How the Manson Family Murders Worked

Charles Manson
Charles Manson, who led a cult that committed several heinous murders in Los Angeles in the '60s, is seen here at the L.A. County jail. Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

The 1960s did not fade gradually into the 1970s in America. A decade of turmoil, anger and revolutionary idealism ended with a single bleeding exclamation point — the brutal murders of Hollywood star Sharon Tate and several of her friends, and the equally gruesome killings of a couple who owned a grocery store. From the carnage rose a lone, dark figure who has haunted America ever since: Charles Manson.

To place them in historical perspective, consider that the first moon landing happened on July 20, 1969. The Manson murders occurred about two weeks later, and a week after the murders was the legendary Woodstock festival. The facts of the case and the identities of the killers became public knowledge later in the fall of 1969, something that has been interpreted again and again as the symbolic ending to the era of "peace and love."


But Manson himself may have never actually killed anyone, and he wasn't even present at the scenes of the most notorious massacres. He stood not much taller than 5 feet (1.5 meters), yet he commanded bizarre and relentless loyalty among his "family," mostly young women. His ambitions of musical stardom failed completely, yet nearly every American knows his name and can recognize him on sight.

Why did Charlie Manson cast such a long shadow across American culture? To find an answer, we'll look at the murders themselves, the cult that developed around him and the ways he remained in the public eye long after he was sent to prison for life.