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.