Leaders of religious cults are some of the most fascinating individuals to study to this day. There are countless movies and documentaries made about this topic due to its popularity among the people. For centuries, people have indulged in media that was based on crime committed by psychopathic individuals. While it may seem disturbing to think about, everyone loves a good murder mystery and attempting to solve a crime. Society is trying to understand the mind of the killer to no avail. That is why this topic is of such interest.
The focus of this paper will be Charles Manson and his cult that is famously known as the Manson Family. For years this cult grew in numbers and strength under their leader. He prayed on vulnerable young women and gave them refuge and a family to call their own. Charles swore that he was the next messiah that would deliver the group through a predicted upcoming apocalypse. This apocalypse was based upon the belief that the racial tension would soon lead to the uprise of the blacks against the whites, ultimately ending in self-annihilation of whites. Charles and his followers committed several heinous crimes throughout the late sixties in relation to this bizarre theory contracted partly from a Beatles song. Many followers were convicted for these crimes, including Charles who received the death penalty for his actions along with three others.
Charles was the ringleader for all of the crimes committed. Many people refer to him as a psychopath when conversing. My overall question is whether or not Charles Manson fits into the label of a psychopath. Whether or not he fits the criteria will be based on literature about what it means to be a psychopath and comparing the personality traits listed for both psychopaths and Charles. I will be looking at his through articles on him, interviews conducted, the crimes committed, and the motive behind the actions.
According to Augenstein, Seth. (2017), Charles Manson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1934. His mother, who already had a criminal record, was a teenager when she had him and did not know who the biological father was. She had sent Charles to a reform school by the time he was eight years old. After that, he was raised by his relatives because his mother rejected him upon his return home says Gillis (2012).
By his mid-thirties, Charles had started to style himself as a hippy guru. He took up an interest in music and even learned how to play the guitar. By this age, he had been in and out of the the corrections system says Augenstein, Seth. (2017). In fact, most of his thirty-some years had been spent either in reform school or in a correctional facility according to Gillis (2012). While behind bars, he had been introduced to the philosophies of the religious cult of Scientology. After he was released, he was spreading his new knowledge of scientology and started recruiting for the “family” which came to be known as the Manson Family says Gaudette, E. (2017) .
Charles passed away in prison of natural causes on November 19th at the age of eighty three. He had lost the support of several “family” members throughout the trial. When it came to his real family, they were also not loyal to him. When trying to identify what was to be done with the body, the California correctional center announced that he had no known next of kin listed to contact for pick up says Augenstein, Seth. (2017). Eventually, he was released to a grandson to be cremated.
During the most stressful interviews, psychopaths often seem at ease. In fact, they view these risky confrontations as a form of excitement. There are multiple explanations for this lack of concern including the absence of social anxiety says O’Toole, M. E., PhD, Logan, M., PhD., & Smith, S., PhD. (2012). They go on to explain that During the first five minutes of an interview, first impressions are formed by engaging in small talk. During this small talk, if an interviewer is nervous or anxious and demonstrates this by fidgeting with papers or files, a psychopath will pick up on this behavior and view it as weakness.O’Toole, M. E., PhD, Logan, M., PhD., & Smith, S., PhD. (2012)
While he was locked up in the San Quentin State Prison in California, Charles Manson took part in an on camera interview discussed by O’Toole, M. E., PhD, Logan, M., PhD., & Smith, S., PhD. (2012). Before the interview began, officers told Manson where he would sit and set up the room. Three armed officers were assigned to keep watch on Manson’s behavior. As soon as he entered the room, Manson walked around the tables to the side the interviewer was on. He went straight up to him and leaned into the reporter, touching him on the shoulder and shaking his hand. This invasion of personal space took the reporter by surprise. This display of dominance and arrogance took less than a minute. Once seated, the reporter tried to build a sense of relationship by small talking about the weather. Instead, Manson replied by bringing up how he had just been released from solitary confinement, sparking a conversation about his routine at the prison.
In another instance in 1994, Krenwinkel a member of the “family”, tried to pass responsibility of the crimes committed on to Manson says Augenstein, Seth. (2017). “I only did what Charlie wanted,” said Krenwinkel. Manson countered her claim saying, “I never told anybody to do anything other than what they wanted to do. I’m a convict; I’m an outlaw; I’m a rebel; I’m not a Sunday school teacher.” At one time, Charles and a judge had a disagreement and Manson threw himself at the judge yelling, “someone should cut your head off”. After this happened, “family” members began to chant in Latin to show their support of his outburst. At the beginning of this trial, Manson was allowed to be his own attorney for the case. However, after this violation of conduct and several others, this was no longer allowed. He carved an X into his forehead in objection of this withdrawn permission says Editor. (2018). This X was later formed into a swastika.
