Manson in His Own Words by Charles Manson and Nuel Emmons (Grove: $16.95; 256 pp.)

Cunningham is instructor of criminology and California history at the California Youth Authority

It has been almost 18 years since that summer of madness. Still, the names are not easily forgotten--Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan (Sadie) Atkins, Charles (Tex) Watson. Sent out twice into the night, they returned each time with smiles and laughter. The morning after the first night, the police found five bodies scattered about a Bel-Air residence and its grounds. Among them were coffee heiress Abigail Folger, famed hair stylist Jay Sebring and movie actress Sharon Tate Polanski, who had been pregnant. The morning after the second time, the police found two more bodies in the Los Feliz-area home of grocer Leno La Bianca. La Bianca had been stabbed, with a carving fork and with knives, 26 times. The fork had been left in his body, protruding from his abdomen, and one of the knives was still stuck in his throat. His wife Rosemary had been stabbed 41 times. As at the Bel-Air residence, there were words scrawled by the killers with their victims’ blood: “DEATH TO PIGS” and “RISE” across a wall, and on the refrigerator the misspelled message, “HEALTER SKELTER.”

The man who sent them out those two nights was, of course, Charles Manson. He is now 52 years old. And he has no remorse. He agreed to let Nuel Emmons, a former fellow convict, tell his life’s story because it has become important to him for us to hear his version, to see him as he sees himself, and to put an end to the myth and the mystique. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews and correspondence between 1979 and 1985, this is a first-person narrative, the truth according to Charles Manson.

The man who would come to symbolize the end of the ‘60s and what went wrong with them was born “no name Maddox.” Unwanted, he was reared with abuse and neglect. His unwed mother eventually gave him to the courts, not because he was unmanageable, but because he was a hindrance to her life style. While in custody, he was beaten, brutalized and raped. By the time he was released, he had spent more than 17 years of his life in confinement. He was then 32 years old, thoroughly institutionalized, a thief and a pimp. Apart from seeing himself as a bastard, a victim and a created outlaw, his strongest sense was that of entitlement to things, years and passions missed. It was the spring of 1967. He went to San Francisco.


There he found a “convict’s dream,” a world of drugs and sex and no rules. In it he sought and found young women who were desperately seeking someone or something to give them acceptance, direction and permission. With the help of drugs, he easily became a kind of fantasy father figure, exchanging unconditional love and binding the women to him. For the first time in his life, Charles Manson had love, acceptance, power and control. And he had a following. Within a year, he took them all to Los Angeles.

How and why it all went bad Manson does not say. These are memoirs, not confessions. Search elsewhere for detailed explanations of “Helter Skelter” and which one of the unholy trio of Manson, Watson and Atkins was primarily responsible. Manson himself remains evasive about his actual involvement. He appears to be far more comfortable with projection than introspection. His focus here is on Manson the prisoner and the mind that was made criminal. Or as he puts it, “I had some help in becoming the person I am.”

Regardless, he is in San Quentin now, believing he is there more for our sins than his. But in his mind, he is not alone: “You kicked me out in 1967, gave me your kids, allowed me a little space on the desert and then took it away from me . . . (But) save your sympathy and know that only a body is in prison. At my will, I walk your streets and am right out there among you.”