My short bio: I'm Jeff Guinn, author of "MANSON: The Life and Times of Charles Manson." I've spent the past few years researching and writing about Charles Manson, the events that formed him, and why he still fascinates us 45 years later. For the first time we hear from Charlie's sister and first cousin, and a host of other people willing to go on record. The book is out Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Thanks for all the questions. Keep them coming and I'll try to answer some every day.

My Proof:

Comments: 285 • Responses: 90  • Date: 

WaxStatue27 karma

So, in your opinion, is he actually mentally ill, or just an exceptionally dedicated actor?

Manson_Author45 karma

Charles Manson is in no way insane. Everything he does is calculated. He promised his followers that, if arrested, he'd put on a "Crazy Charlie"act, and that is what he's done for 44 years.

WaxStatue12 karma

That's some stick-to-it-ness. Of course, it leads me to this followup. If he isn't actually insane, why did he ask the parole board to deny him parole? I have been in jail and it sucked. I am sure prison is much worse. Does he enjoy celebrity there?

Manson_Author25 karma

Charlie is a sort of celebrity in prison. He has sometimes been isolated from the main population for fear another inmate will try to kill him for the attention that would result.

konohasaiyajin4 karma

In relation to the isolation, Is there ever any worry he will convert other inmates to be his followers?

Manson_Author6 karma

It hasn't happened yet in 40 plus years.

Manson_Author22 karma

Manson only remains mysterious if he's mostly out of public view. If he were released, camera crews would follow his every move and, in the process, reveal that he's a con man, not a mystic.

KGFIII5 karma

Just speculating, but I'd imagine he knows there's not a chance in hell of being granted parole, so it doesn't really matter whether he asks for it to be denied or not.

Play4Blood1 karma

He asked to be denied parole prior to the murders. He grew up in the american detention system. He knew he couldn't make it in the real world.

Manson_Author4 karma

One of the fascinating parts of the book was when he really, honestly tried to be a regular civilian. Married, working hard to get by, being a part of the community...he did try.

thelordismyshotgun23 karma

What does your book add that wasn't already addressed in Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter?

Manson_Author38 karma

There's something new on almost every page, from the real facts of Manson's childhood to the day-to-day life of the Family at Spahn Ranch to new information about the Tate-LaBianca murders and subsequent trial (for instance, I found the bailiffs who were assigned to Manson throughout, and they had stories to tell about behind the scenes. Helter Skelter is an amazing book, and mine is a companion to it rather than competition. Vincent Bugliosi could not have been more generous in the help he provided to me while I was doing my own research. I'm grateful to him.

thelordismyshotgun8 karma

Thanks for the reply, will definitely check your book out.

Manson_Author13 karma

Thanks, I appreciate that. Hope you like it.

Khaz1915 karma

I am sorry if I come off as rude and disrespectful but my question(serious question too) is.

Why do you/people still care about Charles Manson? Why is this person still famous today and still intriguing a lot of people?

Manson_Author26 karma

Manson is a master of manipulation. He's used the media to not only keep his name out there, but to do it in such a way that he continues to seem interesting. He's created an aura of magic and mysticism about himself. Maybe my book can demystify him. I hope so.

Manson_Author13 karma

Please keep sending questions and I will try my best to answer as many as I can whenever I can. I'm doing lots of travelling and interviews for the book but will keep checking in here. Thanks for all the questions and interest. is the site for the book and some of that material might answer your questions or lead to more.

Friedso12 karma

Thanks for this AMA.

What was your fascination with him?

Manson_Author22 karma

I wanted to write a book about America in the late 1960s. For many people, Charlie epitomizes that chaotic time. We seem to think that he emerged full-blown in 1969, telling followers to kill people. I wanted to write the first book that traced back through his entire life, and to sort fact from mythology. As always with history, the real story turned out to be more fascinating than the made-up stuff.

chi_gha11 karma

Have you met Manson? How is he?

Manson_Author25 karma

Despite a letter a day that I sent to him for five months, Manson would not see me. He did write to me, and also gave permission for me to use some of his prison art in the photo section of the book. Physically, he's apparently fine. He has lots of modern-day followers who send him gifts and treats.

Friedso3 karma

What does he think of your book?

