The Manson murders: Charles Manson vs Charles "Tex" Watson

Both Photo: Text Watson - Charles Manson

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2013-“Our Lord Jesus Christ has forgiven me. This is what is most important.” -Charles “Tex” Watson- Convicted Manson family serial killer.

Charles “Tex” Watson was Charles Manson’s right hand man.

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Watson was the actual murderer in the Manson killings. He wielded the knives and guns that butchered the Tate and LaBianca family members among others, in two nights of horrific, bloody deaths in 1969. Watson admits he was unmoved by the flow of blood, the victims pained pleas to be spared and the terror he forced them to endure.

He claims to have had no feelings of mercy or humanity during his death spree.  However, he now says he is remorseful, and has felt incredible regret since the drugs he abused at that time left his system.

Despite their closeness during the killings and the months leading up to them, Watson and Manson appear miles apart psychologically. While Manson represents the oft told story of abuse and neglect as a young man gone wild, Watson’s background could not be more disparate.

Watson married in prison and has four children, one a Marine Corps officer in Iraq. He says he has found God since going to prison and has become the minister at the prison that has been his address for over 40 years.

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When I met Watson, I found him remarkably intelligent and well-spoken. 

Watson exudes kindness and is so sincere in his remorse that the daughter of the LaBianca’s, who discovered the bloody corpses of her parents, forgave Watson and supports his release from prison.

His current persona seems directly contradictory to the man who committed the horrific murders.  Could Watson be such a ‘professional’ psychopath that he is able to fool the world and maintain the façade of repentance for 40 years?

It takes a special kind of psychotic to be so ruthlessly brutal to a woman eight months pregnant. Is Watson such a man?

Charles Watson was born and raised in a small town in Texas dominated by a Christian community.  His father owned the local hardware store, and Charles received outstanding grades in school. He was a football and track star; a tall, handsome, well- built All American type of young man.  His athletic records remain to this day.

At a young age, Watson left Texas to what he believed to be the greener pastures of California. There, he went into his own business and met Charles Manson, which began his long history of mind altering drug abuse and joined Manson’s “family”.

Watson says Manson fed the family members large amounts of methamphetamines, among other drugs, daily. Manson, after addicting the youth of the family, used drugs to manipulate their behavior.

According to authorities, Manson convinced the family that he could start a race war and hide in the desert submerged beneath the surface until it was over. When the war was over, Manson would re-appear to society as the king an all-white nation. His promised his followers positions of authority in the cabinet he would create.

The family searched for months for a submerged area Manson claimed was ready for habitation. They lived communally, paying homage to Manson and ingesting large amounts of drugs.

Manson’s bizarre proposal was to spark the race war by commiting horrible murders and blaming them on blacks. Manson insisted on horrific, bloody murders to attract the attention of the media.  

Manson targeted the Tate residence because he believed Doris Day’s son lived there. Day’s son, music producer Terry Melcher, had promised Manson an entrée into the music business but later backed out, which angered Manson. Manson learned Melcher had moved from the home, but he did not change his plans to wreak havoc on the upscale neighborhood. The rest is history.

Watson was the leader of those physically involved in the killing spree. He was admittedly Manson’s right hand man, and seemed to share a destructive, murderous synergistic relationship.

Manson has repeatedly declared “I didn’t kill anybody!” While he did not physically commit murder, he designed the spree. In fact, there is no evidence that Manson has ever killed anyone.

Manson and his friends tell remarkable stories of the US government trying to kill him over the years. He has been in some of the worst prisons this nation has to offer and survived over a total of 60 years confinement. He said, “I’m in a correctional facility. Have I been corrected?” then laughed.

Manson was abandoned as a child and placed in reform school. In that era, reform schools included brutal treatment. He was sent to prison for minor crimes and eventually to Pelican bay, Terminal island, Alcatraz that were early day prisons with little outside oversight and no rehabilitation programs. Brutalizing prisoners was the mantra for guards.

Manson had no real skills to make it outside the prison system, with the exception of his music. When he tried to ply his music skills, he was rejected and deceived, furthering his already festering anger. He suffered from a negative childhood, no real friends, and few prospects. He had no mentor but was self-taught on several subject.

Today’s sociologists would say Manson’s experiences positioned him to become the angry, fearless, hardened and manipulative man he is. He had no other means to achieve his dream, using his pronounced music skills to earn a living.

