Charles Manson is undoubtedly one of the most evil cult leaders in history. He was the head of the Manson family cult, also known as “The Family.” There were several impressionable young girls who were part of the cult, who believed Manson’s claims that he himself was Jesus. One of these young girls, Dianne Lake, is finally speaking out about her time as the youngest member of the cult years ago. She recently published a memoir called, Member of the Family.
Lake’s family life was an unorthodox one. Her parents became part of the hippie counterculture in the ‘60s and encouraged her to take different types of drugs from an early age. In her memoir she recalled feeling emotionally vulnerable as a teenager.
Because of her dysfunctional family life, Lake longed for love and affection from somewhere. Manson immediately picked up on that longing when they first met, she recalled. “I needed love and affection, and I needed a family … and he perceived that from the get-go,” she said.
Lake met Manson when she was just 14 years old in 1967. She recalls that he was incredibly loving when they first met, to the point that something wasn’t quite right. “If someone is gushing too intensely over you when they meet you, something’s wrong,” said Lake. “Charlie made me feel very special, and meeting him and his girls was like magic. This is how people are drawn into communities like the Family.”
Lake and Manson reportedly had sex within hours of their meeting. He was 34 at the time and she was 14. “It seemed very natural and loving and kind of like a game,” Lake said. “He was cute, impish. You know, fun.”
Lake lived with Manson for two years, and at one point the sentiment in the Family shifted from peace and love to violence. She recalled that he would have frequent violent outbursts during this time, but she never left his side. He even spoke about starting a race war.
Manson’s behavior got more strange as time went on. He handed out knives to every member of the Family, and would even order the cult members to go out and rearrange the furniture in people’s homes just to “mess” with them. Additionally, Lake also suffered from regular psychological and sexual abuse from Manson.
Eventually members of the Family were committing terrible crimes that Lake couldn’t believe. She recalled one night when she saw Leslie Van Houton (center), a fellow cult member, frantically burning random items in the fireplace. She later learned that Van Houton, along with other Family members, had committed the gruesome murder of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca that night.
In August 1969, over the course of two days, Family members murdered an additional five people. Lake herself was never involved in the murders, but she would hear about them after they were committed.
“What I remember is that they gave me the gory details with a certain amount of glee or almost like bragging, which just made me feel even worse,” said Lake. “It was like, ‘What? How could you do that?’”
Two months after the murders occurred, Lake and the other cult members were arrested. Because she was a minor, however, Lake was taken to a mental institution instead of jail. She was later taken in by a foster family.
Lake ended up testifying against Manson in court. Initially she was nervous that she wouldn’t be able to do so; she thought that he might still have some sort of psychological hold on her, but she ended up testifying successfully.
Lake is now speaking to her family and the public about coping with this dark secret.
At one point before she had opened up about her past with the Manson cult, Lake’s daughter insisted on naming their new kitten “Charlie.” She protested as much as possible without seeming too suspicious. “I said, Honey, why not Chocolate or Vanilla? Anything but Charlie. But she insisted. I guess that was part of my therapy too. I learned to associate that name with a little kitten,” she said.
Lake decided to break her silence and write the memoir when she realized she wanted to reconcile her past self with her adult self. “It was time for me to tell my story, to give the glory to God for getting me through this” she said. “I’ve really grown through the telling of it and made some good realizations, and it’s good to not have secrets and to not carry them around for so long because of the shame.”
Lake says that her kids are now old enough to read her memoir. “I’m not encouraging them to read it, but they are welcome to read it,” she said. “I don’t want to pressure them into reading it because it may be too much information for them, but I think that they will start reading that and they might just skip over some of the parts.”
Lake has stated that she hopes her memoir can serve as a warning to others who may be vulnerable to the same situation she was put in. “I feel like in the process of writing this book I’ve been untethered from the shame and I’ve unburdened my soul with this secret,” she said. “Hopefully it’s a cautionary tale for others.”