Manson_Author13 karma

I don't know yet. He wasn't pleased that I was writing it. I want to send him a copy, but he's not allowed to receive hard-cover books. I may have to wait until it comes out in paperback.

TIL_The_Internet9 karma

And you can't send him a typed copy like you gave your editor and publisher? Kind of rude considering you're making money off his life

Manson_Author7 karma

I'm working on getting him something.

sheriw196510 karma

I read your book when it first came out, and just bought another copy not long ago since I lost mine. It's great.

What has become of the children that Charlie allegedly fathered with other members of his "Family?"

Manson_Author6 karma

That's something I'm not comfortable commenting on in this forum. It's a fair question, but it's a sensitive subject.

JodiMichelle10 karma

Can you tell us what its been like in prison for him all these years? Like has he been in isolation or general? Has anyone ever tried to kill him? Has he tried to kill anyone?

Manson_Author11 karma

I really can't comment on his life in prison. I do know that he is sometimes isolated to avoid any instances of another inmate harming him to make a reputation.

christoper8 karma

What was the most surprising thing you learned while doing research for the book?

Manson_Author16 karma

The stories of Manson's childhood were surprising - he made up most of what he's told about it over the years. He cribbed Dale Carnegie course materials, Biblical verses, and Scientology teaching for most of his own preaching. There was nothing original about him.

ARatherOddOne8 karma

If Manson was released from prison, do you think he would be able to do what he did back when he committed his crimes or would his age seriously prevent him from doing it? Does he have influence or control over anyone in the prison that you know of?

Manson_Author20 karma

Charles Manson would always find a way to promote himself at the expense of others. He still has followers who literally worship him and would do anything he asked.

s-c-b8 karma

how close was he really to the beach boys? was he worth a damn as a singer?

Manson_Author16 karma

Charlie was close for a while with Dennis Wilson. The other Beach Boys wanted nothing to do with him. I've heard some of the original tapes he made in L.A., and while they're not bad, they're nothing special. He never had a realistic chance of becoming a rock star.

sublimesting6 karma

Does he prefer to go by Charles, Charlie or Chuck or Chas or Chip or Chuckles?

Manson_Author9 karma

At this point in his life, his friends apparently call him Charles.

kuehlj866 karma

Whats he like nowadays? Is he pretty funny ?

Manson_Author17 karma

Charlie has always had a sense of humor. His main interest these days, besides continuing his "Crazy Charlie" act to stay popular, is preserving the environment. He has as organization called ATWA, an acronym for Air Trees Water Animals. You can find it on the internet.

MustGetWeird5 karma

Heard your interview yesterday on NPR, interesting stuff. I know you say that he is not crazy and told people he would act crazy if he got arrested. You say that he has kept up this amazing act all this time. My only thought is something like "Only a crazy person would be able to keep up an act for so long"

I don't know if I'm construing that the best way, but its just like... a noncrazy person could go crazy by acting crazy for long.

Have you thought about that?

Manson_Author12 karma

That's a fair point. Maybe it would be better stated to say that he slips into character when the cameras are on him.

thelordismyshotgun5 karma

Does your book include any new details about Manson's bizarre Beatle-influenced race war/Armageddon/revelations theory?

Manson_Author13 karma

It does. "The White Album" was very popular with the Family for many strange reasons.

2cats2hats14 karma

To be fair, it is a hell of an album.

Manson_Author9 karma

Very true and subject to many interpretations as I learned.

wupbooty5 karma

So you think he actually still fascinates us?

Manson_Author7 karma

Obviously. And he does because he's been allowed to put on his "Crazy Charlie" act for so long. If he'd been executed as originally scheduled, I think by now he would be only mildly remembered, if at all.

Slagathor914 karma

As someone who is trying to get into non-fiction with little to no experience with it, why should I read/buy your book?

Manson_Author12 karma

Well, I hope you'll rea the book because it's interesting. As someone who will someday write nonfiction of your own, you might want to see how I researched the book, who I talked to and how I found them. All of that is in chapter notes. Good luck with your writing career.

nelly5404 karma

Does it have any info on his childhood in Cincinnati? I'm from there and always wondered where he actually grew up?

Manson_Author10 karma

His childhood in Ohio and West Virginia was some of the most interesting research I did. Really, I thought it was an area of his life and myth that had been overlooked and gives an idea for how and why he became what he did.

