Charles Manson, the psychopathic career criminal who inspired a murderous cult following and brought a grisly end to the utopian dreams of the 1960s, has spent the past 47 years locked up in California. Manson, born Charles Milles Maddox in 1934 to a 16-year-old mother, had already spent half his life in jail when he orchestrated one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th Century.
According to biographer Jeff Guinn, Manson had been a talented manipulator since grade school, convincing classmates – mostly girls – to attack people he didn’t like. He managed to escape blame for their actions, and while he would sometimes turn violent himself, it was a 1947 theft that initially sent him into reform school. He was in and out of incarceration for the next 20 years for everything from pimping to false checks.
When Manson was released from prison for the last time in 1967, he had learned to play guitar, and was intent on making his way as a musician. After a stint in San Francisco, where he witnessed first-hand the Summer of Love, Manson made his way down to Southern California, installing his budding “Family” in various temporary homes – including that of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson – before landing in the Spahn Ranch, an unused Western movie set.
It was while living there that Manson convinced his followers to help him start “Helter Skelter,” a race-war that was foretold on a Beatles’ White Album track, which would end in apocalypse and eventual Manson world domination. He sent them out to commit a series of crimes that culminated with the murders of Sharon Tate, the eight-month pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, and four companions at her home on August 9th, 1969, and the killing of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the following night.
Manson was arrested in October 1969 on unrelated charges, but hasn’t been freed since. In 1971 he was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life in prison after California temporarily banned capital punishment in 1972. He’s periodically spoken to the media – including to Rolling Stone in 1970 and 2013 – and has been denied parole 12 times, most recently in 2012. Currently 81 years old, he’s next up for parole in 2027.