Meet Leona ‘Candy’ Stevens: The Woman Who Lied In Court To Liberate Her Husband, Charles Manson

Published June 25, 2019
Updated July 31, 2019

Leona Rae “Candy” Stevens kept Charles Manson out of jail in 1959 and helped lock him up a year later. She visited him once behind bars — and never saw him again.

Candy Stevens Portrait

The Manson Family BlogOne of the only known photos of Leona Rae “Candy” Stevens (or Musser). She’s seen here during her junior year of high school, three years before she married Charles Manson. Colorado, 1956.

Before Charles Manson became the world-renowned cult leader who sicced his murderous “family” on Sharon Tate and Rosemary LaBianca, he was just another petty thief. Unbeknownst to many, even those familiar with the infamous criminal, Manson was once a married man who tried to go straight.

His marriage to Rosalie Jean Willis in 1955 didn’t pan out as the couple intended. After three years — two of which Manson spent in federal prison after driving a stolen car across state lines — the family unit essentially fell apart. Willis eventually stopped visiting her husband, and moved in with another man.

Though the pair had produced a son, Charles Manson Jr., the man of the house proved utterly unreliable to sustain any semblance of normalcy.

Charles Manson And Rosalie Jean Willis

TwitterManson’s first marriage to Rosalie Jean Willis ended one year before he met his second wife, Leona Stevens. Both relationships ended in divorces that were initiated by the wives.

Manson and Willis divorced in 1958 — one year before Manson met his second and final wife, Leona Rae “Candy” Stevens.

Charles Manson Meets ‘Candy’ Stevens

According to Lis Wiehl’s Hunting Charles Manson, Manson genuinely tried to legitimize his means of income after his release from Terminal Island on Sept. 30, 1958.

But he quickly gave up after a short stint of going door to door making appointments for salesmen to sell freezers and frozen foods. He claimed his colleagues “double-crossed and short changed” him, forcing him back into a life of small-time crookery.

Manson was a pimp before he was a cult leader. He made his girlfriend, Leona Rae Stevens (or Leona Rae Musser), prostitute herself around Los Angeles. By all accounts, she didn’t hesitate to do so, as she had a growing infatuation with Manson that would last for years to come.

Not much is known about Stevens; where and when she was born and whether she’s still alive all remains a mystery. The only things we know about her are the things she did for and with Charles Manson.

Known on the streets as “Candy,” Stevens failed to make enough money as a prostitute to satisfy Manson’s proverbial thirst. In turn, he went back to an old, reliable pastime of his: opportunistic thievery. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t very good at it, and he was arrested on May 1, 1959.

Candy Stevens' High School Class

Manson Family BlogNamed Leona Musser still, Stevens is pictured here in a class photo from 1956. She’s in the third row, the fourth from the left. Colorado, 1956.

Charles Manson Leaves Candy Stevens — For Prison

Manson’s ploy was viable, though short-sighted and easily prone to immediate failure. He signed the backs of two U.S. Treasury checks he’d stolen from the mailbox of Leslie Sever. They were made out to her and her husband, who had died a couple of years earlier.

The first one was addressed to Leslie, and Manson successfully cashed the $34 check at a gas station. He tried to cash the second one, made out to her husband to the tune of $37.50, at a Ralph’s supermarket. But when the grocery clerk questioned Manson about some of the incongruities, he ran off.

Manson was a fairly trim-looking fellow, but he failed pretty quickly at outrunning his pursuers that day. When they caught and held him down until police arrived, Manson admitted to what he’d done — but later denied this supposed confession when he realized how serious his crimes were.

The amounts he stole were certainly low, but his charges — stealing mail, forging signatures with the intent of defrauding the federal government — were quite consequential. With fines of up to $2,000 and a five-year prison term for each count looming over him, Manson thought he could improve his chances if the evidence was destroyed.

And so, when the Secret Service agents keeping him in custody weren’t looking, Manson was able to shove one of the checks into his mouth and swallow it. But that act of desperation couldn’t save him from the slammer.

Charles Manson Laughing

Michael Ochs Archives/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesManson often appeared as a charming, talented guy to young women, but was a violent, insecure abuser who prostituted his own wife out on numerous occasions.

“He Is Probably A Sociopathic Personality”

Stevens was quite helpful in employing Manson’s next strategy, which revolved around improving his image before his trial judge. Manson got Stevens and his fellow inmates to write compassionate letters attesting to his character, in the hopes that his judge would at least impose a lighter sentence.

The letters contained the type of claims one would expect from the cunning, manipulative figure. He asked his loyal girlfriend and future wife to detail how hard he’s had it growing up — no education or money, and having suffered institutionalization from the injustices of the penal system.

Most notably, however, was a new tactic employed this time around. These letters claimed that Manson’s opportunity for a fair trial had already been compromised — that the attorneys meant to defend him were corrupted and greedy, incompetent, and intentionally failing him.

Pentagarm On Manson's Cell Floor

State of Washington Archives.A pentagram drawn on the floor of Manson’s former McNeil Island prison cell by later inmates after hearing about his crimes.

When Manson’s attorney requested a psychiatrist to examine the 24-year-old convict, Dr. Edwin McNiel, who had observed Manson four years earlier, stepped in. Though Manson admitted to his deeds, Dr. McNiel simply couldn’t vouch for him any longer.

“[Charlie] does not give the impression of being a mean individual,” the doctor wrote. “However, he is very unstable emotionally and very insecure….In my opinion, he is probably a sociopathic personality without psychosis. Unfortunately, he is rapidly becoming an institutionalized individual.”

“I certainly cannot recommend him as a good candidate for probation.”

Unfortunately for Manson, probation officer Angus McEachen couldn’t have agreed more profusely.

