The Family


By Ed Sanders

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“The first complete, authoritative account of the career of Charles Manson. A terrifying book.” — New York Times Book Review

In August of 1969, during two bloody evenings of paranoid, psychedelic savagery, Charles Manson and his dystopic communal family helped to wreck the dreams of the Love Generation. At least nine people were murdered, among them Sharon Tate, the young, beautiful, pregnant, actress and wife of Roman Polanski.

Ed Sanders’s unnerving and detailed look at the horror dealt by Manson and his followers is a classic of the true-crime genre. The Family was originally published in 1971 and remains the most meticulously researched account of the most notorious murders of the 1960s.
Using firsthand accounts from some of the family’s infamous members, including the wizard himself, Sanders examines not only the origins and legacy of Manson and his family, but also the mysteries that persist. Completely revised and updated, this edition features 25 harrowing black-and-white photos from the investigation.

“One of the best-researched, best-written, thoroughly-constructed, and eminently significant books of our times. . . . A masterpiece.” — Boston Phoenix



a poor risk for probation

AROUND JULY 22, 1955, Charles Manson drove a stolen 1951 Mercury from Bridgeport, Ohio to Los Angeles, bringing with him his seventeen-year-old pregnant wife, Rosalie. All was.

In September he was arrested and pleaded guilty on October 17, 1955. The psychiatric report prepared after Manson’s arrest stated that he was a “poor risk for probation” but, on the other hand, it was felt that married life plus incipient fatherhood, which calms down juvenile delinquents everywhere, might put him onto the direct path of the American Way. So on November 7, 1955, Manson was sentenced to five years’ probation. Manson had been on parole since May 18, 1954. He was twenty-one years old. He had been in prison since he was sixteen and in various corrective institutions before that since he was thirteen.

After his arrest, Manson made the mistake of admitting to the Feds during interrogation that in 1954, the year previous, he had taken a hot auto from the strip-mine area of West Virginia down to Florida.

As a result of this self-snitch, on January 11, 1956, Manson appeared before the Federal Commissioner in Los Angeles regarding a complaint filed in Miami, Florida charging violation of the Dyer Act.

Released on his own recognizance, Manson was told to return to court on February 15. Shortly thereafter he fled Los Angeles, evidently accompanied by his heavily pregnant wife Rosalie. They drove back home to Appalachia.

On February 29 the chief probation officer in Los Angeles requested the court to issue a bench warrant because Manson had not reported in to his probation officer. He was arrested on March 14, 1956, in Indianapolis, Indiana and transported back to Los Angeles for trial.

In March of 1956 a son, Charles, Jr., was born.

On April 23, 1956, Judge Harry C. Westover revoked probation and imposed a three-year federal prison sentence for Manson at Terminal Island Penitentiary in San Pedro, California.

For almost a year during the first part of his Terminal Island sentence, Rosalie, his wife, stuck by him—living with Charles, Jr., the son, and Manson’s mother, Kathleen, in Los Angeles. Early in 1957, Rosalie discontinued her visits and, according to a Federal probation report, was living with another man, which upset Manson greatly. On May 24, 1957, Manson tried to sneak away from Terminal Island and was indicted under the United States Code Title 18 Section 751, Escape from Federal Custody after Conviction. Manson pleaded guilty on May 27, 1957, and on June 10, 1957 was given a suspended sentence by Federal Judge William Mathes and placed on probation for five years.

Shortly thereafter Manson’s West Virginia wife sued for divorce. A summons was served on Manson on July 15 at Terminal Island in San Pedro. Affidavit of final judgment of divorce was filed August 30, 1957. Adios, wife.

Manson served from April 23, 1956, until September 30, 1958: two years, five months, five days of so-called rehabilitation. In prison the young, 125-pound man played on various basketball teams and evidently boxed a bit. He continued his sex life in the only way possible in jail—by hand, by mouth and by buttock.

For two and one-half years Manson was exposed to the endless discussions of schemes and crimes and psychopathy out of the mouths of older, socalled seasoned criminals. At Terminal Island there was a lot of what might be called “pimp talk”—about the devices to be used in controlling a bevy of prostitutes. Charlie listened avidly, according to people interviewed from Terminal Island. A friend who knew him then writes: “We’d rap a lot about whores, especially how to control them. We talked about Main Old Ladies—a pimp’s number one girl who controlled all the others; stables—more than one girl working for you; and we talked mostly about how to turn chicks out.”

Time passed for young Charlie Manson and “Subject was released from the FCI, TI on 9–30–58 and is on CR till 10–24–58”—noted his federal parole office on October 1, 1958, in what are called chrono notes.

