Episode 60 – Idi Amin versus Charles Manson

Today we find ourselves in the Villains bracket where we pit two men who were both alive during my lifetime, first, the dictator and madman of Uganda during the 1970s, Idi Amin Dada. The other, the leader of a cult of followers who committed some of the most heinous murders in American history, Charles Manson.

My primary work for both villains is Monsters: History’s Most Evil Men and Women by Simon Sebag Montefiore. For Idi Amin, I’ve used Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators by Riccardo Orizio, The Desktop Digest of Despots and Dictators by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert, and Tyrants: History’s 100 Most Evil Despots and Dictators by Nigel Cawthorne. For Charles Manson, I’m using Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by the prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, Vincent Bugliosi, and Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn.

Idi Amin
Idi Amin

Idi Amin Dada Oumee was born in 1923 or was it in 25, maybe in 26 or 27, or as one of his numerous sons claimed 1928. No one is sure. As for his father, we think it was Andreas Nyabire, who, before Idi was born, converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam and changed his name to Amin Dada. Of his mother, we also are not sure who she really was, but the evidence points to Assa Aatte. 

Idi’s father abandoned the family when he was still a young boy. Amin went to school in Bombo in Central Uganda, but he left with the equivalent of a fourth-grade education. From there, he took odd jobs until he was recruited into the King’s African Rifles in the British Colonial Army in 1946 as a cook. 

Idi Amin’s time in the British Army was at the time of independence movements in Africa that was dealt with rather harshly by both the British and many of their colonial allies. One was Kenya who brutally suppressed ethnic Somalis in the North Eastern area of Kenya. Amin’s unit was sent to this conflict known as the Shifta War. It is here and the war against the Mau Mau in 1952, that Amin began to see the wholesale slaughter of people in Africa and where he learned his brutal ways.

Flag of Uganda
Flag of Uganda

Over the coming years, Amin was promoted up the ranks until he reached the highest position an African could in the Colonial army. After returning to Uganda, Idi continued his upward climb. The top was lifted when Uganda gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962. Over the next eight years, Amin would go from captain to major, the Deputy Commander, and eventually in 1970, to the Commander of the Armed Forces.

During this time of advancement, Idi Amin was known to be quite the athlete. For several years, he was the light heavyweight boxing champ of Uganda. He was considered an excellent swimmer and rugby player. Standing 6′ 4″ or 1.93 meters, Amin was powerfully built and somewhat intimidating. The one thing that his superior officers and fellow athletes noticed was that Idi was not the brightest bulb on the tree. As one fellow office noted as reported by Ian Johnston in an article entitled Death of a Despot, buffoon, and killer, “Idi Amin is a splendid type and a good player, but virtually bone from the neck up, and needs things explained in words of one letter.” Not a glowing reflection of his intellect.

Uganda, at the time of its independence, was one of the wealthier countries in Africa, with its people doing better than almost any of their compatriots in the continent. Things were to deteriorate rapidly with the election of Prime Minister Milton Obote, a friend of Amin. Greed and criminal behavior permeated Obote’s regime with gun-running and ivory trade being two of their get-rich schemes. When the Ugandan Congress demanded investigations of the corruption, Obote took complete control of the government and made Idi Amin, head of the army.

Things began to sour between Obote and Amin, so much so that Idi seized power in a military coup on January 25, 1971, when he found out that Obote was planning on arresting him for corruption. Obote was out of the country at a meeting in Singapore. At first, Amin swore to his people he would hold free elections as soon as possible. This was a red herring as one week later, February 2, 1971, Idi Amin named himself President of Uganda, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Army Chief of Staff, and Chief of Air Staff. It would be the beginning of a genocidal administration as well as accelerating the decline of Uganda economically.

The list of horrible things that Idi Amin would do for the next eight years is astonishing. I’m going to read excerpts from works about him starting with the Desktop Digest of Despots and Dictators by Gilbert. He calls Amin, “A savage thug who liked to refer to himself as ‘Field Marshall and President-for-Life Doctor Idi Amin Dada,’ he saw to it that, before they died, men, women, and children of whom he disapproved were horribly mutilated and tortured. A foreign service officer had his eyes gouged out, his genitals cut off, and was partially skinned before his body was dumped; some were run over by tanks at the military barracks; one nurse has told how she was ordered to decapitate six bodies and spray the heads with preservatives so they could be taken to Amin for his fun. He ordered the dismembered body of his ex-wife to be sewn back together, wheeled back together, wheeled out of the mortuary, and shown to her three children.”

