The tragic and terrible story of Manson Family murderer Patricia Krenwinkel

In March 1967, Charles Milles Manson was released from Terminal Island, a federal correctional institute in San Pedro, California, in the Los Angeles area. He was 32-years old and had served most of the previous two decades in youth detention centers, juvenile facilities and prisons on charges ranging from petty larceny to grand theft auto, check forgery and pimping. When he left prison in 1967, he moved to San Francisco where he met Mary Brunner, the first member of his so-called Family. Charlie had a peculiar and particular philosophy that stemmed from his years incarcerated and the religious and spiritual education he received both in prison and out. Young people in the late 60s were looking for answers and Manson seemed to provide what they were looking for.

Charles Manson

After meeting Mary in Berkeley, Charlie spent the summer of 1967 traveling up and down the state of California, later meeting Lynette Fromme. That September, the three spent time in the Los Angeles area, where Manson hoped to launch a music career.

Patricia Krenwinkel

Manson dropped Lyn and Mary off with friends and went to visit an old prison buddy who introduced him to two sisters, Charlene and Pat. The women lived together with Charlene’s son, in an apartment near Manhattan Beach. When Charlene learned that Manson didn’t have a place to stay, she offered him their couch. But Charlie quickly moved on her 18-year old sister.

Patricia Krenwinkel

Patricia Krenwinkel was born December 1947 in Los Angeles. Her father worked in insurance and her mother was a homemaker. Patricia and her older half-sister grew up in a suburban, working-class neighborhood. Pat was especially close to her dad.

“A cherished memory from her childhood was walking hand-in-hand with him down the street on weekends to survey, in wonder, the progress of the construction of LAX.” — The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

Her mother, a former Southern belle, was solicitous and charitable.

“I remember down-on-their-luck guys coming to our door and asking to work for food. She would always give them something to eat.” — Patricia Krenwinkel quoted in The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

Pat was an animal lover. She had many pets during her childhood — dogs, birds and hamsters — and was in the Little Wildlife Society. Yet her childhood was marred by family troubles including her parents’ unhappy marriage.

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A school picture of Krenwinkel

“My father wanted all my attention… I was the object in a wicked game of vengeance with my mother, bounced across the table, in the center of every argument.” — Letter from Patricia Krenwinkel, quoted in Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press

Mr. Krenwinkel also ostracized his stepdaughter Charlene, who became demanding and attention-seeking and developed an early addiction to heavy narcotics by her teens. Pat was also bullied in school. She was a pudgy child who grew into a shy, withdrawn teen, with an abundance of body hair which she was sensitive about. During her teens, her parents divorced and Pat and her mother moved to Alabama.

“Pat was miserable there… She returned to Los Angeles to live with her father and attend University High… After high school, she moved back to Alabama, enrolling in a teacher’s course at… a Jesuit institution in Mobile. After one semester she decided she didn’t want to be a teacher, so she dropped out and returned to L.A. There she moved in with her sister… and landed a job as a claims clerk at an insurance company… Pat’s social life centered around a group of Marines who were stationed at Camp Pendleton. She dated a couple of them and was drinking buddies with all of them. ‘Sometimes they’d even sneak me onto the base. I loved being with them. One by one they were shipped off to Vietnam and it stopped being fun and games — some of them were dying over there.’” — The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

The Vietnam War was a major influence in the lives of Charlie’s followers. Opposition to the war, including student and civilian protests, fueled a desire for many Americans to opt out of any system — social, economic — that sent poor (and largely black) young men to fight and die overseas. Dropping out of society was de riguer for many people — but ‘dropping’ acid (taking LSD) was another ‘fuck you’ to the powers-that-be, including the stodgy, controlling parents of these kids.

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“I was smoking a lot of marijuana, hash and… had already used acid a couple times. At that time drinking and using drugs did not seem unusual ’cause I was doing it with my high school friends.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” © 1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)

Pat was also a religious person who found comfort in the idea of an all-knowing God. She could quote passage and verse from the Bible and believed that if someone entered her life, it was for a good reason. When she met Manson, she had her crummy job as a clerk and her own drug problems had continued on and off while living with Charlene and her nephew. Often, Pat was the only responsible one in the household. Co-dependent, suffering from low self-esteem, Patricia Diane Krenwinkel was ripe for the picking when she met Charles Manson. He knew exactly what to say to her.

“He said, ‘You should never be ashamed of your body.’ I couldn’t believe it. I had always been ashamed of my body. No one had ever called me beautiful. I started to cry.’” — Patricia Krenwinkel quoted in The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

Patricia thought she had not only met the man of her dreams, but that she’d just begun a serious, monogamous relationship. She was shocked when, a day later, Manson introduced her to Mary and Lyn at a party. But she swallowed her pride and pretended nothing was wrong with sharing her new man with two other women.

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Pat Krenwinkel, around the time she met Charles Manson

Watching Pat huddling close to Charlie as he played the guitar, Lyn thought the other woman seemed sad and frustrated with her life. So she took Pat for a walk on the beach and told her about ‘the Gardener’ and their life of freedom, love and acceptance. Pat and Lyn then discovered that they’d briefly attended the same high school, cementing their bond. Lynette encouraged Pat to join them.

“I wanted to please,” Patricia confessed. “I wanted, for the first time, to feel safe.” — Patricia Krenwinkel, from the documentary “My Life After Manson” ©2014 Quiet Little Place Productions

Three days later, Pat abandoned her car, sister, nephew, job and apartment to join Charlie and the other women. As it has been shared in other publications, she left behind her final paycheck when she quit her job, but brought a Chevron gas credit card which her father continued to pay for the next two years. But Mary Brunner was initially not pleased that Manson had added yet another woman to their relationship.

