Mother Tells Life of Manson as Boy
Tuesday, January 26th, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 26 – She looks older than her 53 years and feels 90, she says. Thin and slightly hunched from emphysema that keeps her from working, she still smokes heavily.
Sometimes, when the fear keeps her sitting up all night, tiredness the next day knocks her mind off-guard. Then the constant tension catches her in spasms, making her shake so badly she hardly can pick up a teacup or light her cigarets.
She is the mother of Charles Manson.
Since his arrest in November 1969, for the slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six others, she has heard herself described as the worst kind of tramp and bad mother, whose son went wrong because he was so cruelly deprived.
If anything, it was just the opposite, she knows. But she kept silent and hidden, thinking back over the past and realizing, she says now, that her worst mistake with her infamous son was an overindulgence that became a law of life, even a necessity, to Charles Manson.
In the Charles Manson who sent his disciples out to kill, she can recognize one strong trait in the little boy she remembers — the charming boy who never worked or fought for what he wanted, but let others, usually women, do it for him.
Married five years to her third husband and mother of a little girl from her second marriage, she lives today virtually in hiding, known only to her husband, a few relatives and one woman friend.
Located by The Times, she consented to an interview – the first she has ever given – with a plea that her name, even the state where she lives, not be identified. We will call her Mrs. Manson.
“They’d pick me to pieces, and I could take that,” she said, “but it’s for my little girl’s sake. She doesn’t know any of this, and I’ve hoped I could keep it quiet until she’s older. If I can just have three more years, then it’ll be blown over a little, and she’ll be 12, more able to understand. Then my husband and I will tell her.”
Even then, it will be a tall order for a 12-year-old to absorb. The girl will learn of a half-brother she was too young to remember, but who spoke proudly of “my baby sister” and then went on to notoriety in one of the most pointless, vicious massacres of the century.
She also will read descriptions – heretofore unchallenged – of a mother said to be a teen-age prostitute who didn’t know who fathered Charles Manson; an ex-convict sent to prison with her brother for beating and robbing men she hustled in riverfront bars in Cincinnati; an alcoholic who lived with so many different men that even her son, already delinquent himself, moved out in disgust, and an indifferent, abusive mother whose neglect and cruelty planted seeds of violence in a sensitive and deprived boy.
That is the general picture that until now has been drawn of Manson’s early years.
But that is not the way it was, according to his mother.
Mrs. Manson speaks frankly about her past, denying some points and admitting others in a thin, weary voice that retains the country accent of her native Ashland, Kentucky.
“Charles was born out of wedlock,” she admitted, “but it wasn’t just any man. I wasn’t a prostitute. I’ve never been a prostitute. I was just 15 years old and a dumb kid.
“But my mother was a very strict woman, very religious, so when me and my sister got a few years on us, I guess we had a tendency to be a little wild, the way kids will.
“But I didn’t go around with men that way, and when Charles came along, that had happened twice in my life. And I was really in love with Colonel Scott. He was a lot older than me, 24, and he loved me, too.”
Her mother sent her with her sister to Cincinnati, to have the baby away from Ashland and while awaiting the baby, she accepted the marriage proposal of William Manson, so the baby would have a name.
The baby was born Nov. 11, 1934, and was listed on the birth certificate as “No Name Moddox,” after his mother’s maiden name. But that was not out of indifference, Mrs. Manson said, but because she was awaiting the arrival of her mother in Cincinnati.
“I figured I’d already hurt her pretty bad, so I wanted to let her name the baby, you see. So she named him after my father.” A few weeks later, she had the birth certificate changed to Charles Milles Manson.
Her young husband had said he would try to accept the child, she recalls, but it didn’t work out. She left Manson, returned to her mother in Ashland and began divorce proceedings.
She hoped to marry Scott, she said, but her own mother, disapproving because her divorce from Manson wasn’t yet final, stymied that by informing Scott of the birth and her marriage. Scott, too furious to wait for the divorce, married another woman a few days later.
