—by Dr. Laura Wilhelm, LauraWil Intercultural
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/20/17 – Charles Manson, the infamous cult leader who orchestrated the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969, died at the age of 83 on November 19th, 2017. Standing just over five feet tall, Manson was known as a monster in his adult life thanks to extensive press coverage and prosecutor Vince Bugliosi’s 1974 account HELTER SKELTER, the best-selling true crime book in history.
Manson’s formative years are less well examined. This is the perfect time to reconsider Manson’s adolescence and determine whether his psychopathic crimes were the product of nature or nurture.
Wondery, creator of the #1 podcast “Dirty John,” has launched a new podcast called “Young Charlie.” It’s a six-part series that retraces the bizarre path to the most notorious crime in Hollywood history! But was this horror inevitable?
Larry Brand, the writer of “Young Charlie,” commented in detail upon these matters in the following series of online interview questions.
1) Charles Manson originally received the death penalty for masterminding the Tate-LaBianca murders, which included that of pregnant up and coming Hollywood actress Sharon Tate Polanski (the wife of well-known director Roman Polanski). Some of his followers even tried to assassinate former US President Gerald Ford in Sacramento.
Manson’s sentence was later commuted to life with the possibility of parole after the death penalty was abolished in 1972 in California. How do you feel about this considering the severity of Manson’s offenses?
When the death penalty was abolished in California in 1972, “life without parole” did not exist, so the sentence of Manson and his followers was reduced to “life with parole.” When the death sentence was reinstated following the passage of Proposition 17, it could not retroactively be applied to the Manson killers, nor could any subsequent “life without parole” sentence.
Since the jury gave Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkle, Van Houten, and Watson the death penalty following their conviction, it is reasonable to assume they would have opted for “life without parole” had it been available, once the death penalty was voided. So, in that sense, Manson and his Family members slipped between the cracks.
With the exception of Leslie Van Houten, no member had been approved for parole. Van Houten’s parole was overruled last year by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown has yet to rule on this year’s parole board recommendation that she be granted parole.
2) It is not always remembered that Manson was once part of the LA music industry via Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. His concept of “helter skelter,” an apocalyptic race war, was taken from the 1968 Beatles song of the same name. After Manson was charged, some of his songs were even released! What do you think about the trend for criminals of this magnitude to capitalize upon their notoriety through the arts?
I support the so-called “Son of Sam” laws that prohibit convicted felons from profiting from their crimes. It is not clear, however, that anything created before the Manson crimes would fall under those statutes.
It certainly can be argued that any recompense beyond the meager pay received by prisoners for work done within the penal system should be garnished and dispersed to victims or surviving family members. Manson appears to have died with few or no assets, so anything derived from his music would have been minimal. Dennis Wilson claimed sole credit for the Beach Boys album 20/20 for which Manson wrote a song, so Charlie would not see any proceeds from its sale.
3) Like David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” killer who is also in the news again these days, Manson may never have known his biological father. His mother also spent some time in prison.
“Young Charlie” fills in some of this little-known information about Manson’s family background. What effects can broken families like these have upon developing murderers? Can you propose any solutions in such cases?
Science always has an ad hoc quality as fresh information comes in and new studies are undertaken. So far, the evidence is compelling that family life has little impact upon criminality.
In the case of adoptions, antisocial behaviors correlate between the child and his biological family, not his adoptive family, even in crimes as specific as spousal abuse. This is not to say, of course, that all children of criminals become criminals!
What does, however, appear to have an impact on character development is peer group. Psychologist Judith Rich Harris has written about this. While it is likely that Manson was born with a predisposition to sociopathy, had he wound up in, say, a military academy instead of an endless string of reformatories, his life might have turned out very differently.
4) From an early age, Manson’s lesser offenses ran the gamut from rape to robbery. He had spent half his life in various correctional institutions before forming the Manson Family and felt that prison had become his home. He committed more serious crimes like drug trafficking in prison and his reputation was so bad that other cons were willing to attack and kill him. He was turned down at twelve parole hearings since he was thought to be a paranoid delusional schizophrenic who still represented a grave danger to the public. What can be done in cases like his to transition convicts back into society, if anything?
I doubt Charlie was a paranoid schizophrenic by conventional diagnostic standards – though, as the podcast makes clear, he was very clever at manipulating psychiatrists within the penal system. He established a technique for feigning insanity when young as a way of keeping larger, tougher boys at bay. He would flail his arms, bug his eyes, and emit wild animal noises to make an aggressor back off.
You can often see this in interviews. Observe, for example, the way Manson interacts with Diane Sawyer in their 1994 interview for ABC when he knows the camera is on him – and when they’re just chatting “behind the scenes.”
As far as transitioning goes, there is no “cure” for sociopathy, though attempts to “remap” areas of the brain through cognitive training have limited results. Sociopaths can learn to behave properly if it’s in their interests to do so, or at least simulate moral conduct. But the results are mixed and society always takes a risk when releasing them upon the public.
5) Though Manson was semi-literate, his IQ was tested at around 110-120. This is much higher than that of many male criminals and somewhat higher than the national average of 100. People no smarter than this have served as US Presidents! Do you think Manson might have had any prospects for success in better circumstances?
Manson’s IQ is considered “bright-normal.” He acquired sufficient reading skills to get what he needed from sources as varied as Dale Carnegie and L. Ron Hubbard.
Though he would likely have remained a sociopath throughout his life, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he would become a murderer. Sociopaths are, above all, opportunists.
Had a path to success been afforded him through music or some other endeavor, he might well have led an otherwise unremarkable life. However, as the case of O. J. Simpson demonstrates, success is no guarantee that sociopathy won’t express should the occasion present itself.
6) Even more than author Edgar Allan Poe, whom I profiled around Halloween in connection with the new AMERICAN MASTERS segment, Charles Manson has become an emblematic symbol of insanity, violence, and the macabre in our society. “Neo-Manson” cults may still exist.
But never at any time did Charles Manson show any remorse for getting women to do his dirty work for him or awareness of the impact of any of his crimes. Do people like this really deserve to remain in protective custody for decades at the taxpayers’ expense and even become celebrities of a sort?
In a free society we have no choice but to allow culture to wander where it may. To the end, Manson maintained that since he had not physically committed the Tate-LaBianca murders, he was somehow not responsible for them. A seasoned con should certainly have understood the law better.
But there was a childish quality to his sociopathy. It’s possible he felt he really wasn’t responsible since others had acted on ideas he simply “put out there.”
One of the principles Dale Carnegie discusses in his influential book HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE is “make the other guy think the idea is his.” Charlie was a master at this.
As far as his celebrity goes, society chooses its heroes and villains. I think we decided a long time ago where Charlie resides in the hierarchy of villainy.
That Charles Manson may be a “celebrity” of sorts is less important than that he be rendered incapable of hurting anyone else. His death assures that.