Reading About Charles Manson

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I’m reading this book by Dianne Lake, a member of the Manson Family who didn’t go to prison. She testified against the other members during their trials and subsequent re-trials. For people who aren’t familiar with Charles Manson and his murderous cult, there’s a bunch of fiction and nonfiction. Manson is one of the most popular murderers ever. Media here and abroad have spent decades sensationalizing it.

Some important background.
I looked into Manson as part of a class on serial killers when I was an undergrad. Manson got lucky that his death penalty conviction was overturned by a US Supreme Court case. California, insistent on making sure Manson never got out of prison, retried him and asked for a life sentence. This happened to everyone in the cult that helped kill someone.

Over the years, Manson and the other murderers have tried to capitalize off of their fame. Manson tried to sell things that he wrote. Every once in a while, someone would try to get parole, citing good behavior or some plea to humanity. But the most striking thing is that Manson and his family did what a lot of other serial killers did. They joined the God Squad.

This was an informal term by my professor (and maybe even by law enforcement). Serial killers have this habit of becoming born again when they get convicted. It isn’t some sort of miracle. The whole thing is calculated to get parole, reduce sentences, or avoid execution. The most famous example I can think of is the interview of Ted Bundy by James Dobson. Bundy straight out lied and said whatever his fundamentalist interviewer wanted him to say. Pornography creates serial killers, not years of abuse and neglect.

Why I’m having trouble with this book.
I’m two chapters into this book, but it’s already giving me an uneasy feeling. The author was a teenager at the time of the killings. According to what she says, she only saw what was going on. She didn’t actively kill anyone. In return for her testimony against everyone else, she didn’t get prosecuted for any criminal wrongdoing.

She’s got a statement in her acknowledgments that feels like it’s ripped right out of the God Squad manual, though. To be fair, she was young, so maybe she did convert as a form of escaping and coping with what happened. The reasonable part of me says I have to wait to see what might be going on.

I don’t know if there were any allegations of murder or conspiracy to commit murder by Ms. Lake. I should reiterate that she has not been convicted of any crimes relating to this that I’m aware of. All my impression is based on is her words and my own limited experience looking into Manson and people like him.

I am worried that there might be some capitalization on a sensational crime. Things like this are actually quite difficult the closer you look at them. Victims of murder leave behind loved ones who are emotionally victimized. Every time someone writes about Manson, you can bet the loved one of a victim has to either get away or go through coping strategies. And for what? Entertainment?

If I don’t finish the book, it’s going to be because I don’t want to feel like I’m re-victimizing someone. All that pain and suffering can’t get dealt with if people keep bringing it up. These were real people that were killed. They are not assets to be exploited.

7 thoughts on “Reading About Charles Manson

    • It’s for my writing group. We’re looking at non-fiction and fiction based on real events. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have such reservations if the author was someone outside the murder cult.


  1. A couple weeks ago I was just watching a YouTube true crime series about Charles Manson. It was interesting to learn about his childhood and criminal history as a juvenile and young adult. I watched about 5 or 6 hours of the series. I mean, I’m sure I could have found better uses of my time than dive into the debts of human depravity, but did I? No.

    I had to stop after the introduction of Dianne Lake. She was only 14 when she got involved in the cult and it really disturbed me that her hippie parents were okay with her going off with some random dude surrounded by all these women (this seemed to be a theme – a lot of these parents introduced their daughters to Manson as a potential marriage partner).

    I listened to how Manson would love-bomb the young women and then he would psychologically break them down to obey. One technique he used was to have them stand by a tree and throw knives at their heads and tell them if they flinched that meant they didn’t love him. Despite requring that they adore him at all times he pimped out the women when he needed money.

    After the young girl was abandoned by her parents to this narcissistic psycho (and of course raped and psychologically abused her) I was done. I didn’t get to the killings. There is so much darkness a person can take.

    I appreciate your take on not wanting to re-victimize the victims and their families. I watched a series on Ted Bundy and when they did an interview with one of the victims who actually survived it hit me how awful it must be for these horrible narcissistic killers tget all this attention when the victims are mostly ignored. We don’t honor them. I’m afraid I’m guilty of that as well. Remembering that interview with Dobson, boy my blood boiled when Bundy tried to blame his murderous proclivities on pornography and Dobson just ate it up.

    By the way, I’m glad you are back to writing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m two chapters in, and I can see where the relationship with her father is going to figure in with her later history. Maybe the abuse is another reason why I’m reluctant to continue reading.

      And yeah, I got to see that Dobson interview so many times. My mom the other day tried reminding me about it. Not for the first time, I reminded her that it was a dog-and-pony show put on by a guy that had sex with his victims.

      But hey, Dobson can do no wrong because he’s been bathed in the blood of the lamb.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your mom tries to remind you of the Dobson interview? That’s bizarre and unsettling. For what purpose, do you think? Is she trying to make the argument that anyone can come to the Lord and be forgiven, even a person like Bundy? :-/

        What pisses me off is that by blaming his horrific sexual violence on pornography Bundy was trying to absolve himself from responsbility for his actions, likely for his public image. I’ve seen something similiar in pastors who “fall from grace” – time and time again there is a confession of “sin” and then everyone rallies around them in forgiveness, completing invalidating the victims. It’s digusting.

        For your writing group is there other material that is perhaps less evocative that you could look into? I agree with Mak that it’s not a great idea to spend time reading a book that makes you feel uneasy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • She brought it up the other day because I was asking her about the Manson case. She didn’t remember much about it, but then someone mentioned Bundy, and when he gets mentioned, Dobson’s interview gets mentioned. Then I have to remind her. She’s really good at forgetting stuff she doesn’t want to hear.

        And yeah, it’s a lot like pastors who fall from grace, except this time Bundy’s life actually depended on it. Fortunately nobody else in Florida was buying it.

        When I discuss the book with my writing group, I’m going to bring up my concerns. This isn’t an issue that people run into every day. It’s something my group will appreciate.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post! I am a certified Criminologist and very familiar with the Manson case. I have been following it since I was 12 years old. I’ve been to California and visited some of the places that are relevant to this story. I spoke with others who have an interest in this subject also. I believe it should have been called The Watson Murders as it was Charles “Tex” Watson that did the majority of the slaughtering. Charles Manson was not retried, his death sentence was overturned when they briefly abolished the Death Penalty, and his sentence was reduced to Life with the possibility of Parole. I hope you read the whole book so that you get a better view of life on the ranch. You won’t regret it. Please follow my blog.


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