Charismatic Leaders of Destructive Religious Cults: An Examination into the Unidentified Culprits of Sexual Homicide

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Empirical research on destructive religious cults is severely limited, specifically with regard to the existence of a possible universal motivation for cultic violence. The widespread acceptance of individualized motivations for cultic violence (e.g., Manson’s Helter Skelter philosophy), however, negates the existence of striking similarities between characteristics — both offense and offender — of cultic violence and sexual homicide. The current study, in an attempt to examine the motivational implications of such striking similarities, utilized archival data to investigate the presence of 16 commonly-identified characteristics of sexual homicide within a singular case study — Charles Manson and the Manson Family. Results indicated that Charles Manson exhibited all of the commonly-identified offender characteristics of sexual homicide, while the Manson Family (and, the resultant Tate/LaBianca murders) exhibited 93.7 percent of the commonly-identified offense characteristics of sexual homicide. These findings suggest that the Tate/LaBianca murders were the product of Manson’s sexually-related fantasies, as well as the willingness of the Manson Family to execute these fantasies by proxy. Despite the limited generalizability of these findings — as a result of a limited sample size, as well as the use of strictly secondary sources (i.e., biographies) —, Charles Manson emphasizes the possibility that cultic violence exhibits an underlying sexual motivation; further research should, therefore, continue to examine this possibility within additional destructive religious cults (e.g., Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple).
a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology