Culture & Literature
LIFE Manson

LIFE Manson


August 9, 1969: the hills of Los Angeles were so quiet, as one of the killers would later say, “You could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers” in the famed canyon houses. Those killers, disciples of cult leader Charles Manson, would soon be famous for committing a series of grisly murders at his behest. While Manson’s goal was to sow race riots was intentional, his victims were random: a young actress and her friends; a grocer and his wife. Few crimes have been so dramatic, engrossing, and difficult to truly understand. Now, 50 years later, people are still fascinated by the crimes that seemed to mark the end of an era of peace and love, and the editors at LIFE present the special edition, ‘Manson.’ Revisit “Manson’s World,” with the hippies, the forming of the Family, and the man himself. Then, explore the shocking details of “The Manson Murders.” Consider “The Aftermath,” including the dramatic trial, the cultural shift toward violence and fear, and Manson’s life in prison. Filled with rare photographs, including images of Manson’s followers living on Spahn Ranch, LIFE’s ‘Manson’ continues to explore, like Quentin Tarantino’s new film ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,’ the motivations, the magnetism, and the mayhem that possessed the man behind the murders.

United States
Meredith Corporation
Read More
$20.81(Incl. tax)

in this issue

4 min.
a national obsession

On the night of August 8, 1969, Charles Manson, leader of a small cult known as the Family, waited patiently at Spahn Ranch, the group’s rural Los Angeles outpost, while four of his followers set out to invade 10050 Cielo Drive in the city’s hills. The crew—Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Linda Kasabian—carried with them knives, ropes, bolt cutters, and a gun, but only Watson knew the full scope of their mission: in Manson’s words, to “totally destroy everyone in that house, as gruesome as you can.” Within minutes of arriving at the Cielo Drive address, the killing began. The first victim was Steven Parent, a teenager on the property by chance, whom Watson encountered and shot four times in the driveway. Then, while Kasabian remained outside to serve…

4 min.
who were the hippies?

In perhaps the worst possible way, 1960s hippie culture was an ideal match for Charles Manson. Antiestablishment, anti-materialistic free spirits, the hippies of the era were souls, young and old, whose philosophy was embodied by Timothy Leary’s famous dictum, “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Like Manson, they were unencumbered by traditional values. They had little use for Judeo-Christian teachings and wanted out of the economy. In place of linear thought, the hippies favored vague phrases like “Groovy” and “Dig it” and “Never trust the Man.” They turned to Eastern mysticism and LSD and peyote to achieve higher consciousness. They preached peace and love, believed in community, and accepted all: outcasts, criminals, oddballs, the displaced. Manson fit all of those labels. A burden to his mother—a teenage good-time girl—he had as…

5 min.
forming the family

Charles Manson didn’t want to leave prison. The 32-year-old had spent a little more than half his life behind bars and worried he couldn’t adjust to life on the outside. He was, however, unable to convince officials at the Terminal Island correctional facility to let him stay, so on March 21, 1967, prisoner number A11685-CAL was ushered onto the streets of Los Angeles with just his suitcase, guitar, and $35. If the excon took comfort in anything, it was his certainty he would quickly bask in the glory of his planned music career. Things of course didn’t quite turn out that way. Over the next year, Manson would make a loop, moving to Northern California in pursuit of fame, then returning to L.A. with a wholly different idea of how to…

9 min.
manson, music, and hollywood

In the great Southern California pop-music flowering of the 1960s, Terry Melcher was perhaps best known for his work with the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, and the Byrds. But the Columbia Records whiz kid also enjoyed status as a Hollywood insider, thanks to his mom, screen icon Doris Day, and live-in girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen. Certainly, Melcher brought a touch of Hollywood glamor to the dilapidated Spahn Ranch in the late spring of 1969 when he conducted an audition that even in those trippy days proved surreal. The hopeful was a 34-year-old cult leader and aspiring rock star who had been angling for months to get Melcher to hear his music and offer him a recording contract. Decked out in a deerskin suit made by his followers, he…

13 min.
manson as he was

This essay originally appeared in LIFE, December 19, 1969. Long-haired, bearded little Charlie Manson so disturbed the American millions when he was charged in October with sending four docile girls and a hairy male acolyte off to slaughter strangers in two Los Angeles houses that the victims of his blithe and gory crimes seemed suddenly to have played only secondary roles in the final moments of their own lives. The Los Angeles killings struck innumerable Americans as an inexplicable controversion of everything they wanted to believe about the society and their children—and mad Charlie Manson seemed to be the very encapsulation of truth about revolt and violence by the young. What failure of the human condition could produce a Charlie Manson? What possible aspect of such a creature’s example could induce sweet-faced…

4 min.
a year like no other

JANUARY 20: Richard Nixon becomes the 37th President of the United States. JANUARY 28: Off Santa Barbara, California, an oil spill dumps 3 million gallons of crude oil in the ocean. It is the worst oil spill in U.S. history until the Exxon Valdez spill, 20 years later. JANUARY 30: In an impromptu 42-minute set, the Beatles give their last live performance on the London rooftop of their company, Apple Corps. There are nine takes of five songs. FEBRUARY 9: Pilots take the Boeing 747, the world’s first jumbo jet, for its initial test flight over western Washington State. MARCH 10: In Memphis, Tennessee, James Earl Ray is sentenced to 99 years for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. one year earlier. MARCH 10: Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is published. Three years later the novel is a worldwide best-seller when…