the story of one of Charlie’s three sons

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Michael Brunner: the third son of Charles Manson

In March 1967, Charles Manson left Terminal Island, a federal penitentiary in San Pedro. The morning after his release, he left the Los Angeles area bound for San Francisco, the epicenter of the Peace/Love movement. With only a guitar in hand, a small suitcase and $35, Charlie was looking to launch a music career from the Bay Area.

The first couple weeks were spent navigating the Haight/Ashbury district, playing guitar, busking, dropping acid, having sex with runaway girls, listening to the manic street preachers. Charlie was probably sleeping in public parks, or crashing on generous strangers’ couches, and then he met Mary Brunner.

Mary was a 23-year old assistant librarian. She moved to California from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, two summers before. The eldest of four children born to George and Elsie Brunner, good Midwestern Lutheran folk, Mary was scholarly and quiet. She was walking her poodle in the park the day she met Manson. He pretended to kick her dog and Mary got defensive. But when Charlie grew playful, she let down her guard.

Slim, with strawberry-blonde hair and a square jaw, Mary Theresa Brunner wasn’t beautiful. She wore a prim, buttoned-up shirt and nerdy glasses. Mary was intelligent and kind, though and a short chat between the two softened her heart. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications

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Mary Brunner as a teen

When Mary learned that Charlie didn’t have a place to stay, she offered her couch for the night. They walked back to her apartment, where Manson immediately put the moves on the assistant librarian. Mary politely but firmly declined: she offered friendship, nothing more.

Charlie accepted these terms and did not bother his benefactor further that night. The next morning, Mary left for work and Charlie raced over to wherever he had his meager possessions stashed and brought them back to Miss Brunner’s apartment. She arrived home that night and saw Manson and all his stuff in her place. She started to protest, and Charlie gave her a whole spiel about protecting her from bad guys, and being helpful around the house, and not bugging her for sex.

Like a good pimp initially would.

Mary Brunner accepted those terms, and then a few weeks later the two of them had sex. Mary Brunner, in fact, is the first member of the so-called Manson Family. That summer, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme joined them, and the three got an old VW microbus and began traveling around the coast.

During that season, Mary learned that she was pregnant.

Other new members soon joined the growing gypsy clan including Ruth Ann ‘Ouisch’ Moorehouse, Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel, Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins and Ella Jo ‘Yeller’ Bailey as they took to the road across the southwest. But as Mary’s pregnant continued, Charlie knew they needed a more stable place for her have her baby. They settled, at New Years of 1968, in a ramshackle two-story house in Topanga known as the Spiral Staircase. The Spiral Staircase was owned (possibly) by a woman associated with satanic groups in California, and Manson met her at a party. The house was virtually unlivable after a series of floods unmoored it from its’ foundation — only the second floor was accessible since the first floor was covered in sand. The owner let the Manson Family live there, knowing it would soon be condemned.

By February, Mary had entered her final trimester. What should have been an exciting time in her pregnancy was marred by the inconsistency of their life and Charlie’s anger. The others noted that from time to time, Mary sported a black eye. When pressed, Charlie threatened Lyn or Susan to shut up about it.

Manson admitted that something dark took hold of him while living at the Spiral Staircase. ‘I had bad vibes about being there… I would observe and listen to all of the practices and rituals of the different groups that visited the place. I’m not into sacrificing some animal or drinking its blood to get a better charge out of sex. Nor am I into chaining someone and whipping them to get my kicks like some of those people were… love and doing our own thing was what held us together… but… the things I was exposed to at the Staircase may have come back to me.” — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications including quote by Charles Manson from Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press

At the same time that Mary was preparing for the birth of her child, Susan Atkins (whom Charlie began calling Sadie Mae Glutz) also became pregnant. The growing responsibilities took its’ toll on Charlie. His anger was growing, although not enough to encourage his followers to leave. In fact, new people were joining: Sandra Good, Nancy Pitman, Stephanie Rowe, Dianne Lake. Charlie liked having the women, but didn’t always want all that responsibility. What we really wanted were young men, but the women were key to attracting the men.

On April 4th, Mary gave birth to a baby boy, Valentine Michael Manson. Mary is rumored to have smoked pot to help with her labor pains. She was attended by the women and Charlie, who cut the umbilical cord. The baby’s name was homage to the main character in the novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

Dianne wrote, “The household was buzzing with energy until things took a turn for the worse and something was terribly wrong. She {Mary} was in agony and the baby didn’t seem to be moving in the right direction. We brought over a neighbor who had either a background as a midwife or a nurse, and she confirmed the baby was in breech position, which sent everyone into a panic. Charlie grew quiet in a way I had never seen before — so scared he seemed almost in tears. The neighbor told Mary to squat to help the baby move through the birth canal. She got into the position, and Mary delivered the baby with his feet first not long after. We all cheered once it was clear.”

Charlie explained that the baby would be everyone’s responsibility. To make sure that their hang-ups didn’t trickle down to their kids, everyone had to play a role in raising them. Raising them, in Charlie’s eyes, mostly meant letting the little ones do what they wanted. Anytime the Family got arrested, the babies and toddlers showed signs of extreme neglect. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications including quote from Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake, Deborah Herman ©2017 William Morrow

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Mary Brunner with baby Valentine Michael, now renamed Pooh Bear

In the summer of 1968, Charlie sent several women north to the Mendocino Area to recruit new followers (mostly young men). The women included Sadie, Katie, Yeller, Stephanie and Mary with her new baby. The rest of the Family moved to Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property in Chatsworth formerly used as a backdrop for Western films and television shows, during that heyday. There were a number of caves, waterfalls and other hidden areas at Spahn Ranch.