Manson announced that he was going to live with his mother on Harkinson Avenue in Los Angeles. This was the first of twenty addresses Manson would have in this particular year and eight months’ stretch of freedom.

The parole office gave him some employment leads. His employment pattern for the following months reads like a struggling novelist’s. But Manson was just struggling, working as a bus boy, bartender, frozen-food locker concessionaire, canvasser for freezer sales, service station attendant, TV producer and pimp.

On January 1, 1959, an irate father complained to the Los Angeles police department that Manson was making attempts to turn his daughter Judy out onto the streets to hustle. Manson also ran around with Judy’s roommate, a wealthy UCLA student named Flo from Baker, California, who drove a white Triumph.

On May 1, 1959, Manson was caught running from a Ralph’s Market in Los Angeles having attempted to forge and cash a stolen government check for $34.50. Earlier in the day he had cashed another stolen check at a Rich-field service station. He was to be severely spanked for this. Impounded at the scene of the crime was a blue 1953 Cadillac convertible evidently belonging to Manson’s mother.

After the Los Angeles police department had turned Manson over to the federal authorities, the Feds, while questioning Manson, made the mistake of leaving the forged check lying out in an open dossier. Manson appears to have seized and gobbled down the check when the secret service agents turned their backs for a moment. In any event, the check disappeared and Manson soon begged to go to the bathroom in order to void the contents of his stomach due to gobbled check nausea.

On June 19, 1959, an attractive, according to the parole officer, nineteen-year-old female Caucasian named Candy Stevens visited Manson’s parole officer and announced that she was pregnant by Manson and that he and she were going to get married if only the mean old federal authorities wouldn’t salt him away. In reality, she was not pregnant but was a strumpet currently working for Manson. In fact, Manson may have been the first to turn her out.

On September 4, 1959, another psychiatric examination was given Manson by the same doctor who had examined him four years previous. The report concluded:

He does not give the impression of being a mean individual. However, he is very unstable emotionally and very insecure. He tells about his life inside the institutions in such a manner as to indicate that he has gotten most of his satisfactions from institutions. He said that he was captain of various athletic teams and that he made a great effort to entertain other people in the institutions. In my opinion, he is probably a sociopathic personality without psychosis. Unfortunately, he is rapidly becoming an institutionalized individual. However, I certainly cannot recommend him as a good candidate for probation.

Charlie Manson was twenty-four years old.

Manson had a hearing on September 28, 1959, with the young lady Candy beseeching and weeping in court before the judge in behalf of Manson—and the judge relented and suspended sentence of ten years, placing Manson on probation for five.

In November of 1959, Manson met an eighteen-year-old girl from Detroit named Mary Jo who had been suckered out to Los Angeles by a magazine ad for an airline stewardess school. When the girl reached Los Angeles the school turned out to be a fraud and she couldn’t get her money back. She talked her parents into letting her remain in Los Angeles and moved into an apartment with a girlfriend named Rita.

In late 1959, Manson hooked up with a Tony Cassino forming something called 3-Star Enterprises, Night Club, Radio and TV promotions, Suite 306, 6871 Franklin, Hollywood. (This address was just a couple of doors away from the apartment where a decade later Manson would gun down the black dope dealer Bernard Crowe.) Manson was president and Tony was VP. Allegedly Manson obtained some money from Detroit Mary Jo for three of his so-called promotions. The reality of 3-Star Enterprises seems to be that Manson was dealing female sex objects out of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

In October Charlie’s mother moved back to West Virginia and alleged that she was going to stay there.

December 4, 1959, Candy Stevens, the girl who cried in court, was arrested in Beverly Hills for prostitution. Manson raised money and bailed her out, but a short time later she was given a jail term. In the meantime, Manson caused pregnancy to occur within that girl from Detroit, Mary Jo.

On December 24, 1959, Christmas Eve, Manson was arrested and was accused of sending a person named Harold in a stolen car with Candy and a girl named Elizabeth to Needles, California in order to deal out bod. He was soon released for lack of evidence. On New Year’s Eve Manson was picked up on charges of stealing credit cards but was released on January 4, 1960.

On January 5, 1960, Manson was summoned to court as a witness regarding theft of American Express and Bank of America credit cards. Things were heating up for the young Manson, “this weak, tricky youth”—as his parole officer called him. The FBI began an intensive investigation of Manson, and February 15, 1960, was the last date that Manson reported in to his parole officer.

