Messed Up Rules The Manson Family Had To Follow

In the annals of American true crime history, few groups rival the notoriety attained by the Manson "Family." The communal cult, led by Charles Milles Manson, forever engraved its name in infamy after committing the horrific murders of Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in August 1969. Prior to the grisly historic murders, the group already displayed a wild streak of cold and unpredictable tendencies, which were encouraged — and expected — by Manson himself.

Indeed, Manson had his own deranged set of expectations for his followers. He did not tolerate hesitation. To be with him and to be part of his "community," one needed to be totally obedient and exhibit unwavering loyalty; questioning Manson, whose horrid ego was boundless, could result in emotional and physical harm. "Small and scrawny, he was also charismatic and held an almost hypnotic power over his followers, especially women ... [He] had an insatiable need to control others, prompting him to recruit naive and malleable acolytes to his family" (per The Independent).

Manson's abject expectations for his underlings ran far and wide. To be a member of the Family meant adhering to his unhinged rules, of which there were many.

Manson needed his followers to be on LSD

LSD — famed to have been partaken by the Beatles — is one of the most consistent and prevalent elements present in accounts of the Manson Family. At their home at Spahn Ranch, the drug was frequently used in group settings, with Charles Manson often being the one distributing doses to his followers; during these moments, he would always be sure to take less than his followers — or not partake at all — to better preserve his awareness. They were also the ultimate opportunity for him to preach and present himself as a prophet-like figure to an addled audience.

As Jeff Guinn, author of "Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson," describes, the Family's frequent acid trips were also an invaluable weapon for the cult leader to cement his brutal authority and instill fear. "Charlie's rule was that everyone had to stay seated wherever he placed them. Sometimes a Family participant was overwhelmed enough on a trip to jump up without Charlie's permission, and whenever that happened he would hit the offender with his fist or, sometimes, with one of the chairs."

Prospective followers had LSD thrust upon them almost immediately. Such was the case with 17-year-old Stephanie Schram, who first met and joined up with Manson in Big Sur, California, in August 1969. According to "The Family" by Ed Sanders and Schram herself, Manson was quick to force LSD upon her during a sexual encounter: "Manson took her down into a Big Sur canyon, stuffed a tab of dope into her mouth and ordered her to swallow it."

Charles Manson instructed his followers that they had to literally live in fear

One of the most bizarre and cruelest desires Charles Manson had for his followers was for them to live in literal fear. The cult leader was obsessed with the emotion, equating it to awareness. Dennis Wilson, drummer of The Beach Boys, once famously parroted Manson's "teachings" during an interview with Rave, a British pop magazine. "Fear is nothing but awareness. I was only frightened as a child because I did not understand fear, the dark, being lost, what was under the bed. It came from within" (per "The Life and Times of Charles Manson").

Manson would make it a habit to seek out a follower's worst fear as a form of control. According to Paul Watkins, one of the many infamous associates of Manson, the latter abruptly attacked and choked him one day at Spahn Ranch. Manson only let go when Watkins stopped resisting. "It was really weird ... The instant I stopped fearing him, his hands flew off my throat and he jumped back as if he'd been attacked by an unseen force," Watkins explained to Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who put Manson away, and the author of "Helter Skelter." He added, "Fear turns Charlie on."

Manson's followers were not allowed to read books

Charles Manson's authority over his followers was maintained with a steel grip. He expected steadfast loyalty from those around him, and a major part of this allegiance involved never questioning his logic or teachings. This meant that Family members didn't need to be learning on their own time, as that would be blasphemy of the highest order. Manson was the only source of education they required, so much so that the simple act of reading in front of him could lead to a hostile reaction.

Manson's mighty ego forbade Family members from reading books. "All anyone needed to know was whatever Charlie wanted them to. Authors were evil, trying to play mind control games on readers. Charlie went so far as to burn some books in front of the others" (per Jeff Guinn in "The Life and Times of Charles Manson").

Naturally, this rule did not apply to Manson. The conniving cult leader was one for constant ramblings; he enjoyed reading from the Bible and portraying himself as a messiah-like figure. Apparently, his terrifying brain was the only well of knowledge his followers need drink from.

