Creepy Crawling: Home Invasion leads to Murder

their late night home invasion antics prepared the Manson Family to kill people

The Manson Family was a loose gathering of young hippies, runaways and ex-convicts living together communally during the late 1960s. Their ‘leader’ was 34-year old ex-con Charles Manson. Most of the members of the Family were young women.

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The women of the Manson Family included (top row, from left) Susan ‘Country Sue’ Bartell, Kathryne ‘Kitty’ Lutesinger, Sandra Good and (bottom row from left) Catherine ‘Cappy’ Gillies, Ruth Ann ‘Ouisch’ Moorehouse, Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme and Nancy ‘Brenda’ Pitman

Charlie needed the women to attract the men. He demanded absolutely loyalty and reverence, particularly from the female members of his Family.

They had lived together, traveling around the southwest by bus, in late 1967, followed by stints at various squatting locations in the Los Angeles area. One notable location was Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property near Simi Valley. It used to be used by the Hollywood studios as a backdrop for Western films and television shows, but it had gone to seed and was losing money by the day. The Family endeared themselves to owner George Spahn, a 79-year old horse trainer, by helping him rent out pony rides, managing the books and having sex with him.

In late 1968 the Family went to Death Valley but conditions were harsh and unforgiving, and they soon returned to Los Angeles and Spahn Ranch.

Charlie liked old George Spahn and was betting that the old man would leave the property to the Family in his will. But Charlie’s temper was growing in 1969, in part due to his responsibilities with caring for such a large group of people. Their need for money, food and other things began to escalate. They needed to DO something…

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A photograph of members of the Family taken at Spahn Ranch in 1970

Excerpted from The Manson Family: More to the Story -

By end of spring, the Family’s money woes were increasing. Mary (Brunner, the first member of the Family and mother to Charlie’s then year-old son Michael) befriended a manager at Van de Kamp’s bakery on South Figueroa, who let her have their day-old baked goods…

The Family had burned every bridge in their path during the previous year and a half. Tensions escalated, particularly between the women. Charlie needed the girls to attract the men and when the girls weren’t getting along, that was a problem.

Manson may not have needed to take care of the women’s emotional well-being but he was still responsible for their material needs. He could steal for their supper, and encouraged them to do so as well. Breaking the law meant rejecting conventional society which bonded them more firmly to his lifestyle. Brenda (true name Nancy Pitman, a surfing socialite who joined the Family in early ’68 when her parents threw her out of their home) took special pleasure in robbing her own mother of several pricey fur coats. The women cut the furs up and used them to adorn the dune buggies.

Her theft inspired Manson. “Charlie started taking the kids on what he called ‘creepy crawls’,” Gypsy (true name Catherine Share) explained. “He’d say, ‘Get your black clothes on, get in the car, and do a creepy crawl’. You snuck into someone’s house and moved things around. He was actually getting them used to committing burglaries.”[1]

They would silently break into middle-class homes, barefoot and dressed in black, and either take food or just move things — furniture, objects d’art. The goal was to leave no clear trace of home invasion but rather to confuse the homeowners. They didn’t pick locks or break windows or anything obvious — the intention was to go inside and have fun during the middle of the night, while the residents slept, leaving only a slight trace of their activity. Later, they also stole small valuables that they could easily pawn.

Nearly all of the women participated in the creepy crawls. Leslie (Van Houten, who was later convicted of murder) admitted shamefully, “I only did one: my father’s. I robbed my father’s house.”[2]

From a letter Brenda later wrote to Squeaky (true name Lynette Fromme): “I had some bolt cutters I used to cut locks off gates. I really got a big charge out of it too cause I used to get locked in rooms when I was little. It took me a few times to get the hang of this bolt cutting. You have to put all your weight on the cutters at once and the lock breaks in half… When we came to the locked gates, I’d hop out and cut the locks.”[3]

Filmmaker John Waters (Hairspray) developed a fascination with the Family during their trials, later befriending Leslie Van Houten in prison. He wrote, “Was Manson’s dress rehearsal for homicide, known as ‘creepy crawling’, some kind of humorous terrorism that might have been fun? Breaking silently into middle-class ‘pigs’ homes with your friends while you are tripping on LSD and gathering around the sleeping residents in their beds, not to harm them but to watch them sleep… When the Mansonites went further and moved the furniture around before they left, just to fuck with the waking homeowners’ perception of reality, was this beautiful or evil? Could the Manson Family’s actions also be some kind of freakish ‘art’?[4]

Campy fascination aside, Waters makes a good point: the Family creepy-crawled initially as a recreational activity. It wasn’t about crime. It was theater, macabre theatrics. But it wasn’t harmless and it wasn’t meaningless. They didn’t break into homes in the ghetto after all. Their creepy-crawl missions feel aspirational, in retrospect. They’re looking for something. They’re preparing, even if the perpetrators don’t know it. Their forays into suburban homes eventually do result in grand theft, and worse. They begin to desire not just the possessions of these affluent American homeowners — they eventually want their lives. Even the younger teens started to bitch about the ‘rich piggies’.

Their glances into middle-class homes only served to remind these young women of what others had and they had not. Their isolation on the ranch, their hunger, Charlie’s lack of success at fame and fortune was causing everyone to despair. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (includes the following citations: [1] Catherine Share quoted in “Manson: An Oral History” by Steve Oney ©July 2009 Los Angeles magazine; [2] Leslie Van Houten from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC); [3] Letter from Nancy Pitman, reprinted in Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press; [4] Role Models by John Waters ©2010 Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In August 1969, four members of the Manson Family illegally entered the properties where film actress Sharon Tate lived, and then married business owners Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, not to creepy-crawl but to commit murders at the request of Charles Manson. Seven people were brutally snuffed out during a two-night murder spree. On the first night, some of the killers believed they were simply going on a creepy-crawl mission. Little did they know that for months they had actually been preparing for something much more horrifying.

You can read more about the murders here:

And more about just how dangerous Charles Manson was here:

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Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series.

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