On February 20, 1960, the pregnant Mary Jo from Detroit became very ill. Her pregnancy became ectopic—i.e., the fetus was growing in the Fallopian tube, a serious condition—and the girl began to bleed and was taken to a hospital. Manson called the girl’s father, an insurance executive in Detroit, who flew immediately to Los Angeles where he was met at the Los Angeles International Airport by Manson and Mary Jo’s roommate Rita. On the way back Manson announced that he didn’t have a driver’s license and that he was a federal parolee. Mary Jo’s father, according to a federal probation report, was shocked at the sudden flash that his daughter had been knocked up by a convict.

Mary Jo seesawed through her crisis, then quickly recovered. Her father hustled her away to a private recuperation home. Manson somehow found her phone number and began to call her. Mary Jo told her father that she was deeply in love with Manson. The girl’s father began to snoop around Hollywood and discovered a few people who alleged that Manson had been doing a bit of pimping. To quote the parole officer’s report of that era, the father was “sick with the thought that this subject planned to have his daughter and Rita work for him.” Then to the father’s horror, he discovered that the man his daughter loved, on the very night that Manson had taken Mary Jo to the hospital in serious condition, this man Manson had seduced Mary Jo’s roommate Rita.

On February 29, 1959, the father visited Manson’s federal parole officer to complain. The father, a skilled insurance investigator already, had really burned up the roads getting the data on Manson. He was angered over Manson’s refusal to hand over Mary Jo’s luggage. The father even had tried to get the Pasadena police to arrest Manson, but they refused.

In the afternoon after seeing the parole officer, the irate father drove to Manson’s rooming house in Pasadena and found that Manson had abandoned the pad but not Mary Jo’s luggage, which Charlie took with him. Father was horrified to find semi-nude girlie photos left behind. A police officer neighbor in the rooming house described Manson as a “sex maniac” and hinted that Manson may have been taking beaver photos for sale out of state.

It was all over for Manson. The machinery of justice began to gobble up his trail.

In April of 1960, Candy Stevens snitched to a federal grand jury and on April 27, 1960, an indictment was handed down charging Manson with violation of Title 18 Section 2421, Transportation of Women in Interstate Commerce for Purposes of Prostitution. Evidently he himself transported the young ladies, Candy and Elizabeth, on December 12, 1959, from Needles, California to Lordsburg, New Mexico in a stolen Triumph convertible.

On petition of the federal parole office, Judge Mathes revoked parole on the previous check forgery charge. On May 23, 1960, bond was set at $10,000. On June 1, 1960, a week after the issuance of the bench warrant for his arrest, Charlie was picked up in Laredo, Texas, evidently on a separate matter, charged with violation of the Mann Act, aka (also known as) White Slave Act. A few days later, on June 16, Manson was returned to authorities in Los Angeles.

On June 23, 1960, Judge William Mathes sentenced Manson to serve ten years at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in the state of Washington. On July 10, 1960, the federal pimp charges were dropped but Manson had already been sentenced for parole violation.

Manson had been free for one year, eight months and two days. He appealed the ten-year sentence and remained about a year in Los Angeles County Jail on the top floors of the Hall of Justice where a de cade later he would be tried for murder.

In June of 1961, he gave up after losing a court appeal and allowed himself to be shipped to McNeil Island Penitentiary.

In December of 1963 Manson’s mother, evidently remarried and living in Spokane, Washington, wrote a letter to Judge Mathes offering to put up her house as security for Manson’s release. The judge had his clerk write her back that after ninety days the judge had no jurisdiction to alter terms of sentencing.

For most of the 1960s Manson sat in jail. Through the tumult of the various liberation movements outside in America, through riots, through assassinations, the beginning of Viet nam, peace rallies, sexual liberation, rock and roll, the Beatles For Sale, the Beach Boys, napalm, Hare Krishna, and the growing refusal of women to be victimized—a movement of which he had little awareness—through all this sat Manson monitoring reality through magazines and hearsay conversation.

It was while counting the days at McNeil Island that Manson began studying magic, warlockry, hypnotism, astral projection, Masonic lore, scientology, ego games, subliminal motivation, music and perhaps Rosicrucianism.

Especially hypnotism and subliminal motivation. He seemed determined to use it to effect control over others, to his benefit.

One prison mate of Manson at McNeil Island recalls vividly the great Charlie Manson Headphones Caper.

Utilizing the prison radio station, Manson planted what his cell partner called “posthypnotic suggestions” in all the prisoners at McNeil Island Penitentiary.

Each prisoner had access to the station by means of headphones hanging on the bunk beds in the cells. Manson set up a clandestine scheme whereby the radio station would broadcast messages at 3 A.M. over the earphones. The message or instruction was repeated over and over.

