Charles Manson
California Medical Facility, Vacaville, July 1982

I shot this portrait of Charles Manson just outside his cell at a prison in Vacaville, California. As far as I know, it's the only formal portrait ever taken of Manson. Whenever anyone sees it, they ask me the same question: "Boy, he must have been frightening. Were you scared?" No, not at all, I answer. Look at me, I explain. I'm not 6'2", I'm not built like Muhammad Ali, but I did spend one year photographing hundreds of inmates that were in for crimes at least as bad as Manson's. You've never heard of any of those inmates because they're not as famous, but many of them were really scary. These were big guys, guys who could have taken me by the throat and it surely would have been, "Goodbye Neil." Not so with Manson: He could have passed for a jockey. He must be only about five feet tall and he can't weigh more than 100 pounds. I'm not real tough, but assuming Manson was unarmed, I'm sure I would have held my own against him. Happily, it never came to that. As for the swastika tattoo on his forehead, believe it or not, it looked quite different when I first met Manson than it does in the picture on this spread. In reality, it's an old, faded, faintly visible tattoo. What I am convinced Manson does is color it in with a blue ink pen anytime he's going to be interviewed for television, or as in my case, photographed. Oddly enough, Manson was a very easy subject. He only had one request: He had heard about, but had ever seen, the Time cover on Squeaky Fromme, who had attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford. He asked if I could possibly send him one. After getting the OK from prison officials, I did.


The Best of Leifer
The Best of Leifer

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