Inside the Moment the Manson Family's Youngest Member Learned the Cult Was Slaughtering People: 'I Was Horrified'
While the country was still reeling from the news of a two-day murder spree across Los Angeles that left seven people dead, a then-16-year-old girl named Dianne Lake was learning first-hand details about the 1969 slayings that would change her life forever.
“I was shocked. I was horrified,” recalls Lake, now 64, about the night she listened to Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten discuss how they committed murder for their cult leader, Charles Manson.
Lake was not a participant in the violence. For the first time in 47 years, she is breaking her silence about growing up in the 1960s counterculture and how she wound up as the youngest person living with Manson and his so-called “family.”
In Member of the Family, a new book out Oct. 24 and exclusively excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Lake details her experiences as a young teenager falling under Manson’s spell — and, eventually, how she was free of him.
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It would take months after the slayings before police connected Manson and his followers to the gruesome murders of Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, Steven Parent, Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate.
At Barker Ranch, a couple of hours outside of L.A. where the group was laying low, Lake could sense a change in the group’s mood.
“You have the [Beatles’] White Album, throw in a little acid and drugs and a little Scientology and the Bible and stir it all up with a madman being the dance master,” she says. “It just went crazy. It escalated into horrible chaos, and I’m so glad I was not a part of it.”
A year later, at age 17 and after being institutionalized, Lake found herself in front of Manson — this time in an L.A. courtroom, testifying against him and some of his “girls.”
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“He just looked crazy, but I was able to look at him,” Lake says. “I had been pretty deprogrammed at this point, so I felt pretty safe.”
Once the trial was over and first-degree murder convictions were returned against Manson, Lake tried to move forward with her life — marrying, raising three children and earning a master’s degree in education.
Now she is sharing her story.
“I think the biggest burden was keeping it a secret,” Lake says. “I survived and prevailed during this dark time.”