The Grim Truth About Charles Manson's Mother

Behind every mass murderer, serial killer, or cult leader, there was the mother that raised (or didn't raise) them. While we all have fathers, society seems to really zone in on the matriarchs of the families that produce the most notorious characters. "Co-Ed Killer" Edmund Kemper faced the wrath of a severely alcoholic mother from a very young age, and the mother-son relationship between Ed Gein and his mother is almost too heartbreaking to mention. 

Even though the vast majority of those with abusive, absent, or criminally minded mothers don't grow up to be murderers, having an abusive childhood background is extremely common amongst those who grow up and kill. A 2005 study by Virginia's Radford University found that "historical factors common in serial killers are abuse, trauma, insecure attachment, loss of or abandonment by a parent or caretaker," among other components (via Crime Traveler). 

It probably doesn't surprise many that the mother of notorious murderer and cult leader Charles Manson was less than a stellar parent. With numerous extended family members spinning yarns about the life and times of Kathleen Maddox, the world got a fairly good idea of what a young Manson was forced to endure from a mother who was sometimes there and sometimes locked away in prison. Still, it's important to separate fact from fiction in the case of Maddox, even though contradicting stories from those who knew her, including those from Manson himself, have proven to make this a difficult task.

One story involves Maddox selling Manson for beer

With a son as infamous as Charles Manson, it's probably not shocking to know that the world has painted Maddox's story with a pretty terrible brush. Not one for seeking the public's attention during the aftermath of her son's brutal crimes and subsequent trial, Maddox pretty much became a character that the media scripted a backstory for. Using murky and oftentimes questionable sources for this character sketch, the resulting product was one of a drunken monster who was solely responsible for Manson becoming what he was. 

In what might be a story that makes Maddox seem the least maternal, she was said to have sold her young son at one point for a pitcher of beer to a waitress at a local bar (via The Takeout). According to Manson, who seemed to be the one that originated this story, he was retrieved by an uncle several days later. Considering the source of the story, there's a more than decent chance that this was a myth, as it has not been corroborated by anyone else.

Maddox didn't give her son a first name immediately

According to WCPO 9 News, in 1934 Maddox gave birth to a son at the young age of 16. The birth took place at Cincinnati General Hospital, with no father present. When Manson was making the news years later as the leader of a murderous cult, various media outlets claimed that Manson was the son of one of his mother's various clients as she supported herself as a sex worker. This tale is in part due to Manson's own words about his mother's past and also based upon the various stories that Maddox's family publicly said about her. But in a 1971 interview, Maddox denied that she was ever a prostitute, instead of saying that she was just a runaway kid that had a baby outside of marriage.

The birth certificate read "No Name Maddox," as Maddox refused to give her baby a first name at the time. In that same 1971 interview, Maddox defended this action. According to All That's Interesting, Maddox was waiting for her mother before she named the child. "I figured I'd already hurt her pretty had, so I wanted to let her name the baby, you see," Maddox explained. "So, she named him after my father."

Maddox sent her son to a reform school when he was 12

The years after the birth of her son were tumultuous ones. Maddox and young Charlie were on the move a lot, according to WCPO 9 News. At one point, Maddox was briefly married to a man named William Manson, from whom her son gained the surname that he kept the rest of his life (per All That's Interesting). But that marriage lasted only a year, without a lasting bond developing between stepfather and stepson.

Trouble between Maddox and the law was a frequent occurrence. When Manson was still an infant, Maddox was arrested for hitchhiking. When Manson was six, Maddox and her brother were apprehended for the armed robbery of a gas station. The botched job resulted in Maddox being sent to prison for a few years and Manson going to live with an aunt and uncle until her release.

The extended family of Maddox talked of how a young Manson was already a criminal by the time Maddox was finally released from prison. Unable to control her son, Maddox sent Manson away to a Catholic reform school for boys. Manson would spend the majority of his life from this point forward behind the walls of correctional facilities, with brief stints on the outside in between incarcerations. 

Maddox passed away in 1973

When Manson married in 1955, he and his 15-year-old bride moved to California, but not before Manson stole a vehicle for them to make the trip. This resulted in yet another prison term for Manson, and also prompted Maddox to move in with his wife and infant son. Maddox made the move so that she could remain near her son while he was jailed.

Many point out that it was the rough lifestyle led by Maddox that molded her son into the criminal that he became. But as a mother, her perspective might be a bit different than some people would expect. In her 1971 interview, she maintained that her lifestyle when Manson was young "made him over-confident. He never had to take a fall, not till he was a grown man. Everything just was handed to him, I admit" (per All That's Interesting).

Most of the remainder of Maddox's life from that point forward is a mystery. In her one on-camera interview in 1971, she talked of having very few friends. But she was married (for the third time) and had a 9-year-old daughter.

Maddox passed away on July 31, 1973, at the age of 54. She is buried at Fairmount Memorial Park Cemetery in Spokane, Washington next to her third and final husband, Gale Bower.