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edge staff writer


Youngest member of Manson’s ‘Family’ finally speaks out

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In 1967, when good vibrations and groovy gatherings were in for much of America’s youth, Dianne Lake, then 14 years old, entered a two-year period of physical and emotional torment when she became (with her parents’ permission) the youngest member of Charles Manson’s “Family.”   

Lake did not participate in any of the murders carried out by other members of the cult.

Lake’s story has finally come to light in her new book “Member of The Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended The Sixties” (Harper Collins; $14.99), co-written with Deborah Hermon.

“It’s been 50 years for me,” Lake said during a phone interview. “My children are now old enough to understand the truth, and I felt like I needed the closure.”

Lake’s parents were counterculture hippies who took psychedelic drug advocate Timothy Leary’s advice when they “turned on, tuned in, and dropped out” of society by joining “The Hog Farm,” a popular commune helmed by the gregarious Wavy Gravy, best known as one of the MCs at the Woodstock Festival of 1969.

“I didn’t feel like I fit in that counterculture communal arena,” Lake said. “I wanted to belong to a real family because I didn’t feel like I had one of my own.”

Lake says she was with her parents at a party when she was introduced to Charles Manson, whom she says, at first, made her feel welcome and loved.

“He knew what was missing in my life and he preyed on that,” she said. When Manson asked her to join The Family, her parents gave her a handwritten note granting permission.

And so began a two-year period where Manson had control over virtually every aspect of Dianne’s life. She endured regular beatings by Manson, in addition to long-term sexual and emotional abuse. Yet she says Manson also made her feel “special and loved,” which only added to the internal confusion she felt.

For a time, Lake says she lived with some of The Family at the home of Dennis Wilson, drummer for The Beach Boys. Wilson was an early Manson enthusiast until things became too weird.

 “Dennis seemed to endure Charlie as a guru,” said Lake. “Charlie would teach Dennis some things on the guitar and Dennis would show Charlie off to his friends. Dennis thought Charlie had genius musical talent and tried to mold Charlie into being a rock star, but it didn’t work out.” 

According to Lake, Manson’s major objective was not to become a rock star. If it had, she says, he would have agreed to alter his appearance and to also change the lyrics to his songs.

“He wouldn’t agree to change any of that,” Lake said. “At that point, I think Charlie’s message was the most important thing to him.”

Lake says that Wilson’s family did not approve of his friendship with Manson, and that Dennis soon distanced himself from the situation.

Meanwhile, Manson’s “message,” as Lake refers to it, was only starting to take shape.

“When The Beatles released the double ‘White Album,’ (November 1968) it was significant because Charlie thought it was confirmation of what he already believed,” she said.

“Charlie looked at that album as a message from the four prophets,” she continued. “He really believed that The Beatles were sending him a message. Charlie perceived the message to be confirmation that a race war was going to happen. That’s what ‘Helter Skelter’ was. That’s where the term came from.”

In actuality, the term “Helter Skelter” referred - at least as far as The Beatles were concerned - to a British amusement park slide.

Manson also tried to apply his own interpretation of The New Testament’s Book of Revelation – specifically “Revelation 9,” which Manson believed was connected to the track “Revolution 9” on The Beatles’ record.

“Charlie believed he was the second coming,” Lake said. “He believed that even his name – ‘Man. Son.’ – had significance. He believed he was the son of man and the son of God. It was a delusion that became very real.”

In August of 1969, members of The Family killed seven people during a two-day murder spree and later bragged about it “gleefully,” according to Lake. She later testified in court, helping to send Manson and other members of The Family to prison.

Following the Manson saga, Lake was able to begin recovery. Thanks to the kindness of investigating Detective Jack Gardiner and his wife, Lake finally had a real family when she accepted them as her foster parents.

With her new family’s help, Dianne enrolled in therapy, went back to school, earned her degree and became a successful special education teacher.

After finally finding love and stability, Lake eventually married and had children of her own.

“Did writing this book give you the closure that you needed to put those years to rest?” I asked.

“Oh yes. It did,” she replied.  


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