In amidst the chaos of 1960s California, 14-year-old Dianne Lake is drifting alone. Searching for a sense of belonging, she meets Charles Manson and falls in with his infamous cult. Finally, almost five decades later, she reveals the truth about life with the murderous Manson Family.
The story began on March 21, 1967, when Charles Manson, a 32-year-old car thief from Ohio, was released from Terminal Island prison in Los Angeles, CA. Back on the outside, Manson moved north to San Francisco, where he soon found an apartment and eked out a living begging on the streets.
At the time, the Summer of Love was dawning, and the city’s Haight-Ashbury district was at the very heart of the hippie movement. Before long, Manson had reinvented himself as a guru, espousing a mixture of Scientology and his own philosophy, which painted him as the Son of God.
Obviously, Manson had tapped into something appealing, and a band of largely female followers began to form around him. By 1968, the group, known as the Family, had relocated to a sprawling ranch outside Los Angeles. There, they developed their vision for an apocalypse that would herald a new world, dubbed Helter Skelter after the Beatles’ song.
Apparently, Manson’s plan was to create music that would inspire a revolution, encouraging a violent divide between blacks and whites. But by June 1969, he had begun to suspect that the Family themselves might need to kick-start the process – and a bloody spree of violence began.
Although Manson’s followers had killed before August 9, 1969, it was the events of that night that would see them go down in history. In the early hours of the morning, four Family members arrived at the Los Angeles home of director Roman Polanski, where his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was entertaining guests.
Soon, chaos ensued, and Tate and her three guests were murdered in cold blood. The following night, the Family slaughtered two more victims – grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. Shockingly, it would be more than a year before the perpetrators were brought to justice.
In a short space of time, the Family had taken the hippie dream and transformed it into a recipe for violence and death. But back in 1967, when 14-year-old Dianne Lake arrived in San Francisco, Manson’s teachings fitted perfectly with the new age philosophies of the time.
Born on February 28, 1953, Lake lived with her parents until the age of 14, when they opted to remove themselves from society. Leaving their daughter behind, they gave the teenager their blessing to lead her own life. From that point on, Lake was alone.
Drifting through San Francisco’s communes, Lake found herself at a party in Topanga on the outskirts of Los Angeles. There, she met Manson, and found herself immediately intrigued by the charismatic leader. Apparently, he had an uncanny ability to tap into people’s deepest insecurities.
“I needed love and affection, and I needed a family,” Lake told People in October 2017. “I needed to feel like I belonged somewhere. And he perceived that from the get-go.” And with that, the lost teenager found herself ensconced in Manson’s world.
“Charlie was offering me more than sex,” Lake explained in her 2017 book Member of the Family. “He told me I should forget my parents and give up my inhibitions. He made it clear he wanted me to be part of the group; his group. I felt there was no turning back.”
Over the next two years, Lake grew ever more loyal to Manson, even as his violent intentions became clear. However, she wasn’t among the Family members who terrorized Los Angeles in a brutal killing spree. And when the law finally caught up with them, Lake found herself committed to an institution instead of standing in the dock.
Meanwhile, Manson had been taken into police custody, along with Family members Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel. Charles Watson, a fifth member, had fled to Texas, from where he was eventually extradited to California.
On June 15, 1970, the Family’s trial began. Ever craving attention, Manson arrived in court with the letter X carved into his forehead. Still under his spell, Van Houten, Atkins, Kasabian and Krenwinkel did the same. Then, for the first time in a year, Lake faced her former mentor once more.
Called to testify against Manson and the Family, Lake faced intense questioning in the Los Angeles courtroom. Apparently, Manson’s attorney asked her if she still had romantic feelings for the defendant. According to reports, Lake responded with “I guess so.”
However, despite the circumstances, Manson was still able to win over a crowd. Apparently, his response to Lake was cutting. “You loved everybody,” he is thought to have said. “Don’t put it all on Mr. Manson.” At that, the room reportedly erupted into laughter.
“I hadn’t seen it before, how he could truly work a room,” Lake wrote in her book. “This man didn’t mean to be funny… he was deflecting responsibility from himself by humiliating me and dismissing my value as a human being.” Finally, Lake realized the truth about Manson – that he was a “scruffy little man with an enormous ego.”
And as she watched her former friends take the stand, Lake had little sympathy for the women who continued with their obsession. “The girls with the Xs on their foreheads?” she told People. “That part always blew me away. They continued to hang on, be groupies.”
But while Manson and his groupies ended up with lengthy prison sentences, Lake escaped to live a normal life. Married with a family of her own, she now has a master’s degree in education. In 2017, Member of the Family was released, finally spelling out Lake’s experiences in her own words. “It’s an interesting story,” she told People, “but it’s also a cautionary tale. I hope that my story sheds a little light onto this very dark time.”