“All that stuff you read about Charles not knowing who his father was, that’s not so. Scott used to come and pick up Charles and take him home for weekends with his own child. He just loved him,” she says.
Scott died in 1954 of cancer, Mrs. Manson says.
When Charles was 4, Mrs. Manson left Ashland for McMechen, W.Va., and the boy’s contact with his real father was broken. But always he was surrounded by family — his mother, his grandmother, an aunt and an uncle.
It was during this time that Mrs. Manson and her older brother went to prison for two years, when Charles was 6. She was 22. She and her brother and an older woman who later married her brother robbed a man, she admits, and she went to prison instead of her future sister-in-law because the woman and her brother persuaded her that the other woman could do more to secure their release if she remained free. Charles was 8 when she got out.
But throughout those early years, she says, Charles was not only not neglected, he was even pampered by all the women who surrounded him.
“Maybe it was because my own mother had been so strict, but if Charles wanted anything, I’d give it to him. My mother did, too; she eased up a bit as she got older.
“He never had to do a thing to earn what he wanted. Those stories about him earning his own living selling newspapers when he was 7 or 8, those aren’t true. He didn’t even have to do things around the house, like rake leaves or mow lawns.
Charles had a wonderful personality, Mrs. Manson recalls, and always charmed people at first meeting. “He always had a way with people. Even later, when he was in prison, he was able to get special treatment, so I don’t believe any of that stuff about his hypnotizing those girls in his family. I think it was just his personality, and the effects of dope they all took.
“But he always had charm. He was real musical and had a real nice voice, so I gave him singing lessons. But then he got so conceited about his music that I made him stop the lessons, but he still sang special solos in church, and people always talked about how good he sang.
“I think that made him over-confident. He never had to take a fall, not until he was a grown man. Everything just was handed to him, I admit.”
When Charles was 10, Mrs. Manson married Jack Thomas – not his real name – to whom she stayed married for 21 depressing years. She describes Thomas as “a drunk.”
She and Thomas separated frequently over the years, once for 12 years, but she was always vulnerable to his promises to reform – until their divorce about six years ago.
Meanwhile, she admits, Thomas was an unstable man for Charles to model himself after, even though they got along well.
By the time Charles was 10, he had already begun running away from home. Mrs. Manson doesn’t know why, but he did it repeatedly, when he was living with her, when he was with his aunt and uncle, and later, from correctional institutions.
By the time Charles was 21, he had served in several reformatories and finally a prison term for car theft. Paroled, he came home, where he took menial jobs that he always lost through lateness, absence or general neglect, and his mother, or grandmother, or aunt always came through with the money he needed.
In January 1955, Charles married a waitress from McMechen, Rosalie Jean Willis. By the end of that year, he was back in custody, this time in Terminal Island Federal Prison in San Pedro, for transporting stolen cars across state lines.
Rosalie, in California to be near Charles, bore their son, Charles Jr., while Manson was in prison, and before he got out, in 1958, she divorced him, married another man and moved back east.
Mrs. Manson, who also came to California to help Rosalie and Charles eke out a living, stayed on, sharing an apartment with him in Culver City.
“I think the business with Rosalie really hurt Charles,” she says. “I think Rose was the only woman he ever really loved, and from then on, he never respected women.”
And it was during this time, she says, that she began to feel he needed psychiatric treatment, though it was far beyond their means.
Not long after, they went their separate ways, Mrs. Manson leaving Los Angeles, Charles drifting on to his bizarre future.
For a few years, Mrs. Manson was in touch, even after Charles went back to prison on bad check charges.
And still she gave him everything he asked for, anything within her means, and as fast as possible.
“I’m awfully upset,” she said Monday, after the guilty verdict was read, “I still believe that if those jurors would just talk to Charles for 15 minutes, they could see he’s mentally ill. He needs treatment, has for years. I don’t know what to do now…just start worrying again, I guess.”
By DAVE SMITH