Member of the Family: Manson, Murder and Me by Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman

51tXE5eRnHLAt 14 I became one of Charles Manson’s girls.

At 17 I helped put him in prison.

With the the death of Charles Manson in 2017, the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca Murders, and the release of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in Summer 2019, there has been a plethora of new fictional material and real-life accounts about Manson’s life and the lives of his “girls”. Dianne Lake was the youngest of Manson’s girls, just 14 when she joined the Family in 1967. This is her first-hand account of life under the influence of one of the most notorious criminals in recent American history.

Lake begins her courageous book by discussing her early life before she came into contact with Manson. In the mid-1960s, her parents became caught up in the hippie counterculture and they decided to “drop out” of mainstream living giving up their home and belongings and adopting a nomadic lifestyle. Lake recounts how hard this type of life was for her as she craved stability and a solid roof over her head. She tells us how her parents introduced her to drugs, including marijuana and LSD, regularly dropping acid with their kids. This created a certain amount of animosity between her and her parents and she was eventually separated from them after they granted her her freedom written in the form of a note. This, coupled with several instances of horrific sexual abuse in her early life, contributed to her decision to join the Family.

In her first encounter with Manson, Lake recalls how charming and enigmatic he was as he made every girl feel special in their own way: “There was something magnetic about him, even though I wasn’t sure I even found him attractive….The attraction was more chemical and inevitable without any thought about whether I would or wouldn’t.” Lake recounts how wanted he made her feel, a feeling she had not known for several years. He then proceeds to rape her for the first time. This perfectly demonstrates Manson’s particular form of evil: he was a master manipulator as he preyed on and seduced young and highly vulnerable girls who were looking for a family unit at this time.

At the same time, Manson also understood what scared people and he used this to prey on and control those around him. As his confidence grew, so did his claims of an impending race war or “Helter Skelter” like the Beatles’ song that inspired his delusion. Over time, Lake began to recognise his increasing messiah complex as he declared himself to the second coming of Christ and “man’s son”. Lake also recognised that he was becoming more dangerous and that he increasingly wasn’t in control of his temper as he repeatedly raped and beat her.

Following the infamous murders in 1969, Lake was arrested and questioned along with the rest of the Family. Lake deliberately wasn’t involved in any of the murders because of her age, and when the authorities realised that she was a minor (she was carrying fake ID at the time), she was brought for counselling and eventually helped the prosecution to convict Manson. Lake recounts her recovery from Manson’s brainwashing in an institution and her eventual realisation that she wasn’t part of a family but a cult: “He just looked crazy, but I was able to look at him,” Lake says. “I had been pretty deprogrammed at this point, so I felt pretty safe.”

The book is primarily an exploration of family and the different types of family units and social groups we encounter throughout our lives. It’s very clear throughout the book that Lake craved some form of familial stability during her teenage years.

Remembering such harrowing experiences must certainly have taken it’s toll on Lake but the result is a courageous and matter-of-fact account of her teenage years under the influence of Manson and the Family. The book not only gives us a first-hand account of what life was like inside the cult, it is also a window into life in 1960s America during the hippie era and its inherent dangers. The book is both a fascinating chronicle of life within a cult as well as a cautionary tale which is still highly relevant today in a digital world which allows people to prey on vulnerable individuals.

About the authors

1QJU9xjyxDG2yftwYdEdCGTi3T5j5kGt2Dianne Lake is a retired special-education teacher and mother of three.

Deborah Herman is the author of twelve books, an attorney, and a journalist.

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