WASHINGTON, January 22, 2014—Four hours of recent telephone conversations with Charles Manson over a three-month period was not only a visitation with a dark history, but also an interesting insight into the man who single-handedly ended the 1960’s antidisestablishmentarianism, make-love-not-war, tune-in-turn-on-and-drop-out hippie era.
The peace, love, dope society went out with savagery as the so-called Manson Family went on a killing spree that ended the lives of seven people in August 1969. The Manson Family murders alerted the world to what the so-called Greatest Generation called an insane, youthful rebellion.
The Manson Family regarded the Beatles as messengers and blamed drug use for the horrific slashing and shooting of actress Sharon Tate, the LaBianca family and others, providing further proof that the hip generation was more dangerous than the rioting over Viet Nam and other social ills of the time.
After the era ended, the Partridge Family parked their bus and the peace symbol segued into a Mercedes emblem.
Often termed a “psychopath,” this may not be an accurate assessment of Manson. While “sociopath” probably more closely describes the real Manson, the Diagnostic and Statistical manual (DSM-5) no longer distinguishes between the two diagnoses.
However, several mental health professionals continue to distinguish between sociopath and psychopath as separate disorders, and rightfully so. Those who remain old school understand that excess negative external forces bring about the disregard for others that is the hallmark of the sociopath. As for psychopathy, genetic forces or a biological brain disconnect are generally behind such a diagnosis.
Manson is clearly a sociopath and psychotic, but perhaps not a psychopath. Psychotic essentially means out of touch with reality.
Manson’s father abandoned him as a young child and his Mother was, by all accounts, an alcoholic prostitute who sold her son for two beers when he was age 10.
When told his mother should have held out for at least a six pack, Manson roared with laughter saying, “Man, you’re crazier than I am!”
Sometimes during our conversations, Manson would break into his old stand-by of “I am the king of the underworld,” and various other routines. However, one is left feeling these outbursts are contrived, practiced and uttered for shock value. At other times, when speaking genuinely, Manson goes on about George Washington in ways that indicate occasional psychosis.
Manson is sometimes angry. He is angry that his prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, was enriched after writing a book titled Helter Skelter, while Manson did not profit; he is angry that throughout his confinement in prisons like Alcatraz, Pelican Island, Terminal Island and now Cochran State Prison for Men in California, the “system” has tried to kill him for 60 years.
In and out of correctional facilities since his teens, Manson recalls that when he was released from his first prison stint the Beatnik era was in full swing; the second time, the hippie generation was dominant. Mason says that upon leaving prison he could not relate to either. In fact, Manson promised he would commit terrible crimes if they put him out of the only home he knew: prison.
He lived up to his word.
In conversation, Manson admits he was never fond of Leslie Van Houten, his pretty, cheerleader cohort. He recalls considering her immature, always speaking in a little girl voice and acting spacey, liked Susan Atkins. After seeing a recent picture of Van Houten, Manson said, “she got old on me.” The convicted killer spoke mildly of Charles “Tex” Watson, the man who did what he calls “the devil’s (Manson’s) work,” by perpetrating most of the savagery.
While Manson admits he is guilty, he also points out that he has never murdered anyone on his own. Law enforcement may say otherwise.
In fact, during one conversation Manson claimed he went back to the murder scene at the Tate home and hung Sharon Tate over a rafter for effect. He also claims he was upset the bloodshed was inadequate for his purpose, which was to commit horrific murders and blame it on the blacks of the area.
Manson has always been concerned with nature and has a mantra: “ATWA,” which stands for air, trees, water and animals. To this day, he has ideas like allowing children to play with fake guns, but having the guns shoot grass seed.
An original eco-terrorist, in the 1960s Manson had presidents and corporate CEOs that were not eco-friendly beat up.
Manson is very spiritual, declaring a great and divine spirit moves through us all and we are all connected. He believes in God.
Manson’s memory of yesteryear is crystal clear, but getting him to discuss the murders is difficult. When he spoke of being the leader of a family, he claims it was a term used by the media—but then in a low voice he says, “Man-you have no idea.”
One notable phone call occurred at 3 a.m., when Manson called to say he had decided against co-authoring a new book together. When asked how he got a direct call out of the prison at that hour (midnight in California), Manson answered, “I clean offices and have access to a phone.”
One month later, however, media stories described Manson being caught with a cell phone—perhaps a literal “cell” phone. In fact, a friend of his was caught trying to sneak another cell phone in to Manson last year.
Manson has devoted long-time friends. If he considers you a friend, he is as loyal and as giving as he can be, considering the circumstances. For example, he sent along all his music recordings, made over the years. He is a talented guitarist and vocalist.
In a conversation with Manson, one must continually remember, despite being the father of four, he orchestrated some of the most terrible murder sprees of the 20th century.
Manson eschews the young folks who think he is cool and rejects any offer they make to become a “family” member. He thinks such people are foolish.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based psychotherapist and writer