Charles Manson: Murderer, Cult Leader, 'Rolling Stone' Subscriber
When Charles Manson wrote to Rolling Stone in January 1972, as far as he knew, he would be dead within a year. The California death penalty was three months away from becoming ruled unconstitutional. Manson was sentenced to death after receiving numerous counts of first-degree murder.
"If you would be so kind and send me a subscription to your paper, I will be happy to answer any questions you may wish to ask," Manson wrote in tidy cursive script. "The questions should be simple, short and to the point, answers will be the same for I am simple, short and to the point. You may print what I say that you wish, I will consider a subscription fair exchange."
Rolling Stone's David Felton, who cowrote the original 1970 profile on Manson, wrote back the following month, granting the inmate a year's subscription to the magazine. He also informed him that the recent Manson Issue was a "best seller." Felton, who would later win a National Magazine Award for his five-part study of the serial killer and cult leader, is itself a fascinating artifact of how Rolling Stone's editors were analyzing and evaluating the significance of the Manson family murders in real time.
Felton asked Manson about the chance and "desirability" of different families coming together (like the Manson and the Lyman family, about which he had recently written a cover story). Felton called Manson the "famous apocalyptic visionary of this generation." "I assume therefore, there is much you could tell our readers."
Two months after Felton's letter, the California death penalty was repealed. Manson was eventually re-sentenced to life in prison. The notorious killer continues to be an eerie, complex Rolling Stone subject. In 2013, writer Erik Hedegaard revisited Manson, who at age 80, was as chilling and verbose as ever.
"I'm the devil," he said. "You didn't know that?"
Listen to original audio from Hedegaard's 2013 interview with Manson below: