Charles Manson’s West Virginia childhood hinted of violence

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charles Manson, the Helter Skelter killer who has died at age 83, has several connections to West Virginia.

Manson and his followers went on a bloody two-night murder rampage in Los Angeles in 1969. The slaying spree involved the mutilation and ritual stabbings of seven victims, among them rising Hollywood star Sharon Tate.

Charles Milles Manson was born on Nov. 12, 1934, in Cincinnati to a 16-year-old girl who supported herself by committing petty crime. He never knew his father.

During his childhood, young Manson shuffled among relatives in small towns in West Virginia and Kentucky. He started engaging in petty theft himself and wound up in foster homes and reformatories. His education stopped at the seventh grade.

The author of the book “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson” delves into some West Virginia connections.

In the book, his sister, cousin and childhood acquaintances say Manson’s violent tendencies were apparent from an early age as Manson was living in McMechen, Marshall County.

“Beginning in first grade, Charlie would recruit gullible classmates, mostly girls, to attack other students that he didn’t like,” wrote author Jeff Guinn.

“Afterward, he’d swear to teachers that his kid followers were just doing what they wanted – he couldn’t be held responsible for their actions. Because no one thought a six-year-old could be capable of such Machiavellian manipulation, Charlie usually got off scot-free while his disciples were punished.”

Manson was living with his aunt and uncle, Glenn and Bill, while his mother, Kathleen, served time in prison for robbery.

One afternoon when Charlie was seven, his cousin Jo Ann recalled in Guinn’s book, her parents went out for the afternoon and instructed her to change the bed linens and watch over Charlie. She sent him out into the yard to play while she changed the sheets in one of the bedrooms.

“Soon Charlie came skipping back inside, brandishing a razor-sharp sickle that he’d found in the yard. He waved it in Jo Ann’s face,” Guinn wrote.

“Bigger and stronger than her scrawny cousin, she pushed him out of the way and continued tucking in the sheets. Charlie jumped between her and the bed; Jo Ann shoved him outside and locked the screen door behind him.”

Joann thought the confrontation was over, but her cousin began slashing the screen door with the sickle.

“There was a crazy look on his face. Jo Ann had no doubt that her cousin was going to kill her,” Guinn wrote. “He had cut through the screen and was wrenching the door open when Bill and Glenna Thomas drove up.”

After Manson was arrested in 1969, no one in McMechen was shocked, JoAnn said in Guinn’s book.

“We were all very sad and horrified, but not surprised,” Jo Ann says. “Once you really got to know Charles, anything awful that he did was no surprise.”

In 1983, as Manson was serving a life term, he asked to be transferred to the West Virginia State Penitentiary to be closer to family.

“My reaction was that I laughed, and I said, ‘It will be a cold day in hell,”’ warden Donald Bordenkircher said in a 1983 United Press International story.

“He apparently grew up in the Benwood-McMechen area, which is just a few miles from here. Some of his relatives did time in the facility here, and he said they helped build a lot of the roads in the area. He just wanted to carry on the family tradition, I guess.”

In his transfer request, Manson wrote that he had mended his ways.

“The California prison people had me in the hole for 14 years … I got nine live (life sentences) and don’t want no more,” Manson wrote. “I am a good worker and I give you my word I’ll start NO trouble.”

Manson continued serving a life sentence at California State Prison in Corcoran.

He had had health problems in recent years and was hospitalized in January for gastrointestinal bleeding.  Manson died Sunday at a hospital in Kern County, California.


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