Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties
By Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman
Dianne Lake was just 14 years old when she joined Charles Manson and his cult of slavish followers – just let that sink in for a minute. At 16, members of “The Family” went on their gruesome two-night murder spree, and at 17 she found herself in a courtroom testifying against her former friends, helping to put them behind bars where most of them remain.
With news breaking last Sunday of Manson's death at the age of 83, interest in all things about the former cult leader and his related crimes will be high in the coming weeks. And no, despite lazy journalists, he was neither a "serial killer" or "mass murderer." Manson himself did not actually participate in the gruesome Tate-LaBianca murders, only ordering his followers to commit the crime. Though he was later convicted of taking part in two earlier murders.
How she ended up there was no surprise, as her father and mother would be up for the Worst Parents Ever award. In their own self-absorbed quests to achieve High Hippiedom, they gave their daughter and encouraged usage of pot at 13, LSD at 14, and would randomly leave her with older men and women of dubious intent to be used as a sex object or nude photography subject.
Or they just might leave her somewhere, assuming she’d find her way home somehow. Home for the family of five was a converted bread truck that would allow them to pick up and go wherever, whenever.
Not that the young girl minded much at the time – she was into
Having read most of the books out there on the subject – including lodestones Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, The Family by Ed Sanders, and various memoirs by former Family members, Lake’s take on life with Manson is the most clearheaded, insightful, and – and this is important – most explanatory of the group.
From firsthand knowledge, she really goes deep into dissecting the appeal of Charles Manson to his ragtag followers, and the techniques he used to maintain control and manipulation over them. He was indeed the Father Figure that most of the runaway and cast off girls (and some boys) wanted. But he was also their Brother, Lover, Leader, and…well…Jesus Christ returned.
Lake’s descriptions of evenings at their Spahn Ranch hideout which might include a musical performance, sermon, ingestion of pot and acid, and group sex – there was always group sex – are recounted in detail, and anecdotes and stories not in any other book are abundant.
And while living accommodations and food scouring wasn’t always pretty, Lake and the Family drew strength and support from each other – though always, always under Manson’s watchful eyes. And if some man he wanted to impress for status or supplies took a shine to a girl? Well, Charlie instructed them to “be nice” to the guy. Or else.
“There is no doubt that Charlie took advantage of me. This small man oozed self-confidence and sex appeal, and as he would demonstrate time and time again in the months and years ahead, he knew exactly what she was doing,” Lake writes. “As I discovered the first day in the magic
But Manson’s message of free love and a utopian society and the Family’s place in it grew darker and blatantly racist after his songwriting career never took off. And Beach Boy Dennis Wilson – and enthusiastic but still amazingly sweet-natured devourer of Manson’s music and his women – withdrew patronage. His attempt to take over another religious cult also failed.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
That’s when Manson’s nightly sermons turned to preparing The Family for the apocalypse that was just around the corner, the inevitable fall out of the Race War coming. The “Helter Skelter” theory that blacks would win, but only Charlie and his followers could lead them when the dust and blood had settled.
He also became angrier more violent with his girls both physically and sexually – Lake harrowingly accounts a vicious anal rape by Manson in an abandoned gypsy caravan. And when she started hearing stories from Family members who participated in the murder spree, things began to go completely dark.
After a raid on the ranch where the Family
Member of the