The Manson Murders: Helter Skelter and the Master of Chaos

Charles Manson competes with such rarefied personalities as Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong Un for the coveted title of Homicidal Lunatic of the Universe (not a real award).

It’s really not all that surprising to find a single diseased mind that is capable of some pretty outlandish behavior. I once met a guy on a psych rotation who had murdered his mom and then spent two days driving around with her in the car. He got caught when he took her chilly corpse with him through the drive-through at McDonald’s. Sometimes folks just aren’t wired correctly.

It’s tough for normal folk to comprehend how substantial numbers of people might be induced to engage in overtly amoral behavior.

What is even more viscerally shocking, however, are those circumstances wherein a significant group of people can be motivated to engage in egregiously antisocial behavior en masse. The Nazis are the archetypal examples. How do you convince an entire population to suspend human decency and commit such atrocities as those for which the National Socialists were responsible?

The Manson Family during the salad days. These same fun-loving sex-crazed drug-abusing hippies ultimately committed some of the most shocking crimes in American history.

On a smaller scale, we see the same profoundly psychotic mindset on display within the Manson Family. Comprised predominantly of disaffected white middle-class women, the family had at its apogee around 100 members. By the time the legal system incarcerated the guru of this drug-addled homicidal mob they had brutally killed seven people. The darkly messianic overtones of Charles Manson’s twisted worldview will make your skin crawl.

The Making of a Monster

This is Manson’s troubled alcoholic mom, Kathleen. She traded the infant Charles to a woman who could not have children in exchange for a pitcher of beer. Manson’s uncle tracked the woman down and retrieved the child.

Charles Manson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1934 to a sixteen-year-old single mother named Kathleen Manson-Bower-Cavender. Manson’s father was purportedly Colonel Walker Henderson Scott. Don’t be impressed with that, however. Colonel was a given name, not a military rank. Colonel Scott was a professional con artist.

Charles Manson was a handsome enough lad. However, there lurked underneath the most remarkable darkness.

As is so often the case with truly extraordinary criminals, Manson’s upbringing was chaotic, violent, and tragic. Kathleen was an unrepentant alcoholic who was in and out of jail. Charles began shoplifting by age nine. At age thirteen he was caught stealing a gun from his uncle’s home.

By his teen years, Manson’s true nature had become readily apparent.

During one of his several teenaged arrests, Charles was given a series of aptitude tests. He was found to be illiterate, have an IQ of 107 (100 is the accepted average) and was diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. Think of Antisocial Personality Disorder as essentially the congenital absence of a conscience. Persons thusly afflicted are unable to empathize with the pain or basic needs of others.

Prison is the criminals’ finishing school. Manson mastered his trade while inside.

Manson was sexually assaulted on several occasions while incarcerated and adopted a self-defense technique he called the “insane game” wherein he flailed about, screeched, and grimaced to convince an attacker that he was well and truly unhinged. He was later disciplined for a series of homosexual assaults to include the rape of a boy at knifepoint. By age 32 Manson had spent fully half his life behind bars.

Starting a Family

Female runaways, drug addicts, and prostitutes found Manson to be a mesmerizing personality. This shot of some of Manson’s disciples was taken at the Spahn Ranch where the group was headquartered.

Charles Manson was undeniably charismatic, and women were attracted to him. I will never understand this. I always tried to be gracious, generous, respectful, and, within my limited capabilities, charming. Apparently I was doing it wrong. Some women just prefer psychopaths.

Dennis Carl Wilson was a founding member of the Beach Boys. A chance meeting with Wilson nearly landed Manson a career in music.

Before he entered the full-time homicidal cult business Manson was a singer and song-writer. Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys picked up Patricia Krenwinkel, one of the Manson girls, while she was hitchhiking in 1968. Returning from a recording session the following day he was greeted by Charles Manson and a mob of his female acolytes occupying his home. This bizarre and awkward chance meeting landed one of Manson’s songs on the B-side of a Beach Boys single. Manson was not credited.

Manson’s Family lived in a disused Western movie set along with the blind geriatric owner of the place.

Manson and his followers set up shop at an abandoned Western movie set called the Spahn Ranch, armed themselves, and kept busy plotting the coming apocalypse. Manson’s bizarrely twisted worldview called for a series of songs he was producing to somehow precipitate a sweeping race war between blacks and whites that would ultimately devolve into genocide. This hemoclysmic event was to be called Helter Skelter.

Manson wanted to see the world burn and then take his rightful place as the leader of its survivors.

The First Killing

Gary Hinman was, by all accounts, a pretty nice guy who was doomed by his poor choice in friends.