“Charlie had asked us if Patty could come along and the truth was that she just fit. A stabilizer amongst women, a listener who demanded no attention for herself, an inspiration and conscience toward our own better attitudes, she was so easy to like that Mary couldn’t stay mad.” — Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press

Slowly, Mary, Lyn and Pat began to lose their autonomy, their sense of self, their inhibitions.

“I really liked Mary and Lynette. In many ways my attachment to them, and later to the other women, was as important to me as my relationship to Charlie.” — Patricia Krenwinkel quoted in The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

Their first journey after Pat joined was to Reno. There, Manson visited a brothel and experimented with getting the girls to ‘work’ for him. The experience was unpleasant, with Pat hassled by her john. Charlie gave up the pimping and they went back on the road.

Their ongoing journeys took them to Carson City in October, then Sacramento where they traded the VW Microbus for a yellow school bus. They needed more room.

The women removed the seats to make more room for mattresses. Then they needed to adorn the bus, like the VW but even groovier. Lastly, a coat of flat black paint covered the exterior. Black wasn’t exactly a popular color those days. The travelers got a lot of strange looks on the road but there were many they met on their journeys who were friendly.

“It wasn’t so strange in 1967 to drive a bus… Where you might have had someone say ‘don’t you think what you’re doing is odd?’ instead we were always in places where people were saying ‘wow — can I join you?’ It became the ‘in’ thing to become bizarre, to go against everything you’d ever been taught.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” © 1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)

Later, the bus was furnished with a stove, sink and water tank that was stored on top. They could live for a time in the black bus.

Season of the Witch

That fall, in anticipation of making contacts in the recording industry, Charlie was approved to transfer his parole to Los Angeles. The four began packing their San Francisco apartment for their move. They made sure to acquire a stash of drugs ahead of their travels.

“Drugs seemed to be everywhere… You could have gotten just about anything, and it seemed like at times we paid for them, but there was other times when someone would hand us these… cards that were just dotted with acid… We smoked marijuana every single day… It was part of the lifestyle… there was some people that had come back at one time later on that were using intravenously, but I just stayed pretty much with the different forms of hallucinogens.” — Patricia Krenwinkel, from her 2011 Parole Hearing

Before leaving the Bay Area, they met Susan Atkins, a dark-haired 19-year old old ex-stripper. Susan soon joined the others in the bus.

Manson, Mary, Lyn, Pat and Susan spent early December in Las Vegas. They then drove to Arizona, New Mexico and arrived in El Paso on December 6th. They spent a week in New Mexico. Then a week in Mississippi and Alabama, visiting Pat’s folks. Then back to California. Two days after Christmas, the black bus broke down in Winslow, Arizona. Pat offered her gas card to cover the repairs. They panhandled for cash or sang songs together in coffee shops for their meals.

By New Year’s, Charlie wanted to settled down near Hollywood to pursue his music dreams, plus Mary Brunner was pregnant and due in the spring.

As Charlie and the women settled in Los Angeles, they traded their nomadic lifestyle for one more closely resembling a commune. The women (now also including Ella Jo Bailey and 14-year old Dianne Lake) were essentially Sister Wives; expected to get along with one another while doing Manson’s bidding. The older women — Mary, for instance — took a more maternal role with the younger girls.

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A newspaper notice about the Oxnard arrests of Manson, Krenwinkel and others

In Spring of 1968, Charlie’s son (Valentine Michael) with Mary Brunner was born. A few weeks later, Charlie and his growing ‘family’ were arrested in Oxnard for ‘indecency’ (the bus broke down and the group was later found by police, naked). Three weeks after the roadside arrests, the Summit Trail house was raided by drug enforcement cops, likely following a tip from an informant. This was part of a larger crack-down on hippies and anyone defying conventional norms.

Charlie, Sandy, Snake and Pat were arrested for pot possession. But charges were dropped a couple days later.

The Wizard

One spring day, following a morning at the beach, Patricia and Ella were hitchhiking on the Sunset Strip. Along came a nice car driven by a rugged, good-looking guy. He pulled up and invited the women in, who said they were going to Topanga Canyon. He asked them, before I drop you off do you want to come by my house for a visit?

They nodded as the young man drove to an upscale home in the Pacific Palisades. The three sat together in the kitchen, eating cookies with milk then went to his bedroom and had sex. Finally, he introduced himself. His name was Dennis Wilson and he was the drummer for the Beach Boys.

After an hour romping in the sack, Dennis excused himself. He had to go to a recording session but told the women they were free to stay as long as they’d like.

When he returned home at 3:00am, Dennis saw a black school bus parked in the driveway and lights on in his house. He cautiously opened the door and was greeted by Charles Manson. Charlie was grinning like a lunatic. Dennis took a step back and asked if he planned to hurt him.

Charlie assured Brian that he meant him no harm. He demonstrated his benevolence by getting down on his knees and kissing Wilson’s feet.

Inside, Dennis found a dozen people partying, mostly female. Pat and Ella rushed over to introduce him to Charlie (who obviously already knew who he was). Manson then gently nudged a few girls to take their host to bed.

Dennis soon discovered both Charlie’s musical talents and counterculture philosophies. He became a big fan and allowed the Family to stay at his Pacific Palisades home, while also encouraging friends (like talent agent Gregg Jakobson and Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher) to support Manson’s music dreams.

