Charles Manson may have died in 2017, but his infamy lives on, as do many of his former followers. The women who followed Manson have garnered similar notoriety over the years. The intrigue of what made these women follow an ex-con fresh out of prison, standing only 5’6″ with a strange outlook on the world, has not faded.
Some of these women killed for him, some of them were involved in a shootout trying to attain weapons to violently free him from prison, and others came and went, avoiding the repercussions of being associated with ol’ Charlie. While there are many things we will never know about these women and their choice to join a madman, there are some facts out there that many people may not know.
10 The Homecoming Princess Had a Secret
Leslie Van Houten, or Lulu as the Family called her, was one of the women involved in the Tate-LaBianca murders. Her smiling face and pigtails were plastered all over newspapers and television screens. A picture of Leslie posing with her select classmates with a crown atop her head, gloves on her hands, and heels tucked behind her also made rounds in the media. So many people were scratching their heads wondering how a Homecoming Princess with a seemingly normal childhood could’ve ended up sitting in a courtroom gleefully singing with the possibility of death row hanging over her head.
While it certainly doesn’t explain her decision to commit murder, a secret she held involving her mother may explain her motivation to move out and then drop out of a society that she felt controlled her to an extreme. The event may have also disturbed Leslie’s mind regarding life and death. After hanging out with the “wrong crowd,” she was smoking marijuana and taking LSD by age 15. Then, at 17 years old, she told her mother she was pregnant. Her mother’s response was to force Leslie to have an abortion.
To make matters worse, the pregnancy was too far along for a chemical abortion. The abortion was still performed, right at their family home. To further the trauma of an unwanted abortion and a medical procedure, Leslie was then forced to bury the fetus in the backyard. With this lack of family support and love, it may be easier to understand why Leslie found happiness in the group that would later become the “Family, ” as they showed each other absolute love and acceptance before things went dark.
After being granted parole in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020—which were all reversed by the California governors serving at the time—Van Houten, now 72, remains in prison.
9 A Change of Paths
Patricia Krenwinkel, dubbed Katie by Manson, was involved in both nights of the Manson murders. In fact, out of the women involved, she inflicted the most violence at both scenes. The image of her running across the lawn at the residence of Sharon Tate with a knife held above her head chasing her victim has been used in many reenactments of that devastating evening. She also sang along with Leslie and Susan while on trial for murder, giggling and smiling all along the way as the details of the case poured out. Later, along with the other girls, she shaved her head and X’ed herself out from society by literally carving an “X” on her forehead, all at Manson’s request.
This is a major juxtaposition from the woman at the ranch known for being a quiet caregiver, often responsible for looking after the children at the ranch. The other girls have said she was a motherly presence and comforted people upset by Manson’s demands or reprimands. Her original path in life would’ve fallen right in line with these qualities and would’ve kept her from meeting Manson at all.
When her parents divorced, the two-night killer wanted to be a nun. She finished one semester at the Jesuit College in Alabama before returning to California and moving in with her stepsister. As she fully believed in Manson as a messiah, maybe she didn’t think it was much of a change of paths at all.
Krenwinkel remains in prison and is the longest-incarcerated female inmate in the California penal system. Her next parole hearing will be in 2022.
8 A Willing Volunteer
A lesser-known Manson girl, Catherine Gillies (Cappy), was just as willing to kill as those girls sitting in the courtroom. After meeting the Family at Spahn Ranch, she became a loyal follower of Manson. She lived with them, even providing an isolated ranch for the Family to stay in. She witnessed a friend of the Family die, allegedly from a game of Russian Roulette, although there were no prints on the gun used in the game.
Her faith in Manson didn’t falter after the arrests. She joined the other followers outside the courthouse, singing Charlie’s songs and supporting her brothers and sisters in jail. She even testified that the murders were copycat murders to get a “brother” out of jail. She sent letters to Manson full of love and support up until he passed away.
What the public didn’t know as she sat outside of those courthouses being interviewed and smiling at passersby was that Gillies could’ve just as easily been a defendant in the case. Both nights of the Tate-Labianca murders, she eagerly volunteered to go along and participate herself. She claimed she knew what would happen those nights and would have been happy to be selected as one of the chosen few to ignite the revolution Manson predicted.
