The Murky Story Of Kathleen Maddox, The Mother Of Charles Manson

Published April 24, 2018
Updated May 7, 2019
Published April 24, 2018
Updated May 7, 2019

Before there was the Manson Family, there was Kathleen Maddox – Charles Manson's actual family.

Kathleen Maddox

YoutubeKathleen Maddox.

Kathleen Maddox is a relatively obscure name considering the enduring notoriety of her son.

“On November 12, 1934, while living in Cincinnati, Ohio, unwed and only sixteen, my mother gave birth to a bastard son. Hospital records list the child as ‘no name Maddox.’ The Child — me, Charles Miller Manson — was an outlaw from birth.”

In case it’s unclear, that is the same Charles Manson who was the notorious cult leader, and the mother he’s referring to is Kathleen Maddox.

The story of Kathleen Maddox is not well known, as details of her life tend to be anecdotal or contradicting. And after Manson’s conviction, Maddox retreated even further from the spotlight. She was labeled an alcoholic and a prostitute, and was said to have sold Manson for a pint of beer. Separating the fact from the fiction isn’t an easy task, but there is an underlying theme of bad parenting that undoubtedly runs through the majority of stories pertaining to Maddox.

The opening quote by Charles Manson comes from his 1988 book, Manson in His Own Words, where the infamous criminal gives insight into his take on Kathleen Maddox.

Extended family members have reported that Maddox was a runaway, leaving her home in Ashland, Ky. when she was a teenager and finding work as a prostitute. She was 16 years old when she gave birth in 1934 at Cincinnati General Hospital. Records unearthed there in 1987 show that the official name given to him on his birth certificate was in fact “no-name Maddox.”

Kathleen Maddox didn’t list a father on her son’s birth certificate, but when her son was four years old she did sue one man for child support. According to case files reports, when Maddox married a man named William Manson, Charles took his surname, becoming Charles Manson. The relationship with William Manson didn’t last though, and he was out of Kathleen’s and Charles’ life before Charles developed any memories of the man whose name he took.

When Charles Manson was four years old, his mother met a stranger while out drinking one night. She decided to rob the man but the operation was clumsily executed, leading to her arrest. Maddox was sent to prison when Manson was five, after which he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle, Glenna and Bill Thomas, and his first cousin Jo Ann Thomas.

Jo Ann, who was three years older than Manson, said that they lived in McMechen, W. Va., just a few miles from where Kathleen Maddox was serving her time in a West Virginia state prison. Glenna and Bill were strict caretakers, but that didn’t stop Manson from getting into trouble.

In his biography, Manson also said of his mother, “Other writers have portrayed Mom as a teenage whore. Because she happened to be the mother of Charles Manson, she is down-graded. I prefer to think of her as a flower-child in the 30s, thirty years ahead of her times.”

He went on to state that her reasons for leaving home were no different than the kids he knew in the 1960s, who chose to be homeless over catering to the demands of parents who only viewed things as they believed they should be viewed.

Maddox was released from prison after three years and reunited with her son. The two allegedly moved from place to place after that for several years, typically living in run-down motel rooms.

According to a 2013 biography of Charles Manson by author Jeff Guinn, once Maddox was out of jail her son had already become a petty criminal, stealing and skipping school. Unable to control his bad behavior, Maddox sent him to a Catholic school for delinquents when he was 12 years old.

Young Charles Manson

Bettmann / Getty ImagesYoung Charles Manson in a suit and tie.

The reformatories clearly didn’t make a difference. In 1957 Manson was already in federal prison after stealing a car in violation of his probation.

By that point, whatever relationship that existed previously between Kathleen Maddox and Charles Manson virtually disintegrated. The 1969 Tate murders were nearly a decade away.

In the early 1960s, when Manson was incarcerated at a prison in Washington state, Maddox reportedly moved there from California to be closer to him while he was serving his time.

The rest of Kathleen Maddox’s life is shrouded in even more mystery than her early years. In a 1971 interview, the same year Manson was convicted of first-degree murder, Maddox said that she was five years into her third marriage with husbands Gale Bower. She had a nine-year-old daughter and lived a quiet life with few friends.

Kathleen Maddox died on July 31, 1973 at age 54 in Spokane, Wash. She’s buried at Fairmount Memorial Park. Charles Manson died 44 years later in prison at the age of 83.

When people think of the Manson family, they naturally think of the murderous cult led by Charles Manson. But once upon a time, he was no-name Maddox and his family was his biological mother, Kathleen Maddox.

If you found this article interesting, check out where the Manson Family members are now. Then take a look at these Charles Manson facts that demystify the monster.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City.