But Charlie realized that he couldn’t stay in Wilson’s good graces if the Family remained at his home, especially with a crying baby underfoot. He sent Mary, Valentine Michael and several women north to Mendocino County. They were to stay a couple of months there and recruit as many young men as possible. As the girls left Frisco, they scored some wicked acid and grass.

“Mary, Pat, Ella, Stephanie, and I headed North in the old black school bus. We rented a house in the little town of Philo… It seemed that I was in charge — although others may have disputed this.” — Child of Satan, Child of God by Susan Atkins and Bob Slosser ©1977 Logos International

Charlie decided to move the rest of his Family out of Wilson’s estate so he could preserve his relationship with the drummer. He made arrangements to relocate everyone to Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property in Chatsworth, a former film set used by studios for Western movies and TV shows.

Spahn Ranch

One summer day, Spahn Ranch owner George Spahn, 79-years old and blind, heard the ranch hands talking about a school bus full of hippies camped in the woods nearby. A few days later, he heard the sound of singing from inside the rundown house where he lived. Then he heard a tap at the screen door. He got up and shuffled to the door, wearing his dark sunglasses and weather-beaten cowboy hat.

The high-pitched voices of what sounded like teen girls told him they’d had car trouble and would it be okay if they crashed there for a few days? There was only a few of us, just a handful of kids, they told him. George wasn’t keen on strangers staying on his land, but if it were just a couple of nights, that’d be okay.

The next morning he woke to the sound of weeds being clipped near his living room window, the scrapes of raking against the desert brush and rustle of tall grass. He shouted out the window for someone to tell him what was going on. The wranglers said there was a bunch of long-haired kids — girls and boys — clearing some of the brush, tidying things up. George supposed that was alright.

Later, there was another tap at the door and George said for whomever it was to come inside. It was a young woman, very solicitous. She asked if she could fix him lunch, was he hungry? He was, bygosh.

Over the next few days, more girls came by to tidy up the house and clean the windows. The gals were nice company, Spahn had to admit. Sometimes they watched the little black-and-white television in the living room at lunchtime, while Dark Shadows was airing. They laughed at everything George said and let him do whatever he wanted. If he happened to put his hand on their thigh, give a little pinch — why, they wouldn’t tell him to take it away.

Sometimes George asked the ranch hands what Charlie and his girls were really doing. They said that Charlie sat under a tree for hours, playing his guitar and the girls brought food and water to him. They said that the women all adored Charlie, which the wranglers couldn’t understand because Manson was small and sorta dark, not very handsome. They said the women sewed clothes for Charlie and rubbed his feet. There was a lot of lovemaking going on. George began to realize there were a lot more hippies than he’d originally been led to believe.

But by then, the girls were a constant presence in his home. Some of the women liked to paint and they made oil portraits of George with his favorite horses. Soon, a girl or two started to stay overnight, so that someone was always there in the mornings to fix him breakfast. Charlie told Spahn that the girls were there to serve. He said he wanted them to keep their eye on George so he’d have everything he needed.

Conditions weren’t too hygienic at Spahn Ranch. The water system was often not working. The girls broke out in acne and skin rashes. Massive horseflies bit them. There were spiders and rattlesnakes.

Despite the daytime heat, temperatures at night often dropped low enough to warrant a bonfire out of doors. Manson loved to sit fireside and rap about his philosophies. That summer, the idea of ‘Now’ was top of mind. ‘Now’ was his interpretation of oodles of spiritual readings, from Native American myths to Buddhist practices, even his auditing of Scientology. Time was immaterial, he warned. Get rid of your watches, your clocks, your calendars. Be present in the Now — not mired in the past or dreaming of the future.

“The whole idea was to let time disappear. There was no time.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” © 1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)

Daughters and Sons

On June 22nd, the women who went to Mendocino were arrested. They befriended three teenaged boys in the neighborhood where they were staying. The women cozied up to the boys, sharing their good drugs and their clap-ridden bodies. But when one of the boys had a bad trip and freaked out, his mother called the police. The cops found a sizable amount of marijuana as well as blue tablets of acid. Mary was arrested for possession of narcotics. Katie (Patricia Krenwinkel), Sadie, Yeller and Stephanie were arrested for prostitution.

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By that summer, Manson’s group did begin to resemble a family, with a father (Manson), a mother (Mary), and generations of youngest to oldest clustered around. Manson’s Family was mirroring a societal shift to what they believed was a better lifestyle.

“Manson and the Family were social entrepreneurs. They recognized that the post-World War II experiment in family reorganization (essentially the move to a male-directed nuclear family that lived under one roof with no other relatives present) had run its relatively short course and needed to be replaced… The new institutions created were called ‘communes’ and ‘crash pads’, ‘shelters’ and ‘families’. The breakdown in what had been conventionally (and misleadingly) called the ‘traditional family’ contributed a considerable amount of energy to wider conversations taking place all across society that were concerned with child-rearing, gender and power, the best way to live in groups, and sex… There was a remarkable amount of cultural agreement that the American family was undergoing some kind of paradigm shift.” — Creepy Crawling: Charles Manson and the Many Lives of America’s Most Infamous Family by Jeffrey Melnick ©2018 Arcade Publishing

The rising rates of divorce were but one factor for many people that era in choosing to craft alternative families that better met their emotional needs. We have seen how divorce drastically impacted the lives of some of Manson’s followers, including Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. Many of these people also had been abused or broken by their biological families long before they met Charlie.

At the end of July, Mary, Katie, Sadie and Stephanie were still in jail (Yeller was released as she was having surgery that month). Charlie decided it was time to get his girls home.

