Childhood & Early Life
Mary Theresa Brunner was born on December 17, 1943, to George and Elsie Brunner. She was raised in a middle-class Midwestern family.
She completed her early education in her hometown. She then joined the ‘Wisconsin-Madison University’ and graduated in the mid-1960s. Following her graduation from the university, she moved to Berkeley and began working as a library assistant at the ‘University of California.’
In 1967, she met Charles Manson. Charles had just come out of a federal prison back then, after completing a 7-year sentence. Charles was good at convincing people and charmed Mary immediately. They began dating, and he began living with her in her apartment.
Charles had many sinister plans that he wanted to execute, and he needed people for that. He convinced Mary to quit her job and embark on a trip with him across California. They did that to recruit more young and impressionable young women. Thus, together, they managed to bring many new recruits and formed a group, which was later known as the “Manson Family.” Mary was the first member of the “Manson Family.”
She gave birth to a son in 1968. The child was named Valentine Michael Manson. By then, the “Manson Family” had become big and had more females than men. Many women from the family helped her deliver her child. It was also said that Charles had cut the umbilical cord of his son using only his teeth.
Mary was one of the many women who had fallen into Manson’s trap, doing whatever he said. He had created a God-like persona for himself among his members. Thus, none of the family members denied him when he asked them to do something.
By the late 1960s, the group was about 20-people strong, including many regular members, such as Susan Atkins, and many others who came and went. The group made several trips together, around Los Angeles, Oregon, and Nevada, before settling down at the ‘Spahn Ranch’ in Los Angeles. The ranch was a former set, where many Western films had been shot.
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Life as a Criminal
Mary had become aware of Charles’s sinister intentions early on, but she did not mind his criminal intent. She was deeply in love with him and could not disobey him, just like the other members of the family.
In July 1969, Gary Hinman, a hippie, activist, musician, and drug dealer, had become a close associate of the group. However, he was not a member of the family. He was found murdered in his house, with a message written on the wall that read: “political piggy.” This gave an initial glimpse into what Charles Manson could do to satisfy his hunger for power. Later investigations suggested that Gary had been murdered due to some money and property disputes. However, Bobby Beausoleil, another “Manson Family” member, later claimed that he was murdered due to some drug-related incident.
Mary had been using several aliases back then, rarely using her real name. She, along with fellow family members Bobby and Susan Atkins had left the ranch on July 25, 1969, the day Gary was murdered. Bobby stated in court that Mary had nothing to do with the murder. However, many reports claim that she was equally responsible for the act.
However, she was scared when the trial went underway in the court. She became a key witness and claimed that it was Bobby who had planned and committed the murder. She was given immunity by the court and was set free.
Bobby, in his testimony, said that he was going to Gary’s house to confront him about a contaminated drug that he had sold to them, which was later sold by the family members to a biker gang. The biker gang members thought that it was poisoned, and they threatened Bobby and asked him to return their money.
Bobby said that Mary and Susan Atkins had accompanied him just because they liked Gary. He claimed that they had no intention of killing Gary and that he was killed only when the situation had turned bad. There were many contradictory accounts of the entire incident. Bobby was sentenced to death, which was later turned into a life sentence.
However, this was not the end. Two weeks later, on August 9, 1969, a few “Manson Family” members committed the Tate/LaBianca murders, an act that shook the nation and the world. Mary clearly had no role in the murders, but several family members, including the leader, Charles Manson, were key convicts and were given prison sentences.
Following the entire ordeal, Mary went back to the ranch to live with the remaining family members. However, she and the other family members were not happy with the imprisonment of the other members. They chalked out a sinister plan that would eventually land her in prison.
On August 21, 1971, Mary, along with five other family members, drove into a ‘Western Surplus Store.’ They had guns on them and asked the clerks, visitors. and staff of the store to lie on the ground. It was a popular gun store in the Hawthorne, California area. They stole 143 rifles and put them in their van before driving away.
They were unaware that a clerk had silently turned on the alarm. It was later revealed that the members had contemplated killing everybody in the store but had eventually decided against it.
A police car arrived at the spot and opened fire on the car. The “Manson Family” members shot back at them. Many rounds were fired from both sides. More police cars arrived. Their van was blocked by the police car, and after some more struggle, Mary and her accomplices were apprehended.
The police later revealed their plans of hijacking an airplane and threatening to kill the passengers if the “Manson Family” members were not freed. Their plan failed, and the family members were tried.
Prison Sentence & Later Life
Mary Brunner received a 20-year prison sentence at the ‘California Institution for Women.’ She shared the prison with Susan Atkins, who was serving time for the Tate/LaBianca murders.
In 1977, she was freed on parole. She had already sent her son to live with her parents. Following her parole, she stopped being in touch with the “Manson Family” members and moved to Midwest. She changed her name to start a new life.
She was eventually awarded the custody of her son, who later changed his name from Valentine Michael Manson to Charles Michael Brunner. He had done so to distance himself from his father, Charles Manson.