The Manson Family started off on the road, just like the hippies

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Charles Manson looked like a hippie, dressed like a hippie, and even acted like a hippie but hippies were peaceful — Charlie was not.

When Charles Manson was released from prison in early 1967, his first instinct was for freedom. He got out of Terminal Island in San Pedro near Los Angeles, and requested permission from his parole officer to relocate to San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Charlie found himself at home with the hippie youth and counterculture figures, like the Diggers and the street preachers. Because he was older (at 32 years) than most of those he encountered, it was easy for him to slip into a parental role with many of the young runaways, druggies and dropouts he met. Some of them called him ‘the Gardener’ for his nurturing, kind wisdom.

By 1968, Charlie relocated to Los Angeles and was focused on fame, and his music career but the year before, it was all about freedom. The young people who eventually came to stay with him that year (Mary Brunner, Lynette Fromme, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins) were less his responsibility and more his pleasure.

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The first women of the Manson Family including Mary Brunner, Lynette Fromme, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins, joined Charlie on the road in late 1967

That summer, he was gifted a VW microbus and Manson put it to use, traveling around the West Coast. He and Mary (his first follower) adorned the inside of the van with pillows and paisleys and other ’60s decor inspiration. When Lynette Fromme (aka Squeaky) joined them, the trio traveled up and down the coastline of California, and up to Washington State. When Pat joined in, they went to Reno.

But Charlie could envision this group growing larger, and decided that they needed a more sizeable vehicle. In October, while visiting a friend in Sacramento, they traded the VW Microbus for a yellow school bus. After outfitting the school bus with new tires, the women removed the seats to make more room for mattresses. Then they needed to decorate 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. Patricia explained, “It wasn’t so strange in 1967… 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.

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Members of the Manson Family in the Black Bus. Susan Atkins is facing the camera at rear, Lynette Fromme and Ella Jo Bailey are to her left, Pat Krenwinkel is at her right.

When the quartet headed to Los Angeles that fall, Charlie drove to Universal Studios. He’d been given the phone number of a music producer there and Manson was eager to start building contacts in the record industry. Charlie made a big deal of parking the black bus at Universal in a spot reserved for movie star Cary Grant.

Charlie, Mary, Lyn and Pat were joined that November by Susan “Sadie” Atkins and occasionally, her roommate Ella Jo Bailey. They spent November in the Black Bus, traveling around California including the Mojave desert.

Lynette recalled that, “Susan opened up on the bus. She talked so much, and laughed so loud, I reconsidered the prospects of living with her. There was a haunted loneliness about her that she covered with careless flippancy and daring, with sly silences, and brash bombast. Charlie chuckled, telling me that Susan was not crazy but ‘coming from another side.’ I thought she was embarrassing.” But beneath Susan’s cries for attention, Lyn soon discovered a sad little girl. “As we lay resting in the moving bus, having stayed up late the night before, I felt her hand on mine, alerting caution. But it was not a sneaking or lustful hand, only a hand that wanted to be accepted, so I did.”Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press

Atkins also proved useful — when the bus broke down, she quickly jumped out to find a mechanic, flirting to gain free repairs.

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Flirtatious Susan Atkins aka Sexy Sadie

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.

In mid-December they visited Hog Farm, the most famous commune of its time. Founded by ‘Wavy Gravy’ (true name Hugh Romney), a peace activist from New York, Hog Farm sat on the grounds of a pig farm in Tujunga, north of Burbank. The commune was created in the mid-Sixties when the Merry Pranksters (friends of writer Ken Kesey, aficionados of the acid lifestyle) got stranded near L.A.

Wavy Gravy supplemented the commune’s coffers by working as a character actor. By 1966, they were hosting open concerts at the Farm, featuring Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. In August 1969, the Hog Farm prepared all meals at the Woodstock Festival.

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Wavy Gravy (true name Hugh Romney) at the Hog Farm

Initially, the communers totally dug Charlie Manson. Wavy Gravy explained, “A lot of the Hog Farmers were very enamored of his smile. He could mesmerize you.” — Hugh Romney aka Wavy Gravy from the documentary “Charles Manson: The Man Who Killed the 60s” ©1995 TLC (The Learning Channel)

But before long, they got a taste of Manson’s sinister underbelly. He pissed off Wavy Gravy, who then led the Hog Farmers on a collective ‘OM’ chant to boot Manson’s group from where they were camped and rid their happy collective of his dank vibes. The Manson group fled back to the desert and southwest.

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 year-end, Manson had decided to settle down in Los Angeles. Mary Brunner was expecting a child that spring, and Charlie knew that she needed a safe place to delivery her baby. He also began to focus, at that time, on his music. In Los Angeles, there was more chances for him to get a record deal and get famous.

And as 1968–1969 proved, Charlie no longer craved freedom, but fame and control.

Learn more about the Manson Family by visiting

Written by

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

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