Woman’s Work

The Mendocino Witches (as the police called them) were released on August 16th, after 55 days in jail. Squeaky and Brenda went to pick them up, stopping first in San Jose. When they were on their way back to Spahn Ranch, the bus broke down. Charlie’s friend Bobby Beausoleil called the ranch on August 20th, and learned about the women stuck up north. He offered to go pick them up.

Mary, Katie, Sadie, Ella and Stephanie were scheduled to go to trial the next month. Upon the women’s return, Manson was ticked when he learned that they had rechristened Valentine Michael as ‘Pooh Bear’ but the name stuck.

Back at Spahn ranch, a class order was shaping between the women of the Manson Family.

“Charlie had his front street girls, pretty girls who he used to lure men into the family, and his backstreet girls who were useful for their work and their loyalty to him. I was a backstreet girl. I was the designated mother. I cooked, I did the laundry and ironing, and I took care of the children, though I didn’t have a child of my own.” — Patricia Krenwinkel quoted in The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

Manson’s domination permeated all aspects of Family life, from sex and sleeping arrangements, to procreation, domestic tasks and meal time.

The women were paired up in a buddy system that reflected those that pimps use to ‘break in’ new girls using older, more experienced working prostitutes.

“Pat Krenwinkel had been the person that in the group was more or less designated to keep an eye on me… I don’t know why he picked Pat, but when I first got to the ranch, he had told me to stay close to Pat, that she was the most tuned in to him.” — Leslie Van Houten, from her 2016 Parole Hearing

Pat (now nicknamed Katie) was also encouraged to take on a big-sister role with Dianne. Katie was one of the more co-dependent Family members, desperate and needy for love and validation. Perhaps Charlie sensed the loneliness that resided within Krenwinkel and that, without mooring her to the women, she’d be lost to him.

“We washed our clothes in a creek behind the ranch, much as I imagine they would have done in the actual Old West… Sometimes Patty would come with me to help me hang the wash. She and I kidded around, but sometimes we could really talk to each other. I liked listening to her as she painted pictures with her words.” — Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake, Deborah Herman ©2017 William Morrow

In September, the Mendocino Witches went to trial. Only Mary was charged with possession with intent to distribute (the others with misdemeanor possession and solicitation). The others were found not guilty. The court had its ‘ringleader’ and was satisfied.

Tuning In, Dropping Out

LSD became a critical instrument in how Manson broke each of his followers to his will, a virtual sacrament in the Family’s spiritual, social and sexual life.

“Well, we took hundreds of {acid} trips together… it was always very planned because it was a means of control.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” © 1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)

LSD is effective at switching off the neurons in the brain that control behavior patterns. Normally, we have emotional connections to our belief systems — they are wedded to our past experiences and those who demonstrated them to us at primal ages (parents, siblings). We’d feel guilty, under normal circumstances, throwing away those beliefs but under acid, those feelings of guilt can be subtly removed. But when you break down the ego/id/self of an individual, it is with the purpose of filling the space with something new. Manson’s programming was designed to make his followers submissive enough to satisfy his appetites and those he wished to curry favor with.

Acid validated the idea that Manson could read their minds.

“Charlie seemed to know things about (Pat) no one else did — secret fears, secret dreams — and she was convinced that he had psychic powers. Much later, much, much later, she learned that his skills weren’t supernatural, just super vigilant. ‘He knew how to pay attention to people’s strengths and weaknesses and he knew how to use that information to manipulate people,’ she said. He’d acquired a bag of tricks in prison — some were literally tricks used playing cards and sleight-of-hand maneuvers — which also caused people to believe he possessed extraordinary powers.” — The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

Charlie also conducted the orgies. Everyone would lie on the floor of the saloon, a record playing on the jukebox. Charlie placed a tab or capsule of acid on each person’s tongue, reserving a smaller dose for himself so that he could maintain and orchestrate the events.

If he sensed that anyone was uncomfortable with any aspect of sex (same-sex pairings, oral or anal sex, multiple partners) then he manipulated them into exactly that behavior. He claimed it was their parents’ programming that held them back from loving one another and sex was how you demonstrated love.

“Manson became a maestro. Nobody touched anyone else or kissed anyone else or loved anyone else unless Manson told them to do so.” — Vincent Bugliosi from the documentary “Manson” ©2009 The History Channel

By summer ’68, the Family’s central belief system had been systemically put in place by Manson himself. From ridding themselves of old ideas that wedded them to their birth families, to the use of acid to erase sexual phobias and prudishness, Charlie became not just a father figure, but chief spiritual leader of the Family.

Ghost Town

Charlie started to talk about escaping. His number one choice of destination was always the desert.

“As far back as 1955, when I was driving the stolen 1951 Mercury… and passed through the Mojave Desert for the first time, the spacious, sparsely populated land there had moved me. On recent trips with the girls, I had felt the urge to see more of the desert than could be seen from the main highways… I began making trips to areas of the desert seldom seen by tourists, little towns like Shoshone, Tecopa, Panamint Springs... The smaller the town, the more earthy and likeable were the people who lived there. Even more to my liking, we could get so far off the beaten path that we were seeing places only visited by property owners, prospectors or some recluse seeking escape from people, laws and protocol… I thought the desert was the place to start establishing some permanent roots.” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press

It was fortuitous that fall when they met Catherine Gillies. 17-year old Gillies grew up in San Juan Capistrano, in Orange County. Spahn nicknamed her ‘Capistrano’ but the Family shortened it to ‘Cappy’. Within a week, Manson learned that Cappy’s grandmother owned a ranch in Death Valley and peppered her with questions about the property.