Interestingly, in 1971, Manson was sentenced to death, which was later overturned. By the legal standards of today, he would have been released years ago. However, Manson has repeatedly made direct but obscure threats to kill if released in order to remain where he is most comfortable.

Watson is a very different individual from Manson.

According to an e-book authored by Watson, he was caught via a singular fingerprint on a doorknob after Susan Atkins. Watson then was imprisoned for an unrelated crime and told fellow inmates of the family crimes. Watson’s website,, details his entire life story, including a vivid account of the murders, in 15-16 short and exciting chapters.

Watson agreed with my comment that in history, he is the horse and Manson is Paul Revere. Watson did all the gory ‘work’ at Manson’s behest, but Watson is a footnote. Manson is a headline.

Watson claims to have been under extremely heavy drug influence and not living within his normal thinking patterns at the time of the murders. He said it was only after his arrest and time in jail “drying out” that he recalled events and returned to his normal mental state. 

To understand Watson we must understand the era in which he lived.

The 60’s was the West Coast search for a guru, an answer for existential life etc:  Drugs were ubiquitous and no one really knew their destructive force or the harmful effects from of term use. The drug use of the day became epidemic fast and furious, and science was left in the proverbial dust. It wasn’t until some years later we learned the horrors of extended use.

Cocaine had not established a bad reputation and no available research concluded that long term use created enduring societal and personal hardship. One could purchase drug paraphernalia at any local drug or retail store and households had cocaine readily available. There were no rehabilitation clinics.

To not have coke at the ready was unusual in that era, and this behavior was prevalent across all social stratums. The affect of all so-called ‘hard’ drugs was yet to be determined.

Watson and many others found their “guru” in Manson. The Manson family controlled Watson’s life and his actions. Although Manson suffered violence against him as a child, there is no indication he was a violent man. He did not turn to violence until he believed society betrayed him.

Some historians draw a comparison between Manson and Hitler to foster the “evil” aspect. Both were isolated, rejected and had enormous ability to control. What Manson admired of Hitler was not his terror and destruction but his ability to command others after rising above a life of obscurity and rejection. However, Manson despises Hitler’s actions.

As I spoke with Manson late in life, I cannot address his thoughts in ’69 but I do not see Manson as Hitler. In fact, he is at least now quite peaceful and seemingly good natured, and espouses being kind to earth and the environment.

Yet, there is a swastika, the symbol of Hitler’s 3rd Reich, self- carved into his forehead creating further ambiguity.

Manson was the first eco-terrorist, acting against companies that were destroying the environment-back in the 60’s. Making an assessment of Manson from many instances of disparate behaviors is difficult but not impossible.

Watson, coming from an entirely different background with all the love and support a young man needs then wielding death on Manson’s behalf is a dichotomy that can make assessment difficult-not impossible.

Do Manson and Watson possess a shared tragic flaw? They do.

Watson insists that his prolific drug use and Manson’s influence altered his kindly, Christian ways. He says the large amounts of methamphetamine turned him into a robotic follower ready to serve Manson in any capacity in order to feed his addiction.

This author has a personal theory called “Chemical insanity” which addresses the altered state of mind one experiences when their brain cells are saturated with specific drugs. Everyone who recovers from addiction is appalled at their behavior while addicted and feels remorse, disgust, loss of self-respect, self-control and confidence.

Addicts engage in behavior they would never consider before their addiction. Their actions while under the influence are not a true representation of their mentality or levels of personally acceptable behavior. This is not a legal defense, but a psychologically valid one, certainly applicable for 1969.

Just as natural chemical imbalances affect thought patterns, mental/emotional homeostasis and behavior, externally introduced chemical imbalances create similar etiology.  With greater amounts of drugs available artificially, so are greater levels of chemically imbalanced related behaviors. Substantial levels of drug ingestion lend to substantially distorted behavior..

Watson’s description of his thoughts before, during and after his association with the Manson family would seemingly apply to this theory. It would seem his mind was so damaged by prolonged, massive, hard drug abuse, he was not mentally or emotionally the Charles Watson he knew. He was a stranger unto himself.

Watson’s actions could easily be assigned the actions of a psychotic. Was he born clinically normal, drugged into psychosis then return to normalcy or was there a predisposition exacerbated by drug abuse? Did drug abuse raise the specter of latent psychotic tendencies?

Is Manson a true sociopath or psychopath?

What do they share aside from short histories and life sentences?

The next installment will address these questions from a psychological perspective.

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association of Psychological Science.



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