Born Charles Milles Maddox on November 12, 1934, Cincinnati, Ohio, Manson would later take the alias of Charles Willis Manson – “Charles’ Will Is Man’s Son.” Nevertheless, he spent much of his early life in and out of institutions, first as a juvenile delinquent, later as a convicted felon. By the time he was in his 30s, he had participated in and been jailed for a variety of petty crimes. These ranged from auto theft to burglary to procuring clients for a teenage prostitute.
When in early 1967 he was released from his latest bout of prison at the age of 32, Manson had spent more than half his life behind bars. But this time it would be different; he had assumed the role of guru. He established a cult in San Francisco’s hippy district of Haight-Ashbury and called it the “Manson Family.” In 1968, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson picked up two female Family members who were hitchhiking in L.A. They subsequently led Manson to Wilson, who then introduced the cult leader to several players in the entertainment industry.
Later that year, after establishing a base at Spahn’s Movie Ranch in Los Angeles County, Manson began developing his theory of racial war. He called it “Helter Skelter,” misinterpreting The Beatles song of the same name on the recently released White Album. By February 1969 Manson was predicting the imminent destruction of American society. However, the Family, he proclaimed, would survive the race war and ultimately prosper by taking refuge in an underground city in California’s Death Valley.