Witchgrass1 karma

I'm west Virginian and I had no idea he lived here. Where exactly?

Manson_Author3 karma

He spent much of his childhood in McMechen.

Apiperofhades3 karma

Is it true his mom tried to sell him for a pitcher of beer? Is it true he never really killed anyone but he tricked his followers to do so?

Manson_Author4 karma

The beer story is one of the many myths proven false in the book.

Apiperofhades2 karma

Was his mother an evil bitch or his father a monster?

Manson_Author3 karma

Neither. His mother wasn't perfect but she tried very hard. His childhood was very ineresting.

cmeola3 karma

Do you see a clear through line between Manson and other modern cult leaders?

Manson_Author11 karma

Manson as a sociopath isn't unique, but his uncanny ability to manipulate others is pretty much unprecedented. Maybe only Jim Jones exceeds him.

uberlad3 karma


Manson_Author21 karma

If you're every bored, it's your own fault. My fourth grade teacher told me that about 100 years ago, and she was right.

pemble2 karma

jesus how old are you?

Manson_Author9 karma

I plead the 5th.

chuck_dingo3 karma

do you buy that charlie was unfairly tried and imprisoned for being a threat to the government?

Manson_Author11 karma

Nope. Charlie wasn't a threat to the government as such - he was a threat to individual human beings.

banjo113 karma

Do you feel like his followers got what they deserved? Should they have been the sentences they were given?

Manson_Author14 karma

It's hard or me not to feel some sympathy for Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, who cooperated with me as I wrote this book. I'm not qualified to say whether or not they should be paroled. I do think they are genuinely remorseful.

funkarama3 karma

So, what was his goal in your opinion? To get money? pussy? fame? Why do you think that he wants others to do his violent bidding?

Manson_Author12 karma

Sociopaths want to control others. Above all else, Charlie wanted to be more famous than the Beatles. He didn't make it, but in some ways he came close, for godawful reasons.

sicapat3 karma

i enjoyed his interview with geraldo rivera back in the 80's and he really put geraldo in his place and also had a lot of interesting points about life

Manson_Author7 karma

He is a character, no doubt about it.

springek3 karma

How much of an advance did you get for this book?

Manson_Author10 karma

Not enough.

onafarawaybeach3 karma

always the right answer

Manson_Author6 karma

My editor just said the same thing.

CSUSBro3 karma

Hey! I think I recently listened to your NPR interview, I thought it was really interesting and you were well spoken and thoughtful with your answers. No questions, just wanted to say I'll be sure to check out the book.

Manson_Author6 karma

Thank you, I really appreciate that. Hope you enjoy it.

Omgitspants3 karma

Was it Susan Atkins who a few years ago wanted to be paroled because she had an inoperable brain tumor or other ailment? I'm not solid on this info, but what is your opinion on anyone other than Manson being paroled? I'm not sure who is still in prison (or alive for that matter). Thank you.

Manson_Author7 karma

Yes, Susan passed away in 2009. She made a special plea once her diagnosis became terminal but she was denied. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme was paroled in 2009 after serving 34 years for pointing a gun at President Ford.

Play4Blood3 karma

An unloaded gun, no less. Squeaky was an odd bird.

Manson_Author5 karma

She was one of the first and most loyal Family members.

Dowew3 karma

Do you know if he has written any more music while in prison?

Manson_Author6 karma

I know he writes a lot: poems, songs, essays, letters, etc. He doesn't have any way to record though.

t0rt01s33 karma

I have a friend who is obsessed with serial killers--reading books about them, watching documentaries about them, etc. etc.--and I get the fascination with what motivates a serial killer, but I don't necessarily understand the weird glorification of them. I'm not saying this kind of obsession is what motivated you to write your book, but having said that, what did motivate you to write a book about Charles Manson?

Manson_Author9 karma

I wanted to give some context to readers about the time and place in which Manson became so famous, and to sort truth from mythology.

Thompson_S_Sweetback3 karma

Did Manson know any black people?

Manson_Author3 karma

He was a terrible racist and had a pathological hatred and fear of the Black Panthers.

thelordofcheese2 karma

Is it true that he just sits in his cell and watches TV all day?

Manson_Author6 karma

I'm not sure what he does every day. He did send me some paintings and sketches, one is in the book, so he's keeping busy that way.

