Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Evolving Mythology of the “Manson Girls”

 The Evolving Mythology of the “Manson Girls”

The so-called Manson girls are pop culture fixtures. But we’re just starting to understand them.

original article

Vox/Constance Grady

 Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel laugh as they enter the courtroom to face sentencing for the Manson family murders. Photo by Getty Images

It was amazing the respect these girls had for Charlie. They just lived and breathed by him.

Once when we were working on the Christ story, he demonstrated the submission thing. He turned to Lynne and said, “Lynne, come here and kiss my feet”; and she got down on her knees and kissed his feet and sat down. And then he said, “Now I will kiss yours,” and he did. There was never any explanation or questioning. They just did it.

—Charles Manson’s record producer Gary Stromberg to Rolling Stone, 1970

Over fifty years ago, the Manson family murders shocked Hollywood, announced the final death of the utopian dreams of the 1960s, and gave birth to the mythology of the Manson girls.

They are nearly always called the Manson girls, all of them, from the teenagers to the grown women. They were followers of Charles Manson who lived with him on his ranch and who, on his orders, committed brutal and bloody murders, and they are central to our cultural fascination with Manson himself.

Charles Manson as a person is honestly not that interesting. He was a mediocre failed musician; he built his cult on recycled Scientologist ideas and an elaborate theory about a race war.

But Manson had the “Manson girls,” and they are what made him fascinating to so many people. Contemporary news coverage of the 1970-’71 Manson trial tended to pant over the Manson girls, although it treated them mostly as anonymous objects: Manson was so powerful, those accounts seem to say, that he had all these beautiful obedient hippie girls falling all over him. The girls were essentially interchangeable, as far as those stories were concerned, and they would do anything Manson asked of them. Can you believe it?

And that narrative has stayed in place for decades. “Submissive, brainwashed, horny little teeners . . . who do exactly what you want before you even know what that is” is how Thomas Pynchon described the Manson girls in his 2009 novel Inherent Vice. “You don’t even have to say a word out loud, they get it all by ESP.”

In our cultural narrative, the Manson girls are the key to Manson’s allure, and they are also his accessories. They are meaningful to the extent that they illustrate Manson’s unnerving charisma, but their position as individual human beings has no place in the Charles Manson mythology.

It’s only within the past few years that as a culture, we’ve begun to turn away from that story and have a conversation about who the so-called “girls” were as human beings, and where they are now. That conversation is part of a larger turn toward reevaluating women’s legacies — but it’s only just beginning to take off.

In 1969, the Manson girls helped build the Charles Manson mythology

 Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, and Patricia Krenwinkel enter the courthouse to be tried for the Manson family murders in 1970. Bettmann/Contributor 

This Manson, I’m not going to say that he’s got hypnotic powers, but he’s got some kind of a strength because he’s able to get this girl from Alabama to come out here, and she could have stayed in Alabama another six months.

—Anonymous prosecutor for the LA District Attorney’s Office to Rolling Stone, 1970

The world met the Manson girls during the trial of Charles Manson, when he and three of his followers went to trial in 1970 for the 1969 murder of eight people, including actress Sharon Tate. Tate’s celebrity guaranteed that the media would have been interested in the case no matter what — but what made it a bonanza, with newspapers breathlessly reporting on every detail, was the brutality and apparent randomness of the killings.

Manson had no real connection to the victims: he’d picked them out in part to cover up other crimes and in part because he wanted to spark a race war. The victims were all stabbed numerous times — including Tate, who was pregnant — and investigators found the word “pig” written on the wall in Tate’s blood when they arrived.

Adding to the media’s interest was the knowledge that Manson hadn’t actually committed any of the murders himself. He’d gotten his followers to do it. And a number of his followers were young women.

That’s when the press began to really latch onto the story of the Manson girls.

There were the three women who were tried with Manson: Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, and Patricia Krenwinkel, who the Associated Press reported arrived to the final day of their trial in “prison uniforms with ribbons in their long hair,” famously shaved off that hair after Manson shaved his head partway through the trial, and shocked the nation by laughing as they walked into the courtroom to be sentenced.

