Born “no name Maddox” in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 12, 1934, Manson was the illegitimate son of Kathleen Maddox, a 16-year-old prostitute. His surname was derived from one of Kathleen’s many lovers, whom she briefly married, but it signified no blood connection. During 1936, Kathleen filed a paternity suit against one “Colonel Scott,” of Ashland, Kentucky, winning the grand monthly sum of five dollars for the support of “Charles Milles Manson.
” Scott instantly defaulted on the judgment, and he died in 1954, without acknowledging his son. In 1939, Kathleen and her brother were sentenced to five years in prison for robbing a West Virginia gas station. Charles was packed off to live with a strictly religious aunt and her sadistic husband, who constantly berated the boy as a “sissy,” dressing him in girl’s clothing for his first day of school in an effort to help Manson “act like a man.” Paroled in 1942, Maddox reclaimed her son, but she was clearly unsuited to motherhood.
An alcoholic tramp who brought home lovers of both sexes, Kathleen frequently left Charles with neighbors “for an hour,” then disappeared for days or weeks on end, leaving relatives to track the boy down. On one occasion, she reportedly gave Charles to a barmaid, in payment for a pitcher of beer. By 1947, Kathleen was seeking a foster home for her son, but none was available. Charles wound up in the Gibault School for Boys, in Terre Haute, Indiana, but fled after ten months, rejoining his mother.
She still didn’t want him, and so Manson took to living on the streets, making his way by theft. Arrested in Indiana, he escaped from the local juvenile center after one day’s confinement. Recaptured and sent to Father Flanagan’s Boy’s Town, he lasted four days before his next escape, fleeing in a stolen car to visit relatives in Illinois. He pulled more robberies en route and on arrival, leading to another bust at age 13.