The Manson Women and Me
In the summer of 1969, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel carried out horrific acts of butchery on the orders of the charismatic cult leader Charles Manson. But to anyone who knew them growing up, they were bright, promising girls, seemingly incapable of such an unfathomable crime.
Award-winning journalist Nikki Meredith began visiting Van Houten and Krenwinkel in prison to discover how they had changed during their incarceration. The more Meredith got to know them, the more she was lured into a deeper dilemma: What compels “normal” people to do unspeakable things?
The author’s relationship with her subjects provides a chilling lens through which we gain insight into a particular kind of woman capable of a particular kind of brutality. Through their stories, Nikki Meredith takes readers on a dark journey into the very heart of evil.
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About the Author
Nikki Meredith is an award-winning journalist, a licensed clinical social worker, and a former probation officer. She has been a feature reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, the Marin Independent Journal, and the Pacific Sun. Her work has appeared in Parenting, Psychology Today, Health, USA Today, and Utne Reader. She lives near San Francisco. Visit her at www.nikkimeredith.com.
Read an Excerpt
When the killers were ultimately identified, the dread only intensified. Manson, the mastermind of the carnage, was scary. But the young women he controlled didn’t look like anyone’s idea of cold-blooded murderers. They looked like our sisters, our daughters, our friends—ourselves—and yet their bloodthirsty behavior was something out of a horror movie.
Twenty years ago, I began visiting Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel in prison. I wanted to know if these women were radically different from the young women who carried out Charles Manson’s barbaric orders in 1969. If they were different, how did they understand what happened?
In grappling with the brutality of the events, I learned a great deal about human behavior, much of it disheartening, but some of it proof of our capacity as humans to transform ourselves, even those of us who have committed unspeakable acts.
Table of Contents
Foreword Caitlin Meredith xi
1 The Formosa Café 9
2 Abigail Folger's Smile 16
3 "Healter Skelter" 21
4 Banned-Tools of the Trade 25
5 Unfathomable Remorse 27
6 Wallet on the Beach 33
7 Mrs. Tate's Fury 37
8 Living Without Hope 40
9 Orphaned by the Holocaust 44
10 Mondo Video A-Go-Go 55
11 Disordered Thoughts and Demented Machinations 61
12 "I Felt Like a Predator" 66
13 Folie à famille 69
14 Falling in Love with Anne Frank 74
15 Everybody Can Be a Killer 82
16 "Is There Anything Worse Than Dying in Terror?" 88
17 The Empathic Brain 91
18 Unforgetting Retribution 96
19 Dues-Paying Member of the Little Wildlife Society 98
20 "They Were on a Tear" 104
21 Dreaming of Hitler 107
22 The Need for a Scapegoat 109
23 An Abiding Friend to Families of Victims 114
24 The Agony of Mothers 117
25 Homecoming Princess 122
26 A Good Soldier 126
27 Searching for a Cessna 133
28 The Metaphorical Microscope 142
29 Decoding Manson 151
30 Broken Empathy Circuit 154
31 "Leslie Is My Daughter" 160
32 Ich bin ein Jude 164
33 Bad Apples or Bad Barrel? 169
34 A Psychedelic City-State 173
35 "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo" 182
36 Micheltorena Hill 188
37 Mule Creek Prison 192
38 Every Facet of Her Mothering 202
39 A Lethal Convergence 209
40 "You Couldn't Find a Nicer Group of People" 212
41 Pat's Anger 215
42 Scapegoats-The Need to Blame 220
43 "She Did Appeal to My Humanity but I Had None to Give Her" 229
44 The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang 232
45 Heaven's Gate 238
46 A Different Pat 241
47 The Terror of Being Excluded 243
48 Hatred More Powerful Than a Mother's Love 245
49 The Shade Trees of Hollywood High 251
50 Fused Identities 255
51 A Drop of Jewish Blood 258
52 A Make-Believe Dodge 270
53 "A Damn Good Whacking" 275
54 The Swastika 278
55 Yes, She Would Kill for Him 280
56 Insatiable and Warped Need for Love 282
57 The Ultimatum 284
58 The Truth Is, the Truth Doesn't Matter 288
59 Not That Kind of Girl 299
60 We Are All Rwandan 311
61 "You Took God Away from Me" 314
62 Unforgetting, Unforgiving 320
63 "I'd Be Nice to a Stray Dog If It Needed Help" 326
64 The Mothers Who Poisoned Their Babies at Jonestown Haunt Her 331
65 Starlight Ballroom 336
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is 15% about the Manson women and 85% about the author coming to terms with her Jewish Blood. Save your money. Nothing new to learn, unless you are having trouble dealing with being Jewish! I paid $1.99 for this book, and still feel I paid $1.90 too much!
