The name Charles Milles Manson (1934-2017) is among the most notorious in American history. During August 8-10, 1969, followers of Manson committed a series of gruesome murders that shocked the country and revealed the dark side of human nature. Though Manson never committed any of the murders himself, he helped coordinate their efforts and provided the encouragement needed for the heinous deeds to be carried out. Among the victims was Folger’s coffee heir Abigail Folger (1943-1969) and actress Sharon Marie Tate Polanski (1943-1969). Initially, law enforcement was mystified by the crimes, but a break came in the case through the boasting and subsequent confession of Susan Atkins (1948-2009) who was being held on murder charges in the death of Gary Hinman (1934-1969). Her statements and evidence gathered by investigators lead directly to Manson and others involved. Manson received a death sentence for his role in the crimes, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972. He remained in prison until his death on November 19, 2017. The general consensus is that Manson was the epitome of evil but who was he behind the scenes? And how did he have such a hold over so many people? Was Manson and evil genius or a fraud one would expect to find in the fictional Oz? Nuel Emmons asked himself similar questions and decided to find out for himself by visiting Manson in prison. And the result is this book which gives Manson a platform to speak for himself.
Books of this nature are always subject to controversy because the debate will arise as to how much is the speaker’s own words and what percentage of the book was revised or added by editors. Emmons explains that he knew Manson from prison where he had served time for a variety of crimes. By the time he interviewed Manson he had put his own criminal life behind him. What is clear is that Emmons did visit Manson and had served time with him so there is no reason for me to doubt that he spent considerable time with him. I am certain that some parts of the manuscript were cleaned up by Emmons and the publishers, but I also believe that Manson did provide a significant amount of the information found in the book. And what I read stands in stark contrast to the image of Manson found in pop-culture.
Manson begins with his childhood which has been discussed countless times. An absent father and dysfunctional mother-son relationship set him down the wrong path from an early age and his experiences at the Indiana School for Boys shattered the remaining innocence found in children and young adults. I warn readers that this part of the book is not easy to read. We will probably never know the whole truth about Manson’s experiences there, but they did change his outlook in life. Marriage and fatherhood enter the story and I learned a few things about Manson that I was unaware of before. But as I read through the book, I began to see how he was failed by those closest to him and those in positions of power who could have changed his life. He evolves as a creation and reflection of our society.
It is not long in the story before Manson begins to pick up fellow drifters and build a following. After obtaining a van from a pastor whose daughter he had eyes on, his journey across America kicks into high gear. And one by one, newcomers enter his circle and begin to follow “Charlie” anywhere he decides. The word cult might be too strong to describe the situation, but Manson could have easily accumulated the number of followers that believed in figures such as David Koresh (1959-1993) and James Warren “Jim” Jones (1931-1978). But the question still remains, why did they follow Manson? From what is found in the book, it is apparent that Manson is no genius and in fact, he points out his failures more than once. Of course, there are times where Manson makes himself out to be a good Samaritan but even that is up for debate. His selfishness and lack of direction in life set the stage for his followers to do his bidding even at the expense of their own freedom and the tragic loss of life that came later. His flock began to see him as almost godlike but the dysfunction brewing under the surface soon rises to the top. The use of narcotics combined with black market money-making schemes soon places Manson in tough positions and the actions of followers Charles “Tex” Watson and Susan Atkins initiated the downward spiral that culminated with the Tate-Labianca murders.
Manson tries to absolve him of guilt in the Gary Hinman debacle but personally I was not convinced. But he does admit that he could have prevented the Tate-Labianca murders but chose to do nothing. And his rational for his followers’ actions is just mind boggling but does reaffirm that widespread belief that Manson was out of his mind. But perhaps the darkest part of the book is his reaction to all of the murders. This should remove all doubt that there was a “softer” side to Charles Manson. This part of the book falls in line with the man we know from the media. Emmons largely stays behind the scenes as Manson is talking but he does make this statement towards the end which I believe accurately sums up the myth of Charles Manson:
“The “God” he perhaps was to his followers was turned into a monster for the rest of us. Yet Manson has no superhuman powers, neither divine nor demonic. The image of “the most dangerous man alive” bears little resemblance to the man I have been visiting these past seven years. Perhaps the myth of Charles Manson satisfied our hunger for sensationalism, but certainly it also absolved us of the darker side of the humanity we share with him.”
Charles Manson is gone forever but his ghost and past deeds will remain with us for an eternity. This is an interesting look at figure who was once believed to be the most dangerous man in America. Whether that was true or not is up to you.
ASIN : B004I6DD56