On October 7th, Sadie gave birth to a baby boy, two months premature. With another crying baby underfoot, Charlie knew he had tested George Spahn’s hospitality too far. By mid-October, it was decided that the Family would leave for Death Valley. The caravan headed for the desert on Halloween.

“It was a fair-sized dwelling surrounded by unexpected green vegetation, a nice little oasis in the middle of nowhere. The house had a large front room with a big fireplace, two bedrooms, a small kitchen and a back porch with an attached bathroom. It was… a hell of a lot better than some of the places we had called home.” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press

But the visit to Myers Ranch was cut short when Cappy admitted that she didn’t have permission to stay there. So, Charlie and Paul went into Ballarat and asked about other properties. Someone told them about nearby Barker Ranch. Manson contacted the owner, gave her one of Dennis Wilson’s gold records, and got permission for the Family to stay there.

But after a couple weeks, everyone but Charlie tired of the Family’s desert romp. Even getting to the nearest grocery store was a several-hour ordeal. Plus, there were dangerous snakes, spiders and scorpions and a lack of hygiene. Manson began to test people’s loyalty and endurance.

“I pretty well did whatever he told me to do. I mean, for me to walk forty miles… I had blisters on the soles of my feet that were two and a half inches in diameter… because Charlie wanted me to go somewhere and I didn’t have a car, so I walked… If Charlie said, ‘Jump,’ my only question would be: ‘How high?’” — Joan Wildebush, interviewed in 1984 by Win McCormack, reprinted in “The Dichotomy of Evil: The Manson Girl Who Got Away” ©November 2017 Tin House Magazine

One November day in the desert, Manson grew aggravated with his followers and took off, planning to walk away. He hiked toward the Panamint Mountains only to get hot, tired, thirsty and more frustrated. He laid down in the desert to sleep and returned to Barker Ranch where they Family were staying in Death Valley, determined once again to focus on his music career — and to get Dennis Wilson, along with talent agent Gregg Jakobson and Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher, invested in his recording career.

The White Album

What happened next changed everything.

“Charlie had gone to L.A… and heard The White Album. After that, things were never the same.” — My Life with Charles Manson by Paul Watkins with Guillermo Soledad ©1979 Bantam Books

Charles Manson had (what we believe) was an acid-induced vision while listening to The Beatles’ White Album (released fall of 1968). He saw the world in flames, amid a global race war between black and white people. He believed that black people would win the war (because they’d been down so long, as he put it) but ultimately, he and his Family would take over rule of the planet. Charlie called his vision Helter Skelter, after track #23 on the album.

War was coming. For Manson, Helter Skelter didn’t just cement an existing theory that a racial cataclysm was imminent. It validated an internal belief system that he was destined for greatness — at the expense of others. It confirmed that he was an exalted being, a Master, a Messiah. It told Charlie that it was right and good to desire the destruction he saw coming because he personally stood to benefit. He felt he’d tapped into the greatest prophecy of all time. He was given a great responsibility, to accept a mission of world domination.

With his vision, Manson’s personality began to shift that winter, to harden. He started to dole out more drugs to control the others, and he began to take more drugs himself. He got meaner and more brutal and controlling. Disappearing was the charming and witty man who’d smooth-talked his way into people’s homes and hearts in 1967. Gone was the gentle ‘gardener’ who welcomed lost souls with his sage wisdom. This was now an angry man with the lives of dozens of young people in his grip. The more desperate and dangerous he became, the less likely that things were going to go his way. Eventually, backlash from his failures would prove disastrous for everyone.

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Pat Krenwinkel

Charlie had a way of blaming others for his woes: his mother, the prisons, his ex-wives. When pushed too far, Charlie went on the attack. The brunt of his attacks were often his first and most loyal followers: Mary, Katie, Sadie, Snake. Mary was once beaten so badly she could not get out of bed for several days. Snake was punched, kicked, hit over the head with a chair and whipped with an electrical cord.

“He began to do things like grab me by the hip. I remember when I laughed at him once and he jerked me by the hair and said, ‘You won’t ever laugh at me again’… When we were out in the woods… he threw knives over my head, he threw hatchets over my head into a tree… He, at times, gave me to other people to use for sex… The idea was to let you know that he always had that control… Between the drugs and the violence and my inability to make the correct decisions and to take my own life, get some self-respect back and just leave, I didn’t.” — Patricia Krenwinkel, from her 2004 Parole Hearing

Creepy Crawling

The Family was bursting at the seams at the Canoga Park house they rented that winter. Charlie sent Squeaky (Lynette Fromme) to Spahn Ranch in February to cozy up with George and convince him to let them return.

But the ranch had changed, and so had Charlie.

“Everything was different. Gone were the whimsical days spent playing dress-up in the movie sets, making love, or singing by the campfire. When he wasn’t training us, he was poring over massive topographical maps of Death Valley and the surrounding area that he’d managed to accumulate so he could plan different escape routes to the desert… He spent hours studying the maps, so we left him alone and went about our regular chores.” — Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake, Deborah Herman ©2017 William Morrow

Money was also a problem that spring. The Family relied upon petty theft for most of their needs, and when that still wasn’t enough, they started breaking into people’s homes.

“Charlie started taking the kids on what he called ‘creepy crawls. 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.” — Catherine Share quoted in “Manson: An Oral History” by Steve Oney ©July 2009 Los Angeles Magazine

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. Initially, it was a recreational activity. It wasn’t about crime. It was theater, macabre theatrics. But it wasn’t harmless and it wasn’t meaningless. Their creepy-crawl missions feel aspirational, in retrospect. 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’.

