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Charles Manson v. Watson – The separation between sociopathic and psychopathic behaviours

Written By | Nov 19, 2014

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2014 – Some of the differences between sociopathic and psychopathic behaviors are essential for determining the differences between Charles Manson, infamous mastermind of the Manson murders, and Charles “Tex” Watson, the individual who physically committed the murders, providing they have either disorder.

In the absence of psychiatric assessments, it remains close to impossible to determine and one cannot see Manson or Watson taking pen in hand.

In mental health care circles, there is a long standing debate between what determinations and distinctions exist between sociopath and psychopath. The resulting behaviors of either/or are similar. However, some claim there are dissimilarities.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) established an umbrella diagnostic assessment as Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) to cover common behavioral symptoms.  While psychopathy is not a recognized individual disorder, there are guidelines available to assist in making distinctions.

One assessment is called the Psychopathy Check list Revised (PCL R) and a shorter version Psychopathy Check List SL (PCL SL) with associated multiple facets. The PCL R and PCL SL assessments are not agreed upon as clinically acceptable by some in the field. The Psychopathic Personal Inventory is a newer tool for diagnosis and distinction.

Psycho-babble aside, the common factors and symptoms to meet the criteria of ASPD are; lacking in conscience and morals, violates the rights of others, have a history of criminality, impulsiveness, aggression, intolerant of frustration, violence, lacks responsibly and assigns blame to others.

Additionally, individuals with ASPD rationalize poor behaviors, are unreliable, nomadic, lead a parasitic lifestyle, and most importantly, lack of sympathy and empathy toward others thus capable of extreme violence. There are a host of related symptoms.

In some circles, sociopaths are determined as possessing normal temperament traits, often a background of poverty and neglectful parenting. They are exposed to violence early in life and may only cooperate with others and authority figures if it serves their interests. Sociopaths are begrudging and restful having been emotionally denied when young.

Sociopaths do not feel empathy or sympathy toward strangers but do toward those they care for and are loathe to hurt those in their inner circle. They are not as well organized or as cool under pressure as a psychopath but quick to display anger, nervousness and act out in an inappropriate manner without regard to consequence.

Sociopaths are deemed by some the result of societal and environmental factors.

Psychopaths are thought to be born with compromised genetics and have negative temperament, poor judgment, lack social responsibility, guilt, anxiety and shame and unlike sociopaths, have no empathy, sympathy or remorse often with family members or those in their sphere of so-called love.

Psychopaths are impervious of what they are doing as wrong, illegal or injurious to animals or fellow human, can be organized in thought, well kempt and show little to no emotion under pressure. They use charm and intimidation mixed for effect. Additionally, they possess a grandiose sense of self-worth.

So where do the feathers fall on Manson and Watson?

Since imprisoned, Watson has demonstrated a great deal of intelligence and normalcy by marrying, having four children and becoming the prison minister. Watson’s obvious remorse earned him the of the LaBianca’s daughter for his murder of her parents. He also founded a ministry for prisoners, and every letter I received from Watson contained scripture relating to our discussions.

Watson came from a background that does not seem to provide causation for sociopathic assessment. He was an achiever from a Christian background without remarkable discipline or legal issues.

On the surface, it would appear Watson was quite normal until his involvement with the Manson family. He then spun out of control, just to return to normal when removed from the drug addled environment he lived in. To determine otherwise would require what gamblers call a ‘tell’.

There are a few ‘tells’ with Watson.

Conversely, Manson came from poverty, neglect, early violence, is loath to hurt those he truly cares for, is/was quick to anger, easily frustrated and acts or acted without regard to consequence. He also has a long criminal record.

The shared tragic flaws are the same shared characteristics of Anti-Social Personality Disorder.

The body of Donald Shea, a groundskeeper at a ranch the family lived on, was discovered buried there eight years after the highly publicized murders of 69’.  The body of Ronald Hughes, the attorney for Leslie van Houten of the Manson family who disappeared during a ten-day break in Houten’s trial, was found one year after the trials. At least one family member has stated his murder was family retaliation for trying to save Houten at the expense of Manson.

Authorities suspect the Manson family in a number of other murders, but cannot obtain enough evidence to definitively assign blame. Watson refuses to assist authorities in these investigations. Authorities believe Watson may be implicit in these murders.

Watson, for unknown reasons, will not testify for himself at parole hearings, leaving authorities to believe he has knowledge he withholds either as a bargaining chip or because does not wish to open a Pandora Box.

Manson remains as mum as ever.

In a strange twist of events in recent years, Watson volunteered to be the bio-hazard clean up specialist at Mule Creek prison. This assignment entails cleaning up blood, entrails and body fluids from suicides, beatings and violence in general. Insiders question why Watson would volunteer for such duty after declaring he is “horrified” by the bloody scene from the murders in 69’.

Additionally, authorities believe Watson’s online ministry with self- explanatory books on the murders is a means to enhance and assuage his ego. Watson, however, insists he wrote them as a response to the curious who repeatedly asked the same questions.

Some criminalists believe Watson’s reluctance to address the unresolved murders and his odd prison job as a volunteer are ‘tells’ for consideration. Perhaps Watson is smooth enough to conceal his disorder via ‘finding God’, a commonplace search of prisoners that no one will listen to any longer or for any other reason. Studies suggest many prisoners who claim to have become religious in prison lose their religiosity soon after release.

Perhaps Watson won the LaBianca daughter over with similar skills

After his recent 14th attempt for parole was rejected, the parole board reported it believes Watson is a troubled man and noted he does not fully understand the seriousness and hideous nature of his crimes, nor does he fully understand the extent of the pain he caused. These descriptions are considered by some as hallmarks of psychopathy. These too are ‘tells’ mental health professionals look for and some of the reasons he remains imprisoned.

As for Watson’s secret: Watson claims Manson wanted to start a race war by committing horrific crimes. He says the Tate house was not gruesome enough to make Manson happy, so Manson personally came to the scene after all was done and hung Sharon Tate from a rafter for effect.

This factoid is not in any books or articles or any other known reporting of the event.

Mental health professionals believe the application of Anti-Social Personality Disorder could apply to both Watson and Manson if all the facts presented by authorities are to be believed.

As for this author, passing familiarization with both of these men is not a means to assign a personal assessment, nor was the events of ’69 witnessed by anyone outside participants.

There are far too many cross-over behaviors to draw conclusions leaving ASPD as the singular acceptable criteria to fit events and profiles as documented.

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.


Paul Mountjoy

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based psychotherapist and writer.