Charles Manson was convinced that there was an apocalypse coming due to a race war says Editor. (2018). He announced this apocalypse to his family calling it “Helter Skelter”, based off of a song by the Beatles. He claimed that the blacks and the whites were going to have a racial uprising that would be brutal to the numbers of the population. His plan was to hide the “family” and himself in a pit in Death Valley until the end of the race war. He intended to facilitate the war by killing white people and placing their valuables in predominantly African American areas in order to implicate them of the crimes. In the process, he expected the white people to self annihilate allowing African Americans to “win the war”. He planned to gain from this saying that the newly superior blacks would need assistance in how to run society, which is where him and his family would come in.
Additionally, Manson was fueled by his hatred toward the wealthy, especially those in the entertainment industry. This vendetta was due to his rejection from the business in his 30’s. He had befriended one of the Beach Boys brothers who he and several family members lived with at one point. They often discussed music and Manson even went to the brother’s recording studio to play around with the equipment and record some songs. He had the desire to be a star and this gave him a taste of the life. Because of this new found friend with several connections to people in the music industry, he believed that he would be able to advance in his entertainment career. This dream was crushed when the brother evicted Manson and his “family” members out of his house, taking away the recording studio and star connections as well said Augenstein, Seth. (2017) .
As discussed in an article by Augenstein, Seth. (2017), the Manson Family committed multiple crimes throughout the sixties including property damage, vehicular theft, and murder. By the time they were arrested, the family had a total of seven known murder victims. These crimes were vicious enough to warrant him and three others the death penalty. However, the death penalty was overturned in the state of California in 1972 so they were instead sentenced to a life behind bars.
What is most famously known as the Tate Murder took place on the night of August 8, 1969. Four “family” members went into the house of Roman Polanski who was a movie director. At the time, he was away on business, however, his wife and four others were in the home. Sharon Tate, a rising movie star, was pregnant. This did not stop the killers from stabbing her repeatedly to her death. The others killed were Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Voityck Frykowski, and Steven Parent. Augenstein, Seth. (2017) On the very next night, Charles drove six “family” members to Leno and Rosemary LaBianca’s home in Los Feliz. The members murdered the couple, who were unarmed. The words “Death to Pigs” and “Helter Skelter” were written on the wall of the home in the victim’s blood. This is most commonly referenced as the LaBianca Murder.
Personality of a Psychopath
In an article on psychopathy by Kulbarsh, P. (2012), it is explained that the definition of a psychopath is someone who is lacking in morals that is an untreatable and unstoppable predator who plans out the violence they intend to commit. This violence is purposeful as well as emotionless. You often can track a criminal’s behavior back to a twisted childhood or an unhealthy relationship. Unlike other criminals, a psychopath’s behavior is not to be blamed on anyone else. They are not usually the products of broken homes or the corrupt society they live in. They are in touch with reality and know the rules of society, yet choose to disregard them to pursue their interests.
According to the article, psychopaths are extremely dangerous society as a whole because they have a very high level of malice. This vindictiveness spikes when they are being held accountable for their actions says Bernard, L. C. (2013) . Psychopaths are especially dangerous to law enforcement. Kulbarsh, P. (2012) says that approximately half of all law enforcement that have been killed in the line of duty were killed by a psychopath.
Charles Manson is identified in the article as the second most dangerous subtype of a psychopath, charismatic. This category is what religious cult leaders tend to fall under. These individuals are pathological liars, however they what makes them dangerous is that they are also charming, irresistible, and attractive. They can easily manipulate others to do their bidding. They are highly persuasive to the extent where they can talk someone out of their own life. According to O’Toole, M. E., PhD, Logan, M., PhD., & Smith, S., PhD. (2012), psychopaths charm and charisma make them almost likable and even believable in interviews. The often have a sense of humor and can be pleasant to have a conversation with. They also have the ability to feign emotions as well as concern allowing them to portray innocence. However, if they feel as though this act is not working, they switch to a more aggressive approach.
Kulbarsh, P. (2012) states that psychopathy is untreatable. In fact, therapy makes the condition worse and many cases even increases the number of offenses because they learn more techniques of manipulation from the session. These techniques work so well because they are nearly impossible to identify due to their above average intelligence and ability to read people so well. Even law enforcement trained in psychopathic behavior struggle to identify individuals with this condition, making them some of the most dangerous predators to this day.
Based on the literature, the answer to the question of whether or not Charles Manson fit the criteria of a psychopath is yes. Manson demonstrated many of the same behavioral traits that are what classifies an individual as a psychopath. In one of the articles, they discussed how there are several subtypes of psychopaths. For one of the subtypes listed, Charles Manson was used as the example. His charismatic personality gave him the ability to attract members for his family and persuade them to do whatever he desired. People looked up to him similar to how christians look up to their preachers. He was a very likable human to those that were around him, allowing him to convince them of anything, including an alleged the racial war leading to an apocalypse. This personality is spot on based on the subtype that listed under psychopathy. Based on the findings from the articles, there is no doubt in my mind that Charles Manson was in fact a psychopath.