Manson Family's Youngest Member Shares How She Was Seduced by a Madman at Age 14
Dianne Lake opens up about living with Charles Manson and his cult of killers
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Oct. 18, 2017. On Sunday, Charles Manson died of natural causes at age 83.
Though it’s been more than 50 years since Dianne Lake was a teenager in the Los Angeles area, deep into the counterculture of the 1960s, there’s one memory that stands out to her more than the others: the first time she met Charles Manson.
“He was extremely intelligent,” Lake, now 64 and living outside of L.A., tells PEOPLE. “He had the incredible ability to pick up on other people’s weaknesses and their needs and their desires, and he could fulfill those.”
It’s a skill Manson turned to deadly ends, as Lake would learn.
For the first time in 47 years, she is breaking her silence about living with him and being the youngest member of his cult, the so-called “Manson family.”
In Member of the Family, a new book released on Oct. 24 and exclusively excerpted in PEOPLE, Lake details her experiences falling under Manson’s spell — and, eventually, how she was free of him.
In 1967, at the age of 14, Lake navigated through communes and love-ins after her parents, a homemaker mom and former-Marine-turned-artist, “dropped out” of society and gave her a note granting their permission to live on her own.
A few months later, she met up with Manson at a party in Topanga, California.
“I needed love and affection, and I needed a family. I needed to feel like I belonged somewhere,” Lake says. “And he perceived that from the get-go.”
For two years, Lake found herself increasingly loyal to Manson, even as he grew more paranoid and violent leading up to the days in 1969 that would terrorize the country.
Beginning on Aug. 9, 1969, over the course of a two-day murder spree (which Lake did not take part in), Manson and members of his cult killed seven people: Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, Steven Parent, Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate.
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A year later, at age 17 and after being institutionalized, Lake found herself in front of Manson once again — this time in an L.A. courtroom, testifying against him and others of his “girls,” including Susan Atkins and Leslie Van Houten.
“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.”
But many of the women, whom she had considered friends while they lived together, were still supportive of Manson throughout the trial.
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“The girls with the Xs on their foreheads? That part always blew me away,” Lake says. “They continued to hang on, be groupies.”
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.
After 47 years, she finally felt ready to speak out.
“It’s an interesting story, but it’s also a cautionary tale,” she says. “I hope that my story sheds a little light onto this very dark time.”