Tex Watson

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Charles Denton Watson
Watson on a Californian prison mugshot in 1971.
Born Charles Denton Watson
(1945-12-02) December 2, 1945 (age 70)
Dallas, Texas, U.S
Other names Tex, Charles Montgomery, Mad Charlie
Criminal penalty Death, commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty
Criminal status Incarcerated
Spouse(s) Kristin Joan Svege (divorced 2003)
Parent(s) Denton and Elizabeth Watson
Conviction(s) Murder

Charles Denton "Tex" Watson (born December 2, 1945) is an American murderer who was a central member of the "Manson family" led by Charles Manson.[1] On August 8, 1969, Watson led other Manson followers into a house in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, and murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four other people. The next night, Watson traveled to Los Feliz, Los Angeles and participated in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, as part of Manson's "Helter Skelter" vision. Watson was found guilty of murder in 1971, and has been in prison ever since.

Early life, college, Charles Manson and the Spahn Ranch[edit]

Watson was born in Farmersville, Texas, on December 2, 1945, and grew up in Copeville, Texas. He was the youngest of three children. Tex grew up apparently attending the Copeville Methodist Church. In high school he was an honor student and athlete, and worked as the editor on the school paper. In September 1964, Watson moved to Denton, Texas, to attend North Texas State University, where he joined a fraternity. In January 1967 he began working at Braniff Airlines as a baggage boy. He used free airline tickets to travel and visited a frat brother in Los Angeles; there he became interested in the psychedelic lifestyle of the late 1960s. During that time he began dealing marijuana and LSD and was arrested at least twice for distribution. During that period Watson met Charles Manson. Watson spent some time at a compound where Manson was living called the Spahn Ranch with the "Manson Family", moving back and forth into LA to make money dealing illicit drugs. In March of 1969 he moved back to the Spahn Ranch, where Manson was preaching the inevitability of a race war in America and his hope to incite it.

Cielo Drive murders[edit]

See also: Tate murders

On August 8, 1969 Watson, following Manson's instructions, took Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel to, in Manson's words, "that house where Melcher used to live" and "totally destroy everyone in [it], as gruesome as you can." The accidental occupants of the house were movie actress Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger.

Watson, who had been to the house on at least one other occasion, climbed a telephone pole near the gate and cut the phone line. When an unknown car approached driven by an unwitting 18-year-old named Steven Parent, Watson ignored his pleas for mercy and shot him four times in the chest and abdomen.

After pushing the car further up the driveway and traversing the front lawn, Watson cut the screen of a window, and let Atkins and Krenwinkel in through the front door. When Frykowski awoke on the living room couch, Watson kicked him in the head and said "I'm the devil, and I'm here to do the devil's business." Upon Watson's direction, Atkins found the house's three other occupants and with Krenwinkel brought them to the living room. Watson tied Tate and Sebring together at the neck with rope and slung it up over a beam. After shooting Sebring and taking $70 from Folger's purse, Watson stabbed Folger seven times; Frykowski was stabbed a total of 51 times. The pregnant Tate was stabbed 16 times. Watson later recalled that Tate cried, "Mother ... mother ..." as she was being killed. Since Manson had told the women to "leave a sign ... something witchy", using the towel that had bound Frykowski's hands, Atkins wrote "pig" on the front door in Tate's blood.

LaBianca murders[edit]

The next night, six "Manson Family" members, Leslie Van Houten, Steve "Clem" Grogan and the four from the previous night were driven into Los Angeles by Charles Manson (who was displeased by their performance and pledged to show them "how to do it"). In March 1968, Manson and other Family members had attended a party at the rented home of Harold True in Los Feliz, located at 3267 Waverly Drive. Manson didn't want to kill True because he thought it could be traced back to him, so he settled for the house next door where Leno and Rosemary LaBianca lived. After driving their car up and down the street, and waiting, Manson and Watson got out of the car, disappeared walking up the driveway and entered the home together. According to Watson's book Will You Die For Me?, Manson held the occupants at gunpoint while Watson tied them up. Manson returned to the car to say he had tied up the house's occupants and sent Krenwinkel and Van Houten into the house. Rosemary LaBianca was taken to her bedroom by Krenwinkel and Van Houten as Watson murdered Leno LaBianca in the den. Rosemary LaBianca was then murdered in her room, primarily by Krenwinkel and Watson, with additional (and possibly post-mortem) wounds inflicted in her back by Van Houten. Both victims were stabbed numerous times and the word "WAR" was carved into Leno LaBianca's stomach; a fork was also left protruding from his stomach. Phrases from or inspired by then recent Beatles lyrics such as "WAR," "Healter Skelter" (sic), "RISE", and "Death to Pigs" were smeared onto the walls and various surfaces in the victims' blood by Krenwinkel.


