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On Sunday, November 19, Charles Manson died of natural causes inside a Bakersfield hospital. He was 83. The undeniably disturbed man who captured the attention of the United States in the summer of 1969 spent the last forty years of his life serving a life sentence for orchestrating the murders of seven people over two terror-filled nights. His influence over the troubled youth in his quasi-cult, the Manson family, has remained an object of fascination in the years since, and his death isn’t likely to curb that obsession. How is it possible that a man held people in such sway that they were willing to kill for him without hesitation? Perhaps you might gain a little bit of insight into the mind of a diseased cult leader with these little known facts.

1. No, Manson’s Mother Wasn’t an Unwed, Alcoholic Prostitute

Manson always claimed that he was the son of a teenage prostitute who once tried to sell him for a pitcher of beer. In fact, Charles Manson was born in Cincinnati in 1934 to Kathleen Manson-Bower-Cavender, a woman who was very much around. Apparently, Manson’s mother went to prison for armed robbery when her son was 5 years old. When she was released from prison, she tried to keep young Charles on the straight and narrow to no avail. Of course, that’s not as romantic as the whole Virgin Mary of the gutter thing.


2. Twisting Others to His Whim From an Early Age

Family members of Charles Manson have told writers that even as a young boy, Charles Manson would manipulate the girls in his class into attacking the boys who had incurred Manson’s wrath. When questioned about his behavior, Manson would categorically deny any involvement, proclaiming that the girls were just following their own hearts. This behavior only lasted until Manson was nine and sentenced to his first crime.


3. Manson Was in and Out of Prison for More Than Twenty Years

Between 1943 and 1967, Charles Manson was convicted of everything from armed robbery (just like Mom), burglary, grand theft auto, and petty larceny. At the end of a term in 1967, at the age of thirty-three, Manson relocated to San Francisco, a city in the midst of a growing counterculture movement. Once there, he collected a group of young people who had traveled to the area in similar fashion. By all accounts, he was charming, mysterious, and utterly magnetic.


4. He’s Had Group Sex with a Member of the Beach Boys

In the summer of 1968, Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys was working through a divorce. He was also losing his lust for fame. He was, thirdly, willing to pick up a couple of comely lady hitchhikers and offer them a ride home. “Home,” as it happens, was Manson’s makeshift compound. When he arrived, Wilson was inundated with stories of Manson’s spiritual focus — he was hooked. What followed was a summer of psychedelics, group sex, and Manson’s very mediocre music.


5. He Might Have Indirectly Given Dennis Wilson Gonorrhea

Days after meeting Manson, Dennis Wilson had gleefully invited the entire “Family” to live in his expansive mansion. Wilson was happy to provide any and all financial means while the Family showed Wilson the art of living a “free” life. They showed him how to dumpster dive, for example. Wild hedonism eventually caught up with the entire Family when one of them brought a virulent strain of gonorrhea into the home. It was Wilson who paid for the doctor.


6. Charles Manson Once Pulled a Knife on a Studio Tech

Wilson was completely in Manson’s thrall throughout the summer. Eventually, the Beach Boy pulled some strings and invited Manson into the studio to record some of the cult leader’s music. When producers began suggesting changes and additions to the music, Manson became irate, eventually pulling a knife on the studio employees. He and the entire Family decided to leave Wilson’s home shortly thereafter.


7. The Family Swelled to More Than 100 Members

Don’t think of Manson’s Family as a loose-knit gang. By the beginning of August 1969, the Manson Family had grown to a group of more than 100 followers, every person enthralled by Manson’s bizarre approach to life. The copious amounts of LSD, mushrooms, and a host of other drugs probably helped.


8. Manson Encouraged Auto Theft and Drug Dealing

In order to raise funds (and escape growing police scrutiny) following his exit from Dennis Wilson’s home, Manson pushed his followers to donate as much money as possible. He also encouraged people to sell the drugs they took so freely within their compound at Spahn’s Ranch. A small cabal of followers — mostly young women — became dangerously devoted to Manson’s “teachings.” Prior to the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders, this little group of zealots carried out a series of small crimes on Manson’s behalf, including the murder of Gary Hinman.


9. 169 Stab Wounds and Seven Gunshot Wounds Over Two Nights

On August 9, 1969, Manson sent his followers to the home of Sharon Tate. The model and actress was hosting friends that evening when Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinki burst inside and tore the home apart. In their wake, Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, and Wojciech Frykowski were left dead. The following night, Manson went with six of his Family members and watched over the murder of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Over the course of their violent rampage, the women who did Manson’s bidding inflicted 169 stab wounds on their victims in addition to seven gunshot wounds. The grisly details of their crime scene also included the word “pig” and the phrase “Helter Skelter” written in blood across the walls. Manson was hoping that the blame would fall on the Black Panthers.


10. Manson Once Tried to Escape Prison in a Hot Air Balloon

When he was captured and arrested, Manson was initially sentenced to death. A constitutional objection to California’s death sentence got his term commuted to nine life sentences. After being put in prison, Manson was routinely a problem for the officers. He attacked personnel and was caught with contraband drugs and weapons on several occasions. In 1982, he tried to orchestrate an escape by hot air balloon when he smuggled a catalogue out of the prison hospital.

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