Louis Theroux on Charles Manson

22 Nov|Louis Theroux

When we heard the news of Charles Manson’s death, we asked Louis Theroux if we could reprint this piece he wrote for Idler #1 in August 1993. In it Louis examines transcripts of Manson’s parole hearing from 1992.

Every few years since 1977, Charles Manson has appeared before the California board of prison terms and been considered for parole. And every few years Manson has been returned to prison. Looking over the transcripts of his latest hearing, dated April 1992, it isn’t hard to see why.

Manson gets off to a shaky start when the various board commissioners are spelling their names for the benefit of the transcriber.

Presiding Board Commissioner Koenig: Mr Manson?

Inmate Manson: Charles Manson, inmate, B-33920.

Koenig: Would you spell your last name please?

Manson: M-A-N-S-U-N.

Not content with giving his name a new schizo-sounding spelling, Manson goes on to exhibit a none-too-confidence-inspiring disregard for some of the details of his convictions.

Koenig: I said that we accept as true the court findings in this case. The fact that you were found guilty and you are guilty of those particular murders. If there’s any change or anything you wanted to say about –

Manson: So all that is reality to you?

Koenig: Yes, we accept it is true –

Manson: And that – and either – even if it never happened, it’s all still reality to you?

Koenig: Yes, because you were found guilty by a court of law.

Manson: And – OK – and all the things that in that courtroom that went through the courtroom is reality to you?

Koenig: Yes. Okay. We accept as true –

Manson: Nine black Muslims and three Mexicans signed a writ that said I was Jesus Christ. Is that reality to you as well?

Koenig: Well, I didn’t read that in the board report.

Later the board admonishes Manson for not using his time in prison more constructively. Manson takes issue but doesn’t do his case any favours by addressing the board as “Dad”.

Deputy Board Commissioner Brown: You have an IQ of over 100 points?

Manson: Yes, I am pretty smart.

Brown: Have you done anything at all to improve your reading and writing skills?

Manson: Yeah, I read a book. I read a book, man, it was kinda boring you know. I can think better things than I can read. I mean, reading is kind of like slowing down and people only love each other in books. You can’t love each other in reality, because you’re all trapped in books, locked up in wars. You’re all locked up in the second world war, man.

Brown: And so you haven’t done any of those kinds of things?

Manson: Well, what I’m trying to explain to you without a lot of – I don’t want to appear like I’m somebody, but I’m on top of everything. I’m the smartest guy in the whole world, you know. I can’t – I don’t think there’s anyone in the world – there’s no subject I can’t tell you everything you want to know about it, you know. I even fixed a Harley Davidson motorcycle. I’m shortchange, I know how to deal off the bottom. I learned everything you taught me, Dad.

Nevertheless, Manson hangs on in there and even has occasional moments of lucidity. His account of his use of stimulants, for instance, sounds almost refined.

Koenig: OK. It says here, no military service. You used LSD extensively, mescaline, amphetamines and barbiturates, but no alcohol. Is that correct?

Manson: No.

Koenig: No? Enlighten me.

Manson: I’ve taken a few tabs of acid, I smoked grass, I smoked a little hash. I don’t mess with drugs per se. I don’t do anything self-destructive. I like the cactus buds. They’re a spiritual experience, and I –

Koenig: Peyote?

Mason: And mushrooms are OK.

Koenig: Yes.

Mason: I drink Scotch whisky. I like Scotch whiskey and I drink beer occasionally. I’m not much of a wine drinker, but now and then some wine with meals is all right.

But Manson’s presentation really begins to fall apart when he has to answer to accounts of his mouthing off to female prison officers – accounts stating, for instance, that “Manson exposed his penis and said ‘suck my dick, you white bitch’. You’re nothing but a witch’. Manson then proceeded to spit on me.” Manson, unaccountably, takes this as his cue to break into impromptu scat singing and rapping.

Manson: OK, can I explain that?

Brown: Go ahead.

Manson: The turnaround, it comes to push, push comes to shove, shove comes looking around to see where you’re up above or down below, where you’re at and how it turns.

Something that says good, says bad, that’s good, say what it is, what it is, that’s cool.

So when you catch cool you got some fool coming through the door, you don’t know what he’s doing about what. He just come and fell out of the water like a fish on the floor. And he don’t know what he’s doing, he’s got no idea where he’s at and he’s coming into other people’s lives talking about words he don’t even know nothing about it…

From hereon in, it’s mostly downhill for Manson. One imagines for instance when the board ask Manson to speak of his “suitability for parole”, with reference to his job skills they hoped he’d talk about working in an auto body shop or a diner. In fact, Manson announced: “I don’t know what else I could be if I wasn’t suitable to be your leader. I ain’t nothing… I’m your president at least three times.”

And Manson somewhat undermines his poignant recounting of the long years he spent incarcerated by pointing out “you only kept Christ on the cross three days”.

In the end, it appears Manson doesn’t especially want to be released.

Manson: … just like you draw a line across the desert and I’m sitting there and you come and draw a line, you say, you can’t get out of there. I say, I’m aware. You say, you’re locked up. I say, locked up in what? He say, well, you’re locked up and we free. And I say, oh yeah? And then you walk back and forth and you play important with my life as if you’ve got something I want, you know.
Like you got out and I’m supposed to be in, but yet I’m everywhere and I’m out and in and I’m all around, down to San Diego zoo, and I’m riding a motorcycle and I’m your children and I’m the trees and I’m your –

Board commissioner Aceteo: OK. Hold it. Hold it up. Hold it up.

Manson was next up for parole in 1997.