Tex Watson was just a young Texas boy in 1969 when he came under the spell of drugs and Charles Manson — and killed seven people.
Tex Watson known as, Charles Watson to his family, was a normal kid. He attended church and became a youth group leader in his home state of Texas. He attended college at North Texas State University for almost three years.
But then, a visit to a friend in California changed Watson’s life forever.
Entranced by the hippie counterculture brewing on the West Coast, Watson decided to move there — where he met mass murderer Charles Manson.
Watson became Manson’s right-hand man and stood by his side through seven grisly murders.
Tex Watson’s Early Life
Charles Denton Watson was born on Dec. 2, 1945, in Dallas, Texas. He grew up in a Methodist family which felt that to live the American Dream meant to work hard, get an education, and lead a moral life.
For a long time, Watson complied with this vision. He was an honor-roll student and a church youth group leader.
Upon graduating from high school, Watson chose to go to North Texas State University in Denton. Denton was a far cry from his small-town upbringing and some believe that it was here that Watson’s character began to slip as he descended into the party scene.
When funds ran low, Charles Tex Watson took a job with Braniff Airlines as a baggage handler. As part of his work, he earned free flights and so he flew to Los Angeles to meet a friend.
Watson fell in love with California and never looked back.
Tex Watson Meets Charles Manson
Watson tried attending college in California, but he dropped out to enjoy life in the fast lane. One fateful evening, he was driving home and picked up a hitchhiker.
In Watson’s words, “Hitchhikers were pretty common on Sunset, and I pulled over to pick one up. When he told me his name was Dennis Wilson, it didn’t mean anything to me, but when he said he was one of the Beach Boys, I was impressed.”
Wilson, the Beach Boys’ drummer, then directed Watson to a home in Pacific Palisades that had once been the mansion of Will Rogers.
Watson was shocked when he pulled up — the place was enormous, far different from his modest home in Texas — and even more surprised to be invited in.
In the kitchen, Watson met former Methodist minister Dean Moorehouse, who said there was someone Watson should meet in the living room.
That someone was sitting on the floor playing guitar while surrounded by five or six young women.
“This is Charlie, Charlie Manson,” Moorehouse said.
Then the trio got stoned.
Watson was hooked, but not on drugs — at least, not at first. It was the sense of community that drew him in.
“Here I was, accepted in a world I’d never even dreamed about, mellow and at my ease. Charlie murmured in the background, something about love, ﬁnding love, letting yourself love. I suddenly realized that this was what I was looking for: love. Not that my parents and brother and sister hadn’t loved me, but somehow, now, that didn’t count. I wanted the kind of love they talked about in the songs — the kind of love that didn’t ask you to be anything didn’t judge what you were, didn’t set up any rules or regulations.”
Manson’s “family” turned also to LSD. Regular acid trips, combined with Manson’s bizarre teachings, led to strange behavior — behavior that started to draw attention to the group.
The Manson Family Murders
Watson moved in with Manson and his followers at the Spahn Ranch, a run-down former movie set, in November 1968. In isolation there, Manson began to preach a strange gospel: he convinced his followers that he was a god-like figure whose will should be obeyed.
Manson used the term “Helter Skelter” from a Beatle’s song to describe a coming “race war” between black and white people — one in which he thought his cult members would survive, emerging victorious at the battle’s conclusion to rule the earth.
The only trouble was that it was taking too long for war to break out — which meant Manson and his family would have to incite that war themselves.
Watson described the events leading up to the murders in an interview:
“After about two weeks of taking these drugs and becoming just void of conscience, Manson said, ‘Hey, I want you to go out and kill these people. To go up to this place and kill everyone who is there.’ He gave us the orders, the directions… he told the girls to write something witchy on the walls. Here I was, a naive Texas boy without a conscience… thinking that the world was going to come to an end tomorrow.”
Manson’s ethics would lead Watson down his darkest path.
on Aug. 9, 1969, Watson and three of Manson’s girls broke into the home of Hollywood director Roman Polanski. Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was at home with four other people: coffee heiress Abigail Folger, hairdresser Jay Sebring, writer Wojciech Frykowski, and visitor Stephen Parent.
Watson and the three perpetrators brutally stabbed victims dozens of times. They wrote messages on walls in the victims’ blood.
Yet Manson wasn’t satisfied with his underlings’ work; he felt they needed a lesson in murder. So the next day, he accompanied the previous night’s killers and supervised the murder of store executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.
These murders were some of the most gruesome and shocking in American history.
Tex Watson fled to Texas on Oct. 2, 1969, nearly two months after the murders. The race war that Manson predicted never happened. Before he flew back home to Texas, Watson killed one of Manson’s ranch hands.
His freedom back home didn’t last long. He was arrested on Nov. 30, 1969, and charged with seven counts of first-degree murder. His parents and siblings were shocked and horrified.
At his trial, Susan Atkins, another member of the Manson family who was also at the Tate murders, proclaimed that Watson said upon entering the victim’s house, “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.”
The young man’s attorneys tried unsuccessfully to argue he was insane at the time of the killings.
A jury found Watson guilty of seven counts of first-degree murder. As fate would have it, California abolished the death penalty in 1972, a year after Watson was sentenced to death. Instead of the death penalty, he received life in prison.
Tex Watson In Prison
Watson became a born-again Christian in prison and an ordained minister. Weirdly enough, Rosemary LaBianca’s daughter supports Watson’s ministry, called Abounding Love. As part of that ministry, he wrote an autobiography entitled Will You Die for Me?
In the second part of a television interview, Watson said he lives with the memory of what he did every day. “I hate what I’ve done. I hate having to be the person that had committed a crime that’s so hideous. I hate that.”
Watson tried to explain why he chose to play a role in the slaughter:
“Growing up a passive person not communicating my desires, I entered college to please my parents. I looked up to older college men as father figures, while fearing failure and angry… The crimes ended up bringing my parents to their knees, causing devastation, hurt, humiliation, and much embarrassment. My siblings were left to hold them up from all the emotional pain, which I so deeply regret.”
The prisoner married and had four kids before California banned conjugal visits in prisons. He divorced in 2003.
In October 2016, a parole board denied Watson’s request for parole for the 17th time since his conviction.
One prosecutor framed Watson as an unrepentant mass murderer after the parole hearing: “These were some of the most horrific crimes in California history, and we believe he continues to exhibit a lack of remorse and remains a public safety risk.”
Watson hasn’t exactly been a model prisoner. He’s been in trouble with the California Attorney General for using the proceeds from his nonprofit ministry to try to raise his children.
Though Charles Manson is dead, Tex Watson lives on, continuing to appeal the decisions of the court in an as-yet unsuccessful bid for freedom. He has spent much more of his life behind bars than he ever spent free — and it looks like, as a result of his crimes, he’ll die there too.