Why is Charles Manson back in the news?

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
The Upshot

Charles Manson, the cult leader from the 1960s who instructed his followers to murder actress Sharon Tate and six others, is a gruesome reminder of a horrific event in American history.

The 77-year-old was just denied parole for the 12th time and did not attend the hearing. It is unlikely he will ever get out of prison, and for family of the victims, that won't be too soon. (Manson himself may have family: An adopted man has stepped forward  because he believes he may be the murderer's son.)

The parole hearing caused searches on Yahoo! to immediately surge on "charles manson parole," "charles manson murders," and "charles manson hearing."

Manson spent much of his youth in an out of prison for stealing cars, swiping checks out of mailboxes, and pimping. While serving time, he learned to play the guitar. In 1967, when released from prison on Terminal Island in San Pedro, California, he headed to Berkeley, and began to build a following with a hippie-style commune of mostly women.

He and "the family" eventually moved south to Spahn Ranch in San Fernando Valley. In southern California, Manson apparently hoped for a music career and met Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. The band recorded one of his songs, "Never Learn Not to Love," on the B-side of their "20/20" album. He  also met Terry Melcher, the son of Doris Day, who Manson hoped would advance his music career. It didn't pan out.

Meanwhile, Manson crafted his looney relgious ideas: He believed, for example, that the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter" and others on the White Album predicted Armageddon. When it didn't happened, Manson convinced his acolytes it was up to them to start the war.

Manson directed his groupies to go to the house where he thought Terry Melcher lived and kill everyone.  But Melcher had moved out.

Instead, a pregnant Sharon Tate had moved in with husband Roman Polanski (who was not home at the time). She and four people who were visiting were all murdered.  A second night of terror ensued, when Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were also killed in their Los Angeles home by Manson's followers.

Manson himself gave the best argument for being denied parole this time, telling the prison psychologist, "I am a very dangerous man."