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How little Charlie Manson grew to be murderer Charles Manson

The cover of Jeff Guinn's,
The cover of Jeff Guinn's, "Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson."
Simon and Schuster

You thought you knew all there was to know about Charles Manson, right?

You were wrong.

The 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders are among the best-known crimes in recent US history, and the book, "Helter Skelter," cemented those killings in the collective American memory.

But most of what's known about Charles Manson documents his time as an adult. A new biography tries to provide more backstory. Titled simply, "Manson," author Jeff Guinn wanted to look at his whole life and how he got to where he was in LA.

"The photo on the cover is very telling," says Guinn, describing him as sweet-looking. "And in fact that morning, Manson, who was 13, was about to go before a judge who was deciding where to sentence him for armed robbery."

Guinn also tells disturbing stories about a young Charlie Manson that parallels acts the adult Charles Manson would commit later in life.

"When Manson was in 1st grade," says Guinn, "he organized some girls to beat up a boy in his class he didn't like. When the principal came looking for little Charlie, Charlie immediately said, 'You can't blame me. The girls were doing what they wanted to do. It's not my fault.'"

That's the same defense Manson would use in the Tate-LaBianca murder trial.

As an adult, Manson was also an expert on psychology and mantras.

"He glommed onto his personal guru, Dale Carnegie," says Guinn. Carnegie is famous for his book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

When Guinn interviewed Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, two of the convicted Tate-LaBianca killers, he asked them what Manson could have said to make them think he understood them. 

"They would say, 'Charlie said this and this and this,'" says Guinn. "Line for line, word for word, Chapter 7 of 'How to Win Friends and Influence People.' He had no mystic power, just a great grounding in Dale Carnegie techniques."

Guinn spent years talking with hundreds of Manson's friends and associates to research this book. During that time, he eventually reached an important conclusion.

"I have never believed that there's a child beyond redemption," says Guinn. "But someone who knew him back in Los Angeles described him to me as a 'cancer cell' in that he wanted to thrive, and if that meant destroying everything around him that was just fine. And so, yes, I'm beginning to give credence to the fact that every once in a  while, there may be someone who is simply beyond redemption."

You can read more of Guinn's book, "Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson," here.

Manson by Jeff Guinn -- Excerpt