From the start, Charles Manson was damaged goods. It made him dangerous. Along the way he picked up just enough religion and philosophy to make him even more dangerous

CATHERINE SHARE, member of the Family. Sixty-six years old, she is a writer. Basically, Charlie is a con man. Sometimes con men are terribly abused by their parents, who sign them off to the system, which abuses them more terribly than their parents did. They’re beaten, left in holes, bloody. It’s not just Charlie. There are thousands and thousands of them. Children terribly abused, sexually abused sometimes. Charlie was damaged, and these damaged human beings are thrown into a system where it’s survival of the fittest, and it’s not just brawn but brains. Charlie lies all the time, but he has told a couple of truths. One is that society made him. He’s a product of the system—that’s what he is. He comes from a world that we as citizens don’t like to know exists. We just want to make sure that world doesn’t come too near to us.

STEVEN V. ROBERTS, Los Angeles bureau chief of The New York Times. He is 66 and a professor at George Washington University. I had a conversation with a guy who had known Charlie Manson in jail. This guy said, “Anybody who has been in jail understands Manson in a way no one else does.” The phrase he used was “con wise.” He said, “If you’re going to survive in jail, you have to be extremely sensitive to every flicker of emotion, every change of mood, every personal trait. Otherwise you are a sitting duck.” He said, “I know Charlie. I know exactly what he’s like, and I know where he gets it from.” All the years in jail, he said, made Manson so hypersensitive to the nuances of emotion that it allowed him to be an effective seducer. It was a shrewd insight into where Manson got these skills.

VINCENT BUGLIOSI, deputy district attorney. He is 74 and the author of several books, including Helter Skelter (cowritten with Curt Gentry), the definitive account of the case. Manson was an eclectic. He didn’t have any original thoughts, but he was very bright. I don’t know if Scientology had that much of an effect on him. He had gone to some of their meetings, and I think he reached the point where they said he was “clear.” He felt he couldn’t get anything more from them. There was a group called the Process Church of the Final Judgment, and two or three of their pastors visited me at the Hall of Justice. They had their robes on. It was kind of an offshoot of Scientology, but they were more aggressive, and I started getting their literature. Manson was always instilling in the Family that fear is a positive emotion. If you live in a state of fear, then you’re much more aware of what’s going on around you. With soldiers on the battlefield, he said, it’s not courage but fear that drives them. They’re acting out of fear. So here I am reading this literature from the Process Church of the Final Judgment, which is an offshoot of Scientology, and they say that fear is a positive emotion. My guess is that Charlie picked this up from them.

As for Hitler, he was the ultimate evil. Manson is a mini-Adolf Hitler. Charlie said, “Hitler is a tuned-in guy who leveled the karma of the Jews.” He said that Hitler had the right answer for everything. Charlie claims to have read Nietzsche, but I doubt that. Nietzsche is difficult reading.