From the Vault: How the son of a Cincinnati prostitute became an infamous killer

This From the Vault story was originally published Jan. 12, 2017. It was updated Nov. 20 after Manson's death.

Charles Manson had been behind bars for 45 years when he died of natural causes Sunday night at 83 years old. He'd been fighting illness and in and out of the hospital all year long.

Manson was the leader of a commune of sorts -- the Manson Family -- that was responsible for nine murders in 1969 in California. He was serving nine life sentences at Corcoran State Prison. He sought freedom 12 times and was denied freedom every time, according to the Washington Post. His next parole hearing couldn't be scheduled for another 10 years.

Although Manson undoubtedly made a mark on American culture, his story actually began in Cincinnati.

Charles Manson was born "no-name Maddox" to 16-year-old Kathleen Maddox in 1934, according to hospital records unearthed for a 1987 Al Schottelkotte News special. He was born at Cincinnati General Hospital, which is where University of Cincinnati Hospital is today.

 

Manson's father was unknown by almost all accounts, and was rumored to be a transient worker, a black cook or a "john." No father is listed on his birth certificate, but Manson's mother sued one man for child support when her son was 4 years old. Charles was eventually given the surname "Manson" when his mother married William Manson, according to reports on his case files.

While some of Manson's childhood anecdotes contradict one another, his extended family said his young mother ran away from her home in Ashland, Kentucky before working as a prostitute.

“In later years, because of hard knocks and tough times, she may have sold her body some. I am not about to knock her," Manson said of his mother in an autobiography. "Knowing the things I know now, I wish my mother had been smart enough to start out as a prostitute. You can sit back and say ‘A statement like that is about what is expected out of Manson’s mouth,’ but to me, a class whore is about as honest a person as there is on earth. She has a commodity that is hers alone. She asks a price for it. If the price is agreeable, the customer is happy, the girl has her rent and grocery money."

In a report following Manson's conviction, Schottelkotte said, as an infant, Manson was once traded by his mother "for a pitcher of beer" in a bar. Manson also described the story he heard from relatives in his autobiography.

Maddox was sent to jail for five years for robbery when her son was a young child, according to a 2013 report on Jeff Guinn's biography Manson. Guinn said Maddox robbed a gas station (using a ketchup bottle) and justified the crime, saying the victim "had too much money for one man.”

Manson moved to West Virginia to live with relatives at some point before he turned 6 years old. After that, he lived with his mother in various hotel rooms, Guinn said, until he was sent to private and reform schools in Indiana, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

“The next couple of years saw us in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, and probably a couple more states, and who knows how many cities," Manson said in an autobiography.

It would still be another 30 years until Charles Manson became a household name, but in the 1930s and 40s, countless Cincinnatians crossed paths with Manson and his young mother.

Reporter Evan Millward contributed to this report.

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