The country was thrilled by the contrast between their youth and femininity and the viciousness of their crimes. “The second witness is scheduled to be a soft-spoken, angelic-looking young woman who is accused of being a participant in at least eight brutal and senseless killings,” read one article published as the trial began, under the breathless headline “Hippie Girl to Tell All in Tate Murder.”

There were also the girls who testified against Manson: Linda Kasabian and Dianne Lake. Reporters described Lake as “the petite auburn‐haired witness” and Kasabian as a “petite blonde,” noting that Kasabian “candidly admitted extensive drug taking, stealing money and extramarital relationships with numerous men, including the 35-year-old Manson.”

Finally, there were the girls waiting for Manson outside the courthouse. They served as the kicker to the AP’s account of the trial: “Through it all,” the AP wrote, “a band of loyal Manson clan women maintained a vigil in the street outside the Hall of Justice, waiting for their ‘father’ to be freed from ‘the tower.’” Those women, too, shaved their heads after Manson shaved his.

As the Charles Manson story took shape, the idea that he had some sinister and possibly supernatural influence over all these young women became central to his mythology — especially the idea that life on the Manson ranch was probably just one nonstop orgy. When an anonymous prosecutor for the DA’s office talked to Rolling Stone about the Manson case in 1970, he noted that he knew of a divorced biker who used to stay at the Manson ranch because the girls would take care of his baby for him, and “’cause he used to get free pussy.”

“He used to admit it,” the prosecutor said. “He’d say, this is the greatest thing next to mother’s milk. They’d bring you food, make love to you any time you could.”

“There were about 12 girls,” Manson’s record producer Phil Kaufman explained in the same article. “Every time Charlie saw a girl he liked, he’d tell someone, ‘Get that girl.’ And when they brought her back, Charlie would take her out in the woods and talk to her for an hour or two. And she would never leave.”

The Manson girl mythology had everything pop culture in 1969 could want: the gruesome killing of a movie star, beautiful young girl murderers, the counterculture gone wild, and a titillating hint of a hippie-ish free love ethos. What could possibly make for a better tale?

Over time, it became clear that the Manson girls were victims. They remained a part of the Manson mythology.

I can get along with girls, they give up easier. I can make love to them. Man has this ego thing [Charlie stiffens up] holding on to his prick. I can’t make love to that. Girls break down easier.

—Charles Manson to Rolling Stone, 1970

Over time, it gradually became clear that the Manson girls weren’t just cold-blooded killers who were oddly devoted to Manson. They were victims — and that, too, became part of the Manson mythology.

The lead prosecutor on the Manson case, Vincent Bugliosi, turned his account of the Manson family into a book, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, which would become the best-selling true crime ever written and would set the narrative for the Manson story going forward. Bugliosi reported that Manson paid his rent on the ranch where he lived by ordering the Manson girls to have sex with the older man who owned the place, and that the infamous Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who tried to assassinate Gerald Ford in 1975, was so called because she used to squeak every time the man pinched her thigh.

Life on the ranch, in other words, wasn’t a nonstop orgy because the Manson girls particularly wanted it to be. Group sex was frequent because Manson wanted it that way, and he had brainwashed the girls staying with him into doing what they were told.

Bugliosi’s story has since been found to have plenty of holes in it — but his account of the Manson girls as submissive dupes whom Manson could use as sexual bartering chips became the way the country talked about the girls going forward.

“Manson had an old con’s skill … at picking the members of his band,” explained the New Republic in 1975, in a review of Bugliosi’s book. “The girls were young, homeless, fanciful, at war with their parents — the boys were kept in line by being given the girls.” And in this story, Manson’s influence over his followers proved not that Manson was an abusive brainwasher, but that he was something more special and mystical than that. “There was something else in Manson that could turn them [the Manson girls] from borderline psychotics into psychopathic killers of unparalleled cruelty,” the New Republic wrote. “I don’t think there’s any possible doubt that Manson was a demon — not possessed by one, was one.”

Although this updated narrative positioned the girls less as pure monsters and more as victims who were molded into killers by a demon, it was not particularly interested in the Manson girls as human beings. It was mostly interested in the titillating idea of fanciful young girls who had been brainwashed by a demon into doing absolutely anything. The girls were still important mostly as living props who prove Manson’s power.

