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Published June 21st 2018
A First-hand Account of Life Inside the Manson Cult
Photo courtesy Booktopia
Charles Manson is perhaps one of the most infamous cult leaders and criminals in US history. His commune, "The Family" became notorious when, in 1971, Manson and three of its members were found guilty of the brutal murders of nine people in California, including actress Sharon Tate who was 8 months pregnant at the time.
For 3 years, from the impressionable and formative ages of 14 to 17, Dianne Lake was the youngest and a lesser known member of The Family, which comprised mostly young woman. Lake was not involved in the murders. These came at the hands of commune members Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten who, like Manson, received life sentences for the crimes. Lake, in fact, is part of the prosecution team which convicted Manson.
Member of the Family is her perspective of life inside the commune and she describes it as her confessional. This retrospective personal and compelling memoir gives an honest and insider view of Lake's life prior to and after joining the Manson Family as the youngest of "Charlie's Girls".
Photo of Manson courtesy Wikipedia
Lake, whom Manson referred to as Snake, decided to write the book after she had started a new life and buried her past. But her past revisited her when she was contacted by a detective many years later. He alerted her that she could be named in an upcoming investigation and documentary where it was believed that other human remains were buried in Barker Ranch – the site of the Commune.
On receiving the call Lake's children were not aware of their mother's past life in the cult but Dianne decided it was time to share her truth with them and subsequently wrote the book. She honestly and vividly describes her life with Manson when she joined The Family after her parents decided to "drop out" of society, leaving her without a sense of home and belonging – something she sought with Charlie and the other girls.
We come to understand how Dianne is embroiled in an existence fuelled by the constant flow of drugs (mostly the hallucinogenic LSD), sex, abuse, crime, and a nomadic lifestyle, at the calculating whims of the initially charismatic but increasingly delusional Charlie. Not surprisingly, Lake was later admitted to a mental institution for therapy and rehabilitation
There were times when the shocking details of Charlie's manipulation and the callous crimes caused me to put the book down and pause for a while. The reality of the tale and the need to seek answers led me to continue.
While this book is confronting, it is a cautionary tale that ultimately offers a story of hope, bravery and transformation. I found myself sympathetic to Dianne's desire to be part of a loving family and seek belonging following her own parent's decision to reject social norms and drop out to seek a carefree, independent and artistic lifestyle.
After her experience in The Family we come to understand how Dianne re-builds her life by taking on a new identity, being the foster daughter of her arresting police officer, and becoming a wife, mother and teacher.
In Dianne's own words she concludes that," As the tears fill, I thought about all the things I had lost in the minute I slipped inside (Manson's) black bus. I realised the loss had started long before that, as memories passed before me like photographs. I was crying for my lost youth and what I thought was my lost future. But I was also grieving for the senseless loss of the victims whose lives were taken from them at the behest of a madman."