Charles Manson’s notorious cult is known as the Manson Family, but as father figures go, he was an atrocious one. It’s easy to see why Manson’s actual children wanted to distance themselves from his legacy as much as possible.
According to several well-researched accounts, including journalist Karina Longworth’s riveting 12-episode season of her You Must Remember This podcast, Manson preyed upon would-be flower children of the late 1960s (underage girls, in particular). Manipulating them with LSD, rambling lectures, and squalid living conditions, he cajoled his followers into a series of escalating crimes that culminated in nine murders in the summer of 1969.
In Charles Manson Superstar, a sensationalist 1989 documentary featuring a rant-heavy interview with Manson from San Quentin, the convicted killer said, “Every time I get out, I get a woman and a kid, and then she runs off..
” This is a possible reference to his relationships with his two ex-wives, who both divorced him while he was in prison, though there’s no record of Manson ever meeting any of his progeny.
Though official details are difficult to come by, Manson had at least three biological sons.
The two moved to Los Angeles while Willis was pregnant, but Manson—who had already been incarcerated several times when he met his first wife—was arrested that same year for driving a stolen car from Ohio to California.
Willis gave birth while her husband was in prison, and she divorced Manson in 1958.
In 1993, Jay White died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Burlington, Colorado. Though White‘s estranged son, Jason Freeman, told CNN in 2012 that he believed his father took his own life because he “couldn’t live down who his father was,” White‘s motive has never been confirmed.
In 1959, Manson married his second of two wives, Leona Rae “Candy” Stevens,” in California, according to court records per LAist. The two were married between two of Manson’s many pre-cult prison stints.
According to Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, co-written by Manson trial prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, he was facing time when Stevens’ “tearful plea” and declaration that the pair intended to wed helped win Manson a 10-year suspended sentence.
By Bugliosi’s account, Manson was indicted in 1960 for sex trafficking-related charges after he brought Stevens and another woman to act as their pimp in New Mexico. After he was ultimately re-imprisoned for a separate probation violation, Stevens was granted a divorce in 1963—and she also claimed she’d given birth to his child, named Charles Luther Manson.
Brunner met Manson in California in 1967, shortly after his parole from Terminal Island prison. He moved into Brunner‘s apartment, but they’d soon embark on a transient lifestyle recruiting new “girls” for Manson on the road.
On April 15, 1968, the woman also known as “Mother Mary” gave birth to a boy named Valentine Michael, according to Helter Skelter. The baby, nicknamed Pooh Bear, lived among the Manson Family before Brunner ran into her own legal troubles involving credit card fraud (she was later imprisoned for her role in a 1971 police shootout).
Watch a 1993 news interview with Brunner below, in which he says he was too young to remember his years with the Manson family and feels zero connection to his biological father. A friend says he never read any letters Manson sent him over those years.
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