There’s a Manson girl counternarrative now. But the old story still has pop culture clout.

 Leslie Van Houten before the Board of Prison Terms Comissioners in 2002. Van Houten’s request for parole was denied. Damian Dovarganes/AFP/Getty Images 

I was feeling disenfranchised with Charlie, and I wanted him to want me, and so he took me inside and I thought we were going to make love but instead he turned me around and he sodomized me. When he was finished, he said, “That’s the way, you know, we do it in prison,” and I didn’t really trust him after that.

—Dianne Lake to ABC, 2019

Of the three so-called Manson girls who were convicted of murder and went to prison, two of them — Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel — are still alive and still in prison. The third, Susan Atkins, died of brain cancer in 2009 at age 61. She, like Van Houten and Krenwinkel, was repeatedly denied parole throughout her sentence.

In 1972, Atkins, Van Houten, and Krenwinkel became the center of an experiment from the Santa Cruz Women’s Prison Project, run by radical feminist criminologist Karlene Faith. As reported by American studies professor Jeffrey Melnick in his book Creepy Crawling: Charles Manson and the Many Lives of America’s Most Infamous Family, Faith and her coalition of feminists dedicated themselves to rehabilitating the three women. “They treated the women of the Manson family like active subjects — as people who could liberate themselves,” writes Melnick.

Faith and her cohort created what Melnick describes as “a program to raise the consciousness of the imprisoned women according to feminist principles.” They taught their pupils about the law, gender studies, ethnic studies, and psychology — and also poetry and music and politics.

Atkins, Van Houten, and Krenwinkel responded to the program by apparently becoming model prisoners. They earned advanced degrees and commendations for helping their fellow inmates, and the staff at their prison has given them enthusiastic character statements at parole hearings. Van Houten has been recommended for parole three times since 2016, only to be denied by California’s governor every time. Krenwinkel is now the state of California’s longest-serving prisoner.

The women of the Manson family who didn’t go to prison have spoken out about their treatment at Manson’s hands, and they are beginning to find an audience. Dianne Lake says she first became involved with Manson when she was just 14 years old, and that he sexually assaulted her. “I feel very strongly,” she told ABC earlier this year, “that it’s only by the grace of God that I was protected throughout this, and I was a victim. You know, I was abused, I was neglected, I was abandoned. … I hope that my story will help tell a cautionary tale.”

And as these women continue to insist on their identities as not just “the Manson girls” but as agents and human beings in their own right, popular culture is starting to take notice. 2016 saw the release of the widely buzzed-over novel The Girls by Emma Cline, which took place in a Manson family-like cult but treated its Charles Manson analogue as a trivial distraction from what really mattered; namely, the relationship between two of the teen girls of the cult. Mary Harron’s film Charlie Says, which came out this May, turned its focus to the rehabilitation of Atkins, Van Houten, and Krenwinkel in prison.

But stories like Charlie Says and The Girls are still counternarratives as far as popular culture is concerned. They exist now, but they have to push back against the dominant narrative of the Manson family, the narrative that we see reiterated over and over again in films like Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: the story about the sexy murderous hippies called the Manson girls, who were, as Pynchon put it, “submissive, brainwashed, horny little teeners.”

That pushback is part of a larger project that has unfolded over the past 10 years or so, one that took on a special urgency once the #MeToo movement went viral in 2017. We’ve begun to reevaluate the legacy of women we once discarded as hysterical and oversexed and used as the punchline in dirty jokes, the Lorena Bobbitts and Monica Lewinskys of the world. We’ve begun to ask if perhaps these women might have been badly hurt both by the world and by the way we talked about them afterward, and if perhaps their personhood and their stories are worth more thoughtful consideration than they’ve been granted in the past.

But the culture has only just begun to ask these questions. And the lingering, beloved trope of the Manson girls shows that there’s a long way to go before we overwrite the old stories with the new.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Happy Holidays!

