He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. When he was 13 his mother put him in a foster home, and unable to find one he ended up at a boys school. He ran away within a year back to his mother, who still wanted nothing to do with him. As a result he began living on the streets, supporting himself by stealing. In 1951, after a string of arrests and escapes Manson was sent to prison for driving a stolen car across state lines. By the end of 1952 he had eight assault charges against him. He was transferred to another facility where he became a model inmate, and was released in 1954. He was arrested again for driving stolen cars across state lines, this time receiving probation. This was revoked in 1956 when he missed a court date and he was back in prison until his parole in 1958. In 1959 he was arrested again for passing stolen checks, once again he was given probation which was revoked nine months later.
Manson had spent most of his adult life in jail, mostly for such offences as car theft and credit-card fraud. He also worked some time as a pimp. He was released in 1967. Manson moved to the San Francisco area in California and gathered a group of followers, which he referred to as "the family". He soon afterwards moved to Los Angeles, at first basing himself and his "family" in Pacific Palisades and then taking over an un-usused ranch in the western San Fernando Valley formerly used to make western films, the Spahn Ranch." Inspired by the Beatles song "Helter Skelter" -- a song actually about an amusement park ride -- and other songs off the "White Album" he became convinced of an impending race war and nuclear attack, based on Biblical prophecy in the Book of Revelations.
On August 9, 1969 four Family members, Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins, entered the house on Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, California and killed Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of Roman Polanski, along with four friends - Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski (frequently misspelled as Voytek Frykowski) and Steven Parent. Fellow follower Linda Kasabian was look-out and later received immunity for submitting evidence against the group. The next day they would kill Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, a wealthy Los Angeles couple. Members of the Manson Family had previously been responsible for the murder of Gary Hinman, a music teacher, in Topanga and were suspected of other murders.
Manson released an album titled Lie on March 6, 1970 to help finance his defense. One of his songs which was contained on this album, which was put out by ESP-Disk Records in New York City, had previously been recorded by the Beach Boys. Dennis Wilson had been a close associate of the Family.
Manson himself wasn't present for the killings, but he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder on January 25, 1971 and on March 29 was sentenced to the death penalty. This sentence was later changed to life in prison after the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty system in California and many other states. Manson remains imprisoned to this day.