He further goes on to say, “Amin stated that human flesh is saltier than leopard meat. His agents used methods like the sledgehammer routine, in which one prisoner is promised a reprieve if he batters his fellow to death; the same promise is made to a third man about him, and so on.”

From Simon Sebag Montefiore and his book Monsters, we have this take on the Ugandan monster. “Illiterate, garrulous, and burly, as terrifying as he was ridiculous, Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada was a buffoonish bully and sadistic mass-murderer who earned the soubriquet the ‘Butcher of Uganda.’ The soi-disant ‘Last King of Scotland’ impoverished Uganda, once the Jewel of Africa, a megalomaniacal cannibalistic loon who killed so many of his countrymen that the crocodiles of Lake Victoria could not consume them fast enough.”

Speaking about the crocodiles, Gilbert shares this about it, “A full-time boatman fished out the puffed and bloated corpses the crocs hadn’t gotten to so they wouldn’t jam the filter grids and water inlets on the hydroelectric generators at Owen Falls Dam outside Kampala.”

From the book Tyrants by Nigel Cawthorne, we have this, “Mocked around the world for his pretension – he claimed to be victor over the British Empire, and a Scottish laird – behind the fancy uniform he was a murderous thug. He murdered the husbands and boyfriends of any woman he fancied, keeping body parts in a fridge. And he killed his own wives and lovers if he suspected adultery. His troops were allowed a similar latitude, and rape was commonplace. Larger tribes were persecuted, and it is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 Ugandans were tortured and murdered during his reign.”

Julius Nyerere
Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere

The international community was appalled by Idi Amin’s actions against his people, but it was his antagonism of his neighbor, Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, that would lead to his downfall and escape into exile. By 1979, Amin was rapidly losing allies, as many of his ministers and military men were scared for their lives in the face of Idi’s erratic behavior. Nyerere sent his troops along with over 20,000 Ugandan exiles into Uganda with the express idea of ousting the madman. On April 11, 1979, Amin was airlifted out of the country and brought under the protection of another crazy dictator, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. He was to stay there for a few years before settling in Saudi Arabia.

And finally, from an absolutely fascinating book Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators by Riccardo Orizio, we have Idi Amin himself talking about his life after he was overthrown, and living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The author got to interview Amin, and this is what the former dictator said about his life in 1997, “Fine, absolutely fine. I’m a good Muslim, and nowadays, my only interests have to do with Islam. My sons are all grown up now and have left Jeddah. I have just two of them off to college in the United States. I’ve got a little daughter, Iman, and a young wife, but I am dedicated to religion and nothing else. I recite the Koran, play the organ, go swimming, and fishing at a resort near the Yemeni border. The fish there are delicious, believe me. A peaceful life.” 

When asked if he felt any remorse about what he did in Uganda, his response was, “No, only nostalgia.” Idi Amin Dada died on August 16, 2003, in Jeddah. His family begged to have his body returned to Uganda for burial, but that request was summarily denied. Some in his native country still admire him, especially for his decision in 1972 to expel all people of Asian descent from Uganda. This would begin the death spiral of the Ugandan economy. Most would rather forget his reign of terror.

Now is the time to meet our second villain, someone who died just a couple of years ago, Charles Manson.

Charles Manson
Charles Manson booking photo 1968

Born on November 12, 1934, to 16-year-old Kathleen Manson-Bower-Cavender in Cincinnati, Ohio. His original birth certificate listed him as “no-named Maddox,” which was changed a few weeks later to Charles Milles Maddox. His biological father was said to be Colonel Walker Henderson Scott Sr., who was thought to be a con man. He never served in the military, and the name Colonel was actually his given name. 

Before Charles was born, Kathleen married William Eugene Manson, but that marriage was not to last for long as they divorced three years later. Charles Manson’s early years were fraught with uncertainty as his mother was sent to jail when he was five. He was to live with his aunt and uncle until his mother was released from prison after serving three years and a five-year sentence. While Manson claims those first years with his mother after prison was the happiest time in his life, in truth, his mother was a raging alcoholic who cared more about her next drink than her son.

As he grew up, Charles would become a serial truant, never staying in school long enough to get any sort of education. Years later, when Charles was in Terminal Island prison, he scored a 121 on an I.Q. test, but they noted his poor reading and writing skills, which meant that while bright, he lacked instruction.

In his teens now, Charlie, as he was known then, began to steal from stores and from his own home. His mother tried to have him placed in a foster home but without success. Instead, she sent him to the Gibault School for Boys in Terre Haute, Indiana. Of course, Charlie ran away, returning to his mother, but she decided to return him to the school.

