From Surfing Socialiate to Charlie’s Chief Assassin: The story of Manson Family member Nancy Pitman
In early 1968, Charles Manson was living in the Topanga Beach area of Los Angeles with several young women. The former pimp and wanna-be musician had hoped to connect with influential people in the music and recording industry in Southern California. One of the early people he met was 15-year old Deirdre Shaw — the daughter of famed actress Angela Lansbury.
Deirdre (nicknamed DiDi) introduced her good friend Nancy Pitman to the Manson Family. “Nancy and Deirdre came from Malibu, bringing food from their parents’ cupboards.’They’ll never miss it,’ Didi assured us. ‘They don’t even know it’s there.’ The girls also presented us with high quality cannabis and LSD. They knew all the best dealers at the high school. Deirdre was of strong English-Irish stock, resilient, and good-natured. She wore jeans and soft blouses — too adventurous for dresses — and she looked like a child when she grinned. On a warm afternoon, she sat on our roof strumming a guitar and singing to herself, while below, Charlie and I listened, and he said tenderly, ‘Look at her. She’s ten times the actress her mother is without even trying’… Nancy was tougher, more headstrong and feisty. She grew up the only girl in a large family of brothers. She was petite and pretty, but a scrapper, full of stick-to-it-ness.” — Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press
Nancy Laura Pitman was born New Year’s Day of 1951 in Malibu. She was the oldest child of an aerospace engineer and his society matron wife. Her life was one of privilege and wealth, but Nancy began to question her fortunate status by her teens. Just a few days after Didi introduced her to Manson, Nancy got into a fight with her folks and was kicked out of the house. She came to Topanga and joined Charlie, Mary, Lyn, Pat, Susan, Ella, Dianne and Bruce.
Nancy was also an avid surfer and a talented seamstress. Her sewing skills were later employed on the famous ‘Charlie’ vest in 1970.
Charlie’s hopes of making it in the music industry were heightened when two members of his group (Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey) met Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson.
The Beach Boys and Charles Manson
the band’s relationship with Charlie began with a threesome
Pat and Ella had sex with Wilson after the drummer picked them up hitchhiking and that very night, Charlie and several of the women decided to make Wilson’s rented home in the Pacific Palisades their new home. Shortly after their late-night arrival, Charlie sent Wilson to bed with a couple of his women.
Dennis had his eye on one particular girl, 17-year old Nancy Pitman. She was now nicknamed Brenda McCann. Like Dennis, Brenda was a surfer. Brenda had thoroughly shed her well-heeled past and was game for anything. Brenda also sewed all of Dennis’ satin sheets into harem outfits. His housekeeper was really upset about that.
Throughout the next year, Brenda was a dedicated member of the Manson Family. The Family left Wilson’s house in the summer of 1968 and began staying at Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth. That fall, they left Spahn Ranch for Death Valley, but came back to the ranch in 1969. But things were already on the decline, largely thanks to the increasing use of drugs by Manson and the others.
After one member of the Family spied a datura plant (part of the poisonous belladonna nightshade family), Brenda cooked the roots up to make an hallucinogenic tea or homebrew. Drank this way, there are potential health benefits (although physicians are divided on this) and you can get a pretty wild hallucinatory experience. But raw, the roots are highly toxic and even deadly.
That didn’t stop Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, another member of the Family from trying those roots. Tex Watson was said to have dramatically changed after he ingested the belladonna, and he wound up arrested for public disturbance while high on the roots.
Tex Watson also committed nearly all of the Tate/LaBianca murders just three months after he was poisoned by the datura plant.
Another factor for the Family’s quick decline was financial: by 1969 they had burned every person who had ever offered them any assistance. So the Family began to rely upon petty theft to survive.
One of those methods was called ‘Creepy Crawling’.
Creepy Crawling: Home Invasion leads to Murder
their late night home invasion antics prepared the Manson Family to kill people
Creepy Crawling began after Brenda stole several expensive fur coats from her own mother’s home. The women cut the furs up and used them to adorn the dune buggies, which Charlie intended to use in the desert.
Her theft inspired Manson. “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 ‘Gypsy’ Share quoted in “Manson: An Oral History” by Steve Oney ©July 2009 Los Angeles magazine
From a letter Brenda later wrote to Lynette ‘Squeaky’ 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.” — Letter from Nancy Pitman, reprinted in Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press
Those creepy-crawl missions ultimately got the girls used to breaking and entering people’s homes. Just months later, those home invasions escalated into murder.
In the pre-dawn hours after Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins murdered Sharon Tate and four of her houseguests at Manson’s orders, Charlie went to the property to see their handiwork.
