Charles Manson is one of the world's most notorious mass murderers, despite quite possibly never having killed anyone himself, merely ordering others to do so.
Born in 1934 in West Virginia, Manson's family (his real one) were abandoned by his father and moved several times, ending up in Cincinnatti where he attended Walnut Hills High School, but he spent most of his youth in and out of reform school, where in one incident he raped another inmate at knifepoint.
He spent more than half his early (up to 1968) life in prison, where he learned his rudimentary guitar skills, and where he became involved in an organisation called the Process Church. I haven't been able to dig up much information on this organisation (someone please /msg me if you know more), except that it was based on a combination of the works of L. Ron Hubbard and Anton Szandor LaVey, from which I deduce it was probably not the most sane of organisations.
While in prison, he also apparently read the works of Timothy Leary on reprogramming one's brain. Leary's Neuropolitique contains a fictionalised account of a prison meeting between the two in the 70s, in which Manson claims Leary's work had been very inspirational to him, but he used Leary's techniques as a way to brainwash others, rather than deprogramme himself.
On release from prison, Manson started his cult, 'the Family'. He was an imposing, charismatic man despite being only 5 foot 2 in height, and soon gathered round him such people as Charles 'Tex' Watson, Linda Kasabian, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkle and Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme, brainwashing them with a combination of techniques learned from the Process Church and Leary's books into believing Manson's own strange dogma.
Manson's beliefs were based on those of the process church, combined with far-right political groups and misinterpreted Beatles lyrics. He claimed that the races of the world would soon be plunged into a gigantic war, which he called Helter Skelter, and that black people would win unless white people took the initiative in starting this war. He also believed the Beatles were the four angels referred to in the book of Revelations.
A chance meeting with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys in 1968 got him signed to a development deal with Brother Records Incorporated. Wilson also provided him and the family with food and money, although the family members would still be sent on garbage runs, collecting food from trash cans outside shops.
In fact, Manson was a fairly talented, if idiosyncratic, songwriter (think a scarier Syd Barrett) and was admired by Neil Young, among others. However Terry Melcher, the producer assigned to work with Manson, was unimpressed. Manson's only music to be released while he was free was a few songs he co-wrote with Dennis Wilson. The only song publicly acknowledged as being co-written by Manson was Never Learn Not to Love (on the Beach Boys' 20/20 album), originally titled Cease To Exist, but many Beach Boys scholars say that much of Wilson's other work around this time was done in collaboration with Manson. However the two fell out when Wilson altered the line 'Cease to exist' to 'cease to resist'. Manson is not a credited co-writer, as he asked for payment but no credit.
On 8 and 9 August 1969, Manson decided to start his race war by killing Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Jay Sebring, Steve Parent and (on the 9th) Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, and daubing slogans (such as 'death to pigs') on the wall in an attempt to make the deaths look like the work of the Black Panthers. The house in which the majority of the murders were carried out had previously belonged to Terry Melcher, and it is probable that he was the intended victim.
Manson and the family members who carried out the attacks were arrested and sentenced to death, however the moratorium on the death penalty that came into effect soon after meant that all are still alive.
Several albums of Manson's recordings in prison have been surreptitiously released (although he is no longer allowed recording equipment) and Manson has become something of a figurehead for the far-right ATWA group that combines fascist politics with concern for the environment. Surprisingly, Manson has never been found legally insane. There was a furore in the early 90s when his song Look At Your Game Girl was recorded by Guns 'N Roses.
Editor's note: Charles Manson finally died on November 19, 2017, of "natural causes" at age 83. He'd been regularly getting transferred from prison at Corcoran to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, California for much of 2017 due to illness.
update 26/05/02. Just got a /msg from Purvis saying "Your Charles Manson w/u renders mine unnecessary. Why don't you include the information from mine in yours and then nuke request mine." so I have done (the relevant info being mostly in the second paragraph of this w/u). Since this is the first time I've actually had someone send me a message like that thinking of the database more than their own XP, and since this is one of my highest rated w/us anyway, I would ask that anyone thinking of giving this a + vote go and upvote one of Purvis' w/us instead to encourage this kind of behaviour. - votes should stay here of course.