“Defendant certainly has displayed no ability or willingness, perhaps both, to get along on the outside for any length of time,” McEachen wrote in his pre-sentence report.

A Marriage Of Convenience

Ever resilient in the face of the U.S. justice system and its warranted pressure on him, Manson decided to use Leona as his trump card.

Manson Rap Sheet

FBI Archives.The long list of crimes Manson committed by the time he reached Terminal Island prison in 1957, before he met Leona “Candy” Stevens.

When Manson was married to Rosalie Jean Willis and incarcerated for taking a stolen vehicle across state lines in 1955, his psychiatric evaluation with Dr. McNiel was far more successful. He made a clever case, too, by pleading for a more lenient sentence because his wife was about to give birth.

Despite the fact that his marriage with Willis had already dissolved, Manson’s plan worked: he was released on five years probation. Thus, four years later, he tried to do the same. This time, however, he didn’t have a pregnant wife at home.

Leona did a tremendous job making this emotional argument in front of her boyfriend’s parole officer. She adamantly pleaded that she and Charlie were about to become parents, and that if only they’d show some leniency regarding his sentence, they’d get married and curate a healthy life together.

While the former was utterly untrue, the pair actually did get married in 1959 — 10 years before Manson would direct his followers to commit the Tate-LaBianca murders.

Stevens employed this same, manipulative tactic on Manson’s judge. With tears streaming down her face, and a seemingly genuine desperation to have the father of her unborn child released from prison, a plea agreement was offered his way.

Rosalie Willis And Charles Manson Jr

TwitterManson’s first wife, Rosalie Willis, with her son Charles Manson Jr., who changed his name to Jay White before he killed himself in 1993. Date unknown.

Judge William Mathes took the “heartfelt” letters he’d received from Manson and Stevens into account with more gravity than the recommendations from the psychiatrist and chief probation officer. Giving Manson one last chance at redemption, he suspended his 10-year sentence and gave Manson five years of probation.

Of course, Manson did have to admit to one count of “uttering and publishing” one of the Treasury checks “with intent to defraud” in order to have the other two counts dismissed — but at least he didn’t have to spend 10 years behind bars.

Candy Stevens Gets Arrested — Thanks To Her Husband

On Sept. 28, 1959, Charles Manson was once again a free man — but not for long.

He found work as a bartender soon after his release but just couldn’t avoid trouble. Manson was arrested for grand theft auto and using stole credit cards, all the while being sexually involved with two teenagers.

In a remarkable oversight of the justice system, however, Manson wasn’t charged for any of this. When he stole a Triumph convertible and took Leona Stevens and another girl to New Mexico that December, however, his luck began to run out.

Manson Confused

Laredo Times ArchivesA newspaper clipping about Manson’s extradition from Mexico. June 2, 1960.

Stevens didn’t seem to mind prostituting herself for her husband — at least not consciously. She and another of Manson’s girls turned tricks while he ate psychedelic mushrooms with Yaqui Indians and played Russian roulette with an unloaded gun.

The man seemed desperate for chaos, a healthy dose of risk, and taunting those he fooled well enough to free him from incarceration. While it’s been well-documented that he himself was always quite promiscuous, and promoted sexual freedom within his “family,” Manson clearly didn’t care that his wife was selling her body for money — as long as he got a taste of the profits.

Before they knew it, all three were charged with driving a stolen car across state lines, as well as committing prostitution.

At this point, however, Stevens seemed unwilling to work her magic for Manson’s sake. She testified against her husband as a “material witness” in order to get her own charges expunged. In April 1960, she officially stated that Manson was responsible for taking her out of state.

When Manson arrived back in Los Angeles to face the music, it was Judge Mathes himself who reinstated the original sentence. Unenthused about spending the next decade behind bars, Manson appealed. Once again, Manson said, he would be imprisoned while his wife was pregnant.

The claim was actually true this time: Stevens was pregnant with Manson’s second child, another son.

A CNN segment on Afton ‘Star’ Burton who planned to marry Manson in 2014, decades after his last marriage to Leona Stevens.

Stevens visited her jailed husband before her son, Charles Luther Manson, was born. This was a one-time scenario, though. The two would never meet again, and Manson would never meet his son.

When his sentencing date finally arrived, the increasingly unhinged criminal expressed a clear desire to be imprisoned. After spending most of his adult life behind bars, Manson had come to rely on the stability of prison life.

Judge Mathes didn’t hesitate to grant the man his wishes.

“It may save the government the trouble of prosecuting you for these other offenses,” he said in reference to the allegations of sexual misconduct with two teenagers that were never pursued. “It may save the government a little expense. But you want to go to prison. You have just asked for it, and I am going to accommodate you.”

On May 29, 1961, Charles Manson was sent back to federal prison — while his wife, Leona “Candy” Stevens and her son, Charles Luther Manson, vanished from his life.

On April 10, 1963, after four rocky years of marriage, Stevens and Manson finally divorced. According to Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter, Stevens sought to terminate her tumultuous marriage on the grounds of “mental cruelty and conviction of a felony.”

Both Manson’s ex-wife and his estranged son have stayed out of the spotlight ever since. The digital paper trail on either of them has essentially been relegated to a handful of books, Manson blogs, and the legacy Manson himself created in the 1960s.

After learning about Leona Rae “Candy” Stevens, read about Ching Shih, the prostitute who became Lord of the Pirates. Then, learn a few Charles Manson facts that demistify the monster.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
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Margaritoff, Marco. "Meet Leona ‘Candy’ Stevens: The Woman Who Lied In Court To Liberate Her Husband, Charles Manson.", June 25, 2019, Accessed May 23, 2024.