The first person the Manson mob murdered was a music teacher and UCLA Ph.D. student named Gary Hinman. Like most of the Manson killings, this one spawned from a misunderstanding. Manson’s crew thought they were shaking Hinman down for a $25,000 inheritance. These lunatics held this poor slob hostage for two days before they realized that he was just as broke as they were. In the process Manson cutoff part of Hinman’s ear with a sword.

Manson follower Bobby Beausoleil ultimately murdered Gary Hinmon when he realized he couldn’t take the injured man to an ER without going to jail.

A Manson disciple named Bobby Beausoleil eventually stabbed the poor guy to death. Beausoleil was a former porn actor who fit in perfectly with Manson’s freak show of a family. Family members wrote “Political Piggy” on the walls in Hinman’s blood along with a panther print in a failed effort at convincing the authorities that Black Panther revolutionaries were responsible. This, however, was just the warm-up act.

The Main Event

Movie director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate were the poster children for Aquarian 1960’s awesomeness. Their unfortunate choice of a rental home ultimately lead to tragedy.

Movie director Roman Polanski and his pregnant wife Sharon Tate lived in a domicile previously occupied by an acquaintance of Manson. Manson had suffered a disagreement with the previous occupants and likely targeted the place as a result.

Susan Atkins is in the middle. Patricia Krenwinkel is on the right. Another cult member named Leslie Van Houten who participated in a later murder is shown on the left.

In a further twisted effort at triggering his coveted race war, Manson directed three of his followers, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel, to proceed to the address and kill everybody they found there. Armed with a cheap .22 pistol, a folding Buck knife, and some rope, this merry trio struck out on the evening of August 8, 1969. Linda Kasabian tagged along but didn’t take part in the killings.

Jay Sebring was a hairdresser and former lover of Sharon Tate’s who was keeping her company while her husband Roman was away in Europe.

Polanski was in Europe working on a movie. Present this fateful night were his wife Sharon, herself 8 and ½ months pregnant, and Sharon’s former lover, Jay Sebring. Apparently Roman was a fairly open-minded sort, so Sebring, a hairstylist of some renown, was a perennial houseguest.

Wojciech Frykowski and his friend the coffee heiress Abigail Folger were staying with Sharon Tate when the Manson Family struck.

Also in attendance was a Polish friend of Polanski’s named Wojciech Frykowski along with his lady friend Abigail Folger. Abigail was the daughter of Peter Folger and heiress to the substantial Folgers coffee fortune.

Famed music producer Quincy Jones was originally invited to the Polanski-Tate home on the evening of the attack.

In a bizarre twist of fate, three other people who should have been at the house that evening were not. Music producer Quincy Jones had planned to join in but backed out on short notice. Famed action movie star Steve McQueen and his girlfriend were also slated to attend but declined at the last minute in favor of an intimate night at home.

In the late 1960s, Steve McQueen was a hard man. The evening might have turned out very differently had he been present.

In 1969 Steve McQueen, an ex-Marine, was an accomplished martial artist who trained with his friend Bruce Lee and kept himself legendarily fit. Though undeniably determined, Manson’s ad hoc hit squad was poorly armed and not unduly impressive physically. The mind boggles as to how things might have turned out differently had the legendary King of Cool been added to the tactical mix.

Steve McQueen, shown here on the right, rightfully feared for his safety following the Sharon Tate murders. He was known to keep a gun handy afterward.

After the Tate murders, McQueen kept a weapon close and remained on the lookout for Manson Family assailants.

Tex Watson’s first order of business was to scale this telephone pole and cut the phone lines with a pair of bolt cutters he brought along for this purpose.

Accompanied by the two women, Watson approached on foot and cut the phone lines into the house. In the driveway, he encountered an 18-year-old young man named Steven Parent who had been visiting the caretaker of the property in the guest house.

This is one of the .22 bullets that killed Steven Parent.

After a brief exchange, Watson attacked Parent with a knife then shot him four times in the chest with his .22 pistol, killing him as he sat in his car.

Watson and his pals brought this rope with them the night of the killings.

Once inside the house, the Manson followers rousted the occupants and brought them into the living room. They then used their rope to truss their victims up. When queried as to their intentions Watson answered, “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.”

This was the round that killed Jay Sebring as he attempted to defend Sharon Tate from her attackers.

Watson tied Sebring and Tate together by their necks, snaking the rope over an exposed beam in the living room. Sebring objected to their rough treatment of Tate and was shot for his trouble. Frykowski then slipped his bonds but was stabbed as he fled the house.

Watson physically beat Frykowski with his inexpensive .22 pistol, damaging it in the process.

Frykowski made it out the front door before Watson caught up with him. Watson then beat him vigorously with his pistol, breaking the grip and trigger guard, before shooting him twice and killing him.

