Charles Milles Manson (born Charles Milles Maddox, November 12, 1934) was an American criminal who led what became known as the Manson Family, a quasi-commune that arose in the California desert in the late 1960s.
Manson and his followers committed a series of nine murders at four locations over a period of five weeks in the summer of 1969. In 1971 he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit the murders of seven people: actress Sharon Tate and four other people at Tate's home; and the next day, a married couple, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca; all carried out by members of the group at his instruction. He was convicted of the murders through the joint-responsibility rule, which makes each member of a conspiracy guilty of crimes committed by fellow conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy's objective. His followers also murdered several other people at other times and locations, and Manson was also convicted for two of these other murders (of Gary Hinman and Donald "Shorty" Shea).
Manson believed in what he called "Helter Skelter", a term he took from the song of the same name by the Beatles. Manson believed Helter Skelter to be an impending apocalyptic race war, which he described in his own version of the lyrics to the Beatles' song. He believed the murders would help precipitate that war. From the beginning of his notoriety, a pop culture arose around him in which he ultimately became an emblem of insanity, violence and the macabre. The term "helter skelter" was later used by Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi as the title of a book that he wrote about the Manson murders.
At the time the Family began to form, Manson was an unemployed former convict, who had spent half of his life in correctional institutions for a variety of offenses. Before the murders, he was a singer-songwriter on the fringe of the Los Angeles music industry, chiefly through a chance association with Dennis Wilson, drummer and co-founder of the Beach Boys. After Manson was charged with the crimes of which he was later convicted, recordings of songs written and performed by him were released commercially. Various musicians, including Guns N' Roses, White Zombie, Devendra Banhart and Marilyn Manson, have covered some of his songs.
Manson's death sentence was automatically commuted to life imprisonment when a 1972 decision by the Supreme Court of California temporarily eliminated the state's death penalty. California's eventual reinstatement of capital punishment did not affect Manson, who is currently serving nine concurrent life sentences at Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, California.
Prior to the murders in Southern California, Manson had been a petty criminal who had amassed a number of arrests from 1949 onward.