Omgitspants2 karma

I saw this question further down, but no definitive answer. Did Manson at any point ever kill anyone himself? I thought after he was arrested he had confessed to numerous murders that they never found bodies or evidence of (crazy charlie?).

Manson_Author5 karma

I don't know that I have a definitive answer. There is lots of speculation but as you say evidence is scarce. Only Charlie knows for sure.

nittywhiskers2 karma

so is there anything new in your book thats not in the other 10 billion books about manson?

Manson_Author12 karma

Yes, lots. Many of the people I spoke to - including his sister and first cousin - had never been found, much less interviewed. It also looks at how the culture of LA during the 1960s empowered him. He was the wrong person at the right time.

mijour2 karma

Do you think he will ever get parole ?

Manson_Author8 karma

No. Not a chance.

theidleprophet2 karma


Manson_Author5 karma

Him being locked up adds to his mystique and he knows this.

Sykedelic2 karma

What do you think about Charlie being innocent?

Manson_Author5 karma

I don't.

awkwardturtlex2 karma

Charles Manson was a great manipulator but what was it, do you think (in his rhetoric) that made him appealing to his followers?

Manson_Author9 karma

He was very charismatic and a master of breaking people down and building them back up. Many of his followers had some social issues and self-esteem problems, and Charlie could smell that a mile away. He may not have believed everything he was saying but he knew they were believing it.

SordidCanary2 karma

How do you feel about this video of him:

Manson_Author4 karma

Fits everything I've learned, researched, and heard of him. He's a performer.

shocktop82 karma


Manson_Author7 karma

He was the wrong person at the right time. That time being the 1960s, thh counterculture, the social upheaval, race, etc. I can't imagine how this trial would be covered today with instant, round-the-clock coverage.

Play4Blood1 karma

That trial would have broken the internet. No question about it.

Manson_Author3 karma

Haha. I might have to borrow that line.

cmeola2 karma

The Manson murders are often described as the metaphorical end of the sixties. Does your research back this up? Did the murders lead to a real change in how the hippy movement was regarded by the culture at large?

Manson_Author7 karma

I think it does and that was one of the angles I approached the book. There was so much happening at the time, especially in LA, from the race riots to Vietnam to Altamont and so on that the Manson Family seem to be the embodiment of the violent times. I think between Manson and Altamont that people began to realize hippies weren't all peace and love.

PawnShop8042 karma

What is the most interesting thing (in your opinion) about Charles Manson's life? What is the most interesting thing you learned about him?

Manson_Author14 karma

The most interesting thing, to me, is that everything he did was calculated. He's not crazy or dumb - far from it. What amazed me the most is how he never really changed from childhood through Tate-LaBianca. He always was able to convince others to do his often violent bidding.

onafarawaybeach2 karma

So his mother wasn't an alcoholic prostitute?

Manson_Author10 karma

No, quite the opposite. She had some missteps but was not the demon he made her out to be. Of course, Charlie knew she would never be in the public eye much less defend herself.

unabletoventure2 karma

Hello, thanks for doing this AMA. What is the closest you got to interacting with Mason? Also, when meeting new people, how do they react when you tell them you wrote a book about Charles Manson?

Manson_Author4 karma

I wrote him every day for a long time but only received one reply. I think people don't quite know how to respond at first but as I explain it it seems to make more sense. I've had to explain it a lot recently, too.

zdayhbz1 karma

I live in the Chatsworth area in California. I have been to Spahn Ranch. How close are the infamous 'Manson Caves' to Spahn Ranch?

Manson_Author3 karma

Reasonably close, but a church now owns the former Spahn Ranch property and won't allow anyone to trespass.

DorianOrange1 karma

Looking down through this AMA, you often say he was "the wrong person at the right time" Could you please elaborate on this?

Manson_Author2 karma

Sure. He was the wrong person in that he was smart, charismatic, and manipulative, violent, and had spent a lot of time perfecting his craft and message during a time where young people were impressionable and there was so much happening in the world.

sublimesting1 karma

When you and he were conversing by letter did you ever get a sense that was he manipulative towards you? Did he try to have you do anything for him, i.e. send money etc. It doesn't seem to me that someone like that would help someone write a book about them, for profit, of which they will never see a dime.

