Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson
by Jeff Guinn
Simon and Schuster
I read Helter Skelter in the seventh grade, so it has been about 38 years since Charles Manson first gave me the creeps. After Jeff Guinn‘s presentation/preview of his current book on Manson at the Mayborn Conference, I was ready to find out just what new information he had on the maniacal misfit.
–author Jeff Guinn
I actually remembered less than I thought about his followers and their relationships with each other, and especially with others like Doris Day’s son Terry Melcher and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. I did remember almost all of the victims. Guinn’s book, however, focuses on Manson himself and his early life, his real family, and how he learned to manipulate so well.
If Manson and his plan to create “helter skelter” still gives you the creeps, Guinn provides insight and revisits the late 60s and early 70s to remember just how turbulent the times were. I was very young at the time Manson was gathering his “Family,” his flock of followers, so I was oblivious to the news and what was really happening concerning Vietnam, student protests, assassinations, and all the big news of the time. Guinn does a superb job of recreating the mood of the country and the mood of the students, especially in the San Francisco area, and the tension in Los Angeles.
Before Guinn gets to the late 60s and the California scene, he chronicles Manson’s childhood and descent into his megalomania. Basically, Manson was a spoiled child with Church of the Nazarene influences in small town West Virginia, mixed with a terrible reading or learning disability. His mother was not June Cleaver by any means, making mistake after mistake in her own life, but I was surprised at how she tried to make sure her son was always taken care of and how long she supported Manson and tried to help him before completely giving up. When she could not take care of him for whatever reason, he was left with his aunt and uncle or his grandmother. These were decent people who never let Manson lack for basic care and gave him lots of attention. His time at reform school and then later prison seemed to mold him more into the “leader” he became. He learned manipulation techniques by the prison system when the system was attempting to offer more education to prisoners. Manson gravitated towards some courses on books: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L. Ron Hubbard. Manson readily absorbed those aspects of these two books that drastically improved his manipulative skills. He practiced these techniques in prison in order to get what he needed to finally get out. I wonder about Manson’s potential, even with his disabilities, and what his life might be like if he had sincerely wanted to help others.
A few surprising bits of information I learned were that Charles’ oldest son committed suicide due to the pressure of being his son and namesake. Oh, you didn’t know Manson was married twice and had children? Nothing is known now about the whereabouts of Manson’s second son, Charles Luther, who seems to have disappeared. Manson, besides his mother and stepfather, had a half sister and a female first cousin who provided Guinn with much new information and photos.
–Charles Manson at one of his two weddings
I enjoyed Guinn’s journalistic writing style, his background on the Family, and his writing on how many of them from middle class suburbia happened to gravitate to Manson. I forgot about the workings of the Family and how Manson kept them moving. For some reason, Manson thought that he was a singer/songwriter that the music industry just had to be introduced to, and it seems like his rejection from them was his main motivation to start a class and race war in California. All of this to be achieved by random murders that would spark the whole thing.
Since I read the Kindle version of the book, there were numerous photographs and hyperlinks at the end of the book provided by Guinn. I spent hours clicking on links to see what happened to many of the Family members and where they are now and what they might be doing. Yes, I wanted to know if any of them are near me . . .
If you don’t remember or knew very little about the book and mini-series Helter Skelter, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, and others such as Susan Atkins, Leslie van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkle, and Tex Watson, then you will be enlightened on how this band of losers got together and seemed brainwashed by Manson. How that scary that the little master manipulator seemed to be their everything. It’s still disturbing and creepy.