An interesting look at two of the women in the Manson family. The author details her visits with Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krewnwinkel in prison. I with Meredith left out the stories regarding her own background and family because they didn't exactly fit into the narrative. This book reads more like a memoir than true crime.
Nikki Meredith’s personal experiences and relationships with Patricia Krenwinkle and Leslie Van Houten is a fascinating and in depth dealing with understanding and empathy. The book is not a sensationalised account of two murderers and a journalist hoping to find an angle that will push this further. What we have is a book that is thought provoking and raises questions on the human spirit and asks can a person change from their early self. Meredith has a very interesting writing style that delves the reader into the subject matter without speaking down or pushing her ideals forth. Her strengths comes with providing the facts and letting the reader come up with their own understanding and she gives you enough time to digest the information before moving on. Interestingly enough, the author was in high school who would become a Manson member years later. She looks into their relationship at this point and examines how they both changed as people. Starting out with very similar views but leading very different paths. This is what makes the book rich reading from my point of view, Meredith examines the situations with Krenwinkle and Van Houten and relates this to her own life and her own decisions and experiences. Leading in through this perspective, lifts the subject matter above the usual fare that is out there dealing with the Manson family or any true crime books out there. Meredith has provided an interesting subject and personalised it to become real. As for people’s understanding or changing of perspective on how you feel about Krenwinkle or Van Houten will depend on your own personal views but this book will challenge even though who have very strict views on this. This is an outstanding look into the lives of two women who made some bad decisions which lead them down a dark path whilst in their late teens to early 20’s and the prices they have paid. It deals with changes of personality, thoughts and overview people have as they go into their 60’s to 70’s. It is a fact that as we mature, we are seldom the same person we were in our younger days than what we are now. This is a must read and highly recommended. Fascinating, personable and thought provoking in an intelligent and personal way.
Thank you to the publisher Kensington Books who provided an advance reader copy via NetGalley. This book focuses primarily on Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, members of the notorious Manson family imprisoned since the 1970s involving the Sharon Tate and LaBianca murders in LA. While author Nikki Meredith also interviewed former Manson member Tex Watson in prison, she established a twenty-year relationship visiting Van Houten and Krenwinkel at the Frontera prison where they both are inmates. When the author initially broached interviewing these women, she also reached out to fellow former Manson family member Susan Atkins, also an inmate at Frontera. Although Atkins initially seemed open to it, she ultimately denied access claiming it would interfere with another media project she was involved with. In hindsight, Nikki Meredith was relieved of the abandoned Atkins interview opportunity; she sensed an inherit evil about Atkins that she did not find in Van Houten and Krenwinkel. Atkins died in prison in 2009 from brain cancer. Not only is this book about the Manson women, but about the author herself, and some connections she has to people involved in the Manson/LaBianca orbit. She was high school friends with a girl named Catherine Share who later became Manson family member and recruiter "Gypsy". She also was high school friends with Stephen Kay, who became deputy district attorney in LA, working directly under lead Manson prosecutor Victor Bugliosi during that trial. She also has the experience of her brother having spent a short time in prison, and leading a rehabilitated, meaningful and successful life afterwards. Finally, Meredith has been a magazine writer, NPR reporter, award-winning Bay Area journalist, family therapist and probation officer. It is with this varied professional and personal background that she delves into the psyche of these Manson women. The parts about the book I found most interesting were the author's meetings and conversations with Van Houten and Krenwinkel in prison. She also had the opportunity to interview a couple of their parents. Throughout the book, she tries to come to conclusions as to whether they are rehabilitated, how they really feel about what they did, and to figure out how they became brainwashed by Manson. Interspersed throughout the book she cites various psychological studies regarding people who murder and how they can become immune to feeling anything about it. Although I read a least half of these accounts, I admit I tired of the medical jargon and began to page through these sections. I was more interested in the one-on-one experiences the author had with the Manson women. Ultimately, the author's opinion (and that of the parole board) is that Leslie Van Houten should be paroled after her almost 50 years in prison. However, Governor Jerry Brown once again declined her parole in January 2018, although this had still been undecided at the time of this book's writing.