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Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has garnered attention for a number of reasons. For one, it’s jam-packed with A-list celebrities like Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham and more. But the film is also fascinating because it has a darker edge.

Damon Herriman and Charles Manson1
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Damon Herriman as Charles Manson in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’

The story, which is set in 1969 Hollywood, touches on the murder of Sharon Tate and the cult leader that drove his followers to commit it: Charles Manson, who will be played by Australian actor Damon Herriman.

Charles Manson as a boy
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Charles Manson’s Family Life Before *That* Family

Not surprisingly, Manson didn’t have a happy childhood. His mother gave birth to him when she was 16 and didn’t give him a name until weeks into his life. His biological father was estranged from the family. When Charles was young, his mother was sentenced to five years in prison for theft and he was sent to stay with his uncle and aunt in West Virginia. After his mom got out, Manson started being truant at school and stealing. He was sent to a reform school called the Gibault School for Boys. 

After he ran away from there, he was sent to another facility called Boys Town where he met another young man who helped him steal cars and rob a grocery store and casino at gunpoint. Then began a long slew of brushes with the law and subsequent imprisonments. In 1955, he married Rosalie Jean Wills and they welcomed their first child together. He was soon arrested again (and again and again) and eventually was discharged from prison in 1967. By then, he had spent 32 years in institutions and prisons. That’s when he moved to San Francisco and started forming what we now call the Manson Family.

Charles Manson with guitar
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Charles Manson’s Followers & Cult

Manson learned how to play the guitar in prison and earned a living begging and playing music. He met Mary Brunner, moved in with her and continued to welcome more women into their home as his “followers.” He became known as a guru in San Fran’s hippie metropolis—the Haight-Ashbury district. Borrowing some ideology from the Process Church of the Final Judgment, whose followers believe Satan would reconcile with Christ, he formed a mostly-female Manson Family and moved them down to Los Angeles. Their philosophy was dependent on free love, the consumption of LSD, dumpster diving and the belief that Manson was Jesus.

Manson used the feminine wiles of his followers to get in the orbit of Denis Wilson of the Beach Boys and they moved into his house. Eventually Wilson introduced him to music producer Terry Melcher and Manson became hell-bent on getting a record deal. When this didn’t happen and Wilson’s manager evicted the Family from his house, Manson and his girls set up a home at Spahn Movie Ranch in Topanga Canyon. They traded sexual favors and labor for their stay, but Manson soon became upset about being slighted by Melcher and increasingly paranoid about a race riot.

He established an alternative Manson hideout in Death Valley and had the family start training for the end of the world, or what he called “Helter Skelter.” And while the world didn’t end, many lives did.

Manson girls and a baby
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Charles Manson’s Children

Due to the Manson family’s belief in free love, there’s not a ton of clarity as to how many children he actually has. However, it’s been confirmed that he has at least three sons. His eldest son, Charles Manson Jr. was born in 1956 (before he was a cult leader) to Rosalie Jean Willis, Manson’s first wife. He’s sadly since taken his life. Manson conceived his middle son, Charles Luther Manson, with his second wife, Leona Stevens. His youngest son, whom he had with Brunner, is named Valentine Michael Manson.

Charles Manson looking into the distance
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The Tate and Labianca Murders

A couple of things happened before Sharon Tate and her four friends were murdered by the Manson Family in cold blood. In order to start a race war, Manson shot African American drug dealer Bernard “Lotsapoppa” Crow on July 1, 1969. Then, on July 25, he ordered family members Brunner, Bobby Beausoleil and Susan Atkins to music teacher Gary Allen Hinman’s home to get some money out of him. Hinman was a friend of the family and when he didn’t give them what they wanted, they held him hostage for two days, cut his ear off, then stabbed him to death. They wrote “Political piggy” on the wall and drew a panther paw to implicate the Black Panthers.

On August 8, just before midnight, Manson ordered Charles “Tex” Watson, Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkle to go to Melcher’s former home on Cielo Drive and kill everyone there. Melcher didn’t live there anymore, but pregnant actress Sharon Tate did. The Manson followers killed Tate, her unborn baby, and her friends, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski, as well as delivery boy Steven Parent. Atkins wrote “pig” in blood on the front door to throw the cops off. 

The evening of August 9, Manson told Leslie Van Houten, Steve “Clem” Grogan and the four followers who perpetrated the Tate murders he was displeased by how they handled the situation. So he told them he was going to “show them how to do it.” They drove for some time until they arrived at the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in Los Feliz, Los Angeles. Their home was next door to a place they’d attended a party in the previous year, and that was the only reason they were targeted. Instead of getting his hands dirty, Manson simply directed his followers. The LaBiancas were stabbed to death and jargon was written all over their home.

Charles Manson crossing arms in court
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The Charles Manson Family Trial

The Tate and LaBianca murders both caused panic and extensive media coverage, but they weren’t initially connected. On August 16, sheriffs raided Spahn Ranch and arrested Manson and 25 others for car theft. Most members, save for Manson and Atkins, were released and there was no connection formed between them and the murders. It wasn’t until months later when a motorcycle gang tipped off LAPD to the Manson Family’s involvement in the murders. Atkins had spilled details about the killings to her cell mate when they were incarcerated for car theft.

On December 1, LAPD arrested the rest of the family members involved in the murders. Evidence was obtained and the case went to trial on June 15, 1970. Manson, Atkins, Kasabian and Krenwinkle were charged with seven counts of murder and one of conspiracy. Technically, Manson never committed a murder (Lottsapoppa lived), but he essentially caused them and was charged accordingly. Van Houten was only charged with two. Ultimately, Kasabian was granted immunity. As the case went on, Manson and his followers continued to disrupt the court and act strangely by shaving their heads and carving X’s on their heads. They were all found guilty and sentenced to prison in 1971.

Charles Manson in 1971
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Charles Manson’s Death

In January 2017, Manson experienced gastrointestinal bleeding and was deemed too weak for surgery. He returned to prison and died from cardiac arrest, respiratory failure and colon cancer on November 19 at the age of 83.

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