The Truth About Charles Manson's Girlfriends

For half a century, the name Charles Manson has been synonymous with murder and mayhem. Born Nov. 12, 1934, Manson entered the world with no name and no future. An unwanted child, his alcoholic mother once attempted to trade him for a pitcher of beer. Abused and neglected, Manson was in trouble at an early age. Sent to a reformatory at age 12 for truancy and theft, Manson graduated to more serious crimes. By 1967, Manson, then 32, had spent most of his life in state custody for crimes ranging from auto theft to pimping.

Paroled after a seven year prison sentence for check forgery and transporting women across state lines for illegal sex work, reports Rolling Stone, Manson found the world had dramatically changed during his incarceration. It was Summer of Love of 1967. A new, youth-driven counterculture based on peace and love was sweeping the nation. Charismatic and conniving, Manson would exploit the freewheeling zeitgeist of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury to satiate his lusts for sex, power, and murder.

A self-styled spiritual leader, Manson attracted a group of disaffected young people looking for a way of life different from that of their parents' generation. Composed largely of young women with traditional middle-class backgrounds, Manson's "Family" appeared to be just another hippie commune. Yet, behind the peace and love facade, Manson was weaponizing these all American girls-next-door into bloodthirsty murderers. These are the shocking true stories of the women who fell under Charles Manson's spell.

Charles Manson's marriages

Long before Charles Manson became a notorious cult leader and murderer, he once made an attempt at living life on the straight and narrow. As detailed by Oxygen, Manson, 20, met 15-year-old Rosalie Jean Willis at a bar in McMechen, W.V. Described as "quiet" and "reserved," Wilson worked in a grocery store when she met and fell in love with Manson. Married in 1955, the couple settled down to a relatively quiet life in the small West Virginia town. However, when Willis became pregnant, the couple was confronted with a dire financial situation. At first, Manson attempted to work two jobs, but soon he was back to his criminal ways to make ends meet. After stealing a car to move his growing family to Los Angeles, Manson was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. The couple divorced in 1958 when Willis began seeing another man.

As revealed in Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter, Manson began to actively procure women for illegal sex work following his release from his first prison term. Among his roster of illegal sex workers was a young woman named Leona "Candy" Stevens. When Manson was arrested for transporting Stevens across state lines for illegal sex work, Manson married her, likely in an attempt to keep her from testifying against him. Their union resulted in one child, a son named Charles Luther Manson. Stevens divorced Manson in 1963 while he was incarcerated at the federal penitentiary at McNeil Island, Wash., for check forgery.

Mary Brunner, the librarian who took Charles Manson in

Mary Brunner, a 23-year-old librarian employed at the University of California, was the first of Charles Manson's recruits. A native of Eau Claire, Wisc., Brunner had graduated from the University of Wisconsin before migrating west to take a position as a library assistant at the UC Berkeley campus.

Brunner met the recently paroled Manson playing guitar outside the university's gates. In Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, the late Los Angeles district attorney relates the story of Brunner's first meeting with the 33-year-old cult leader as told to him by Manson associate Danny DeCarlo. "She was out walking her dog," DeCarlo said. "High button blouse. Nose stuck up in the air, walking her little poodle. And Charlie's fresh out of the joint and along he comes talking his bullsh**."

Soon after, Manson moved into Brunner's apartment. Manson would move other young women into Brunner's home, including Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme. At first reluctant to share her home with Manson's other lovers, Brunner relented, quit her job, and began roaming Southern California with the newly christened Family.

Implicated in the Family's murder of music teacher Gary Hinman, Brunner was given immunity from prosecution for her testimony. In 1971, Brunner was arrested along with other members of the Family for the armed robbery of a Western Surplus Store in Hawthorne, Calif., that ended in a shoot-out with police. Sentenced to 20 years to life, Brunner was paroled in 1977 and disappeared from the public eye.

Susan Atkins, Charles Manson's murderous main lady

The most notorious of Charles Manson's women, Susan Atkins is best remembered for telling Sharon Tate, "... I don't care if you're going to have a baby. ... You're going to die and I don't feel anything about it," before murdering the pregnant actress.

Atkins grew up in Northern California with her parents Jeanette and Edward and her two brothers. As documented in a 1976 interview, Atkins was a popular babysitter who captained her school swim team. Active in her church choir, she once led a chorus in Christmas carols outside her dying mother's hospital room. Atkins would tell 60 Minutes Australia that her outwardly normal upbringing hid a horrific childhood. "I'm the child of two alcoholic parents," Atkins stated. "I'm a victim of incest. My mother died when I was 14."

A runaway at 18, Atkins supported herself as a telemarketer and a waitress. Desperate and depressed, Atkins turned to crime. She spent three months in prison for her participation in an armed robbery. Upon her release, she worked as a topless dancer and performed in a stage review conceived by Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey.

Sentenced to death for the Tate murders, Atkins instead served a life sentence when California abolished the death penalty in 1972. Atkins became a born again Christian and claimed that Charles "Tex” Watson was the sole killer of the occupants at 10050 Cielo Drive. Denied a compassionate release, Atkins died of brain cancer at the California Central Women's Facility at Chowchilla in 2009.

Charles Manson controlled Leslie Van Houten with drugs and sex

Leslie Van Houten was raised in a conservative, middle-class family in Southern California. Another typical, girl-next-door, Van Houten, according to Ed Sanders, author of The Family, had served as freshman class treasurer at Monrovia High School. Like Susan Atkins, Van Houten had also been active in her church's choir. As documented by Biography, she was a popular and outgoing teen. Attractive and athletic, Van Houten was even elected homecoming princess by her high school class. Yet, all was not well in the Van Houten home. According to court records, her parents divorced when she was 14. Around the same time, she started experimenting with psychedelic drugs, such as mescaline and LSD.

After graduating high school, Van Houten attended Sawyer College and earned a legal secretary certificate. However, she grew dissatisfied with the prospects of a typical, suburban existence. Seeking spiritual enlightenment, she dropped out, took up yoga, and became involved with the Self Realization Fellowship. Her quest would eventually lead her to Charles Manson.

"(I heard) that he was like Christ and he had the answers," Van Houten told ABC's Diane Sawyer in 1993. "... I felt that I had met someone that by being around him, would have a positive change." However, after her conviction for her involvement in the Family's murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, Van Houten grew to see Manson as a master manipulator who used drugs and sex to coerce impressionable young people to do his bidding.

Patricia "Katie" Krenwinkel was easy pickings

Patricia Krenwinkel, along with Charles "Tex" Watson, participated in both the Tate and LaBianca killings. Known to her cohorts in the Manson Family as "Katie," Krenwinkel grew up an overweight, insecure teen in Los Angeles. Suffering from an endocrine condition that caused her to have an overabundance of body hair, Krenwinkel was often subjected to bullying by her peers. Haunted by low self-esteem, Krenwinkel withdrew into herself and turned to religion for solace.

According to the Manson Family research site, Krenwinkel's parents divorced when she was 17. After high school, Krenwinkel moved to Alabama with her mother where she taught catechism (Catholic religious instruction) and considered becoming a nun. After a single semester at a Jesuit college, Krenwinkel dropped out and returned to California. She met Charles Manson, Mary Brunner, and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme in September 1967, in Manhattan Beach. 

Preying on Krenwinkel's insecurities, Manson seemed to offer her the acceptance and love she desperately craved. In a 1993 interview, Krenwinkel recalled meeting Manson to Diane Sawyer. "That night, we slept together, and I felt really loved by him," Krenwinkel said. "... He said, 'Oh, You're beautiful.' I couldn't believe that. I just started crying. ... He would look at you and smile and somehow I felt like, 'Oh, I'm a part of this.'"

Krenwinkel, who stabbed coffee heiress Abigail Folger to death at the Cielo Drive house and allegedly carved the word "WAR" into Leno LaBianca's abdomen, has been repeatedly denied parole over the 50 years since her imprisonment.

