Michael Brunner, the 51-year-old son of Charles Manson and Manson “Family” member Mary Theresa Brunner, is speaking to the press for the first time in 26 years. And as the 50th anniversary of the murders Manson was convicted of orchestrating approaches, Brunner says he wants to set the record straight.
“I would say 95 percent of the public looks at Charlie as this mass-murdering dog, and it’s really, obviously, just not true,” Brunner tells the Los Angeles Times. “He didn’t necessarily kill.”
Brunner—born Valentine Michael Manson—was sent to live with his maternal grandparents in Wisconsin after his mother’s 1971 conviction for armed robbery. His grandparents eventually adopted him, and gave him their name. He never spoke to his father, but he’s come to believe that Manson has been misrepresented in the press.
“I think the public has been fed some untruths, and this whole thing has been glorified and glammified and blown out of proportion,” Brunner said of Manson’s role in the murder spree. “I mean, do we believe in brainwashed zombies out killing people?”
At Manson’s trial, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi presented his “Helter Skelter” theory, in which Manson intended to start a race war by blaming the slayings of elite white people on militant African-Americans. Brunner doesn’t buy that, either.
“Did [Manson] order these crimes? I don’t believe that he did. I believe that it was something manufactured after the fact. This ‘Helter Skelter’ thing, when you look into it deeply, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Instead, he suggests the murders could have been anything from a drug deal gone bad, to a mafia conspiracy, or copycat killings to cover up a murder “Family” members had committed weeks earlier.
Brunner has a son in his twenties and a partner with whom he share a 56-acre farm in the rural Midwest. His mother has been out of the public eye since her 1977 parole.
Brunner spent most of his life ignoring his Manson’s attempts to contact him. When he finally reached out to Manson shortly before his death, he got a postcard saying, “Write on. Write, write, write on.”
Brunner never wrote back.
“Days turned into weeks,” he said, “and weeks turned into months. And I just never did it. And then it was too late.”
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