LOS ANGELES - Before Charles Manson became infamous as a disturbed cult leader who dispatched young followers on a killing rampage, his life in Los Angeles and failed musical aspirations led him to encounter many well-known celebrities.
Manson was a petty criminal who had been in and out of jail since childhood. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1967, and having learned to play guitar in prison, he desperately sought out the attention of the music scene and a record deal, Rolling Stone explained in 2016 in a profile about his music.
Over the course of a year and a half, Manson crossed paths with several in the music industry, including members of the Beach Boys, producer Terry Melcher, and even Neil Young.
During this time, he also reinvented himself as a guru-philosopher-type who targeted teenage runaways and other lost souls, particularly attractive young women he used and bartered to others for sex.
The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson
Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys posed in Amsterdam, Netherlands on Jan. 1, 1971 (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)
Dennis Wilson, who co-founded The Beach Boys as a drummer and backing vocals, was driving through Malibu, California, in 1968 when he picked up two hitchhikers, Ella Jo Bailey and Patricia Krenwinkel, according to the website CharlesManson.com, an information website about the Manson Family.
Wilson later noticed the same girls hitchhiking again and took them to his home on Sunset Boulevard in the Pacific Palisades, near Will Rogers State Park. Wilson shared his experiences with the Maharishi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, while the women shared that they also had a spiritual guru, named Charlie.
Wilson was soon introduced to Charles Manson, according to the website. Over time, the Manson family soon trickled into his rental estate for an extended period of time.
Wilson, described by Bioagraphy.com as "a free-spirited drummer" who was "used to picking up hitchhikers and partying with all sorts of eclectic people," found Manson to be an interesting character, "a musician filled with deep and unusual ideas of how the world worked."
In a 2016 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Beach Boys’ Mike Love described Dennis as being "under the spell of Charlie for a while." He also recalled going to a dinner party with bandmate Bruce Johnston at Wilson’s house. He said the Manson family was there and took LSD after dinner.
"We were the only ones with clothes on," Love told the Wall Street Journal of his and Johnston’s arrival, noting how he declined the drug. "It was quite unusual."
Rock and roll band "The Beach Boys" pose for a portrait in front a run down pier on June 16, 1968 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (L-R) Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
At the time, Manson was also desperately seeking a recording contract and used his relationship with Wilson for connections.
"Through Dennis and some of those gatherings, I met a lot of people with solid connections, including Terry Melcher, Gregg Jakobson and several others who liked my music enough to want to record and market me and my material," Manson said in the 1994 book, "Manson in His Own Words."
Wilson even set up a recording session through the Beach Boys’ label, Brother Records. However, no one at the label wanted to sign him, wrote Jeff Guinn in his 2014 book, "Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson."
Eventually, Wilson moved out of his rental estate as the lease was set to expire, leaving the landlord to formally evict the remaining Manson family members from the property, according to first-hand accounts edited by Jason Austin Penick.
Accounts at the time indicate Manson wrote a song called "Cease to Exist," which the Beach Boys recrafted as "Never Learn Not to Love," released as the B-side to their song "Bluebirds Over the Mountain" in December 1968. Wilson later told Rolling Stone in 1971 that Manson had not wanted credit for the song, and instead sought money.
In 1968, Wilson also introduced Manson to friend Terry Melcher, a performer-turned-producer at Columbia Records known for shaping the mid-to-late 1960s California sound and folk rock movements. Melcher was the only child of actress and singer Doris Day.
After Wilson’s efforts brought no result, Manson attached himself to Melcher, who had produced the Byrds and Paul Revere and the Raiders, according to author William McKeen, who is also a journalism professor at Boston University.
Melcher and Wilson introduced Manson to the Los Angeles music society, largely through lavish parties at the 10050 Cielo Drive estate that Melcher shared with actress Candace Bergen. Ultimately, Melcher told Manson he couldn’t get him the record contract he so desperately wanted and later severed ties with Manson.
American actress Candice Bergen with Terry Melcher, the son of Doris Day, on Nov. 8, 1968: (Photo by Dove/Express/Getty Images)
In the summer of 1969, actress Sharon Tate and some houseguests were living in a Cielo Drive home recently vacated by Melcher and Bergen. Tate and her friends would later be murdered here by Manson’s followers.
"Manson didn’t send his murderous family for Melcher and Bergen – he knew they had moved. Instead, he wanted to frighten Melcher and other members of the rock ’n’ roll elite," McKeen wrote in The Conversation, published in 2017.
A new home (L), seen Aug. 7, 2019, on Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, replaced the now-razed home in which Sharon Tate and four others were killed by the Manson Family in 1969. (Photo credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Canadian-American singer-songwriter, philanthropist, musician, humanitarian, and activist Neil Young performing as a member of Buffalo Springfield at the Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston, Texas, on April 21, 1968. (Photo by Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images
Manson briefly interacted with Neil Young, according to the famous musician’s 2012 autobiography "Waging Heavy Peace." Young had stopped by Wilson’s home, where he found three or four girls also living. Young wrote, according to the Atlantic:
"After a while, a guy showed up, picked up my guitar, and started playing a lot of songs on it. His name was Charlie. He was a friend of the girls and now of Dennis. His songs were off-the-cuff things he made up as he went along, and they were never the same twice in a row. Kind of like Dylan, but different because it was hard to glimpse a true message in them, but the songs were fascinating. He was quite good."
Young then added:
"I asked him if he had a recording contract. He told me he didn’t yet, but he wanted to make records. I told Mo Ostin at Reprise about him, and recommended that Reprise check him out…. Shortly afterward, the Sharon Tate-La Bianca murders happened, and Charlie Manson’s name was known around the world."
Young noted Manson’s ability to infiltrate the music scene at the time, as quoted by Barney Hoskyns in the 1996 book, "Waiting for the Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes, and The Sound Of Los Angeles."
"A lot of pretty well-known musicians around L.A. knew Manson, though they’d probably deny it now," Hoskyns quoted Young as saying.
Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas
From left to right, record producer Terry Melcher, Mamas and the Papas members John Phillips, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty, and record producer Lou Adler, on June 15, 1966. (Photo by Watson/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Through his time as Wilson’s roommate, Manson also got to know Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas, a defining force in the music scene at the time.
Manson attended at least one of Elliot’s parties, playing whirling dervish on the dance floor and entertaining all with his spastic monkey moves, McKeen wrote.
Actress Angela Landsbury arrives for an event at Bergdorf Goodman's Department Store in New York City on May 25, 1967. (Photo by Sal Traina/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)
The late Angela Lansbury, an icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age, once shared in a candid interview about her extreme efforts as a mother to protect her children from Manson.
The "Murder, She Wrote" actress told the Daily Mail in 2014 that her daughter Deirdre and son Anthony had gotten involved with the wrong crowd as teenagers and started doing drugs.
"It started with cannabis but moved on to heroin," Lansbury revealed. "'There were factions up in the hills above Malibu that were dedicated to deadly pursuits. It pains me to say it but, at one stage, Deidre was in with a crowd led by Charles Manson."
Lansbury added: "She was one of many youngsters who knew him — and they were fascinated. He was an extraordinary character, charismatic in many ways, no question about it."
After Lansbury learned of her kids’ drug use and daughter’s involvement in Manson's cult, she told her husband Peter Shaw, "we have to leave." Together, they moved the family from their home in Los Angeles to Ireland.
"So we upped sticks and moved the family to a house I found in County Cork. I was drawn to Ireland because it was the birthplace of my mother and it was also somewhere my children wouldn't be exposed to any more bad influences," Lansbury told the Daily Mail.
"Anthony pulled right out of his bad habits quite quickly. It took Deidre… a little longer but she finally got married and she and her husband now live in Los Angeles, where they run their own Italian restaurant," the actress told the British outlet.
Lansbury revealed, "It fills me with dread," when reflecting back on what could have happened to her children had she not initiated the move to Ireland.
"Peter and I had no idea what had been going on. But then we had no experience of drugs. We didn't know the significance of finding a pipe in a drawer. Why would we? And when we did, we didn't know how to help them," Lansbury said. "Nor were there any experts back then who could offer advice to the parents of kids from good families who were using, and sometimes overdosing on, drugs. It was like an epidemic."
Charles Manson, followers convicted of murder
In the late summer of 1969, Manson ultimately sent a group of his young followers to butcher the rich and famous in what prosecutors said was a bid to trigger a race war — an idea they say he got from a twisted reading of the Beatles’ song "Helter Skelter."
On Aug. 9, 1969, members of the family arrived at the Cielo Drive home of Tate, where they stabbed, beat, and shot to death the young actress and her friends — celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski. As they made their way to the house, they encountered a teenager, Steven Parent, who had been visiting an acquaintance at the estate’s guesthouse, and shot him to death.
The next night, Manson led a handful of followers to the home of wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. Manson tied up the couple and left the others to kill them.
The killers scrawled such phrases as "Pigs" and a misspelled "Healter Skelter" in blood at the crime scenes.
Manson and his followers also killed two others — musician Gary Hinman and Hollywood stuntman Donald "Shorty" Shea — in separate, unrelated attacks.
Manson was arrested three months later. Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Manson maintained during his tumultuous trial in 1970 that he was innocent and that society itself was guilty.
"These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them; I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up," he said in a courtroom soliloquy.
Reporters and general public attend a hearing regarding the murder of music teacher Gary Hinman by members of the Manson Family at the Santa Monica Courthouse, Los Angeles, California, 25th June 1970; in the background sitting at the defendant's tabl
Linda Deutsch, the longtime court reporter for The Associated Press who covered the Manson case, said he "left a legacy of evil and hate and murder."
"He was able to take young people who were impressionable and convince them he had the answer to everything and he turned them into killers," she said. "It was beyond anything we had ever seen before in this country."
After a trial that lasted nearly a year, Manson and three followers — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Another defendant, Charles "Tex" Watson, was convicted later. All were spared execution and given life sentences after the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972.
Decades after his conviction, Manson would continue to taunt prosecutors, parole agents, and others, sometimes denying any role in the killings and other times boasting of them, as when he told a 2012 parole hearing: "I have put five people in the grave. I am a very dangerous man."
He died in 2017 after spending nearly 50 years in prison. He was 83.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.