Charles Manson asked me a favor.

In a series of letters in 1992, he seemed to be trying to get on my good side. From his California prison cell, he bragged about tales of the underworld, apparently thinking I might be connected to the Mafia.

He also recalled teen exploits in Peoria (“That town took over $400 from me … and run me out of town, but I came back.”), complimented a column I’d run about him (“You wrote what I said. That don’t happen much.”) theorized on the immortality of crime kingpins (“Luciano, you don’t kill a godfather.”) and offered glimpses into his mindset (“My world of darkness is much bigger than the one they are buying and selling as light.”)

What did he want from me? A phone.

“PL,” he wrote me, “if I had a phone we could do a lot of good.”

“We”? As in, Charles Manson and me? The hairs on the back of my neck tingled. Creepy.

He didn’t explain the “good.” There’s nothing good about Charles Manson.

Why did he come to me with the phone request? As recounted here a couple of days ago, in 1992 I was researching Manson’s teen criminal history in Peoria. I wrote to Manson at California State Prison in Corcoran, Calif., where to this day he continues his life sentence for the Tate-LaBianca murders.

Manson replied to my letter and described teen capers in Peoria, which I relayed in a 1992 column. But after it published, two more letters came from Manson. At the time, the newspaper felt we’d already given enough ink to Manson. So, for almost 25 years, I kept those letters to myself. A few days ago, when I heard Manson might be on his deathbed, I read the manuscripts for the first time since 1992.

And here, we’ll publish them for the first time. Why? Some readers might find the letters exploitative. But what really jumps out from his writings isn’t some intriguing, charismatic character, as Manson is often depicted. Rather, Manson — whose next parole hearing is in 10 years, when he would be 92 — is just like any other unrepentant con, trying to worm whatever he can, from whomever he can.

Manson, 82, has been back in the news after a gastrointestinal illness prompted hospital treatment. He has been denied parole a dozen times, in part because of dangerous conduct behind bars. Manson, who in his cell has made voodoo dolls of people he dislikes, has more than 100-plus infractions including assaulting prisoners, spitting on guards, hiding weapons and possessing cellphones.

Indeed, a phone is what he wanted from me. Our correspondences preceded cellphones, so I assume he wanted access to a phone. I’m not sure how I would do that for him, as a reporter half a country away. But perhaps Manson believed my resume extended beyond a newspaper career.

He sent a short letter postmarked Sept 28, 1992 — 10 days after the column on Manson’s first letter. It started, “Do you know Lucciano from Topeka, KS?” Though that reference escapes me, his next line boasted, “I was in the next cell to Frank Costello in September 1952.”

That’s entirely possible: that year, Manson was in a federal lock-up in Ohio while crime boss Costello spent time in multiple federal pens. In the 1988 book “Manson in His Own Words,” Manson describes mobsters as his heroes and marvels at watching Costello standing up to a bossy prison guard: “Yeah, I admired Frank Costello and I listened to and believed everything he said.”

In the letter to me, why did Manson drop Costello’s name? Costello was the boyhood pal of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who created the Five Families syndicate system in New York. When Luciano went to prison in New York state in 1936, Costello took over the Luciano Family. So, my guess is that Manson thought I might be related to the late Luciano or otherwise mobbed up — a question I get more than you might think. On both counts, then as now, no.

Anyway, after the mobster pleasantries in the letter, Manson got down to business with me:

“Get me a phone. PL, if I had a phone we could do a lot of good. The little heads that got me won’t let me do anything and kill it all with their doubts and fears. Check this out and let me know.”

He also patted me on the back for the prior column: “You wrote what I said. That don’t happen much. They (reporters) twist it.”

At the end, he added, “PS: I’ll write you later.”

He did, in a letter postmarked Oct. 14, 1992. It’s a mishmash over a lot of territory. I could try to interpret it, but I’ll just let it rip — with editing for spelling and, when possible, clarity.

(A few notes: “Blackie” is the teen with whom the 14-year-old Manson fled Boys Town in Nebraska, eventually reaching Peoria and Blackie’s uncle, who ran a numbers racket and schooled the boys in burglary. “The State Park Gang” could’ve been a gang at the old State Park, which was an active park on the Near South Side until undergoing development in the 1990s. As for Manson's reference of $400, that apparently was supposed to be his take for a 1949 Peoria heist that resulted in his arrest.)

“I was raised by a man in the underworld, the men who did not sell out their brothers to fear of death nor did they give up their honor for money. To run the numbers you need honor or your numbers won’t roll.

“The State Park Gang lied and cheated their own godfather. I seen them fall down through their own (butts). Luciano, you don’t kill a godfather. A godfather is in your will: God’s will. I watched a lot of men grow old and die in prison.

“I came to Peoria: it was a gangland town. I don’t spell the names. I recall the suit and shoes. Not that it matters, but one of the big reasons the old gangs are mostly all dead is they starting lying and selling out.

“I loaned my suit to John (surname scratched out). We worked in the bake shop in (an intelligible city) in Little Italy and I let him use my suit and shoes and he put toilet paper in the toes and I lent him $50 to go out with an older woman and try to make some money. He hustled the broad and went S.F., Calif., got married and started pizza places and got rich. I met his cousin and asked about my suit and I was told that he was rich enough to put me in the grave with the suit. But maybe I was talking about another suit.

“Look, I don’t lie. I stopped that a long time ago, so I’m not gonna play along just for the sake of games people would play. I’ve been in the underworld a long time and I know a lot of men in honor, all men that are true.

“Look at this: Blackie told the (Peoria) cops on his uncle and got him busted. I didn’t tell and I still haven’t, and my word is still good. I told that DA of yours that he was destroying his own underworld. Frank Costello told me don’t talk to cops that we are not cops. I always did what the man said. The play actors are playing like the underworld and being cops. You can’t be right unless you’re God.

“It took me a lot of years to think everything out to completeness because I never went to school. I was 35 years old at 12.

“That town (Peoria) took over $400 from me without a court. They took my money and run me out of town, but I came back. Every time I would break out of prison, I would take Highway 40 and roll into your park with the Hood Gang. Ha ha. We were all such kids. In Indianapolis, Ind., we called ourselves the Hoods and in Ohio the Dukes and in Kentucky the KY Boys. Man, do you realize that $400 for a 14-year-old in them days was the high-rolling fast lane. Ha ha.

“My world of darkness is much bigger than the one they are buying and selling as light. Do you realize my life, if it were put in a book, would be unbelievable?”

PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at, and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on