Manson_Author5 karma

His one reply had some threats but was a lot of nonsense. At the end he wrote "PS: They don't let me interview as I want." I was hopeful to interview but he was very restricted during the time I was writing the book.

redvelvetquilts1 karma

How do you gain people's respect for your projects? I am working on my first novel, and the amount of vitriol I've received from various posts online is astonishing.

Manson_Author3 karma

I don't spend a lot of time online, maybe that's the key for me. I'm not very tech savvy and that's fine with me.

thelordismyshotgun1 karma

Did you contact the Church of Scientology regarding Manson's involvement? What was the extent of his involvement with the organization proper, if at all? Thanks

Manson_Author3 karma

He incorporated some their teachings and rhetoric into his own.

GodQuestionmark1 karma

What is his prison situation right now? Is he doing his time in an open prison, or in complete solitary?

Manson_Author2 karma

He goes between the two. There have been some instances of him being caught with cell phones, which has landed him in solitary. There is always the issue of another inmate making a move on him to build his own celebrity. I don't want to comment on it too much but he seems to be living a comfy life in there. Big John Wayne fan from what I understand.

redvelvetquilts1 karma

Once you've finished writing, what is the process like for getting the book published?

Manson_Author2 karma

Long and painful. For a project like this here is a considerable amount of time spent editing and fact checking but it's all part of the process. A lot of great people have helped me out.

daughter_of_death1 karma

As an amateur writer myself, I would think it would be difficult to write about an oft-covered topic, but still manage to make it new and exciting. How was this experience for you, as a writer?

Thanks for doing this, by the way! Will definitely be purchasing your book. Good luck with it!

Manson_Author4 karma

It was a concern in the early stages but I realized that nobody had written the book about Manson that I wanted to read. One lead led to another and soon enough I had more info than I could keep up with. It was a lot of travel and research and sometimes frustrating, but every break and revelation was worth it. Hope you enjoy the book.

EgonIsGod1 karma

So, how did the publication process work? Did you get hired to write the book, or did you put together a book proposal and fire it off to literary agents until you got a bite?

Manson_Author2 karma

I suggested this book (via my literary agent) to Simon & Schuster and wrote a short proposal. They subsequently offered me a contract to write it. Major publishers usually don't deal directly with authors - they prefer dealing with agents.

EgonIsGod1 karma

I was for a time represented by Writer's House LLC. I'm familiar with the process for fiction works, but non-fiction is new territory for me. I had wondered if perhaps someone further up the chain had the idea and handed it off to someone they knew to be capable. Apparently not the case. Looking forward to reading the book!

Manson_Author2 karma

Thanks, I appreciate that. Nonfiction is a different process than fiction and every situation itself different. A lot of it is finding the right agent and editor and becoming a team that works together. Also, luck and timing.

scoot23ro1 karma

this is a weird question but how much money do you think manson is worth or has earned over the years? i'm guessing he has someone looking over his affairs? i don't know

Manson_Author2 karma

i don't know Manson has earned some royalties for album sales, but due to a court order, all the money goes to the son of one of his victims.

Valstone45701 karma

Do you believe Manson would be a danger to today's society? Also, were you somewhat affected by Manson's hypnotic vibe?

Manson_Author3 karma

He's 78 now and had limited contact with the outside world so it's doubtful he would be an type of danger. Maybe just a sideshow.

Senor-Fuji1 karma

Thanks for doing this. Did Charlie suffer from the worst known case of "Little Man's Disease"? Maybe Napoleon had him beat, but it's close, right?

Manson_Author3 karma

Charlie is about five foot four. He has never been hesitant to physically attack much larger men. I'm not sure that has anything to do with "Little Man's Disease."

CletusHemingway1 karma

Do you believe that Bobby Beausoleil was really responsible for the Hinman murder and, if so, was it a planned act? Or do you think that he was someone manipulated into a bad situation and exploited?

What role did drug abuse play in the family and, more specifically, the murders? Where they all high at the time? Did their drug abuse cause a break with reality or were Charlie and his followers simply socially alienated and mentally ill?

In your mind, did the acts of Charles Manson and the Family really signify the symbolic end of the hipppie movement of the 60's? Was he the harbinger of doom, or a result of deep problems in the movement?