Glasses were strictly forbidden

The self-proclaimed prophet Charles Manson was vehemently against an innocuous but essential item for many people: eyeglasses. "You don't need those glasses. You're wearing them because you were told you needed them," Manson declared in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone

This aversion to glasses plagued Family members. Their leader breaking glasses was a recurring theme at Spahn Ranch. Recruits had theirs taken away upon joining, with Manson citing his belief that whatever kind of vision they possessed without glasses, that was the only natural and proper way to view the world. According to Jeff Guinn's "The Life and Times of Charles Manson," some followers "developed permanent squints."

Glasses and books weren't the only everyday objects that Manson made menaces out of. He seemed to abhor anything that could tell time; clocks, calendars, and watches had no place on Spahn Ranch. Per Guinn: "[H]e wanted everyone to concentrate on the now rather than worry about what some soulless gadget said was the correct time." Between the urging of consistent LSD usage and loathing anything that could give his members a sense of time, and banning the very object that could help them literally see, Manson relished in controlling and manipulating a follower's reality on all levels.

Manson Family members were constantly sent on 'creepy crawls'

"Creepy crawling" — invading and sneaking into a family's home without being caught — was a Manson Family pastime. "They would pick a house at random, anywhere in Los Angeles, slip in while the occupants were asleep, creep and crawl around the rooms silently, maybe move things so when the people awakened they wouldn't be in the same place they had been when they went to bed" (per "Helter Skelter"). These incursions were anything but benign, with Charles Manson's followers often carrying knives. Vincent Bugliosi famously pointed to how these break-ins could be considered a preparatory prelude to something far more sinister, like murder. 

It did not take long for these late-night expeditions to move past simply breaking and entering. Stealing soon became the name of the game, with Manson being especially interested in credit cards. On one creepy crawl, he sent some followers to steal a telescope from the home of Terry Melcher — the record producer who shot down his musical aspirations. Eventually, theft was no longer enough, with Manson seeing ominous opportunities for creepy crawls to possibly escalate into kidnappings.

Female Manson followers were forbidden from going to hospitals to give birth

To Charles Manson, everything needed to be "natural," especially in regard to one's health. The wonders of modern medicine clashed with his core beliefs — nowhere is this more evident than Manson barring his female followers from giving birth at hospitals. No matter what, pregnant members of the Manson Family were always expected to give birth far away from proper medical attention and, more than likely, in abject conditions.

When Mary Brunner, one of the Family's most infamous members and Charles Manson's many girlfriends, gave birth to Manson's son in April 1968, her pleas to be taken to a hospital were ignored. Manson ordered the other women nearby to assist despite their protests. Miraculously, Brunner and the child survived a breech birth. 

Vincent Bugliosi famously alleged that Manson bit through the baby's umbilical cord. Decades later, Dianne Lake, who was a teenager when she joined the group, acknowledged that Manson had asked her to bite through the umbilical cord when Susan Atkins gave birth in October 1968. Other accounts claim that Manson cut the cord with some guitar string. 

Members of the Manson family were not allowed to refuse sex

Sex was a common tool Charles Manson relied on to recruit other men into his group. He often ordered the women around him to have sex with potential candidates or any man who could offer some type of assistance. If a woman ever declined Manson's sexual orders, he would physically assault them.

To Manson, it was crucial that every follower of his be sexually liberated, which, to him, meant two things: showing zero inhibition and never refusing him. During the endless group orgies that occurred on Spahn Ranch, Manson hawkishly checked for anyone displaying unwillingness. If he believed someone was displaying hesitancy toward specific sexual acts, Manson would make them do the exact thing that made them uncomfortable.

If Manson detected a follower not being "submissive enough," the results could be disastrous. Such was the case for Dianne Lake, a teenage follower who was sexually assaulted by Manson. A year after joining the communal cult, Lake had believed Manson had grown distant from her. "I was feeling kind of alone," she explained in a 2019 interview with Fredrik Skavlan. "I wanted him to make love to me like he used to. So, I approached him, tried to seduce him in my own way. He didn't make love to me the way I was expecting. He turned me around and sodomized me. 'That's the way we do it in prison' [Manson said]. And left me crying."

Followers had to embrace Charles Manson's racist ideology

By all accounts, Charles Manson was a staunch racist ideologue, whose beliefs were vehemently rooted in prejudice against Black people. Multiple historical accounts point to Manson's dreadful fascination with the Beatles' "White Album," an album he truly believed to somehow be predictive of some type of apocalyptic race war that would engulf the United States. 

