Born to an unmarried 16-year-old named Kathleen Maddox (1918–1973), in Cincinnati General Hospital, Ohio, Manson was first named “”no name Maddox.”” Within weeks, he was Charles Milles Maddox. For a period after his birth, his mother was married to a laborer named William Manson (1910-?), whose last name the boy was given. His biological father appears to have been Colonel Walker Scott (May 11, 1910– December 30, 1954) against whom Kathleen Maddox filed a bastardy suit that resulted in an agreed judgment in 1937. Possibly, Charles Manson never really knew his biological father.
Several statements in Manson’s 1951 case file from the seven months he would later spend at the National Training School for Boys in Washington, D.C., allude to the possibility that “”Colonel Scott”” was African American.:555 These include the first two sentences of his family background section, which read: “”Father: unknown. He is alleged to have been a colored cook by the name of Scott, with whom Charles’s mother had been promiscuous at the time of pregnancy.” When asked about these official records by attorney Vincent Bugliosi in 1971, Manson emphatically denied that his biological father had African American ancestry.:588
In the quasi-autobiography, Manson in His Own Words, Colonel Scott is said to have been “”a young drugstore cowboy … a transient laborer working on a nearby dam project.”” It is not clear what “”nearby”” means. The description is in a paragraph that indicates Kathleen Maddox gave birth to Manson “”while living in Cincinnati,”” after she had run away from her own home, in Ashland, Kentucky.
Manson’s mother was allegedly a heavy drinker. According to a family member, she once sold her son for a pitcher of beer to a childless waitress, from whom his uncle retrieved him some days later. When Manson’s mother and her brother were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for robbing a Charleston, West Virginia, service station in 1939, Manson was placed in the home of an aunt and uncle in McMechen, West Virginia. Upon her 1942 parole, Kathleen retrieved her son and lived with him in run-down hotel rooms Manson himself later characterized her physical embrace of him on the day she returned from prison as his sole happy childhood memory.
In 1947, Kathleen Maddox tried to have her son placed in a foster home but failed because no such home was available. The court placed Manson in Gibault School for Boys, in Terre Haute, Indiana. After 10 months, he fled from there to his mother, who rejected him
By burglarizing a grocery store, Manson obtained cash that enabled him to rent a room. He committed a string of burglaries of other stores, including one from which he stole a bicycle, but was eventually caught in the act and sent to an Indianapolis juvenile center. He escaped after one day, but was recaptured and placed in Boys Town. Four days after his arrival there, he escaped with another boy. The pair committed two armed robberies on their way to the home of the other boy’s uncle.
Caught during the second of two subsequent break-ins of grocery stores, Manson was sent, at age 13, to the Indiana Boys School, where, he would later claim, he was brutalized sexually and otherwise. After many failed attempts, he escaped with two other boys in 1951.
In Utah, the three were caught driving to California in cars they had stolen. They had burglarized several filling stations along the way. For the federal crime of taking a stolen car across a state line, Manson was sent to Washington, D.C.’s National Training School for Boys. Despite four years of schooling and an I.Q. of 109 (later tested at 121), he was illiterate. A caseworker deemed him aggressively antisocial.
In October 1951, on a psychiatrist’s recommendation, Manson was transferred to Natural Bridge Honor Camp, a minimum security institution. Less than a month before a scheduled February 1952 parole hearing, he “”took a razor blade and held it against another boy’s throat while Manson sodomized him.” Manson was transferred to the Federal Reformatory, Petersburg, Virginia, where he was considered “”dangerous.”” In September 1952, a number of other serious disciplinary offenses resulted in his transfer to the Federal Reformatory at Chillicothe, Ohio, a more secure institution. About a month after the transfer, he became almost a model resident. Good work habits and a rise in his educational level from the lower fourth to the upper seventh grade won him a May 1954 parole.
After temporarily honoring a parole condition that he live with his aunt and uncle in West Virginia, Manson moved in with his mother in that same state. In January 1955, he married a hospital waitress named Rosalie Jean Willis, with whom, by his own account, he found genuine, if short-lived, marital happiness. He supported their marriage via small-time jobs and auto theft.
Around October, about three months after he and his pregnant wife arrived in Los Angeles in a car he had stolen in Ohio, Manson was again charged with a federal crime for taking the vehicle across state lines. After a psychiatric evaluation, he was given five years’ probation. His subsequent failure to appear at a Los Angeles hearing on an identical charge filed in Florida resulted in his March 1956 arrest in Indianapolis. His probation was revoked; he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment at Terminal Island, San Pedro, California.
While Manson was in prison, Rosalie gave birth to their son, Charles Manson, Jr. During his first year at Terminal Island, Manson received visits from Rosalie and his mother, who were now living together in Los Angeles. In March 1957, when the visits from his wife ceased, his mother informed him Rosalie was living with another man. Less than two weeks before a scheduled parole hearing, Manson tried to escape by stealing a car. He was subsequently given five years probation, and his parole was denied.
Manson received five years’ parole in September 1958, the same year in which Rosalie received a decree of divorce. By November, he was pimping a 16-year-old girl and was receiving additional support from a girl with wealthy parents. In September 1959, he pleaded guilty to a charge of attempting to cash a forged U.S. Treasury check. He received a 10-year suspended sentence and probation after a young woman with an arrest record for prostitution made a “”tearful plea”” before the court that she and Manson were “”deeply in love … and would marry if Charlie were freed.””Before the year’s end, the woman did marry Manson, possibly so testimony against him would not be required of her.
The woman’s name was Leona; as a prostitute, she had used the name Candy Stevens. After Manson took her and another woman from California to New Mexico for purposes of prostitution, he was held and questioned for violation of the Mann Act. Though he was released, he evidently suspected, rightly, that the investigation had not ended. When he disappeared, in violation of his probation, a bench warrant was issued; an April 1960 indictment for violation of the Mann Act followed.:137–146 Arrested in Laredo, Texas, in June, when one of the women was arrested for prostitution, Manson was returned to Los Angeles. For violation of his probation on the check-cashing charge, he was ordered to serve his 10-year sentence.:137–146
In July 1961, after a year spent unsuccessfully appealing the revocation of his probation, Manson was transferred from the Los Angeles County Jail to the United States Penitentiary at McNeil Island. There, he took guitar lessons from Barker-Karpis gang leader Alvin “”Creepy”” Karpis, and obtained a contact name of someone at Universal Studios in Hollywood from another inmate, Phil Kaufman (whom after release had befriended Gram Parsons and after his death had hijacked the body and cremated it in the Joshua Tree desert).
Although the Mann Act charge had been dropped, the attempt to cash the Treasury check was still a federal offense. His September 1961 annual review noted he had a “”tremendous drive to call attention to himself””, an observation echoed in September 1964. In 1963, Leona was granted a divorce, in the pursuit of which she alleged that she and Manson had had a son, Charles Luther.
In June 1966, Manson was sent, for the second time in his life, to Terminal Island, in preparation for early release. By March 21, 1967, his release day, he had spent more than half of his 32 years in prisons and other institutions.:137–146 Telling the authorities that prison had become his home, he requested permission to stay,:137–146 a fact touched on in a 1981 television interview with Tom Snyder.