Thanks for taking time to do this. I still find him fascinating and I'm excited to see new work dealing with him, the Family, and the time period. Fascinating!

Manson_Author8 karma

Drugs, LSD especially, were a regular part of the Family's daily life. Many of his followers were social outcasts without much esteem. When someone as manipulative and charismatic as Manson gets a flock of people like that, mixed with mind-altering drugs and a desolate environment it doesn't lead to good.

silverbloodedunicorn1 karma

In your opinion Was Manson born evil or did his circumstance growing up make him the way he was?

Manson_Author3 karma

That's one of the central questions of the book: Was he naturally evil and/or what are the factors - personally and societal - that formed him.

s-c-b1 karma

did you ever get to interact with manson?

Manson_Author3 karma

I wrote him over a hundred letters, and he wrote me one.

Ginsoakedboy211 karma

Hey! I just wanted to say my girlfriend bought me one of your other books, The Last Gunfight for Christmas (I requested books that I would learn something from) and I thought it was terrific. Your book on Bonnie and Clyde is in my wishlist waiting for next Christmas now.

Manson_Author3 karma

Thanks a lot, I really appreciate the support. Those books are very special to me. Hope "Go Down Together" turns up under the tree.

akerbaker1 karma


Manson_Author4 karma

SOme of the revelations about his childhood were quite shocking and really gives us an idea of what he would become.

cygnox1 karma

I just recently visited Barker Ranch for the second time, and was once again amazed at how beautiful / secluded it was. My question is this: How long would Manson and his followers reside at the ranch at a time? I know they had water from the nearby stream, but did they have any electricity via a generator? Also, what were Manson and his followers primarily doing at the ranch, just chilling having a good time?

Manson_Author4 karma

It is a beautiful place and way out there. Without giving too much away, Barker Ranch was one of Charlie's plans that just didn't work out but you did touch on some reasons why.

ryanoh1 karma

I have a friend of a friend of a friend (I'm actually not sure how exactly I know of this guy, just that I've never met him but I know people who know him) who lives in Mississippi and has been writing letters back and forth with Charles Manson for years. Like I said, I've never met the guy, and only know people who know him, so I've always doubted the credibility story a little. In any of your research did you find anything out that sounds like this? If it is true, is talking to people a pretty common thing for him, or is it just something he does with this one guy?

Manson_Author3 karma

Charles still does have many followers and fans. Trust me, I know. He does keep in touch with some of them so this could be one of those cases.

nthgthdgdcrtdtrk1 karma

do you feel that incarcerating and refusing to treat an obviously deranged person is a crime against humanity?

Manson_Author3 karma

I'm not qualified to answer that.

cynbookb1 karma

Excellent interview on NPR a day or two back. Very informative!

Manson_Author2 karma

Thank you! Much appreciated.

Book81 karma

What was the relationship between Tex Watson and Manson?

Why wasn't Manson with the group the night of the murders?

I read somewhere that Jerzy KosiƄski was supposed to be at that party. Is that true?

Manson_Author5 karma

These are great questions and I want to answer them when I have a little more time.

Manson_Author3 karma

Manson considered Watson useful because he was an expert car mechanic, and also was willing to do whatever Manson wanted. He considered Tex to be a tool and nothing more. Manson didn't want to commit murders himself - if his followers were caught, he intended to plead innocence and claim that he was not responsible for their actions. No one I talked to has any memory of Jerzy Kosinski being at the Tate residence at any time.

raffytraffy1 karma

Why do you think Tate was targeted? Was it random, or did they want to attack Tate/Polanski specifically because of their Hollywood status?

Manson_Author7 karma

Celebrity had something to do with it but the house and who it belonged to were the targets. They all were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. It's still very sad and unsettling to write about.

DorianOrange1 karma

In your recent NPR interview, you said that he still has followers. How is it that he isn't able to still convince them to commit horrible acts?

Manson_Author3 karma

He may not be issuing those types of orders. Also even his followers have limited access to him. I think he's smart enough to know not to push the line and risk losing the adoration he craves.

Play4Blood1 karma

Have your read "Will You Die For Me?", Tex Watson's version of the story? What did you think about it from a factual standpoint?

Manson_Author5 karma

I have read it. Tex has a unique perspective and memory, to say the least