Manson would terrorize his follower's minds with his bizarre and fanatical predictions, promising that terrible punishment would befall them in the upcoming cataclysm — which he dubbed "Helter Skelter," a song from the "White Album" — if they did not heed his words. "[A] terrible fate awaited anyone trying to leave the Family now, he cautioned. All of them were white, and any deserters who weren't killed in the coming racial cataclysm would undoubtedly be made into slaves serving Black masters. Their choice was slave or ruler" (via "The Life and Times of Charles Manson").

Naturally, followers were expected to adhere to and even act on these beliefs should the need arise. This is illustrated to full effect on the night of the truly messed-up LaBianca murders, when Manson drove Linda Kasabian and two other followers away to dispose of Rosemary LaBianca's wallet somewhere in a "colored neighborhood," where they hoped a random Black bystander would pick it up and use the credit cards inside (per "The Life and Times of Charles Manson"). Kasabian ended up being ordered to plant the wallet in a gas station restroom for a Black woman to find.

Female followers were expected to do the heavy lifting when it came to providing

The Manson Family was often scraping by. Life on Spahn Ranch and under Charles Manson's "tutelage" was not the most luxurious. However, by all accounts, food was plentiful, but only through the constant labor of the female followers, who were often expected to poke through dumpsters for anything edible and handle all of the cooking on Spahn Ranch. Such excursions were a foundational aspect of being a female member of the Manson Family. "Meals were exclusively prepared, served, and cleaned up after by the girls because these tasks were defined by Charlie as women's work, the proper role for all women all of the time being the service and gratification of men" (per "The Life and Times of Charles Manson").

Beyond dumpster diving, as Manson and the group explored other methods for obtaining basic provisions, the burden continued to fall on the shoulders of female Family members, who were often tasked with seducing male grocery store clerks in exchange for food.

Female followers were not allowed to carry money

Barring female followers from carrying money was one of the many sexist demands Charles Manson made of his Family. According to multiple accounts, it's evident that he wanted his followers to be extremely isolated emotionally, physically, and financially. Sandy Good is a prime example of this. Upon first joining the Family, she gave Manson $6,000. She also received a monthly stipend of $200 from her father, which went directly to Manson.

A potential recruit's financials were of extreme importance to Manson. "There had to be some immediate advantage to Charlie for a person to be invited to join" (per Jeff Guinn's "The Life and Times of Charles Manson"). However, if and when the group ever gained some cash, Manson forbade female followers from carrying a single penny. If they had to run an errand or were tasked with scrounging for food in the city, they needed to be accompanied by a man, who in turn took any money they might have found.

This was little more than another form of sadistic and complete domination. Once a female follower was on Spahn Ranch, surrounded by those loyal to Manson and with no money in their pockets, they were utterly reliant on their overseer's generosity, and had little to no way of fleeing.

They were expected to commit violent acts, and even kill

The most appalling expectation Charles Manson had for his Family, as proved by the Tate-LaBianca killings, was that he believed they should be ready and able to kill for him — especially if he showed the same apparent willingness. This came into sharp relief in July 1969, when Manson entered into a serious altercation with Bernard Crowe, a Black drug dealer. "Tex" Watson — one of Manson's most notable followers — had stolen $2,500 from Crowe, and when he met with the cult leader to demand his money back, Manson shot him in the stomach. 

Mistakenly believing that he had killed Crowe — and that the drug dealer had connections to the Black Panthers — Manson feared retribution. He entered a frantic state and put Spahn Ranch on high alert, and, according to Ed Sanders, would later use the shooting against Watson a month later, shortly before the Tate-LaBianca murders. "Manson prepared Watson for the event by blaming him for the 'killing' of Bernard Crowe. It was Tex's fault [Manson] had to shoot him; therefore Watson owed him plenty" (via "The Family"). As always, Manson was never going to allow himself to be in a vulnerable position where an acolyte had any cards to use against him, and extended this into an expectation for his followers to kill on his command.

For those interested in learning more about Charles Manson and his many followers, be sure to check out Grunge's strangest mysteries still surrounding the Manson Family.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, may be the victim of child abuse, or is dealing with spiritual abuse, contact the relevant resources below: