Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Mark Pittenger

Second Advisor

Fred Anderson

Third Advisor

Gregory Carey


Charles Manson rose to infamy in 1969 with his orchestration of seven grisly murders in Los Angeles, California.[1] Even more shocking than the murder scenes was the fact that Manson did not perpetrate any of the murders himself, but instead convinced others to commit the crimes: the murderers came from a Manson-led cult commonly known as the Manson Family. Manson’s total control over his followers marked him as a manipulative and cunning psychopath, but the development of his cult was largely due to the 1960s counter-culture in which it began.

Manson’s psychological development left clear markers for his psychopathy, which characterizes him as narcissistic, manipulative, parasitic, selfish, sadistic, and with no capacity for empathy. From early childhood Manson had a penchant for crime and manipulation, and once he reached California in the 1960s he found a scene that perfectly catered to his psychopathic whims.

The 1960s were a volatile era of social and political turbulence, much of which was centered in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The decade was characterized by emphases on psychedelic drug use, sexual exploration, racial equality, and activism through music, and Manson exploited these values in order to cultivate his following. While the counter-culture stressed drug use as a means to attain a higher consciousness, Manson used psychedelic drugs to control and influence his followers. Similarly, the counter-culture’s ideal of sexual freedom was bastardized by Manson through his sexual exploitation of women in the Family. He and his cult survived on the generosity of hosts throughout California, and they were welcomed by most due to the counter-cultural practices of free love and communal living. The culminating murders were thus perpetrated due to Manson’s strong ability to influence others, but the counter-culture provided for him an environment in which to cultivate and apply his psychopathy. Had he not been situated in the 1960s counter-culture, Manson would never have been able to exert control over and eventually commit murder through the members of the Manson Family.

[1] Manson was also convicted of the murders of Gary Hinman and Donald Shea, but this thesis will focus on the deaths at the Tate and LaBianca scenes.