5 Charles Manson Myths
Updated: May 4
When police identified the killers as a “family” of brainwashed hippies led by an ex-con named Charles Manson, the murders took on a mythical quality, separating some of the more popular fiction from fact begins with the five topics below.
Manson, a serial killer, slayed the Tate-LaBianca victims.
Every major media outlet uses the term "serial killer" to describe Charles Manson.
But Manson wasn't at the scene when his followers killed Tate and her visitors - Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski and Steven Parent - on the night of Aug. 8, 1969. He was present at the LaBianca murders but helped only by tying up the couple in their living room. After that, he left, ordering his followers to repeat the events of the previous night, but with less "mess."
Though Manson did not directly perform the killings, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi won a conviction against him on seven counts of first-degree murder by arguing that he had ordered them. Manson was also convicted of two other murders he did physically participate i - Gary Hinman, a musician/UCLA graduate student/local drug dealer and Donald "Shorty" Shea, a property handyman and former movie stuntman.
Manson was a hippie.
It’s the association with the 60s. Long hair, drugs and love seem to be the casual markers for labeling people of that era as hippies. When members of the “family” were indicted on murder charges, the LA Times labeled the group a "hippie clan" and it’s stuck to this day. In the recent film, "Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood," Leonardo DiCaprio’s character references the Manson girls as "hippies” as well. A recent book entitled, "Hippie Cult Leader," suggests Manson shared the flower-power hippy beliefs.
The group certainly were not hippies, although they did fit the stereotype. The men kept long hair and didn't shave their beards or mustaches while women wore flowing flowery dresses and decorations of flowers in their hair. The drug scene in the group was part of daily life by use of LSD, hash, and marijuana. Manson did borrow a few hippie sayings about free love, but in his world, hippies were weak and ineffectual. He wanted his followers "dead in the head." As an alternative and adopted the term "slippies," which originated from one of the group's signature practices – late into the night, they would slip into wealthy family homes to rearrange their furniture and steal small personal belongings: They called this act "creepy crawling."
Manson clearly lacked musical talent.
Prosecutor Bugliosi's best-selling book about the Manson case, "Helter Skelter," claims that Manson didn't have the chops to succeed as a musician, citing a "folk-song expert" who found Manson's songs "extremely derivative" and wrote him off as "a moderately talented amateur." Bugliosi used Manson's alleged lack of talent to fortify his motive for the murders: In this view, he wanted to lash out at the Hollywood music scene that rejected him. The notion that Manson was a bad musician has evolved into more other narratives about the murders. It’s not uncommon to hear the word “untalented” mentioned when referencing Manson’s musical talents.
Many in the LA scene who heard Manson believed his future was bright as a singer-songwriter. Neil Young, in his 2012 autobiography, "Waging Heavy Peace," described Manson’s songs as "off-the-cuff things he made up as he went along, and they were never the same twice in a row. Kind of like Dylan, but different because it was hard to glimpse a true message in them, but the songs were fascinating. He was quite good." The Beach Boys even recorded one of Manson's songs, "Cease to Exist," retitled as "Never Learn Not to Love." It’s been rumored they may have recorded as many as two other uncredited songs. Even Neil Young was quite the fan of a younger Manson.
Manson hoped to ignite a race war.
As Bugliosi explained at trial and in his book - and as has been repeated in pretty much every news article, book or film about the case - Manson instructed his followers to kill everyone at the Tate and LaBianca homes and frame the Black Panthers. Manson's belief, Bugliosi said was that subsequent police crackdowns would spark an apocalyptic race war. Manson promised his followers he'd protect them in a bottomless pit in the desert, and then they'd reemerge to repopulate the planet with their perfect white offspring.
In the first book about the trial, "Witness to Evil," author George Bishop wrote about Bugliosi believing his Helter Skelter motive even "more than Manson". But that belief wasn't widely shared among Bugliosi's colleagues. Nearly a dozen cops and prosecutors involved with the original investigations believed the Tate and LaBianca murders were "copycat" crimes intended to spring a lesser Family member, Bobby Beausoleil, from jail. Beausoleil was awaiting trial in the Gary Hinman murder committed just two weeks earlier. The new killings may have been intended to sow doubts about Beausoleil being the right suspect. Many in the legal community believed Bugliosi inflated a minor family "philosophy" about a possible coming race war into Manson's central, personal motivation. "Did you ever hear of dramatic license?" Aaron Stovitz, Bugliosi's original co-prosecutor in the case, asked me. An equally interesting aspect would be a cult leader from nearby Box Canyon named Krishna Venta. Venta’s cult believed in nearly every cult leader aspect attributed by Manson – and disputed by Manson.
Bugliosi himself made a startling admission in the last interview he gave before his death in 2015."Did Manson himself believe all this ridiculous, preposterous stuff about all of them living in a bottomless pit in the desert while a worldwide war went on outside? I think, without knowing, that he did not," he told Rolling Stone. If not to start a race war, why did Manson order the killings?
Manson was mentally ill.
The cruelty and sadism of the family have led many to conclude that Manson suffered from some mental illness. A Jezebel reporter, interviewing me about my book, wondered if the story was so complicated because Manson was "one of the most extraordinarily mentally ill people that the American public has ever been exposed to." A New York Times reporter put it more bluntly: "Manson was completely insane, right?" After studying historical footage for the role, actor Damon Herriman, who plays Manson in Tarantino's movie and in the new season of the TV series "Mindhunter," likened him to "someone with schizophrenia that you see talking to themselves on the street. . . . Clearly the guy was mentally ill." Though, Manson was never diagnosed with any illness. He refused to submit to a psychiatric evaluation at his 1970 trial for the Tate-LaBianca murders, and the psychiatrists and psychologists who examined him during his subsequent years in prison disagreed about whether he was faking. (One report from 1982 recommended that Manson be transferred out of the psychiatric ward, concluding that he was only "a psychiatric curiosity or oddity.")