Last one in this series and it is a doozy… Charles Manson. Stop groaning, I know, I know, Charles Manson is the epitome of serial killer lore, but Manson wasn’t really a serial killer, he was a cult leader that convinced his followers to kill and honestly, they weren’t actually serial killers either. Manson and the Manson Family were definitely killers, but they weren’t actually serial killers, they were spree killers and one might convincingly argue, mass murderers. However, Manson himself… Psychopath. Yes. Killer. Not so much.
As a matter of fact, he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder because he didn’t actually do the killings himself. Thankfully, nine counts of conspiracy to commit murder plus all the shenanigans he and the Manson Family pulled during his trial were enough to give him a life sentence (originally it earned him the death penalty, but the abolition of the death penalty in California got his sentence commuted to life in prison).
- Bernard Crowe – It’s unclear exactly who shot Crowe. Some say it was Tex Watson, some say it is the only crime Manson carried out himself. We don’t know. We do know that Crowe was a drug dealer that Tex Watson stole from and that Crowe responded by threatening to kill everyone at Spahn Ranch. Manson decided to beat him to the punch, so to speak, and shot Crowe. He believed Crowe was dead and the news the next day did report of a Black Panther being killed in Hollywood. However, the news report was not about Crowe, who was not a Black Panther (it should be noted that Manson was a racist of the highest order and just assumed all black people were involved with the Black Panthers) and he did live. There was even some thoughts of putting him on the stand for the prosecution during Manson’s later trial for the Tate/LaBianca murders, but the idea was scrapped because of Crowe’s connections to drug dealing and violent crimes.
- Gary Hinman – Hinman was killed in July 1969 for money, plain and simple. Manson thought he had some and he sent some followers to go get it. Unfortunately, that didn’t go as well as Manson would have liked and after holding the man hostage for a few days, he was stabbed to death. Of course, not before being tortured to give up the money. In the end, it doesn’t appear he got the money. The followers did scribble some political gibberish about Helter Skelter and the rise of the race war Mason envisioned happening, as would be their calling card for the upcoming murders.
- Tate Murders – Sharon Tate/Roman Pulanski just happened to buy the wrong damn house. The previous owner was a recording executive named Terry Melcher. Melcher was interested in hearing the Manson Women sing and he did do that. However, no recordings or record deal came from it, as Manson had expected. Not knowing Melcher’s new address, Manson sent Tex Watson, Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins to his former address on August 8, 1969, then occupied by the pregnant Sharon Tate. There were five people there that night; Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger. All of them were brutally slaughtered and the house decorated with Manson’s political message in their blood.
- LaBianca Murders – The very next night after the Tate murders, six members of the Manson family arrived at the LaBianca residence. It’s only connection to Manson or the family was that they had attended a party near by the previous year. There are two accounts of what happened that night. Tex Watson wrote one account and Susan Atkins wrote another. The two differ in how much participation Manson actually had in the LaBianca murders, which he did attend.
- The Double Event that Didn’t Happen – While Watson, Leslie Van Houten, and Krenwinkel to the house of LaBianca, he had Linda Kasabian, Susan Atkins, and Steve Grogan go to the house of one of Kasabian’s acquaintances. The man was an actor and Manson wanted to add him to the race war he was trying to start. However, Kasabian’s dedication to the Manson Family murders was not as strong as Manson thought and she intentionally knocked on the wrong door, waking up a stranger. The three left before they could attract too much attention.
- Donald Shea – Shea was a handyman at Spahn Ranch. In mid-August 1969, the ranch was raided by police. Manson believed Shea had tipped the police off to his drug activities. Two members of the family were eventually found guilty of his murder; Bruce Davis and Steve Grogan. However, both claimed Watson, Bill Vance, and Larry Bailey were also involved. There was little evidence to find or present since it was 1977 before Shea’s body was found.
The only one that actually might be classifiable as a traditional serial killer is Tex Watson. He did participate in all the murders to some degree, making him the only one who could possibly have 3 or more victims to his name. However, given the nature of the Manson Family crimes and the varied participation of those involved, even labelling Tex Watson as a serial killer is complicated.
In the 1960s, it was hard to determine exactly what to call Manson and his Family. Society was very aware of the concept of serial killers, but spree killers were relatively unheard of at the time (it is still a term that is hotly debated by experts because it’s definition is ambiguous – a killer that kills 2 or more people in 2 or more incidents with no cooling off period between kills – the question is what defines “no cooling off period”). In the case of the Manson Family killings, a single day between the major incidents (Tate/LaBianca murders) would qualify as no cooling off period, but other serial killers and mass murderers (like Charles Starkweather and Andrew Cunanan) are left in limbo by this definition.
Add to it that Manson’s physical involvement with any and all the killings is left to our imagination and well… He’s just the puppet master and guilty of conspiracy, not actual murder, let alone being a serial killer.