At just 14 years old in 1967, Dianne Lake met and fell under the special of infamous homicidal hippie cult leader Charles Manson. She lived as a member of the Manson Family for the next two years and, following the group’s notorious 1969 “Helter Skelter” murders, actually testified against them in court.
Nearly a half-century later, Manson remains as frightening and fascinating a figure as ever, and Lake has written a memoir of her experience with the notorious murderers — Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties.
Lake took time to talk to CrimeFeed about her amazing life, her absolute must-read new book, and what she’d say to kids today who fall under the sway of malevolent gurus.
CRIMEFEED: What inspired you to write the book now?
Dianne Lake: The idea had been on my radar for some time. People had been telling me, “You should write a book!” Then I lost my husband three and a half years ago, and this came out in part from the process of pulling a new life together without my husband of 35 years. So I had this epiphany: “Now is the right time to write the book!” I had been to grief counseling and I got a life coach who helped me to write every day. The whole process took about a year’s time.I’m aware that the 50th anniversary of the murders is coming up, but I met Charlie in 1967, so this is 50 years now. I took all this as confirmation that this was the right time.
How did you come to meet Charles Manson?
In 1967, my family had tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. My dad got involved with the Oracle, and my mom discovered marijuana. Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and all those writers had long won my dad’s mind and his heart, so for the second time in her life, my mom gave up everything to follow my dad.
But I just didn’t fit in. A sexually active 14-year-old just didn’t fit with the counterculture. I was jailbait!
My parents ended up on [the famous counterculture commune] the Hog Farm, and one day [Hog Farm leaders] Wavy Gravy and his wife Bonnie Jean told me — in a nice way — I just didn’t belong there. They didn’t want me around. I was jailbait!
I ended up living with another couple for a while, and they introduced me to Charlie. I didn’t know it, but my mom had already met Charlie and gave him my picture. I was in San Francisco, so she gave him my picture and told him my name and said to him, “If you’re in San Francisco, look for her!”
So the day I met the Family, all the girls were ecstatic. They were saying, “It’s Dianne! She’s here!” I had never heard of these people, and they knew me from the picture. So I immediately felt accepted, right after being told I didn’t belong, after being rejected. I didn’t fit in right away, but over the next two or three weeks, I did.
What did your parents think?
My parents bought in early on to — even though this wasn’t a phrase yet — “It takes a village to raise a child.” The idea that with everybody there, somebody would always be looking out for the kids. That’s not how it always works.I also had an “emancipated minor” note in my pocket. My parents gave it to me. It wasn’t a legal note, but it said they had allowed me to be an emancipated minor.
How did you come to learn about the murders?
I learned about it firsthand from Tex Watson. I was up in Olancha [the Manson Family’s desert hideout]. I had gone to the grocery store to find food in the dumpster, and the sheriff picked me up. I got back two days later, and Tex Watson showed me the news and said, “This is me, I did this!” I was horrified. That’s also when I learned about [Family victim] Gary Hinman.
What was it like testifying against Manson and the Family in court?
Daunting. Daunting! Once I was there, I’d been prepped, and steeled against antics and tricks. The lawyer asked if I loved Charlie. I said, “I guess so.” And he jumped up, saying, “Don’t put it all on Mr. Manson. She loved everybody!” And that broke the spell. That broke my fear. Because he was being a clown.
Leslie Van Houten is awaiting a parole decision from Governor Jerry Brown. Do you think other members of the Family should get paroled?
I really have no comment on that. They all got the death penalty [which was later abolished] so in a sense, they already escaped. This is between God and the governor and those people.
I know for the victims’ families, this is torture, because every time it comes up, they have to relive it again. I would like this to end for them.
Do you have any advice for other young people who may be out there getting seduced by cult leaders?
Be wary! Be wary. Teenagers think they’re adults. They’re not! It took me a very long time to realize that I was a victim. I never felt like a victim, because I took responsibility. But I was taken advantage of.
My cautionary words for parents are to love your kids unconditionally and keep the lines of communication open, so kids will tell you about their struggles.
For kids, I’d say — you want a family; you want to belong. Every human wants to be loved and appreciated. But be wary. This happens with gangs, ISIS, the Taliban, harems, sex workers.
There are men — it’s usually men — who take advantage. And women don’t want to tell. I think it’s really interesting that this [book and discussion of Manson] is coming out with Harvey Weinstein in the news. Secrets are toxic. My hope is that people will come away with a sense that it’s okay to talk about the dark side. It softens it. I feel very good about telling my story.
So forgive yourself. Move on. Just because you were a bad person or did bad things — forgive yourself and forgive the people who hurt you so you can move on. I have been blessed, very blessed. I came through one of the darkest times in American history, and I have prevailed.
To learn more about Charles Manson, watch the “Manson” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Most Evil on ID GO now!
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Main photos: Charles Manson, Dianne Lake/”Member of the Family” [front cover Image]