With the air of desperation growing, Patricia became uncertain.

“In spite of his sexual relationships with other women, she harbored the fantasy that one day she would have children with {Manson} and they would be a family. ‘He knew how to pay just enough attention to me to keep that fantasy alive.’ If he sensed that she was unhappy he’d make love to her or compliment her or make her feel special in some other way. But he also constantly assured her that no one else would ever love her or understand her the way he did. If she ever left him, he’d warn, she’d be dooming herself to a life without love.” — The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

Happiness is a Warm Gun

In the summer of 1969, Steve Grogan was 18-years old, Leslie Van Houten was 19, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Bobby Beausoleil were each 21. Charles ‘Tex’ Watson was 23, Mary Brunner was 25 and Bruce Davis was 26. None of these young people ever committed acts of violence before that year.

“I think that the violence in us was somehow nurtured and brought out and brought forth. You know, it didn’t happen overnight. He {Manson} spent a lot of time taking middle-class girls and remolding them.” — Leslie Van Houten from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)

On July 1st, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson burned a drug dealer for $2500, setting off a chain reaction of catastrophe and death. Manson began to talk more about Helter Skelter, his belief that a violent, global war between the races was coming. Manson was particularly relying upon the talents of the Straight Satans, an outlaw biker gang that had been spending time that season at Spahn Ranch. He believed that the bikers would be his army, when it was time to escape to the desert.

Family member Bobby Beausoleil jeopardized that relationship when he brokered a deal to sell mescaline to the Straight Satans, a deal that resulted in the murder of his friend Gary Hinman. Bobby killed Gary, but Charlie had also wounded the victim by cutting him with a sword.

In the aftermath of Gary’s murder, Ella Jo Bailey and William Cole (another Family member) took off. They asked Katie (Krenwinkel) to come with them but she declined, afraid that Charlie would track her down.

Days later, Hinman’s body was found by friends, and Charlie fled Spahn Ranch. He was back on Friday, August 8th, and learned that Bobby had been arrested for Hinman’s murder. Knowing that Beausoleil would eventually place him at the scene of the crime, Manson decided to create a diversion. He told everyone that Helter Skelter was coming down, that very night.

That evening, Charlie gathered Tex Watson, Sadie, Katie and Linda Kasabian and ordered them to go to the former home of record producer Terry Melcher and kill everyone there.

Something Witchy

Pat was selected for murder, by Charlie, for her loyalty. Manson knew how dependent she was on him. In light of her recent attempts to leave, he needed to remind her that she belonged to him.

“Manson came into a trailer where I was taking care of the children and he told me to come out… When I came up to the front of the ranch there was a car and Mr. Watson was there and Miss Atkins was there and Miss Kasabian was there and Mr. Manson told me to go with Mr. Watson and do whatever he said.” — Patricia Krenwinkel, from her 2004 Parole Hearing

Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Pat Krenwinkel climbed into a four-door Ford owned bye one of the ranch hands. Watson and Kasabian were in the front seat, Atkins and Krenwinkel were in the back.

“We got about to the middle of the driveway… and Charlie called us and told us to stop, and he came to the car to my side of the window, stuck his head in, and told us to leave a sign. He said, ‘You girls know what I mean, something witchy’.” — Official Court Transcript: July 1970 trial testimony of Linda Kasabian

Film actress Sharon Tate and her husband, Polish film director Roman Polanski were currently renting 10050 Cielo Drive. In the summer of 1969, Sharon was pregnant and her husband was overseas on a film project, so she had two houseguests: coffee heiress and social worker Abigail Folger, and Folger’s boyfriend, Polish screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski. That evening, Sharon’s ex-boyfriend, hairstylist Jay Sebring, was also visiting.

18-year old high school graduate Stephen Parent was also on the Cielo Drive property that night, visiting the caretaker, William Garretson.

The killers (convicted of nine murders including the Tate/LaBianca killings)

Parent, Sebring, Folger, Frykowski and Tate were all savagely murdered that night. Patricia Krenwinkel stabbed Abigail Folger, chasing her across the back lawn, where Folger was eventually killed by Tex Watson.

Saints and Sinners

That afternoon, the killers learned who their victims were. And Pat confided in one other member of the Family — Leslie Van Houten.

“Leslie said that when she found out that Pat had gone to the Tate house that first night, it gave legitimacy to Manson’s ‘Helter Skelter’ plan. ‘It had a huge influence on me,’ she said. ‘That doesn’t mean that I blame her for my actions, I don’t. It’s only to describe how influential she was in the group.’

Pat… knows that she provided support and comfort to the other women and feels guilty about it because she was responsible for some of them sticking around. But she was unaware of Leslie’s adulation and didn’t realize that her actions the first night inspired Leslie to go the second night. She said her focus was on keeping her head down to avoid Manson’s wrath.” — The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

The temperatures on Saturday were cooler than the previous day but at Spahn Ranch, the pressure was on. By evening, Charlie was in a dither. Once again, he gathered some of his most loyal followers.

“Charlie definitely had me go the second night. At that point I felt so dead inside it really didn’t matter.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)

That night, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, married business owners, were killed in their Los Feliz home by Tex Watson, Leslie Van Houten, and Patricia Krenwinkel. Charles Manson tied up the homeowners and stole Mrs. LaBianca’s wallet, before ordering the other three to kill their victims.

Coming Down

On August 16th, Spahn Ranch was raided by multiple law enforcement agencies related to matters dealing with auto theft. Everyone was arrested and thrown in jail, but two days later they were freed when the judge determined the arrest warrants were misdated.

