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Charles Manson

In 1949, an Indianapolis priest tried to help a juvenile delinquent. (It didn't work)

By Michael Jesse

Twenty years before he became one of America’s most infamous mass murderers, a teenage Charles Manson was an Indianapolis juvenile delinquent with a talent for convincing others that he just needed one more chance to turn his life around.

He was born in Cincinnati on Nov. 12, 1934 to a 16-year-old runaway from West Virginia named Kathleen Maddox. Five years later, Maddox went to prison for robbing a gas station. Charles began accumulating his own criminal record before he was 10. By the time he was 13, he’d been sent to the Gibault School for Boys in Terre Haute. Afterward, he came to Indianapolis, where he lived on his own and was soon getting arrested for petty crimes.

A local priest, the Rev. George Powers, who worked with troubled youths at the Marion County Juvenile Center, tried to help the earnest-seeming 14-year-old, whom he saw as “a very genuine lost little kid.” Powers arranged for Manson to serve his time at Boys Town in Nebraska, which was at that time considered the best opportunity for reforming young boys in trouble.

Marion County Juvenile Judge Joseph Hoffman agreed, and the March 7, 1949, Indianapolis News shows a photo of Hoffman and Manson shaking hands under the headline: “Dream Comes True for Lad; He’s Going to Boys Town.”

But Manson was never as genuine as he could appear. He skipped out of Boys Town a few days after he arrived, and before long he was back in Indianapolis, getting arrested again. Next he was sent to the Indiana Boys School in Plainfield, from which he escaped at least twice — getting into the newspapers again as he accused the school of abuse. The last record of Manson in Indianapolis was a 1956 arrest in Indianapolis for a parole violation when he was 21.

Manson spent most of the next decade in prison, and when he got out in 1967, he started blending in with the hippie culture around San Francisco and again relied on his captivating personality — this time to build around him a cult-like following of young people willing to do anything for him. On the nights of Aug. 8-9, 1969, they did, killing actress Sharon Tate and six other people. Now in his 70s, Manson is serving a life sentence, as are several of his followers.