Wishing everyone a Happy Holidays! I post here a holiday photo of Sharon Tate which reminds me of the Sears and JC Penny Christmas catalogues of former days. Also, please use the link below to view what I believe is a masterpiece of a holiday TV commercial from Folgers coffee. All the best to everyone this holiday season and a happy new year.

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Last of the Manson Girls Film Review


The Last of the Manson Girls (2018) is a dark comedy/black satire entry in the Mansonsphere film genre. Trippy, decidedly weird, and kind of quirky, this low budget film starring unknown actors might not be to everyone's tastes, but it is definitely worth a watch because it deals with a few aspects of the TLB saga that are typically in the background in the other movies. For anyone interested in seeing a 'Manson movie' without Manson, and for anyone interested in seeing some of the other women in the Family get some screen time, this one is absolutely worth your time. It clocks in at about 73 mins and can be purchased digitally on Amazon Prime for 2 bucks for the standard def version. The high-def version is a couple of dollars more, but I'm not sure if it is worth it due to this being a low budget movie.

    Based on Paul Krassner's often bizarre account of his supposed acid trip with Squeaky Fromme, making the movie a fictionalized account of a likely fictionalized encounter, the movie features Mr. Krassner's drug fueled encounter with Squeaky, Sandy, and Brenda (Nancy). Along the way, he is also introduced to the possibility that there was a government conspiracy behind the crimes. Lenny Bruce even makes an appearance in the bathroom at one point. Do not watch this film if you want to see anything dealing with the murders, or anything related to the courtroom and trial. It is purely speculative fiction/satire. There is little to know historical accuracy. 

    The crimes are only mentioned briefly and are not shown at all. The focus is solely on the three girls, which is actually somewhat refreshing. Nancy is almost never seen or mentioned in most of the mainstream films, and Sandy is very often never seen either. Squeaky is generally given a few lines, if any, and often relegated to having her only function being the 'girl that has sex with George Spahn.' Keep in mind, this is not an in-depth character study of any of the women, but it is interesting to see them front and center. Charlie is not seen at all in this film.   

    None of the actors involved have extensive film credits, either before or after this movie. They all do a decent job however, with Elliot Kashner (Paul) and Jen Bevan (Squeaky) probably doing the best job. Cindy Marie Martin plays Sandy as a spacey flower child type, Sarah Taurchini channels Brenda at turns as exasperated, surly, and sarcastic. Jen Bevan as Squeaky plays her as thoughtful (at times philosophical), the keeper of the flame so to speak, and always on the outside of society. At other times she alternates between menacing and overly friendly. 

  The movie kicks in after Paul receives a coded message from Manson to call Squeaky. He goes to meet her at her apartment. After that, the movie is primarily Paul and the three girls interacting in various ways. Some of the conspiracy theories are touched on as Paul meets with radio host Mae Russell and Laurence Merrick (later shown in a clip getting gunned down in a parking lot, with it being implied that he knew the gunman/woman). 

  One of the earlier standout scenes in the movies occurs when Paul first enters the apartment. Unsure of his intentions and trustworthiness, the girls squabble back and forth in what could have been a scene out of a roommate sitcom. All that is missing is a diner/coffee house (would America ever be ready for a Manson girls' sitcom?)

  Throughout the movie, the girls seem to have mixed feelings about their public image as crazy cult members. At times they seem to enjoy it, particularly when scaring Paul about what happens to snitches (Chelsea smile anyone?). Other times, they seem to regret it. One of the best lines of the movie is given to Squeaky: 'of all the things I saw myself becoming, I never envisioned being something that people were afraid of.' Another scene that stands out in this regard is when Squeaky lets Paul wear the vest they have been embroidering, and actually seems worried that he is still afraid of them. 

  The ability of the Manson women to evoke fear, sympathy, and to some extent desire is explored throughout the film. From a conversation about having sex with them only if your back was against the wall, because nothing 'levels the high like worrying about being stabbed,' to a bathtub talk with Sandy in which she shares her surgery scar story, turns into a mermaid, turns into 'crazy Sandy,' then turns back into being 'sad Sandy,' the movie does a good job of showing these contradictions.

