Charles Manson’s Infectious Evil

A pop-cultural fixture—in life, in prison, and now in death—mass murderer and master manipulator Charles Manson embodied the evil underbelly of the free-loving 1960s. And from his conviction in 1971 for seven counts of murder, to his death Sunday at age 83, California kept him alive.

In her 1979 collection of essays The White Album, Joan Didion recalls late-’60s Los Angeles, “when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full”—and, of the day after the gruesome Manson murders, “I remembered all of the day’s misinformation very clearly, and I also remember this, and wish I did not: I remember that no one was surprised.”

Born in Cincinnati to a hard-drinking teenage mother, a prostitute who went to prison for robbing a gas station when he was 5, he spent a rocky youth shifting among relatives’ homes, reform schools, and juvenile detention centers. He honed a

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