Charles Manson

Born Charles Maddox in 1934, the details of notorious cult leader and murderer Charles Manson are foggy at best. Given his later penchant for manipulation and mental illness, biographers, attorneys, and journalists have been wary of Manson’s self-reported childhood, but they can be sure it was a rough one. Rumors go as far to claim that his mother sold him for a pitcher of beer.

In and out of reform schools beginning at age 12, Manson was often protected by his mother, keeping him out of prison and confined to her care, or the care of harsh non-prison institutions. Eventually, however, in 1956 his criminal life began in earnest and he was locked away for short period before being turned over to the care of his mother.

For the next 15 years, Manson led a life of crime stealing cars, managing prostitutes, committing sexual assaults, and eventually positioning himself at the center of a murderous cult known as the Manson Family. To get there he embedded himself in the bustle of California, meeting a member of the beach boys and pursuing a short music career.

The Manson Family

After assembling a group of followers, he instructed them to commit murders that would shock the nation. Specifically targeting the homes of those connected to the entertainment community, including director Roman Polanski, actress Sharon Tate, and Abigail Folger—heiress to the Folger coffee empire.

Eventually caught, Manson appeared in court with an “X” carved into his forehead defending himself in court with the help of attorney Irving Kanarek. He was declared guilty after seven months in court and delivered a death penalty, however, the California Supreme Court abolishes the death penalty before he is executed, commuting his sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Believe it or not, Manson could have walked free from his first parole hearing after serving just seven years in prison. In 1975, however, free Manson Family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in the name of Manson, raising public ire against the cult leader. As other member came to blame Manson for manipulating them into murders, Charles Manson was repeatedly denied parole until his death in 2017.