   Another great scene involves Paul and the girls dancing with each other, before the girls become knife wielding zombies, bathed in red light, coming for him. Also worth mentioning is a scene where the girls and Paul fall asleep together on the floor, resting on each other, the girls sleeping peacefully, and Paul unable to sleep, eyes wide open. 

   The film has quite a few good lines. Some highlights:

- Paul encounters Squeaky wearing her red assassination robe during his trip, and asks what she is wearing- 'Destiny.'

 - Brenda joking after Paul asks what he is smoking- 'a magic herb infused with the blood of Sharon Tate

  - the Ghost of Lenny Bruce to Krassner- 'there's nothing sadder than an aging hipster.'

- Sandy- 'blowjobs aren't a capital offense.'

  Probably the best scene in the film is during the acid trip when Squeaky and Paul are in a sort of half animated dream world, where Squeaky talks about her father and replacing her father with Manson. Her explanation that her father gave her everything except for love and that she replaced a monster with a monster who at least loved her is a great scene.

  Overall, The Last of the Manson Girls is definitely worth watching, if just to see some of the other girls get some screen time. Yes, it is a low budget affair, but at this point in time we are unlikely to see a Manson related film with a moderate to big budget, so we have to take what we can. We are unlikely to ever see a film where Brenda and Sandy speak, if they are even seen. The screen time given to the girls is what makes this one worth a look. 


Friday, December 16, 2022

The Manson Family Knives

   Ages ago I posted the above press photo of the Manson Family knives. There was a little discussion in the comments about when the photo was taken with Cielodrive commenting that the LIE album wasn't released until March of 1970. The photo ran in newspapers in 1984 on an anniversary for the TLB murders.

The caption says that the knives were confiscated in the Barker Raids. It is obviously a staged photo.

Among the recent documents I obtained there is a list of the knives taken into custody by Inyo County authorities. I do think that the knives in the photo were from the Barker Raids. There appears to be the same number of knives in the list as the photo. There are a couple of kitchen knives in the photo as well.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Bruce Davis Prison Intake Report


After a defendant is convicted and sentenced, they are sent to a sort of clearing house to determine where in the prison system they should be housed. They are interviewed and given various evaluations including a psych evaluation.

All factors are weighed before assigning the prisoner to a specific facility.

This is Bruce Davis's prison intake report and includes the psych eval.

Some of our readers enjoy reading and dissecting the contents of the documents of the Manson Saga, others, not so much. Since I've recently been able to obtain a large number of documents, I will be focusing on getting them posted. Some documents will simply confirm what we already know. Some documents will dispel mistruths. Other documents will clarify certain situations. And some documents will make you wonder if law enforcement knew what was actually going on. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Charles Alan Green (Beard) Follow-up

 I dislike having to step on an important post like the Tenerelli Files but the Charles Alan Green situation has become time sensitive.

You will recall back at the end of August 2022 I posted a piece on Charles Allen Beard and what had become of him. 


Since I made my post Cielodrive was able to get copies of Green's parole hearings through the 2020 hearing where he first was granted parole. It was reversed by the governor. Unbeknownst to me when I initially published the post, Green was having another parole hearing on September 1, 2022, the same week I put up the post. He was again granted parole by the two-person parole hearing board.

Cielodrive requested the hearing transcripts for the 2022 hearing but it takes 30 days for those hearings to be released. In the meantime, I read the 2020 transcript and found it to be completely at odds with what Green had said to Lynette Fromme and Charles Manson about his parents being in law enforcement.

In the hearing he affirmed to the parole board members that he had been raised by Hells Angels and prostitutes, his father was killed in a gang fight either before he was born or shortly after and he generally had a very violent upbringing. (Reading between the lines, Green was presenting himself as the victim and whatever he had done was not his fault but the fault of his mother and the environment he was raised in.)

2020 hearing transcript

Once Cielodrive received the 2022 hearing transcripts we found he had essentially said the same thing.

2022 hearing transcript

What? In one instance to Fromme and Manson he says he had a law enforcement upbringing and to the parole board he claims to have been raised by Hells Angels etc. Something was not right and I aimed to find out what was true.