Such gruesome adornments as this, scrawled with a towel dipped in Sharon Tate’s blood, were intended to convince the police that the attack had been racially motivated.

Folger was ultimately stabbed 28 times. Frykowski’s body had 51 separate wounds. Tate was stabbed 16 times and killed. Before they called it a day Manson’s crew wrote “Pig” on the front door in Sharon Tate’s blood.


The gruesome murder of a popular pregnant movie actress and her friends captivated the world.

The murder of Sharon Tate and her friends by Charles Manson’s homicidal acolytes represents one of the most sordid and darkly fascinating crimes in American history. Next week we will explore the Manson Family arsenal, the aftermath of these horrific crimes, and see what fate ultimately befell the perpetrators.

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About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

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  • JD Dollins April 22, 2022, 10:57 am

    The statement that other people were supposed to be there has long been debunked. No one was invited there that night Sharon wanted a quiet evening at home after they left the restaurant there was no one else supposed to show up. All the people who said they were supposed to be there just wanted to tag along with the publicity of the crime

  • InGloriusBastard April 20, 2020, 11:21 pm

    I remember the morning after this event. Poor Sharon, her pic was plastered all of the the LA Herald Examiner (don’t know about the ‘Times, my did not subscribe). It was 1969 and they said it was then end of the 60s. The TV movie “Helter Skelter” put Steve Railsback (as Manson) on the map. Very well done it was. Little did I know then but the Hippies in SF about that time were disbanding already as the “flower power” revolution was wrapping up. A very good story in PLAYBOY that mixed personal and historical anecdotes showed how the Hells Angels were enforcers in Haight-Ashbury during that time and the meth culture came of age. This was all the while some guys were being drafted for Indochina and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were doing their thing. Sorry for the digressions but it’s odd how it all was nearly contemporaneous.

  • Pardee April 20, 2020, 12:14 pm

    When I read “Helter Skelter” right after it came out, because of the inability to truly understand any part of the mentality which created this nightmare, I literally could not sleep more than a few minutes at a time for a couple of weeks. That and “In Cold Blood” are the only two books that have ever affected me like that and I have read a BUNCH of books over the last 70 years or so.

  • -mike- April 20, 2020, 10:04 am

    ” How do you convince an entire population to suspend human decency and commit such atrocities as those for which the National Socialists were responsible?”

    From psychological experiments they have found that the way it is done is to convince the people that yes it is bad for a person to do this but it is needed and is for the greater good of the nation that they should do these things. So you do the dirty work for your country because you are asked to and someone has too. Pretty simple when you think about and it works well enough that millions and millions have been and are still being killed all over the world.

  • Rex April 20, 2020, 9:46 am

    I would posit that either Mao or Poppa Joe is the award winner for Homicidal Lunatic of the Universe.
    Take your pick.

  • Mike in a Truck April 20, 2020, 9:26 am

    Nobodies afraid of Charlie Manson. Know whats scary ? A massed ground assault by NVA preceded by Viet Cong sappers that’s what. Charlie was made out to be some personification of evil and he played it to the hilt right up to his dying in prison like the loser he was. The stupid MSM glorified this creep because he was a boogyman to the middle class. Roman Polanski is almost as bad but still walks around free.Manson is in Hell waiting for Polanski.Piss on both of them.Scary my ass.

  • Who cares?! April 20, 2020, 4:19 am

    This B.S. happened in the EARLY SEVENTIES! When is it time to stop talking about a bunch of WEAK MINDED LOSERS that killed people for some bigger lower that was to cowardly to do it himself! FYI… There are SO many UNSOLVED stories that people SHOULD get answers for BUT IDIOTS ARE STILL FIFTY YEARS AFTER A SOOOOLVED CASE and telling the SAME OLD STORY over and over since NOTHING NEW CAN EVER HAPPEN SINCE HE’S NOW DEAD SO LET’S MOOOOVE ON!!!!!!

    • michael April 20, 2020, 7:03 am

      I wonder if the police checked Polanski phone records ? Maybe he wasn’t as FREE WILLING as one would think. Did he call Steve & other guest to inform them he would not be there ? Did he know Manson ? And what was the previous beef ?
      “Movie director Roman Polanski and his pregnant wife Sharon Tate lived in a domicile previously occupied by an acquaintance of Manson. Manson had suffered a disagreement with the previous occupants and likely targeted the place as a result.”

      • William r jenkins April 20, 2020, 10:22 am

        Check out a well researched book by Tom Oneil. It had a lot of answers that were backed up with evidence. It ties in to what was really going on in the late 60’s.

    • gary gore April 20, 2020, 3:43 pm

      You—- I won’t say it but I am more than willing to meet you in any dark alley PAL, I just don’t know what you are doing here unless it is just to be an asshole

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