She Gave Birth to Charles Manson

The story of Manson’s mother Kathleen

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Kathleen Maddox, mother of Charles Manson

They say that Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer of unfortunate prostitutes in London’s White Chapel district ‘gave birth to the 20th century’. His crime spree spanned 1888–1891 and has never been solved.

But what if you gave birth to the 20th century’s most notorious man? What if you were the mother of Charles Manson?

Charles Milles Manson was born November 12, 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a 15-year old redheaded runaway named Kathleen Maddox. His father was Colonel Scott — a laborer, married to another woman. Shortly after delivering young Charles, Kathleen married a man named Manson, giving her son a legitimate name (his birth certificate simply read ‘No Name Maddox’).

Kathleen was from Ashland, Kentucky, the youngest born to a devoutly religious couple. Impulsive and rebellious, she’d run off to the big city not long before getting pregnant. Kathleen Maddox was at best, a juvenile delinquent and at worst, an alcoholic prostitute. She was also a neglectful mother. Once, she gave little Charlie to a friendly cocktail waitress in exchange for a beer. She left the boy with the woman for several days.

The marriage to the senior Manson did not last. Kathleen continued to party and to run afoul of the law. She was arrested in 1939 for armed robbery — a crime she committed with her brother Luther. She was sentenced to five years in prison and her son was remanded to Kathleen’s sister’s care.

Aunt Glenna and her husband Bill Thomas lived in McMechen, West Virginia with their daughter, Jo Ann, three years older than her cousin. McMechen is a small mining town south of Wheeling, close enough to the penitentiary in Moundsville, Ohio where Kathleen was serving. Glenna and Bill wanted Charlie to see his mother as frequently as possible.

He later wrote that, “the big stones were like the temple of a solemn place. I never realized I would spend my life in such temples of suffering.” — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including quote from Letter from Charles Manson reprinted in Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press)

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Charles Manson as a baby

Kathleen’s full name was Ada Kathleen Maddox and she was born January 11, 1919 in Morehead, Kentucky. Her father, Charles Milles Maddox (a railroad conductor and little Charlie’s namesake) had died in 1931 when Kathleen was just 12 years old, leaving his widow Nancy Lorraine Ingraham Maddox with four children (three girls, one boy — the eldest was 19). Kathleen was rebellious indeed, and yet she was close to her family, relying upon them to raise her son while she served her time.

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Ada Kathleen (on left) with her siblings

When Charlie was eight years old, Kathleen was released from prison and took a job at a bar in McMechen. She regained custody of her son but soon developed that he had grown manipulative and larcenous during her years of incarceration. He would skip school, beg for money on the street to spend on penny candy, and guilt-tripped his mom whenever she tried to get him under control.

Kathleen decided that he needed a proper father and she went out husband-hunting. But her looks and charisma had faded in recent years (though she was just 23 years old) and it is rumored that she resorted to petty theft and prostitution to survive. Luckily, the law was on her side this time and police never identified her in any crimes.

But finally, in August 1945, she married a man named Lewis Cavender, a West Virginian circus worker who had recently gotten out of the army. Kathleen’s hopes for a happy family were soon dashed when she saw the Lewis was just not father material. Nor could he keep a job. Nor could he stay sober. But she was determined to make this marriage work.

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Charlie and a cousin, with grandma Nancy (Kathleen’s mother)

When Lewis and Charlie clashed, she sided in favor of her husband and had her son sent to the Gibault School for Boys in Terre Haute, Indiana, a Catholic school for wayward boys. Charlie hated Gibault — telling Kathleen it was a ‘torture chamber’ and running away shortly after his return. Kathleen knew he was lying and immediately sent him back.

For the rest of his teens, Charlie was shuttled among a variety of reform schools, juvenile detention centers and state jails. He’d run away, sometimes with other boys, often stealing cars, and get caught soon after — always bearing the brunt of the charges even though he rarely acted alone. Each time he got sentenced, he was remanded to a more severe and frightening place.

But at the age of 20, he was finally released to the care of Aunt Glenna and Uncle Bill in McMechen and just months later, he married his first wife — 17-year old Rosalie Willis. It was 1955 and by summer, Rosalie was pregnant.

Meanwhile, Kathleen moved to California and Charlie talked about relocating… That July, he stole a ’53 Mercury and drove west with Rosalie.

The couple stayed with Kathleen in Los Angeles. Charlie found menial work to earn money and Rosalie was getting closer to her due date. He phoned (his cousin, back in West Virginia) Jo Ann late that summer to brag about his good fortune out west. A week later, a cop checked out the license plate on the stolen Mercury and arrested Manson. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications

Charlie spent 1956–1967 in several West Coast prison systems on charges of mail tampering, check fraud, pimping, auto theft and parole revocation. During those years, Rosalie left him and took their son Charles Manson Junion with her back to West Virginia. During one stint of freedom, Charlie started pimping in Los Angeles and one of his prostitutes also married Charlie and gave birth to a son, Charles Luther Manson, while he was incarcerated.

In 1961, Charlie was transferred to McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington State. His mother, feeling guilty and sad for her son who had lost so much time already, moved to Washington to be close to her and took a waitressing job, vowing to stand by her boy.

It didn’t last. She and Lewis adopted a daughter, a girl they later renamed Nancy (after her mother) and when they divorced, Kathleen married for a third time to Gale Stanley Bower, a Navy vet who owned a tire company. The family lived in Spokane, and Kathleen stopped visiting Charlie.

In late 1967, Charlie was free and living in San Francisco. He began to collect young people around him, a collection or ‘family’ — clearly his own biological family had failed to provide a stable and nurturing support system for him and he was relying upon others, to create a family more suited to his needs. He and several young women (Mary Brunner, Lynette Fromme, Patricia Krenwinkel) were traveling around the West Coast on an old school bus they’d painted black. On at least two occasions, the group drove north to Washington State so Charlie could reconnect with his mother.

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On the first trip, he could not locate her but had better luck on the second visit. Sadly, it was a short, bittersweet reunion, with Kathleen hiding her daughter from the scruffy older ‘brother’ who showed up on her doorstep. We don’t believe that mother and son saw each other again.

In late 1969, Charlie was arrested along with several other members of his so-called Family for the murder of nine people committed that summer, killings that happened at his orders and to serve a delusional and Machiavellian plan to start a global race war that would ultimately put him into power.

When Kathleen learned about her son’s involvement in murder, she was horrified but perhaps not shocked. Asked about whether he’d had an unhappy, abusive childhood, Kathleen said no — in fact, the problem was quite the opposite. She claimed she overindulged him, out of guilt for the time she was away at jail when he was a child. “I think that 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.” (original source unknown)

Charlie always had a way of blaming others for his woes: his followers, the establishment, music executives who wouldn’t give him a lucrative contract, law enforcement, prison administrators, and even his own mother. Everybody was to blame, except the man who had been diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder. Some psychopaths are made, but some are born through no fault of their parents or upbringing. We don’t know the answer to what exactly made Charlie think he was more worthy of life than others.

But he never reconciled with his mother, who died just 2 years after Charlie was sentenced for his crimes. And Kathleen failed to get the opportunity to show the world that she didn’t create a monster. Ada Kathleen Maddox Manson Cavender Bower died of a brain hemorrhage on July 31, 1973 in Spokane, Washington. She was just 55 years old.

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Written by

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

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