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Charles Manson: Killer or con man?

August 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
It has been 40 years since the Manson Family murders shocked the nation, yet many still wonder what made Charles Manson tick. He is now 74 years old, has been married twice and has two sons. We also know he stands only 5' 2", performs music and followed Scientology. But were his wild actions part of an act, or is he truly insane?Charles Manson's latest mug shot may hold some clues about the man he has become. His eyes are more tired than sinister. His hair is thin and gray. However, a swastika tattooed on his forehead tells of the conniving killer he is.

"The very name Manson has become a metaphor for evil," said Vincent Bugliosi, a former prosecutor.

Like it or not, Vincent Bugliosi is forever attached to Manson. He is the man who eventually prosecuted and sent Manson, and his band of followers, to prison.

"The district attorney's office, and I personally, and the Los Angeles Police Department are very, very pleased with the verdict. That goes without saying. We are all very, very happy," said Bugliosi on the day he finally sent Manson away.

In the four decades since Manson's conviction, the killer's popularity has only grown. Bizarre interviews have been shared by millions on sites like You Tube.

"Anyone who knows Manson would tell you he's very intelligent, but the bottom line: he's just an evil, sophisticated con man cleverly masquerading behind the common image of a hippie," said Bugliosi. "[He] speaks in riddles. You hear what he says, it doesn't make too much sense, and then you type it up and there's usually some underlying message. And you have to be pretty bright to speak in a riddle. Very bright guy and very evil."

Manson's manipulative ability is what makes him so dangerous. Manson was convicted of ordering nine murders, which were all carried out by his followers. During the summer of 1969, Los Angeles lived in fear of the Manson Family.

Al Wiman was a reporter for ABC7 Eyewitness News 40 years ago. He and his team even found a key piece of evidence, the bloody clothes thrown away by followers that carried out the murder of Roman Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate. Wiman's role suddenly made him a target.

"The babysitter's father was there and said, 'Somebody has been outside your house and it sounds like they're rubbing a hammer across the wall of your living room,'" said Wiman.

Sandi Gibbons works for the L.A. County District Attorney's office. She covered the Manson trial as a reporter for City News Service 40 years ago.

"He wasn't captivating to me. I was raised in the South. I was born out here, but raised in the South. And to me, Charlie was a typical redneck Southerner who did not like women," said Gibbons, who believes Manson is a con artist to this day.

"People that write in and ask for his autograph ... He pays other prisoners to do it and he charges people for his autographs," said Gibbons. "So the autographs that you're getting in the mail isn't even Charlie's. He's conning you now."

Manson is a con man who is likely considered the most popular prisoner in American history.

"I'm nobody. I'm a tramp, a bum, a hobo. I'm a box car and a jug of wine. And a straight razor if you get too close to me," said Manson in an interview.

Manson is in the protective housing unit at Corcoran State Prison in Vacaville. Manson is said to be far from a model prisoner. His recent rules violations include possessing a weapon and threatening a peace officer.

Manson has not had a visitor in the last three months. His next parole hearing is in 2012.

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