Charles Manson was born in 1934 to a 16-year-old single mother. After his mother was imprisoned for armed robbery, he lived with his uncle and aunt in West Virginia and soon turned to a life of petty crime himself. He spent much of his juvenile and young adult life in reformatories or prison. When he was released in 1967, he moved to San Francisco and attracted a small but devout group of young people that became known as "the Family."
Unlike most cults, the Manson Family was not primarily religion-based, however Charles Manson did dabble in Satanism as well as Scientology and held bizarre, quasi-religious ideas. He also predicted a violent race war in which African Americans would prevail but would need to then turn to surviving whites for proper leadership. He planned to have his Manson Family hide out during the race war and then emerge to take control when it was over.
To help instigate this race war, Manson ordered his followers to carry out murders, intending them to be blamed on blacks. In August 1968, Manson family members killed several people in a Los Angeles house, including actress Sharon Tate (the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski) and coffee-heiress Abigail Folger. The next night, Manson Family members murdered two others. In both cases, the killers repeatedly stabbed victims and wrote messages on the walls in their blood. Manson and his cohorts were sentenced to death, but got life in prison after California banned the death penalty.