed by him were released commercially. Various musicians, including Guns N' Roses, White Zombie and Marilyn Manson, have covered some of his songs.
Manson's death sentence was automatically commuted to life imprisonment when a 1972 decision by the Supreme Court of California temporarily eliminated the state's death penalty. California's eventual reinstatement of capital punishment did not affect Manson, who is currently incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison.
On his release day, Manson received permission to move to San Francisco, where, with the help of a prison acquaintance, he moved into an apartment in Berkeley. In prison, bank robber Alvin Karpis had taught him to play the steel guitar. Now, living mostly by panhandling, he soon got to know Mary Brunner, a 23-year-old graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Brunner was working as a library assistant at University of California, Berkeley, and Manson moved in with her. According to a secondhand account, he overcame her resistance to his bringing other women in to live with them. Before long, they were sharing Brunner's residence with 18 other women.
Manson established himself as a guru in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, which, during 1967's "Summer of Love", was emerging as the signature hippie locale. Bugliosi noted in his book Helter Skelter that Manson appeared to have borrowed philosophically from the Process Church, whose members worshiped Satan. Expounding a philosophy that included some of the Scientology he had studied in prison, he soon had his first group of followers, most of them female. Upon a staff evaluation of Manson when he entered prison in July 1961 at the U.S. penitentiary in McNeil Island, Washington, Manson entered "Scientologist" as his religion.
Before the summer ended, Manson and eight or nine of his enthusiasts piled into an old school bus they had re-wrought in hippie style, with colored rugs and pillows in place of the many seats they had removed. They roamed as far north as Washington state, then southward through Los Angeles, Mexico, and the southwest. Returning to the Los Angeles area, they lived in Topanga Canyon, Malibu, and Venice—western parts of the city and county.
In 1967, Brunner became pregnant by Manson and on April 15, 1968 gave birth to a son she named Valentine Michael (nicknamed "Pooh Bear")[ in a condemned house in Topanga Canyonand was assisted during the birth by several of the young women from the Family. Brunner (like most members of the group) acquired a number of aliases and nicknames, including: "Marioche", "Och", "Mother Mary", "Mary Manson", "Linda Dee Manson" and "Christine Marie Euchts".
In an alternative account, Manson acquired Family members during some months of travels that were undertaken, in part, in a Volkswagen van. He was apparently accompanied by Brunner. It was November when the school bus set out from San Francisco with the enlarged group.