On October 2, 1969, Watson fled the ranch and headed back to his native state of Texas. On November 30, 1969, Watson was arrested in Texas for the Tate-LaBianca murders. He and his lawyers fought the extradition back to California for nine months. Upon returning to California, Watson began regressing to a catatonic state. He stopped talking and eating, losing 55 pounds. He was admitted to Atascadero State Hospital for a 90-day evaluation period to determine if he was suitable to stand trial. He stayed there until February 1971, when he was deemed able to stand trial.[2]

On October 12, 1971, Watson was convicted of seven counts of first degree murder and one count conspiracy to commit murder. A week later, the same jury took only two and a half hours to determine that Watson was sane.

On October 21, 1971, Watson was sentenced to death. He escaped execution when the California Supreme Court's People v. Anderson decision resulted in the invalidation of all death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972.[3] Watson was found guilty of the murders of seven persons, and his seven counts were to be served concurrently. His minimum eligible parole date was November 26, 1976, but he has been denied parole 14 times. Watson remains incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. His last hearing was in November 2011. He received a five-year denial, rather than a 7-10-15 year maximum.

His next scheduled parole hearing is in November 2016.[4]

Watson in a prison photograph (2004).

Later years[edit]

Watson became a born-again Christian in 1975 and through non-incarcerated friends operates "aboundinglove.org." He has written about his role in the murders, stating that he believes that God has forgiven him.[5] Will You Die For Me?, Watson's autobiography, as told to "Chaplain Ray" (Ray Hoekstra), was published in 1978.[6] In 1979, he married Kristin Joan Svege. Through conjugal visits they were able to have four children (three boys, one girl), but those visits for life prisoners were banned in October 1996. After 24 years of marriage, Svege divorced Watson after meeting another man in 2003.[7] Svege and Watson remain friends as parents of their children. He graduated from California Coast University in 2009 with a B.S. in Business Management.[8]

In August, 1982, a Southern California-based citizens group, Citizens for Truth, submitted some 80,000 petition signatures and several thousand letters opposing parole for "Tex" Watson.[citation needed] The group received help from one of Watson's victims' mothers – Doris Tate, mother of slain actress Sharon Tate. The group was successful in convincing the California Board of Prison Terms to deny parole for Watson, Charles Manson's main killer. In later years the group, along with Doris Tate, and her daughters, Patricia and Debra, submitted petitions totaling more than two million signatures.

In 2012, Watson disputed a request to release recordings of conversations between himself and his attorney. The recordings became part of a bankruptcy proceeding involving the deceased attorney's law firm. Members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said they believed the recordings might contain clues about unsolved murder cases involving the Manson family. Watson asked the presiding judge to allow police to listen to the tapes but not take possession of them.[9][10] The LAPD did acquire the tapes, which allegedly contained Watson confessing to other murders, but reported that they did not contain any new information. In September 2014, Richard Pfeiffer, an attorney for Leslie Van Houten, said that he was considering subpoenaing the tapes to look for information that might help Van Houten in her next parole hearing.[11]


  1. ^ http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/manson/mansonaccount.html
  2. ^ Bugliosi 1994, pages 514-15 .
  3. ^ Helter Skelter — The True Story of the Manson Murders 25th Anniversary Edition pages 661–2, Epilogue.
  4. ^ Broughton, Ashley. "Aging Manson 'Family' members long for freedom." CNN. March 30, 2009.
  5. ^ Manson's Right hand Man Speaks Out!
  6. ^ "Library of Congress catalog record on Will you die for me?". 
  7. ^ Manson Family Timeline Archived October 27, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Parole Board Hearing Transcript 2011.
  9. ^ Martinez, Michael; Cary, Michael. Judge declines to reverse order giving Manson follower tapes to police CNN, 13 June 2012
  10. ^ Esposito, Richard. Manson Possibly Tied to Homicides ABC Good Morning America 19 October 2012
  11. ^ Healey, Patrick. "Attorney May Try Subpoena To Pry Open Recording by Convict Who Killed for Charles Manson". Channel 4 NBC-Los Angeles. NBC Los Angeles. Retrieved 13 December 2014. 

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