Manson Followers Haunted
The Manson Followers have been and are still haunted by their unspeakable crimes.
(AP) Forty years ago, they were kids.
Vulnerable, alienated, running away from a world racked by war and rebellion. They turned to a cult leader for love and wound up tied to a web of unimaginable evil.
They were part of Charles Manson's family and now, on the brink of old age, they are the haunted.
"I never have a day go by that I don't think about it, especially about the victims," says Barbara Hoyt, who was 17 the summer of the Sharon Tate-LaBianca murders.
The ones who aren't in prison are scattered across the U.S. Some live under assumed names. Some have undergone surgery to remove the X that Manson ordered them to carve on their foreheads. Some live with endless regret.
Those who escaped taking part in the spasm of terror that snuffed out at least nine lives seem to be lucky. But their lives have been linked forever to one of the craziest mass murders in history.
"Manson made a lot of victims besides the ones he killed," said Catherine Share, who once lived with the Manson family under the nickname Gypsy.
"He destroyed lives. There are people sitting in prison who wouldn't be there except for him."
It was 1969, the summer of the first moon landing. War raged in Vietnam. Hippies were on the streets of San Francisco. For many, that summer is remembered for one thing -- the most shocking celebrity murders ever to hit Los Angeles.
On the morning of Aug. 9, a housekeeper ran screaming from a home in lush Benedict Canyon. She had found a scene of unspeakable carnage -- five bodies scattered around the estate.
The most famous, actress Sharon Tate, 26, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, had been stabbed multiple times. Abigail Folger, 25, heiress to a coffee fortune, Jay Sebring, 35, celebrity hair stylist, Voyteck Frykowski, 32, a Polish film director, and Steven Parent, 18, a friend of the caretaker, were found stabbed or shot.
On the front door the victims' blood was used to scrawl the words, Death to Pigs.
The city was thrown into a state of fear. Then, a similar scene was discovered the next night.
Wealthy grocer Leno La Bianca, 44, and his wife Rosemary, 38, were found stabbed to death in their home across town. The killer had carved the word WAR on Leno La Bianca's body. The words Helter Skelter were written in blood on the refrigerator.
"These murders were probably the most bizarre in the recorded annals of American crime," said Vincent Bugliosi, the former deputy district attorney who prosecuted the killers and wrote the book Helter Skelter.
It would be more than three months before the name Charles Manson was linked to the crimes. And then the story became even weirder.
The discovery of Manson's clan, maybe 30 of them, living in a high desert commune opened up the astounding story of an ex-convict who had gathered young people into a cult and ordered them to kill.
"It was a real-life horror story," recalled Stephen Kay, who also prosecuted the Manson Family. "Manson is the real-life Freddie Kruger."
Those cult members lucky enough not to have killed for Manson have spent decades trying to bury their past and free themselves from his grasp.
Some never succeeded. Sandra Good and Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme later committed crimes that they said were for Manson and went to federal prison.
When Good, 65, was paroled she moved near Manson's maximum security prison, reportedly so she could "feel his vibes." Fromme, 60, is due for parole soon after serving 33 years for the attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford.
Those who are free are still trying to sort out how they fell under his spell and how close they came to one of the worst crimes of the 20thcentury. This is the anniversary of their nightmare.
They were very young when they found Manson -- or he found them.
"We were just a bunch of kids looking for love and attention," recalls Share, 66. "He was everything to us. He was a con, a manipulator of the worst kind."
Hoyt was a 17-year-old who left home after an argument with her father. She was eating her lunch under a tree when a group of Manson followers came along in a van and asked her to go with them to a house in the San Fernando Valley.
"I met Charlie the next morning," she said. "He took me for a motorcycle ride, and we went for doughnuts. He was very nice. I thought he was pretty neat."
She said she was told by others of Manson's prediction of a race war that would destroy all but his followers. They would go to the desert to live in a bottomless pit until it was safe for them to emerge and take over the world. She said she didn't believe much of it, but they were fixing up dune buggies for their escape and it was fun.
Hoyt and Share eluded being tapped for the Tate-LaBianca murders for different reasons.
"He asked me one time if I could kill, and I said if someone asked me, I would talk my way out of it," Hoyt said. "I wasn't as dead in the head as others."
Others had joined the family long before she had and had been subject to Manson's deprogramming, which included group sex and LSD trips.
Share said she wasn't asked, because she was older and also because she was heavy and couldn't climb through a window.
"I was just short of murdering for him. If he had told me to get some black clothes and get in a car, I would have."
Share went to prison for five years for involvement in a Manson family robbery and later did more time for credit card fraud. She said the time in prison helped her recover, and she became a Christian. She went into retail sales and has just finished a book about her experiences with the Manson family.
Hoyt went to college and became a nurse. She is proud of her accomplishments.
"I raised my daughter. I have my own home, and I've had some vacations," she said. But memories haunt her, and she doesn't reveal where she's living.
She keeps track of the Manson family members in prison and writes letters urging they never be released.