Manson Family Tree: Guide to Charles Manson Cult, Murders - Rolling Stone
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The Manson Family Tree

A guide to the key players in Charles Manson’s orbit

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Charles Manson. Born in 1934, a career criminal — and such an inept one that he'd spent most of his life behind bars, starting from childhood. Paroled in 1967, he collected women, using them as sexual lures to attract male friends who could do him favors. Befriended, among others, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, guitarist Neil Young, and dealer Tex Watson.

Charles Manson is without question the most notorious killer in American history, infamous worldwide for the horrific Tate/LaBianca murders. He’s always been America’s favorite metaphor for the dark side of the Sixties, the ultimate evil hippie. And he’s embraced that notoriety.

But the fact that Manson didn’t participate in the murders that bear his name, and wasn’t there when they happened, is an obscure footnote. So are the people who did the actual killing. They don’t fit the metaphor — especially not the clean-cut Tex Watson, a high-school football star. It’s Manson who remains a celebrity: the longhair who killed the Woodstock dream, the law-and-order squad’s favorite proof of how all that freedom didn’t work.

So how did this happen? Why did Nixon’s America turn him into such a superstar? How did this bumbling criminal get the role of the world’s most dangerous man? How did this product of the Fifties come to represent the Sixties? It’s a sad and terrible story. Here are some of the key players in the Manson orbit.

Ferd Kaufman/AP Images

Tex Watson

Former high school football hero, drug dealer, speed freak and sporadic Spahn Ranch resident, Watson led the killing at Cielo and Waverly. His accomplices: Susan Atkins the first night, Van Houten and Krenwinkel the second night. (Atkins, Kasabian, Manson and Clem Grogan rode along in the car to Waverly, but weren't present for the murders.) He fled back to his parents' house in Collin County, Texas, protected by family connections — his cousin was the sheriff. Astoundingly, he remained in Texas for nearly a year, kept far from the courtroom and out of the headlines. He wasn't extradited to California until the Manson trial was under way — and didn't even go on trial until after Manson was convicted. Became a Christian minister in prison.

Ralph Crane//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Susan Atkins

A killer in the Cielo murders. Rode along in the car to the Waverly murders. She was the first of the killers to talk, bragging to her fellow inmates after getting busted for car theft. She was also the first to cooperate with the prosecutors, helping them break the case open, in hopes of a book deal. Eventually became a born-again Christian.

AP Photo

Linda Kasabian

Met Tex Watson in the summer of 1969, shortly before the murders, via one of Beausoleil's girlfriends. Went to live at the Spahn Ranch, bringing her baby daughter. Drove the car to both the Cielo and Waverly murders, since she had a valid driver's license. A killer in the Cielo murders. Granted immunity for her testimony during the trial.

George Brich/AP Photo

Particia Krenwinkel

She met Manson in L.A. when she was 19, another damaged product of a broken home. A killer in both the Cielo and Waverly murders.

Jeff Robbins/AP Photo

Leslie Van Houten

Met Beausoleil when she was 18, which led her to the Ranch. A killer in the Waverly murders. The lawyer at her first trial, Ronald Hughes, disappeared on a camping trip during a break in the trial; he was found dead, though there was no evidence of foul play.


Bobby Beausoleil

Murdered Gary Hinman, in a drug deal gone wrong. Hinman supplied the mescaline that Beausoleil sold to to a biker gang, the Straight Satans. When the mescaline turned out to be bad, the Satans demanded their thousand dollars back. Beausoleil tried to get it out of Hinman and ultimately murdered him. A friend of Manson's but never a member of the Family, Beausoleil denied this drug murder had any connection to Manson.

Jeff Robbins/AP

Ruth Ann Moorehouse

She met Manson when she was extremely underage — her father picked him up hitchiking and brought him home. She ran away with Manson until the cops caught up with them. During the trial, she tried to poison a potential witness by taking her on a trip to Hawaii — then feeding her a hamburger laced with ten tabs of acid.

AP Photo/File

Squeaky Fromme

One of Manson's first female followers, and easily the most famous, even though she had nothing to do with the murders. Demonstrated outside the courthouse during the Manson trial. Spent decades in prison after she pulled a gun on President Gerald Ford in 1975, in Sacramento.

George Brich/AP Images

Mary Brunner

The first woman recruited into the Manson group — in 1967, she was a 23-year-old librarian at Berkeley, originally from Wisconsin. The first of the Family to give birth, though not the last. An accomplice in the Hinman killing.

In This Article: Charles Manson

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