Charles Milles Manson (born November 12, 1934) is an American criminal who led what became known as the Manson Family (the “Family”), a quasi-commune that arose in California in the late 1960s. He was found guilty of conspiracy to commit the Tate/LaBianca murders, carried out by members of the group at his instruction. He was convicted of the murders themselves through the joint-responsibility rule, which makes each member of a conspiracy guilty of crimes his fellow conspirators commit in furtherance of the conspiracy’s object.
Manson is closely associated with the term “Helter Skelter”, from the Beatles’ song of that name. At Manson’s trial and in a subsequent book, also called Helter Skelter, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi presented the theory that Manson considered this and other Beatle recordings prophetic messages about an apocalyptic race war, which the Family would not only survive but precipitate, by recording prophetic music of its own. Ultimately, Bugliosi argued, Manson ordered the murders, to trigger the war directly. The trial became America’s most highly publicized murder trial up to its time. Eventually, Manson attained “near mythological proportions”, his “very name … a metaphor for evil”.
At the time the Family began to form, Manson was a recently released and unemployed ex-convict who had spent more than half his life in correctional institutions. Before the murders, he was on the distant fringe of the Los Angeles music industry, chiefly through a chance association with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. After his arrest, recordings of songs written and performed by him were released commercially. The Beach Boys themselves had already recorded one of Manson’s songs, as Never Learn Not To Love, although without credit to Manson. More recently, artists including Guns N’ Roses and Marilyn Manson have covered songs by Manson.
Manson was sentenced to death, but that sentence was automatically commuted to life imprisonment when a 1972 court decision briefly eliminated the death penalty in California and canceled all death sentences pending in the state. California’s eventual reinstatement of capital punishment was not retroactive; Manson is currently an inmate at Corcoran State Prison.