I found that everything Green told the parole board was a lie. Then I set about writing a letter to the DA's office in the county where Green was convicted with my findings. I snail mailed the letter to the DA because I was afraid that since I had a number of attachments that an email wouldn't be read for fear of viruses or something. To my dismay, I did not hear back from the DA's office, not even an acknowledgement that they had received my letter. I even emailed the DDA that attended the 2022 hearing a couple of weeks later to ask if he had received it. Crickets. 

I asked Cielodrive if there was something else that could be done. He suggested writing to the chief of victim services at the CDC (California Department of Corrections) since he had worked with her before on other issues. Cielodrive sent her an email of introduction and she agreed to hear me out. I couldn't have been happier about the outcome.

The victim services woman said she would send my letter to the chief of BPH (Bureau of Parole Hearings) investigations for their consideration.  It took a few weeks before I heard back. The day before yesterday, Monday, I got the outcome.

From the woman at victim services-

Hi Deb, thanks for your patience.  BPH updated me this morning – see below.  The information that you submitted has been reviewed by BPH Investigations and the information will all be included in the package that is going to be sent over to the Governor’s Office.  I hope this helps.   Stay in touch

What BPH investigations sent-

 Dear Katie, we have reviewed the allegations and the hearing transcript. We are sharing this information with the Governor’s office so they will have it as well.

The letter and attachments

You can help too by sending a note to the governor opposing Green's release. It can be done by snail mail or email. Remember that he is incarcerated under the name Charles Alan Green and his prison number is B93617. His prison number should be included in whatever you send. For the subject choose "Parole-Governors Review" in the drop-down menu. According to my calculations the 120-day review period by BPH and the governor ends on December 29, 2022.


None of this would have been possible without the help of Cielodrive and of Buntline Special who helped gather the material for the attachments and edited the first draft of my letter. It was kind of snarky! 

Amid all the sniping that the comments sometimes induce it's through conversation that we can make a difference.

Monday, December 5, 2022

The Tenerelli Files

The Sportsman Motel

 Back in 2019 I received a cache of documents from a relative of Filippo Tenerelli. I was asked to look at the material and see if it would sway my opinion as to whether or not Filippo was murdered.  I did not believe that Filippo was murdered even after reading the documents. I let the conversation drop because I did not want to argue the point with the Tenerelli family. I'm sure it must be very difficult for a family to come to terms with the idea that a member of their family took their own life, particularly a religious family that was taught that a person who commits suicide cannot be buried in consecrated ground. 

In 2007 Paul Dostie and his cadaver sniffing dog Buster led a team of other cadaver dogs and their handlers on a search of Barker Ranch for possible bodies buried by members of the Manson Family. White Rabbitt was the informant who claimed that bodies were buried at Barker. As we know, there were no bodies found even though the dogs did pick up the scent of remains.

This search seems to have kicked off a re-investigation of Tenerelli's death in 2008. Tom O'Neill appears to have been the catalyst for this investigation by virtue of having requested any and all documents and materials related to the initial investigation beginning in 2007. The documents had to be retrieved from storage so they gave it another look-see. In the end the Bishop Police Department did not believe that Tenerelli was murdered and that his death was the result of suicide.

The Tenerelli family was not informed of this re-investigation, not by the Bishop Police Department nor by Tom O'Neill. They learned of it eight years later. In 2016 the Tenerelli family member made a request to the Bishop Police Department for any and all documents and materials related to Tenerelli's death as well as any communications that Tom O'Neill had with the department. There is a complete list of everything requested by the Tenerelli family member at the beginning of the first pdf.

I dislike redacting anything from the documents I provide but, in this instance, I felt it prudent to redact the Tenerelli family member's name and address as well as Tom O'Neill's phone number and address. I did not redact his name, he's a public figure at this point whereas the Tenerelli family is not.

There are a couple of reports that are nearly impossible to read in the first two pdf's. One report begins on page 15 and continues to page 18. The second report is on pages 30 and 31. Copies of both of these reports were in the material I recently obtained and they are easier to read than what is in these pdf's so I'm attaching a seventh pdf with just those reports.

pdf pages 1-25