Linda Kasabian, the woman who testified against Charles Manson

Linda Kasabian, 20, had been at the Manson Family's enclave at the Spahn movie ranch for just over a month when Charles Manson ordered her to drive Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel to 10050 Cielo Drive on the night of Aug. 8, 1969. Manson's choice of Kasabian was purely utilitarian — she was the only member of the Family with a valid driver's license, and a traffic violation was a legal hassle they couldn't afford. She would again take the wheel of the 1959 Ford Galaxie belonging to ranch hand Johnny Swartz to ferry Manson and group to the LaBiancas' home the following night.

As documented by, Kasabian, born Linda Drouin in Biddeford, Maine, in 1949, left high school and married at age 16. The union was short-lived and ended in divorce. She later married Robert Kasabian. Self-professed hippies, the couple traveled the country living in various communes. When Linda's relationship with Robert Kasabian soured, she left for Spahn Ranch at the invitation of Catherine Share, where she fell in with Manson's group.

Linda witnessed the murders of Steven Parent and Wojciech Frykowski at Cielo Drive and likely prevented the death of actor Saladin Nader the night the LaBiancas were murdered by directing Manson to the wrong address. Kasabian testified against Manson in exchange for immunity from prosecution and was instrumental in convicting the cult leader. According to a 2009 interview with CNN's Larry King, Linda Kasabian now lives under an assumed identity.

Catherine Share recruited girls for The Family

At 28, Catherine Share, aka "Gypsy," was the oldest female member of the Family and Charles Manson's primary recruiter. According to former Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, author of Helter Skelter, Share was an ardent Manson devotee and a skilled liar who improbably attempted to implicate Linda Kasabian as the mastermind of the Tate-LaBianca murders. Share also had the most unusual background of any of Manson's women. Born in Paris, France, in 1942, her father was a Hungarian violinist and her mother was a German-Jewish refugee. At the height of World War II, Share's parents, both active members of the French underground, committed suicide. Share was placed in an orphanage and adopted by an American couple at age 8.

A talented musician, Share was a virtuoso violinist from childhood and possessed a powerful singing voice. In 1965, she recorded a single titled "Ain't it, Babe?" for Autumn Records under the stage name Charity Shayne. Share also found work as an actress taking bit parts in several movies. She met Manson follower Bobby Beausoleil on the set of Ramrodder, a Western-themed softcore porn film shot in Topanga Canyon. Beausoleil introduced Share to Manson, and she instantly fell for the charismatic ex-con's freewheeling philosophy.

Share was wounded three times in the Family's shootout with police following the attempted armed robbery of a Western Surplus Store in Hawthorne, Calif. The robbery and ensuing shootout landed Share in prison for three-and-a-half years.

Ruth Ann Moorehouse's father introduced her to Charles Manson

Ruth Ann Moorehouse, known in the Family as "Ouisch," was just 16 years old when she ran off with Charles Manson. Ironically, it was Moorehouse's own father, Dean Moorehouse, who introduced her to the cult leader. In 1967, Dean Moorehouse picked up Manson, Mary Brunner, and Lynette Fromme hitchhiking and brought them to his home for a meal. A former minister, Moorehouse took the opportunity to preach the gospel to his young, hippie guests. Manson had little interest in the impromptu sermon. He was too busy eying young Ruth Ann. With little prompting, Manson convinced her to leave with him and his followers. None too pleased with the wild-eyed drifter's designs on his minor daughter, Dean Moorehouse tracked Manson down and planned to kill him. Yet, according to Vincent Bugliosi, the potentially violent encounter ended with Dean on his knees worshipping Manson.

Although Ruth Ann was not involved with the Tate-LaBianca murders, she bragged of her knowledge of the crimes, stating that she knew of at least ten other killings.

In 1970, she lured former Family member Barbara Hoyt to Honolulu, Hawaii. In a bizarre attempt to keep Hoyt from testifying against Manson, Ruth Ann fed her a hamburger laced with ten tabs of LSD. Hoyt recovered after a brief hospitalization and eventually took the stand against Manson.

According to, Ruth Ann moved on to a quiet, anonymous life with her husband and children somewhere in the Midwestern United States.

Dianne Lake, Charles Manson's youngest follower

Only 14 when she met Charles Manson, Dianne Lake was the youngest member of the Family. Lake's parents were early adherents of the counterculture who had dropped out of traditional society for a bohemian existence on hippie icon Wavy Gravy's Hog Farm commune. Emancipated from her parents, she joined Manson's cult. As documented by, Lake, dubbed "Snake" by Manson, suffered beatings and sexual assault at the hands of Manson and other members of the Family. Lake's testimony would prove pivotal in putting Manson behind bars.

Following a stay in a mental health facility, Lake was fostered by Detective Jack Gardiner (the officer who had arrested her at Barker Ranch) and returned to school. Settling into an anonymous, domestic life with her husband and children, Lake has spent the ensuing decades putting Manson behind her. In 2017, she wrote a memoir of her experiences in the cult titled Member of the Family.

For Lake, writing about her time in the Family was integral to her healing process. "People who have been victimized as children can carry that shame around like an awful weight as adults, and they don't have to," Lake told Newsweek. "I also want my story to help parents with teenagers. You have to keep lines of communication open no matter what."

Sandra Good, the environmental avenger

A loyal follower of Charles Manson's to this very day, Sandra Good maintains that the late cult leader was in no way involved in the Tate-LaBianca murders. Best remembered for brandishing a rifle and advocating violence in the 1973 documentary, Manson, Good is the most outspoken of Manson's remaining disciples. Taking on the name Blue as an adherent of Manson's self-styled religious sect The Order of the Rainbow, Good has spent much of her life as a militant defender of the environment. With fellow Family member Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (rechristened "Red"), Good founded the International People's Court of Retribution, a proposed "terrorist group" intent on killing the CEOs of companies that pollute the earth.

As reported by the Sacramento Bee, Good and her associate Susan Murphy were sentenced to 15 years in prison for sending threatening letters through the mail and making threatening phone calls. Released after serving ten years, Good continues to champion Manson's nature-based philosophy of Air, Trees, Water, Animals (ATWA).

Lynette Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford

Like Sandra Good, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme remains loyal to Charles Manson's ideals. The second of Manson's followers after Mary Brunner, Fromme did not take part in the Tate-LaBianca slayings but became notorious in her own right when she brandished a loaded .45 caliber automatic at President Gerald Ford in 1975 (via History). Having failed to chamber a round, the gun did not fire when Fromme pulled the trigger. As documented by Newsweek, Fromme served 34 years in prison for the assassination attempt. While in jail, she maintained a written correspondence with Manson. Fromme was paroled in 2009.

In a 2019 interview with ABC News, Fromme maintained her admiration for Manson. "I feel very honored to have met him," Fromme said. "And I know how that sounds to people who think he's the epitome of evil. ... Was I in love with Charlie? Yeah. Oh, Yeah! I still am. ... I don't think you fall out of love."

Star Burton, the woman who nearly married Charles Manson

The last young woman to fall under Charles Manson's spell was Afton Burton. Renamed "Star" by the imprisoned cult leader, Burton nearly married Manson in 2014. Burton, 26 at the time of her engagement to the 80-year-old Manson, became infatuated with the notorious criminal at age 17. Fascinated by Manson's pro-ecology philosophy of Air, Trees, Water, Animals/All The Way Alive (ATWA), Burton began writing letters to the cult leader. According to Time, Burton saved her earnings from working in a retirement home kitchen to move from Illinois to Corcoran, Calif., to be closer to Manson and would spend hours visiting with him in jail.

Although a marriage license was issued for the couple in November 2014, the relationship ended when Manson was placed in solitary confinement. However, some sources maintain that Manson declined to marry Burton when he learned that she planned to profit from displaying his corpse.