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Charles Manson is Dead But There is Still More to Learn in a Riveting New Memoir

In light of the recent passing of notorious serial killer Charles Manson, Dorri Olds reports on riveting new memoir, MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

Charles Manson is dead at age 83. The news release issued by the California Department of Corrections said he died of natural causes in a hospital.

For me, the timing feels eerie because I just met Manson Family member, Dianne Lake, at a writers event in Manhattan. It was October 28, near Penn Station, inside the Hotel Pennsylvania. I was there for a speaking gig. After giving my talk on journalism in today’s media, and a Q&A afterwards, I headed for the elevator. After pressing the down arrow, I noticed two women beside me, also waiting. One had a hardcover book tucked under her arm. The cover photo of Charles Manson captured my gaze, as did the title, Member of the Family. I’ve been obsessed with true crime books since seventh grade when I discovered Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and devoured it in two days.

Member of the Family by Dianne Lake, the youngest member of the Charles Manson Family

Curious, I struck up a conversation. “I’ve read Helter Skelter three times,” I said with a smile. The woman who was holding the book turned out to be Lake’s co-author Deborah Herman. After introducing herself, Herman said, “Guess who this is.” She pointed to Lake and said “This is Dianne, the youngest member of the Manson family.”

I must’ve looked startled because Herman explained, “This is her story.” Then handed me the book.

Intrigued, I immediately read the subtitle: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties. Although eager to read the jacket, I didn’t want to be rude so I looked up and extended my free hand to Lake. Hesitatingly, as if in slo-motion, Lake took my hand and we shook. She offered a polite hello in almost a whisper. Her cautious manner and the way she looked me in the eyes for only a moment before her gaze darted away, gave me the impression she was either shy, tired, or at the very least, uncomfortable in the moment. A feeling came over me that she too was a rape survivor.

The cliche, “It takes one to know one,” proved true as I read her heart-wrenching account.

I don’t want to give any spoilers. I highly recommend this book.

Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman.

In Lake’s words: At age 14, I became one of Charles Manson’s Girls. At 17 I helped put him in prison. This is my story.

At fourteen Dianne Lake—with little more than a note in her pocket from her hippie parents granting her permission to leave them—became one of “Charlie’s girls,” a devoted acolyte of cult leader Charles Manson. In this poignant and disturbing memoir of lost innocence, coercion, survival, and healing, Dianne Lake chronicles her years with Charles Manson, revealing for the first time how she became the youngest member of his Family and offering new insights into one of the twentieth century’s most notorious criminals and life as one of his “girls.”

Over the course of two years, the impressionable teenager endured manipulation, psychological control, and physical abuse as the harsh realities and looming darkness of Charles Manson’s true nature revealed itself. From Spahn ranch and the group acid trips, to the Beatles’ White Album and Manson’s dangerous messiah-complex, Dianne tells the riveting story of the group’s descent into madness as she lived it.

Though she never participated in any of the group’s gruesome crimes and was purposely insulated from them, Dianne was arrested with the rest of the Manson Family, and eventually learned enough to join the prosecution’s case against them. With the help of good Samaritans, including the cop who first arrested her and later took her into his home, the courageous young woman eventually found redemption and grew up to lead an ordinary life.

While much has been written about Charles Manson, this riveting account from an actual Family member is a chilling portrait that recreates in vivid detail one of the most horrifying and fascinating chapters in modern American history.

Member of the Family includes 16 pages of photographs.

As first published on

Dorri Olds is a freelance writer and journalist, member of the American Society of Journalists & Authors (ASJA) and Authors Guild (AG). Her articles appear in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day, The Establishment, ROAR, The Fix, Forward, Yahoo and Tablet. Her short stories appear in 7 book anthologies including the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

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