The prisoners were required to hang their headsets at night on the bedsteads so that the messages were picked up by the sleepers but were not loud enough to attract the guards.

The story continues that McNeil Island had a basketball team that rarely won any games. Manson beamed messages to the sleeping inmates urging them to get out and to root for the McNeil Island team.

Charlie then placed bets with the zealous new fans that the opposing teams would win and quickly won himself two hundred packs of cigarettes, the medium of exchange in U.S. prisons.

Another was the applause caper: he planted suggestions over the earphones that everyone should keep applauding for Manson when he sang at a particular prison talent contest. Manson won the contest earphones-down, evidently receiving a standing ovation of some duration.

Of irony, Manson seems to have become a protégé in prison of prohibition gangster Alvin Karpis, a member of the evil Ma Barker gang, which left fourteen victims dead.

Alvin “Old Creepy” Karpis taught Charlie to play the steel guitar and seems to have been a general counselor to the young man, although when interviewed after Manson’s arrest, Karpis said that he had considered Manson the last man on earth “to go into the mass murder business.”

“Charlie was hooked on this new thing called ‘scientology,’” says Karpis. “He figured it would enable him to do anything or be anything. Maybe he was right. The kid tried to sell a lot of other cons on scientology but got strictly nowhere.”

Scientology is a reincarnationist religion that claims to train individuals to experience past lives, to leave their bodies—i.e., “exteriorize”—and to achieve great power and immortality, among other things. Manson learned about scientology from one Lanier Ramer, from Gene Deaton and from Jerry Milman, who was Manson’s roommate at McNeil Island Penitentiary.

Lanier Ramer, according to Manson’s followers, had been active in the study of scientology and had become a Doctor of Scientology, an early rank in the movement, now abolished.

Ramer broke away from scientology and formed his own group. He was apprehended for armed holdup and was sent to McNeil Island.

Manson has told a jailhouse visitor that he received 150 sessions of “processing” in jail, evidently from Lanier Ramer.

Manson has contended that he learned scientology methods very quickly because his “mind wasn’t programmed.” But Manson was not a “product” of scientology in any way; he merely borrowed a few ideas from it. The scientologists call it “squirreling”—that is, borrowing and mutating scientology practices or methods.

Manson picked up a fair number of scientology phrases, neologisms and practices that he put to his own use when he began to reorganize the minds of his young followers.

Phrases like “to mock up” and “cease to exist” and “to come to Now” and the concept of “putting up pictures” all seem to have their origin in Manson’s McNeil Island sessions with Lanier Ramer.

Manson also studied Masonic lore and picked up some knowledge of Masonic hand signals (which later he would flash to judges during court appearances).

He evidently learned something about scientology recognition signals also. Later, in the era of creepy crawlie, Manson would develop his own complex system of hand and body signals—really a whole language of chopnotation—among his followers.

For someone so unskilled in reading and writing, Manson took a high interest in certain books on hypnotism and psychiatry. According to a friend, he was interested particularly in a book called Transactional Analysis by Dr. Eric Berne, the author of Games People Play. Charlie, ever the proselytizer, urged his friends to read his discovered books.

From his study of Transactional Analysis, Manson may have developed his perverse doctrine of Child Mind. Certainly he borrowed lots of ideas from the pioneer work in group therapy.

He had a friend, one Marvin White, who appears to have been released from McNeil Island and then to have made arrangements to mail Charlie books on black magic and related subjects.

Another book that helped provide a theoretical basis for Manson’s Family was Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, the story of a power-hungry telepathic Martian roaming the earth with a harem and a quenchless sexual thirst while proselytizing for a new religious movement. Initially, Manson borrowed a lot of terminology and ideas from this book—not, hopefully, including the ritual cannibalism described therein.

Manson was, however, to identify with the hero of the book, one Valentine Michael Smith (Manson’s first follower’s child was named Valentine Michael Manson)—a person who, in the course of building a religious movement, took to killing or “discorporating” his enemies. Smith, in the book, ultimately was beaten to death by an angry mob and ascended to the Sky.

During his later murder trial, Manson’s followers held water-sharing ceremonies where Manson, in jail, magically took a long-distance hit off a glass of water which was being stared at by a circle of sitting adepts.

What he seems to have known most intimately though was the Bible, which he was able to quote at great length.

Singing and songwriting began to occupy his time also. The idea of becoming a performer seemed to interest him. Manson at some point appears to have been allowed to own a guitar. “A Mexican taught me the guitar,” Manson has written. One young lady who owned a boutique in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles remembered Charlie, after he was released from jail, coming to her shop with his guitar and singing her “beautiful love songs in Spanish”—songs probably learned in jail.

The Beatles attracted Manson’s consciousness early in their career, even during the Wanna Hold Your Hand mania of 1963–64.

Alvin Karpis of the Barker Gang remembers it: “He was constantly telling people he could come on like the Beatles, if he got the chance. Kept asking me to fix him up with high-power men like Frankie Carbo and Dave Beck; anyone who could book him into the big time when he got out.” Fight-fixer and organized crime hit man Carbo was an inmate at McNeil Island while Manson was there.

After five years at McNeil Island, several friends of Manson, “prison lawyers”—prisoners with legal expertise—worked out a legal maneuver whereby on June 29, 1966, Charlie was transferred from McNeil Island, Washington, to Terminal Island prison in San Pedro, California near Los Angeles. Probably it was felt that he stood a better chance of early release at Terminal Island.

At Terminal Island Manson really began to prepare for operation superstar. He spent the better part of a year there. Friends remember him as being fanatically dedicated to music and singing.

One person, Phil Kaufman, in jail on a federal marijuana charge, was impressed by Manson’s musical abilities and offered him some connections on the outside whenever Manson should be set free. Kaufman gave Manson the name of a person at Universal Studios in Hollywood where Manson, in late ’67, would record his songs.

Manson made many friends during those last seven years in prison. Some cellmates say that Manson planned all along to collect an army of outcasts operating “beneath the awareness” of the mother culture. Others say he was an out-and-out creep, but a few remember him with affection and seem almost dazed that he became the leader of a kill-coven.

But it is safe to say that when he was released, he had a chance. A complex, long-term tragedy had been punching Charles Manson in the face all his life. But now in the year 1967, love had caught the attention of war-crazed America and the streets were paved with acceptance for a troubadour and a peripatetic collector of walking wounded war children.


out of the slams in the year of flowers

WITH THIRTY-FIVE dollars and a suitcase full of “clothes,” Manson walked out of jail on March 21, 1967, after serving six years and nine months of punishment. He was thirty-two and a half years old.

The legend is that Manson actually tried to reenter the prison, or balked at leaving the front gate. Once on the street, however, he began two and a half years of ceaseless wandering.

At first, Charlie walked around and rode buses in Los Angeles for about three days after leaving Terminal Island. Then he went north to Berkeley to visit some friends he had met in prison.

Manson was anxious to impress as a minstrel/wandering singer. He spent time at the University of California Berkeley campus with his guitar.

Guitar in hand, he began to scrounge around the streets of Berkeley. One spring day he was sitting and singing in the open-air mall near Sather Gate on the University of California campus when he met slim, red-haired Mary Brunner of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin who was working at the library at the University of California. Also working in Berkeley then, at the University of California Art Museum, was Abigail Folger, heiress to the Folger Coffee Company fortune.

Right away Manson and Brunner became friends and evidently he moved into her apartment with her.

As a federal parolee, Manson was required to keep close contact with a federal parole officer, informing the officer of his whereabouts, employments and activities. Manson was assigned to a federal parole officer, a man named Roger Smith, who befriended him. Charlie was heavily into using many Heinleinian words like Grok and Thou Art God and Share Water and other Strange Land terminology, so Manson and the girls renamed Roger Smith “Jubal,” after the fatherly protector Jubal Harshaw in the novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

Parolees are supposed to find gainful employment so Manson sought or was offered work as an entertainer. He actually played at a club in San Francisco’s tenderloin district. He also may have played a club in North Beach. His parole officer says he was offered a job in Canada to sing.

It is nearly impossible to follow the peripatetics of Manson in early 1967 because he began his roaming at once and who indeed really can remember the specifics of a given week in early 1967?

Manson made definite attempts to locate his mother, Kathleen. He secured permission from his federal parole officer to travel out of state several times. Once he went north to Washington in search of her. Another time, east to West Virginia.

A young redhead named Lynn Fromme joined Mary Brunner as addition number two to the inner circle of ladies. She was picked up near the beach in Venice, California where Charlie coaxed her off a curbside as she was sitting, crying. Legend has it that she had just been thrown out of her father’s pad in Redondo Beach following a quarrel.

She was initiated. “I am the god of fuck,” she later claimed he said after they first made out.


On Sale
Nov 8, 2002
Page Count
560 pages
Da Capo Press

Ed Sanders

About the Author

Ed Sanders is the author of Fug You, Tales of Beatnik Glory, and numerous volumes of poetry. He is an American Book Award winner and lives in Woodstock, New York.

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