The Odd Reason Charles Manson's Mother Was Sent To Jail

Failed musician and cult leader Charles Manson is one of the most infamous and discussed criminals of the 20th century, after ordering youths to commit a series of grisly murders in a futile attempt to provoke a race war. Like many of history's most deranged minds, Manson had a troubled upbringing and traumatic childhood that helped shape him into the monster he would eventually become. Much has been written about his life and actions as head of the Manson Family, but little about the woman who raised him — or at least, occasionally attempted to do so.

Kathleen Maddox was a sixteen-year-old runaway when she gave birth to baby Charles, though at the time his birth certificate was labeled "No-name Maddox" (via Oxygen). Maddox herself had a rough childhood, frequently rebelling against the utilitarian, religious background of her family. She would often sneak out at night to go dancing, and it was at the dance halls where she met most of the men in her life. Charles' father was likely an older, married Colonel but Maddox married a man named William Manson while still pregnant with the future cult leader. The marriage wouldn't last long, and Kathleen and Charles would bounce around the houses of family members. When Charles was 6, his mother would help commit an unusual robbery that would land her in prison and change Manson's life forever.

The robbery was committed with an unusual weapon

Kathleen and her brother Luther were both convicted of armed robbery and sent to prison (via All That's Interesting). The Maddoxes were not armed with a firearm, knife, or hammer, however: Luther wielded an empty ketchup bottle. According to Oxygen, the siblings had been out on the town with Luther's girlfriend when they met a man they thought to be rich. They lured the man into a gas station and Luther pressed a ketchup bottle filled with salt into the man's back, claiming it was a gun. When he didn't buy it, Manson's uncle smashed the bottle over his head and stole $35 off of him, along with his car. Luther received a 10-year sentence, Kathleen, five.

While Kathleen would be released three years into her sentence, those were formative years for Manson. The young mother would return to find her child already had a record for theft and skipping school. Manson was brought up with his disciplinarian uncle who made Charles go to school in a dress one day after crying on the car ride home. His uncle also forced Manson to visit his mother in the intimidating prison, against the boy's wishes, to further traumatize him. 

Manson lied about his mother to gain pity

Even under the watchful eye of his disciplinarian uncle, Manson was already seeking and finding trouble whenever it could present itself. By the time Maddox returned, Manson's criminal record was beyond her limited parenting skills. Maddox reportedly left Manson largely unattended and ignored while his mischief turned more sinister (via A&E). Manson had already displayed manipulative tendencies as a child and Maddox's arrest and hands-off attitude let those methods fester and grow.

The ketchup bottle arrest was a one-off crime where Kathleen was mostly talked into it by her brother. Contrary to several claims, including some from Manson himself, Maddox never engaged in sex work. The lies told by Manson after his capture were attempts to elicit pity and find excuses for his behavior, although growing up in the Depression meant that Manson's childhood, though certainly tragic, was not uniquely so. Thousands of children his age had a similar or worse upbringing, and certainly, no one else turned into Charles Manson.

He was already a manipulative criminal as a youth

According to Oxygen, much of the sociopathic behavior that would allow him to lead his cult members to commit horrific crimes was developed during and immediately after his mother's imprisonment. At school, he would manipulate other students to attack children he didn't like, then refuse to claim any responsibility for his actions. He frightened his cousin by waving a sharp sickle at her, and she was sure that she would be killed until her uncle and aunt arrived. He also took up music at this point in his life, which would later help draw people into the Manson Family.

After Kathleen Maddox's release, mother and child bounced around, staying with relatives or at motels while they eked out a living. Maddox was incapable of dealing with Manson, and eventually had the boy sent to boarding school (via His crimes and manipulation continued, and he was moved around to different youthful offender programs with little progress in any of them. By the time he was imprisoned for the first time in 1957, the relationship between mother and son was essentially over. It's hard to say how much Manson's mother's arrest truly changed him, but one can only wonder how the lives of Sharon Tate and other Manson Family victims would have been changed had Kathleen Maddox not helped her brother wield a ketchup bottle on that fateful night.