A few days after his release, Charlie was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession and held for several days. He was irate upon his return, and believed that Spahn Ranch hand Shorty Shea had turned him in. In retaliation, he ordered several of his followers (Tex Watson, Steve Grogan, Bruce Davis, William Cole and Larry Bailey) to kill Shea. Days later, the Family fled back to Barker Ranch in Death Valley.

At the end of September, the Manson Family hastened their demise by committing an act of arson on a piece of earth-moving equipment blocking their access to Death Valley National Park. They torched the mover, but law enforcement were soon hot on their heels.

At 4:00am on Friday, October 10th law enforcement converged around Barker Ranch. They included the California Highway Patrol, the Inyo County Sheriff’s office and the National Park Service.

Before dawn, the officers snuck onto the property. In the house, officers found six women: Squeaky, Katie, Sadie, Gypsy, Leslie and Little Patty. Police continued to nearby Myers Ranch, and arrested four more Manson Family women, and detained two of the children. Others were arrested over a three-day period.

Bobby Beausoleil’s pregnant girlfriend was among those arrested and then immediately transported back to the Los Angeles area, to speak with investigators for Hinman’s murder. Kitty told detectives that she believed two or three women were with Bobby when he stabbed Gary. She named Susan Atkins. When the two investigators drove back to Independence to talk to Sadie, she had quite a story to tell them.

Running

On October 23rd, Katie flew to Alabama. There, she was interviewed by local police about Shorty’s murder. She named Manson, Clem, Bruce and maybe Tex, as the perpetrators. She admitted that the women helped cover up Shea’s murder, but didn’t volunteer anything about her activities on August 9th and 10th.

But Susan Atkins, in jail at Sybil Brand (the main women’s jail for Los Angeles County), couldn’t wait to spill the beans. She told several fellow inmates about her activities at Hinman’s, at Cielo Drive, and what went down at the LaBianca residence (which she learned from Patty).

On December 1st, LAPD Chief Davis announced at a news conference that the Tate/LaBianca case had finally been cracked. Arrest warrants were issued for those not yet in custody. Patricia was in Alabama with her mother’s family. She was dating a young man, whom she’d confided that she was wanted for murder. Pat was riding in a car with the man, when she was pulled over and apprehended.

Initially, Pat fought extradition. In early December, police successfully matched Pat’s fingerprints to those found at the Benedict Canyon crime scene. The PD also confirmed fingerprint matches at Cielo to Tex Watson.

The Grand Jury convened on December 5th. Susan Atkins, after her inmate friends told police about her crazy stories, was forced to testify on behalf of the prosecution, being led by Vincent Bugliosi. On December 8th, the Grand Jury indicted Charles Manson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Charles Watson, Leslie Van Houten and Susan Atkins, for the murders of the Tate/LaBianca victims.

That January, Pat was fighting extradition in Alabama. Finally, she waived extradition and returned to California. Her first court appearance was February 24th.

Trials and Tribulations

On June 9th, Manson, Susan, Patricia and Leslie were called before the court for a pre-trial hearing. Charlie dramatically turned his chair away from the judge, claiming that since the court didn’t respect him, then he had no respect for the court. The following day, Susan, Pat and Leslie stood and turned their backs on the judge, like little puppets. The trial established its precedent early: the women would do exactly as Charlie commanded them.

On July 24th, People v. Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten began in Los Angeles Superior Court. Manson began the first day of trial with an act of self-mutilation.

“When Manson walked into the courtroom the first morning, people gasped. The night before, he’d gotten ahold of some sharp object and carved a bloody X into his forehead. Outside the Hall of Justice, Family members passed out his statement: ‘I have X’d myself from your world… Your courtroom is man’s game. Love is my judge.’” — Vincent Bugliosi quoted in “Manson: An Oral History” by Steve Oney ©July 2009 Los Angeles Magazine

The following day, Pat, Leslie and Sadie also carved X’s into their foreheads, using a heated bobby pin. Susan, Pat and Leslie were encouraged to misbehave. Charlie expected that they would take the fall and he would get off scot-free. The women were fucked.

The prosecution rested its case on November 16th. Three days later, the defense rested their case.

On January 25th, Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were convicted of first degree murder.

As part of the sentencing process, each of the female defendants took the stand in their own defense and at Charlie’s orders.

On March 29th, in the Los Angeles Superior Court, Charlie, Sadie, Katie and Leslie stood before the Judge to receive their sentencing for the murders of Steven Parent, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Sharon Tate and Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. On the day of their sentencing, Charlie and his co-defendants were brought into the courtroom and everyone gasped. Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten had also shaved their heads.

Krenwinkel (center) with Van Houten and Atkins

They stood as the jury stated that they’d each been sentenced to death.

Patricia Krenwinkel: You have just judged yourselves.

Susan Atkins: Better lock your doors and watch your own kids!

Leslie Van Houten: Your whole system is a game. You blind, stupid people. Your children will turn against you.

On April 19th, Judge Older formally sentenced the killers to death by electrocution. At the time, no death row for female prisoners existed in California, so a special unit was built at the California Institute for Women in Frontera, a specially-designated city within the city of Corona, California in Riverside County.

Prison

At Frontera, Susan, Leslie and Patricia still were under Manson’s control. It took years for each of them to break away and to see their time with the Family in the light of the truth.

Psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors at CIW found Susan to be pleasant, friendly, without verbal manipulations and sincere. She was adjusting to prison but iced out by Leslie and Pat, who (rightly) felt that she had been the one to get them locked up, awaiting their death sentences.