Her willingness to kill was shown well before that, with her own grandmother as the target. The ranch that she offered them was Myers Ranch, owned by Gillies’s grandmother. Manson asked her to go kill her grandmother so that their stake at the ranch couldn’t be challenged. Gillies eagerly got into a truck with two other family members, ready to follow out Manson’s request but got a flat tire. That tire saved Barbara Myers’s life, and Gillies had to settle for being only a volunteer, never a participant.
She remained in contact with Manson until his death. Gillies died in Oregon in 2018.
7 Gave Evidence Against the Family? That’s Just Fine…for Some
Mary Brunner was the first girl Manson recruited on the way to building his harem. She also birthed the first child in the Family, with Manson himself as the father. She was also present at the murder of Gary Hinman, the first death associated with the Family (besides that sketchy game of Russian Roulette, of course). In fact, after someone mentioned her name in the death of Hinman, she was offered immunity to testify against her “brother” Bobby Beausoleil. Considering her deep involvement with the Family, it may surprise some people to know she did, in fact, testify against him.
More surprising is that a group of people who sent threatening letters to Manson Family members that were considering “snitching” took Brunner back in after she testified in court. Now, Brunner did finish her testimony by screaming that Bobby was innocent while leaving court and losing her immunity. Bobby was convicted, yet she sat with the rest of the family with her shaved head and X’ed out forehead singing Manson’s praises and his songs.
Kitty Lutseinger was Bobby Beausoliel’s pregnant girlfriend at the time of the Hinman murder and trials. She didn’t testify in court, but she is why Susan Atkins ended up in jail bragging about the murders she participated in. After fleeing Spahn Ranch with another defector, she told the police that Susan Atkins had been involved in the murder of Hinman, and other details she told them led to Atkins being investigated for the Tate murders as well.
Yet again, Lutseinger found her way back after implicating a member of the Family that may have led to the arrests of the rest of them, including Manson, and began sitting on her knees on the sidewalk with the rest of the girls. She was able to drift in and out of the Family with seemingly no consequences at all.
6 Some Snitches Get Hamburgers
One of the previous members of the Family who considered being a witness for the prosecution was Barbara Hoyt. She was not favored by Manson as he frequently told her she needed to lose weight to be one of his girls. She defected quite quickly after the arrests and hearing about what her “friends” had done. The prosecution had asked her to testify in court, but she was reluctant, mostly in fear of what the other members of the Family who weren’t in jail would do to her.
The other girls pulled her back in by offering her a trip to Hawaii. Hoyt gladly accepted and spent a few happy days in the sun with her former friend Ruth Ann Moorehouse. On the day Moorehouse was leaving Hoyt in Hawaii alone, she bought her a cheeseburger at the airport. She then made what seemed like a joke, asking Hoyt to imagine ten hits of acid in that burger.
The burger was indeed laced with multiple hits of acid. While a “lethal” dose of acid is unknown, Hoyt did end up in the middle of traffic, acting erratically, leading to police and medical involvement. The plan backfired as Hoyt came out of the unintended trip ready to testify, and she was a key witness in convicting members of the Manson Family in the murder of Shorty Shea.
5 The Minister’s Daughter
Ruth Ann Moorehouse had been a member of the Manson Family since she was 15 years old. They met in 1967, and only three years later, she was lacing a burger with acid to dissuade a witness from testifying (See #6). By that time, she was fully invested in the Family, even joking about her anticipation to get her own “pig” when told by Susan Atkins about the Tate murders.
Just how did Manson get to travel around with a girl at just 15? At first, her parents, particularly her Protestant minister father, Dean Moorehouse, objected to the middle-aged convict fraternizing with his young daughter. After Ruth Ann ran away with Manson and Brunner, Dean tracked her down several times, the last of which had Manson giving the elder Moorehouse a hit of acid. Ruth Ann was married to a local man back home but soon fled to be with Manson again.
Dean tracked down his daughter again, but this time at the home of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson—where Manson and some of his girls were staying at the time. However, he didn’t take his daughter back home; instead, he allowed Manson to continue his relationship with his minor daughter. After being introduced to acid, Dean changed, and his Protestant beliefs were left behind with his old life. He became a believer in Manson, lived at Wilson’s mansion in California, and prompted the young people who came through to meet Manson.
7 The Hawthorne Incident
If the acid burger sounds like a crazy plan, buckle your seatbelts for the Hawthorne caper. When Manson and his co-conspirators were convicted and placed on death row, the Family members on the outside were restless and hatched a crazy plan to spring their leader from his fate. Mary Brunner and Catherine Share (Gypsy) were along for the ride. The plan was to steal enough weaponry and ammunition to break Manson out of jail, hijack an airplane, and then fly him out of the country.
This plan was built by Aryan Brotherhood member Kenneth Como after Manson had reached out to the Brotherhood for protection in jail. Ironically, at Manson’s request, Como was transferred to LA County as a witness in Manson’s trial for the Hinman and Shea murders. Como escaped, though, becoming the de facto organizer of the Family as Manson sat on death row.
While there, he was to help Manson escape. Needless to say, Como’s plan failed. The guns and ammunition they were attempting to steal were from a surplus store, and one of the employees pressed a silent alarm before they could finish collecting their arsenal of weapons. This turned violent quickly as Share, Brunner, Como, and others opened fire on the police. Both Brunner and a policeman were injured in the shootout, and both Brunner and Share were sent to jail to await trial. Brunner would eventually be sentenced to 20 years to life in prison; Share received 10 years to life for her involvement.
3 The Willett Murders
Gary Hinman’s name isn’t as well known as the Tate-Labiancas, neither is Shorty Shea’s. Even less well-known are the names, Lauren and James Willett. This couple met members of the Manson Family, Nancy Pitman, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, and Priscila Cooper. These three were accompanied by Michael Monfort and James Craig. They all were living in a home together in California. They lived together, committed crimes together, and cared for the Willett’s baby girl, Heidi, together.
However, something must have gone wrong with the companions, as James Willett’s body was found in a grave so shallow his hand was above the ground. Shortly after that, the police came to search the home of the Willetts, only to find that baby Heidi was the only Willett at the residence. Then they found Lauren’s body buried in the dirt in the crawl space of the cabin. Montfort, Nancy’s boyfriend at the time, took the blame for the two murders, while Nancy pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to five years in prison. Somehow, Fromme wasn’t charged and walked away scot-free.
2 Order of the Rainbow
Some of Manson’s girls outlasted the others. This group of women were dubbed The Order of the Rainbow and were given colors for names. Lynette Fromme was the most well-known after the 1975 attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford. Dressed in a solid red robe, she gave homage to the color she was given with a new name—Red. Sandra Good, a long-time follower of Manson, was named Blue. She was eventually imprisoned for sending threatening letters to businesses that she believed were hurting the environment.
Nancy Pitman was a follower long enough to receive the name Gold. However, she replaced Manson with Montfort, even marrying him while he was in prison for the Willett Murders. Catherine Gillies was rewarded by her unfailing loyalty with the name Silver. The women who went to trial with him were also given colors. Although most of them denounced Manson shortly after they were split up in prison, he still tried to command a presence in their lives for quite some time. Susan Atkins was given Violet, Patricia Krenwinkel was Yellow, and Leslie Van Houten—Green.
These colors were meant to correspond with elements of the earth as he tried to rebrand himself with the beliefs of ATWA. Manson’s updated preaching was meant to save the Air, Trees, Water, and Animals. Both Good and Fromme were motivated in their criminal actions on behalf of this newfound organization.
10 The Newest Manson Girl
Afton Elaine Burton began a correspondence with Manson at only 17 years old. Manson was 80 years old at the time their “romance” began. Not unlike some of Manson’s early followers, Afton was raised in a religious family in a small town. As early as she could, she moved to Corcoran, California, where Manson served his time in prison. She believed in the ATWA message and did not believe Manson was guilty of his crimes. Their relationship even came close to the point of marriage—they were engaged to be married. A marriage license was even drawn up in 2015. She took care of Manson’s website and sent him money and care packages, visiting him as often as possible. Though Manson claims they were never going to get married—and they didn’t.
Even this modern Manson girl had a morbid side, however. One of the reasons she was interested in Manson was his fame. Even though she dedicated her time to caring for him and spouted support for his innocence online, she had another motivation for that marriage certificate to be signed. She had a long game in her relationship with Manson. If their marriage was legal, she would have the right to his corpse when he died. She wanted to encase his body in glass and charge admission for people to see his corpse. Afton, named Star by Manson, certainly had her own issues regarding the finality of life. If nothing else was consistent about Manson, he surely had a type.