After escaping yet again, Manson decided to rent a room and rob stores during the night. He was arrested and sentenced to time at the Indiana Boys School, a strict reform institution. That didn’t seem to help as Charlie got into trouble there as well. Manson had raped a boy during his time in reform school and was transferred to a higher security facility where he got into trouble there as well. Charlie was in and out of prison as a juvenile until his final release in April of 1954. 

In 1955, Manson married Rosalie Jean Willis and then proceeded to steal a car in Ohio, making it to California before he was captured and sentenced to three years in prison at Terminal Island. While in jail, Rosalie gave birth to their son, Charles Manson Jr. Charles’s time in prison taught him how to manipulate women from some pimps he came in contact with. This is supposedly where he learned how to gain power over women years later. Manson had more run-ins with the law but was finally released to get married to his second wife, Leona. He would pimp her out along with another woman in New Mexico. A couple more turns in prison ensued until his release in 1967. The following year, Charles Manson would begin to gather his followers.

Watts Riots - Los Angeles
Watts Riots – Los Angeles

We have to step back a second and understand the climate of the times back in 1967-68. The Vietnam War was raging on, riots had gripped cities like NY, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, and the famous Watts Riot in Los Angeles. Blacks and whites were suspicious of each other with police in L.A. stopping any one of color if they were spotted in a white neighborhood. Manson saw this, and it would be part of his mantra. As Jeff Guinn writes in his biography of Manson, “And that November, along with the winds, Charlie Manson blew back into L.A., bringing with him the first stirrings of another kind of conflagration.” The winds he spoke of were the Santa Ana winds, infamous for starting brush fires, something they still do to this day.

By this time, Manson had gathered a group of followers including, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Robert Beausoleil, Mary Brunner, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten. At one point, Charles had tried to get a music contract from a record label and had bought along some of the women to the tryout. It was to be a major disappointment when it didn’t come to pass. As Guinn writes, “Everyone got that a label deal was important to Charlie, but misunderstood why he wanted one so badly. His followers had no idea that Charlie was obsessed with becoming famous; he told them that his goal, his mission, really, was to teach the world a better way to live through his songs. If he wasn’t given that opportunity, it was the world’s loss, not Charlie’s.”

The relationship between the handsome and athletic-looking Robert Beausoleil and the skinny, 5′ 4″ Manson, was an interesting one. Charles saw in Beausoleil, a man who could lure good looking women into his family while Manson could take control with the techniques he learned from the pimps in jail.

Manson and his family moved to the Spahn Ranch in August 1968, a former film set owned by the nearly blind 80-year-old George Spahn. This would be the family’s base of operations until January of 1969. There were approximately 20 members of the family, all were told that Charles Manson was the leader, someone a few of the girls thought was the second coming of Jesus. 

One of the first ways Manson would control the women was through sex. To see if they had the right stuff to join the family, he would make them have oral sex with him, moving on to other ways of pleasing him. If they hesitated, he would allow them to stay if they provided money to the group. Once that was used up, he urged them to leave and find their way elsewhere.

Charles Manson, the disturbed man with a childhood of abuse, had control over a bunch of lost souls during a time of upheaval in America, which explains, in part, what was to go down starting on July 25, 1969. Bobby Beausoleil, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner went to the home of Gary Allen Hinman, at the direction of Manson, to find the supposed inheritance he had received. Tortured for three days, Hinman had nothing to give. Charles Manson came one of the days with a sword which he used to cut off one of Hinman’s ears. On the 27th, Bobby Beausoleil killed Hinman. He was arrested on August 6th, which led Manson to declare to his followers, “Now is the time for Helter Skelter.”

Helter Skelter was a Beatles song that Manson believed was a shout out to the black community to rebel against the white man. Manson was telling his family that they needed to instruct black people on how to start Helter Skelter, and murder was the way to show them.

Before we get into the murder spree that ensued, it should be noted that Charles Manson did indeed try to kill someone as opposed to some of his apologists that he never harmed anyone with the intent to murder them. In actuality, Manson shot a drug dealer known as Bernard “Lotsapoppa” Crowe. Charles thought he had actually killed him, but the dealer survived.

With the capture of Bobby Beausoleil, Manson thought he needed to convince the police that there was another killer on the loose that really killed Hinman and that Bobby would be freed. This delusional way of thinking was to follow Manson through the murders that were about to be committed and throughout the rest of his life in prison.