A few weeks later, the women were arrested for drug dealing and solicitation and thrown in jail. The baby, Valentine Michael Manson, was placed with a foster family (a couple that Manson knew).

By the time the women came back to Spahn Ranch, Charlie learned they had given the baby a new nickname: Pooh Bear. Charlie hated the name, and yet it stuck.

Pooh Bear was soon joined by Ze Zo Ze Ce Zadfrack Glutz, the baby boy that Susan delivered in October. And more babies and children came: John Partee, the 10-year old son of an artist who occasionally lived at Spahn Ranch, Dennis DeCarlo, the baby of Straight Satans biker Danny DeCarlo, Tanya Kasabian, the toddler of Linda and Bob Kasabian (Linda joined the Family in June 1969 and brought her daughter with her), Ivan Pugh (the son of Sandra Good and Bobby Beausoleil, who committed the first Manson Family murder). While they were at Spahn Ranch, the children were kept hidden, sometimes at the waterfall or caves, to prevent their parents from taking them or imprinting too many of their own values on them. Katie and Ouisch were often the babysitters for the children.

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Ruth Ann Moorehouse (aka Ouisch) with Susan’s baby Ze Zeo

Even after the murders, arrests and during the trials, members of the Family had babies (Ouisch, Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share) and new people joined who brought their children with them.

Baby Pooh Bear (Valentine Michael Manson) shows signs of extreme neglect in this 1969 photograph (taken during the August 16th raid at Spahn Ranch)

But Valentine Michael Manson aka Pooh Bear was separated from his parents in August 1969. Mary was in jail on charges of using stolen credit cards on August 8th — that evening, Charlie sent four members of his Family to kill the residents of 10050 Cielo Drive (Sharon Tate’s rented home). The next night, two more people (Leno and Rosemary LaBianca) were murdered by the Family. And on August 16th, at first dawn, Spahn Ranch was raided by more than 100 law enforcement officers on mounting charges of auto theft, stolen credit cards, unlawful use of guns, runaways and drugs.

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The adult members of the Family were arrested. The babies were taken by social services and put into foster care. Mary Brunner’s parents came down from Wisconsin to pick up Pooh Bear, and bring them home with them.

Although the Family were released a couple days later when it was determined that the warrant was misdated, it took a while for the babies to come home. Pooh Bear remained in Wisconsin. Mary was released from jail in the fall and she fled back to her home state. It wasn’t just to be with her baby: she was going to be implicated in the Gary Hinman murder (committed by Beasoleil). In fact, after testifying in Beausoleil’s trial then attempting to recant her testimony when Bobby got convicted, Mary wound up returning to the Family. For the sake of her child perhaps, she resumed her loyalty to Charles Manson — her baby’s father. In the summer of 1971, Mary was one of six Family members who committed armed robbery (in a failed attempt to break Manson out of prison) following Charlie’s conviction for the Tate/LaBianca murders.

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Mary Brunner (on right, with bandaged arm) with Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share, on their way to trial for the Hawthorne Robbery

Mary was shot in the arm when police were called to the scene of the Hawthorne Shootout in 1971, and later captured, convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison. She served at the California Institute for Women in Frontera, with Catherine Share and convicted killers Susan Atkins, Pat Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten…

Valentine Michael, son of Manson and Mary Brunner, was raised by Mary’s parents in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Until the third grade he did not know who his father was and believed his mother to be his older sister. The Brunners kept the boy after Mary was released in 1977 and returned to her native Wisconsin. But eventually, she was granted custody of her son.

During the ’80s, Mary moved to Forest Park, Illinois and worked in hospital administration. Her father died in 2004, her mother in 2008, after which Mary moved back to Wisconsin. She lives there today, and is active with her church. She is still an environmentalist, and now also a grandmother. She has kept a very low profile and granted no interviews to the press.

Her son gave one interview in the 1990’s to a Los Angeles news program covering the story of the Manson Family children. He had no memories of his father and grew up away from the shadow of the Family’s crimes. Michael (as he was now known) seemed like a lovely young man who wanted nothing to do with the notoriety of Charles Manson and Helter Skelter. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications

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Michael Brunner (formerly Valentine Michael Manson aka Pooh Bear)

Just after the publication of my book, Michael Brunner spoke publicly to the Los Angeles Times for the first time in decades about his father, his mother and their crimes.

In the interview, Michael remembers being raised with love and kindness by his maternal grandparents:

“George and Elsie gave me what I needed to survive and thrive and made sure I was doing the right thing.” — Michael Brunner interviewed by the Los Angeles Times Jul 18, 2019

About his notorious father, he said:

“Charlie had a unique way of talking.” —

He said that he and his mother were closer than they’ve ever been, and that Mary was currently enjoying her retirement.

Michael served several years in the U.S. Army and then worked in management before becoming self-employed some years ago. He said that he and his family try to live a sustainable life.

“I spent a lot of time in the woods and the water, got married, had kids, just an average guy from the north.” — Michael Brunner interviewed by the Los Angeles Times Jul 18, 2019

He also admits that he doesn’t think that the murders were committed for a race war. He has recently been seen at events with author Nikolas Schreck who has written a vast amount of material about Manson, most of it somewhat conspiratorial in nature. Michael says that he has come to a kind of peace, about his notorious father and the legacy of the Manson name.

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You can learn more about the Family by visiting my website

You can read more about Manson’s relatives here:

And more about Manson’s legacy here:

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series.

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