It took many months of visits from her parents for Leslie to begin to return to the person she had been, pre-Family. For Krenwinkel, it took longer. Her older sister died of a heroin overdose during the early months of the trial. Pat was not able to mourn Charlene’s death and her mother only visited occasionally from Alabama. Her father did what he could for his surviving daughter, believing that she too was fated for an early death.

On February 18th, 1972. the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. The ruling was not unexpected. The decision converted the death sentences for the killers, to life in prison. After several years, they would each have the opportunity to go before the parole board and ask for clemency.

In the spring of ’73, Mary Brunner and Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share were both sent to the California Institute for Women, in the special unit beside Susan, Leslie and Pat, for their roles in a 1971 shootout that was intended to help free Manson from prison. After a year, Mary and Catherine were transferred to general population at Frontera.

By 1973, Susan and Leslie had disavowed their association with Charlie. Only Pat remained faithful, keeping a large photo of him on the wall of her cell. She occasionally smuggled letters to Charlie through her attorney. But she also began to grow close to some of the correction officers in the special security wing. At Christmas that year, she sent gifts to the children of those officers.

In October 1975, Pat, Susan and Leslie were moved from the special security wing of Frontera where they had served since initially sentenced to death, to the PTU or Psychiatric Treatment Unit at the California Institute for Women. There, the three women were able to live a less restrictive life, and opened up opportunities for each to gain a higher education.

After four years of incarceration, Patricia Krenwinkel was beginning to question Manson’s authority.

“{Pat} told me that the first tentative steps away from Manson occurred because of her relationship with Jean Oliver Carver… Carver, who had killed a woman evangelical minister in the course of a robbery, had seen much of the world’s dark side, generally, and a lot of the dark side of men, specifically. When Pat had first arrived she often talked dreamily about Manson, elaborating on the way he made her feel good about herself, the way he was endowed with special powers, the way he knew secret things about her and other people. Carver would say, ‘Honey, those are all old tricks. He sounds just like dozens of men I’ve known — hustlers, pimps, convicts.’

‘That was the beginning of my deprogramming,’ Pat said. With Carver’s help, Pat started to question her passivity when she’d been with Manson.” — The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

In 1976, attorneys for Krenwinkel, Atkins and Van Houten began to review their files, in anticipation of a possible appeal of their initial convictions.

By 1977, Patricia Krenwinkel was in a relationship with another female inmate at Frontera. She continued to drink and abuse drugs, within the prison system. In August of that year, she got intoxicated and was sick for several days, after which she chose to abstain from using. The girlfriend was paroled in the early ‘80s.

In the mid-‘80s, Pat was treated for her endocrine/hormone imbalance troubles, and prescribed medicine for an abundance of testosterone.

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Leslie and Pat

In 1987, ‘Krenny’ (as her fellow inmates nicknamed her) received correspondence from a woman named Judy Hanson, a researcher secretly working for Doris Tate (Sharon’s mother). Judy gained Pat’s confidence, going so far as to tell the inmate that she wanted to write her life story. Pat shared with Hanson several private details that were repeated to Tate, which were used against her in parole proceedings.

After the revelations about Hanson, Patricia finally joined AA and NA, where she attended meetings with her co-defendants, Susan and Leslie. Pat also turned back to her Christian faith in 2000, working both the 12 steps from AA and submitting to her higher power. She maintained her relationship with Van Houten for many years, but recently the two have parted ways, claiming they differ on key issues related to their past shared history.

Today

Patricia Krenwinkel is currently the longest-serving female inmate in the California criminal justice system. She has rarely sat for interviews, but spoke candidly on those occasions. At times, she has taken full responsibility for her role in the murders and other times, deflected accountability, such as her 2017 bid to be recognized as a victim of domestic abuse (she believed she was in a romantic relationship with Manson, who clearly treated her abysmally).

Pat, whose family is long deceased now, spent the past decades of her prison life in service to others. She has helped many inmates begin recovery from drugs and alcohol. She trained service animals for the blind and disabled. And she trained inmate firefighters to battle California’s deadly blazes.

“I told her I’d noticed in a parole report that one of her jobs at the prison was training women to fight fires… and I know she’d received commendations for this work.

‘What happened to that job?’ I asked.

‘I quit,’ she said.

‘You didn’t like the work?’

‘I loved the work and I miss it, but the prison cut way back on the amount of training the women received and after that, I just couldn’t do it anymore. In good conscience, I couldn’t send those women out to front lines of dangerous wild fires without adequate training no matter how much I loved the job.’

She said quitting the job was another manifestation of lessons learned from her relationship with Manson. ‘When I was with him, I did what I was told. I obeyed. I won’t do that anymore.’” — The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith ©2018 Citadel Press

What Krenwinkel has failed to do is garner the public’s sympathy, the way Leslie Van Houten has. However, Pat has a strong support system among life-long friends, has demonstrated a willingness to look inward and never shown a violent streak since she was incarcerated. She never married a con man (like Susan Atkins). She never used a prison office to funnel funds from gullible Christians (like Tex Watson). She has not changed her story (like Bobby Beausoleil). She has shown remorse, often breaking down during parole hearings, for her crimes. Yet her chances at parole remain slim.

She explains what freedom means to her now:

“There is a freedom in that… that today I am who I choose to be. I take responsibility, every day… I learned choice at the most horrific cost.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the documentary “My Life After Manson” ©2014 Quiet Little Place Productions

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series. https://www.mansonfamily.net/

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