It is rumored that Brenda accompanied Manson.
“Returning to the scene of any crime is risky business, so instead of turning up Cielo Drive, we drove past and looked up the hill to see if there was any activity that might indicate the police had arrived. Everything was quiet. We parked the car a short distance away and walked to the premises. We entered the grounds by climbing over the fence, as the kids had done. As Sadie and Tex had said, the first victim’s car was off the driveway a short distance from the gate…. I carefully wiped the car clean of possible finger prints without disturbing the body of the boy who lay dead inside.
Approaching a house where you know there are dead bodies has a spine-chilling effect, and I think if I had been alone, I might have forgotten about continuing any further. My partner probably felt the same way, but neither of us spoke and we did go on to see the whole gory mess. Tex and Sadie’s description had been accurate. What I was seeing was not a scene from a movie or some horrible acid fantasy, but real people who would never see the morning’s sun. I’d had thoughts of creating a scene more in keeping with a black-against-white retaliation, but in looking around, I lost the heart to carry out my plans.” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
Whomever Charlie’s partner was that night, they were the ones who left a pair of eyeglasses as a ruse — a misleading clue for police to later find.
After the Tate/LaBianca murders, things at Spahn Ranch got even more desperate and dangerous. That week, Brenda ritualistically chopped off all of the girl’s hair on Manson’s orders. Only Krenwinkel, with her long, thick brown hair, was spared the shearing. The locks of hair were later woven onto Manson’s dune buggy and into a vest made for him by the women.
A week after the murders the Family were arrested on auto theft charges, but released due to an administrative error with the warrant. Charlie was certain that someone at the ranch was spilling the beans to law enforcement and he was certain the culprit was ranch hand Donald ‘Shorty’ Shea. He ordered several of the male members of the Family to murder Shorty.
They killed The Most Interesting Man in the World
The Manson Family killed a stuntman because they thought he was a snitch
After Shea’s gruesome slaying, the Family again fled to Death Valley. Weeks later, following another arrest, a teenage girl living with the Family began talking about the murders to law enforcement. She also implicated the Family in several other crimes including arson and theft.
Kitty Lutesinger said that Brenda rented a Hertz rental car, using a stolen credit card and the car was later abandoned near Barker Ranch near Ballarat in the desert. She told the detectives about the suspects in an arson investigation, as well. Kitty named those responsible for stealing three dune buggies and another vehicle, plus the perpetrators of various credit card thefts and burglaries. Kitty provided some of the first critical information that also implicated the Family in the Tate/LaBianca and Shea murders, helping to solve the crimes.
Nancy Pitman was called to the stand in December 1969 as a grand jury witness, although she gave nothing substantial that would help indict her friends. She also married another Family member, Bruce Davis, in the spring of 1970 to help both avoid testifying during Manson’s upcoming trial. The two then went on the run and did not return until December, when they turned themselves in — on Manson’s orders.
Charles Manson was found guilty of murder (as were most of the other killers) and initially, sent to Death Row at San Quentin. To protect himself from possible retaliation by black gangs (he did after all try to start a race war), he courted the infamous Aryan Brotherhood as his bodyguards. In exchange, the remaining women of the Family were told to provide incarcerated AB members with nude photographs and even to become sexually involved with them once those members were released. It was through this affiliation that Nancy Pitman met Michael Monfort, an AB member and career criminal..
In the early 70s, Nancy was living with a couple of other Family women in Guerneville, California (Sonoma County when Monfort and two of his friends killed an associate (James Willett). Days later, Monfort shot and killed Willet’s wife Lauren and Brenda helped to cover up the crime, hiding Lauren’s body below the house. Police discovered the remains and the residents were all arrested.
Monfort was sentenced to prison for first-degree murder and Nancy was also charged and sentenced, as an accessory to the crime. She served time in the California prison system, was released and later married Monfort while he was still serving his sentence for the Willett’s murders. They had three sons together, before divorcing in the early 1980s. For a while, the Monforts lived in the Napa Valley area. After her divorce, Nancy moved to Oregon where she raised her three sons. At least two of her sons have been involved with serious crime, both serving time for their errant behaviors. Their father, Michael Monfort, was arrested again in the 1980s for armed robbery, sentenced to a staggering 800 years in prison, and died in the 2000s in prison, of natural causes.
Today, Nancy continues to live in the Pacific Northwest where she formerly owned a business selling pottery. It is rumored that she remains close with some of her Family sisters although she did renounce Manson himself some time ago.
You can learn more about the Manson Family and the murders by visiting MansonFamily.net