Delving into the mind of a lunatic has consumed Bob George for almost two decades.
Every time he receives a letter in the mail from the California State Prison with illegible handwriting, George knows it’s from cult leader Charles Manson, who led a small band of followers on a killing spree on Aug. 9 and 10, 1969.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“I’m puzzled by the sociopath’s mind,” said George. “I want to know what makes them tick so we can figure out how to prevent the carnage.”
His insight into Manson led him to become a valuable source, said Jeff Quinn, author of “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson,” which was published Tuesday by Simon and Schuster.
“The book is much richer and fuller because of Bob,” said Quinn, who was preparing to leave on a national book tour.
Several years ago, Quinn was in Dodge City researching his book “The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral - And How It Changed the American West.” He told George Laughead Jr., president of the Ford County Historical Society, that his next book was going to be about Charles Manson. Laughead suggested Quinn get in touch with Bob George, a local man who communicates with Manson in prison.
“Bob couldn’t be nicer or more generous,” said Quinn. “He volunteered information and suggested people I needed to contact.”
The book explores the early life of Manson. Quinn was curious whether society at the time “grew” Manson, and how much the turmoil of the 1960s contributed to the person Manson became.
Included in the book is artwork that Manson sent to Bob George.
“Bob was so instrumental,” Quinn said.
For George, correspondence with Manson began back in 1997 while George was teaching the psychology of cults for his psychology class at Dodge City High School.
During his own high school years, George had been a poor, unmotivated student, so he wanted to bring his own class to life.
Manson didn’t respond to the first letter. But George wrote again and included a card from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He received a response from Roger Dale Smith, a.k.a. “Pin Cushion,” who introduced himself as Manson’s secretary. Smith explained to George that Manson received hundreds of letters a month and tossed them into the trash unopened. Smith said Manson only had a third-grade education and had been in reform school from the time he was 8. Smith was able to respond to all the fan mail by telling young people that Charles Manson was not the answer. A born-again Christian, Smith would try to offer another direction. Plus, because he was a Christian, he was intrigued by George’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes card.
Through Smith, Manson began communicating, asking for stamps and Pall Malls. He’d sign his letters, which are difficult to decipher, “Easy, Charlie Manson,” with others were signed, “Peace Out, Charlie.”
“Charlie plays the insane game,” said George, “but you can see in his letters he can play smart or dumb.”
Over the years George wanted to delve deeper and continued writing to other sociopaths. His collection of correspondence includes such well-known serial killers and rapists as the “Killer Clown,” John Wayne Gacy; “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz; and “B.T.K.,” Dennis Rader.
He admits to including a little money in the letters.
“It’s a trade-off,” George said. “I send a few stamps and in return I hope to gain insight to the mind of the bad people that I will warn the kids about.”
But his collection also includes a letter from Mother Teresa thanking George for “Helping to spread the fragrance of God’s love to the poorest of the poor.”
While retired from full-time teaching, George lectures in high schools and college classes. Along with serial killers, cult leaders and school shooters, he looks at social media predators such as Adam Longoria, who stalked and killed Alicia DeBolt in Great Bend. When lecturing on spree killers, George uses the example of Gregg Braun, whom he communicated with before Braun was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
George delves into the killers’ identities.
“Some people look at Charles Manson and see evil,” George said. “I want to look at his background and see what causes that person to be that way.”
Along with Mother Teresa, George looks at other good people for guidance, including Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder, who wrote to George, “The major thought that transcends is to associate yourself with people who want to make your life better.”
Along with lecturing, George tries to make a difference in Dodge City, through a jail ministry.
“One of the philosophies of the ministry is there is always hope for every sinner to ask for forgiveness, until they take their last breath,” George said. “Who is to put a measure on God’s mercy?”
Even “Son of Sam” wrote back to George and said, “God Bless you Mr. George.”
Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com