Becoming Charles Manson: His Life Before The Tate-LaBianca Murders

By | June 9, 2019

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Left: Charles Manson in 1970. Right: Manson at Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) Terminal Island, California on May 2, 1956. Sources: (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images; Wikimedia Commons)

You're no doubt familiar with the horrific events carried out by followers of Charles Manson August 8 and 9, 1969, in Los Angeles -- but how did Manson rise from a young hoodlum, inept car thief, and failed rock musician to wield such terrible power?

On those two nights, members of the so-called "Manson Family" killed actress Sharon Tate and four friends on Cielo Drive, then murdered Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in Los Feliz the next day. The seven killings were intended to incite "Helter Skelter," Manson’s crazed vision for a race war. The new Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood tells the story of the city while Manson was searching for a record deal -- and though it portrays real people, including Manson, Tate, and her husband Roman Polanski, it departs from the historical facts and culminates in a very different, fairy-tale-like ending.

Before he was the leader of a group of killer hippies, Charles Manson was a criminal with dreams of becoming a rock star. He spent his youth conning people and moving from prison to prison, spending most of his young life behind bars. Manson was only out of jail for two years before he ordered his followers to carry out one of the most disturbing crimes of the 20th century. 

Manson's Childhood Was Spent In Juvenile Detention

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Born on November 12, 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio to 16-year-old Kathleen Maddox, Charles Manson grew up in a state of near-constant chaos. He once bragged that his mother tried to trade him for a pitcher of beer, and claimed that if he was able to choose his mother he would have lived with Kathleen all over again.

After his mother was sent to prison, Manson was sent to the Gibault School for Boys in Terre Haute, Indiana. After multiple escapes, Manson was sent to Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska where he stole a car and once again escaped the detention center. He was caught after four days of freedom and sent to the Indiana Boys School. This is where Manson’s history of being sexually abused began. He says that because he was so small it was easy for inmates to use him how they saw fit. Manson acted in kind, and by the time he was at the Federal Reformatory in Petersburg, Virginia he was regularly committing sexual assaults on younger inmates.

In 1954, at the age of 20 Manson was finally released from the juvenile system and sent to live with his aunt and uncle in West Virginia.