The United States of America without a doubt has no lack of villainous individuals that have gone on to possess an uncomfortable legacy and hold over pop culture. People like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Zodiac Killer, and then less serial killer-oriented villains like Al Capone all have sealed their place. None however have quite reached the level of now deceased cult leader Charles Manson.
Manson, who was discovered to have died two Sundays ago due to natural causes at 83, didn’t leave the world as a patron of grace. His natural charismatic skills allowed him to orchestrate the killings of several individuals in August 1969, a period of time ironically referred to as the summer of love. One word that needs to be given additional attention is orchestrated.
If Manson himself committed the actual deeds of murdering these individuals his legacy would’ve been minuscule at best. What separates him from other nefarious deranged individuals is his ability to manipulate his loyal followers, the “family.”
Former Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi explained the nature of Manson’s control over his followers to CNN in 2015.
“He was the dictatorial ruler of the (Manson) family, the king, the Maharaja. And the members of the family were slavishly obedient to him.”
For those wondering what ”Maharaja” refers to, it’s a term for a ruling prince of a major province in India, the type of royal image Manson would want his loyal family cult to maintain.
The wave of killings would become one of the biggest source of nightmares in American pop culture, starting on August 9, 1969, at the home of actress Sharon Tate, wife to iconic film director Roman Polanski. Polanski was out of the country at the time, but Tate who was eight months pregnant would be the first victim of the killing wave. Celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, coffee fortune heiress Abigail Folger, writer Wojciech Frykowski and Steven Parent, a friend of the Tate family’s caretaker, would follow suit being termed as the Tate murders.
Supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, would be murdered the following evening.
Preferring to have his followers do his dirty work, Manson only ordered the killings.
For both sets of murders, Manson’s family inflicted 169 stab wounds and seven .22-caliber gunshot wounds. While both crime scenes were horrifying, a couple of details were able to be linked between the two.
Steve Almasy and Brandon Griggs from CNN shed some details on the connection between the two murders.
“The word pig was written in victims’ blood on the walls of one home and the front door of another. There was also another phrase apparently scrawled in blood: Helter Skelter with Helter misspelled as Healther. The reason for the disturbing writings, a prosecutor argued, was because Manson wanted to start a race war and hoped the Black Panthers would be blamed for the killings.”
Besides being a master manipulator, he also wanted to cause societal distress to match. To be fair to Manson’s mental state, his life was a tumultuous one.
Manson was born to an unmarried 16-year-old mother in Cincinnati in 1934, eventually taking the last name of his stepfather William Manson. Only 12 years old, Manson was sent to the Gibault School for Boys in Terre Haute, Indiana, after being caught stealing. The next 20 years would show Manson going in and out of a variety of reform schools and prisons for various crimes.
His formative years were more troubled than most. In a 1987 prison interview with CNN, Manson reflected on these years.
“I spent the best part of my life in boys’ schools, prisons and reform schools because I had nobody.”
While Manson is without a doubt evil, it’s hard not to feel some sadness toward the way he grew up. 32-year-old Manson would make his way to Berkeley, California, by way of San Francisco in 1967, after marrying twice and spending half his life in prison. He became an established guru and lived in a home with 18 women.
The self-declared Manson family made their home in a rundown movie set called Spahn’s Ranch near Los Angeles. In 1968, race riots, the Black Panther movement and anti-world violence caused Manson to believe the event of Armageddon was near. He termed the apocalypse he claimed to be coming closer and closer Helter Skelter, after the famous Beatle Song from their White Album.
Keep in mind Manson was delusional about reality, so to say the Beatles gave him genuine inspiration would be a gross inaccuracy.
At Spahn’s ranch, the 5’ 2’’ Manson hosted LSD fueled orgies and sermons that most would probably term as rabble rousing. Manson claimed to his devoted followers that he was Jesus Christ and the devil rolled into one, causing their warped minds to become enthralled with his bogus proclamations.
“I was mesmerized by his mind and the things he professed,” Manson family member Leslie Van Houten once stated.
“They worshipped Charlie like a God,” former Manson Family member Barbara Hoyt told CNN.
Manson possessed a great deal of control over his followers. They were essentially his sheep, with him being their shepherd.
Prior to moving to his future ranch home, Manson listened to a great deal of music in prison. One example was mentioned earlier, the White Album from the Beatles, which Manson believed was a way for the Beatles to speak to him cryptically about the coming apocalypse.
According to Manson, this is the message the Beatles were trying to tell him.
“Blacks would rise up and overthrow the white establishment through a race war. Manson and his Family would be spared by hiding out in a bottomless pit near Death Valley until he could emerge to assume leadership of the post-revolutionary order.”
It seems he was as racist as he was insane.
He not only listened to music, but wrote his own songs as well. Shortly after Manson moved to California, he was introduced to Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys through his music teacher, known as Hinman. The story has it that Wilson took one of Manson’s songs, “Cease to Exist” and transformed it into the Beach Boys song “Never Learn Not to Love.” Manson was furious when Wilson didn’t give him songwriting credit, causing Manson to feel betrayed and slighted.
Perhaps it was the theft of his artistic product that finally caused Manson to snap and become the maniacal guru he came to be famous for. With an individual like Manson, people can really only speculate what made him become the ultimate symbol of evil in American pop culture.
This symbolism in society is due to his ability to take advantage of the mentally vulnerable, his distortion of religion and his twisted version of what can be considered a family. Other individuals may be more violent serial killers or criminals, but no one can claim to be the master puppeteer that Manson was.
It may be unwise to talk badly of the dead, but the world is better off with him gone. Hopefully his death doesn’t serve as inspiration for others to follow in his footsteps. Only time will tell though if this moment of history will be able to go unrepeated.
Looking for more political or pop culture opinion pieces? Reporter and columnist Thomas Cahalan uses his history major and passion for politics to bring you the scoop on all the hottest topics. For more pieces like this, check out his piece on the importance of bipartisanship or his assessment of the current status of the DNC.
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