The first set of murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, and Steven Parent was carried out by Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel on August 8-9, 1969. Remember when I mentioned the failed record label deal that Manson wanted so badly? Well, the house where the murders occurred, 10050 Cielo Drive was once the home of record producer Terry Melcher, the man who turned Manson down.

The scene that the police officers came upon when called by the maid was horrific. Steven Parent was found in his car with slash wounds from a knife and four gunshot wounds. Others were found on the grass and in the house with a pregnant Sharon Tate both stabbed numerous times and a cord wrapped around her neck.

The next murders, committed on August 10th were of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. This time, Charles Manson was in the house and directed the killing. Aside from the four members of his family that murdered the night before, Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan joined them. As with the killings on Cielo Drive, this was also a brutal event with each victim suffering dozens of stab wounds. 

At first, the Los Angeles police told the media that they didn’t believe that there was any relationship between the Tate and the LaBianca murders, but by October, they felt that there were too many similarities. Manson and his family had been arrested n August 16th for running a car theft ring, but they were released on a technicality three days later. 

The big break that pointed to Manson’s family’s involvement in the Tate-LaBianca murders was the Hinman killing. Also, a dormitory mate of Susan Atkins told police that she had bragged about the killings. Watson, Krenwinkel, and Kasabian were arrested on December 1st. Atkins and Manson were already in custody because of another car theft crime. 

The trial that ensued was international news. The antics of the Manson Family members and Charles Manson himself is legendary. The chief witness against the family was Linda Kasabian, who was at the murders but did not commit the crime, was given immunity. After the prosecution rested, the defense, surprising everyone, rested their case without calling a single witness. The girls wanted to testify that they planned and committed the murders alone, without any guidance by Manson, but that didn’t work.

Charles Manson testified, rambling for over an hour, but the judge, having seen the crazy behavior of Manson during the trial, kept the jury out of the courthouse. Charles’ attorney, Ronald Hughes, disappeared during the trial with his body being found in March of 1971. No one was ever arrested for the murder.

President Gerald Ford
President Gerald Ford

Everyone was found guilty in January of 1971, with the death sentence being handed down by the jury on March 29th and the judge agreeing on April 19th. Other murders aside from attorney Hughes were attributed to Manson’s followers after his conviction, including James L.T. Willett and Donald “Shorty” Shea. On September 5, 1975, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme attempted to assassinate then-President Gerald Ford in Sacramento, California.  

While the death penalty in California was ruled unconstitutional after the convictions, all of the murderers involved in the Tate-LaBianca killings would serve the rest of their lives in prison. Charles Manson died of a heart attack and complications from colon cancer on November 19, 2017. He was 83 years old.

Now is the time we move on to the scoring of these two evil villains. 

The first fifteen points are for how long the contestants were evil. For Idi Amin, we have the start year of 1969 when he began to lead his troops in support of a Southern Sudanese rebellion and attempts on Obote’s life. We end his reign of terror in 1979, with his overthrow. As for Charles Manson, we begin with the murder of Gary Hinman in July of 1969 and ends with the Tate-LaBianca murders in August for two months. While he was a criminal for years, his villainy really was encompassed in the short period of the heinous killings by his followers. Amin gets 15 points, Manson 1. 

Next up is how they affected the rest of the world in their time. Amin affected the countries that surrounded Uganda, namely Tanzania and Sudan, while Manson was more of a media darling during the murders and the subsequent trial. Neither really had a global effect, but I would have to give this one to Amin as well with him receiving the 20 points and Manson getting 5.

Next up is their lasting effect on world history. Again, neither one has made much of an imprint on world history aside from the numerous books written about both men. For this reason, I’m giving both the full 25 points.

The last big point giveaway is for how bad or evil they were to their country. While the Manson-led murders were horrific, it pales in comparison to the devastation that Amin wrought on his country of Uganda. Today, his country is one of the most corrupt in the world and one of the poorest despite having lots of natural resources.  A recent survey suggested that 38 percent of the population lived on less than $1.25 a day. All of this began with the reign and policies of Idi Amin. 

Charles Manson wanted to start a revolution led by the black population of the United States; instead, he got a lifetime in jail. His murderous run was horrific, but it really had little effect on the country. Forty points for Amin, and 10 for Manson.

In the most lopsided win in Battle Ground History, Idi Amin gets 100 points to Charles Manson’s 41. The Ugandan dictator moves on to the second round where he will face off against the winner of the battle between Genghis Khan and Sadam Hussein. 

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Mark Schauss has been podcasting for over 8 years. His Russian Rulers History was a top history podcast for 7 1/2 years. Discover his new entry into the podcast world.



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