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. “I’ve long ago accepted the fact it will never go away.”
The ones who aren’t in prison are scattered across the U.S. Some live under assumed names to hide their past from friends and business associates. Some have undergone surgery to remove the “X” that Manson ordered them to carve on their foreheads, showing they were “X”ed out of society. Some live with endless regret.
Those who escaped taking part in the spasm of terror that snuffed out at least nine lives would 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. He took all of our lives.”
It was 1969, the summer of the first moon landing. War was raging in Vietnam. Hippies were in the streets of San Francisco, the last bastion of the waning counterculture movement.
For many, that summer is remembered for one thing — the most shocking celebrity murders to ever hit Los Angeles. Mention of the Sharon Tate murders or the name Manson four decades later is enough to make people shudder.
On the morning of Aug. 9, a housekeeper ran screaming from a home in lush Benedict Canyon. She had discovered a scene of unspeakable carnage. Five bodies were scattered around the estate.
The most famous, actress Sharon Tate, 26, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, had been stabbed multiple times. But there were four others that day and two more the next.
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, friend of the caretaker, were found stabbed or shot in a bloody scene.
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. If that was not enough, a similar murder 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. A 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 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. His reasons still remain a subject of debate. Some say he wanted to foment a race war; others say it was senseless.
“It was a real-life horror story,” recalled Stephen Kay, who also prosecuted the Manson Family. “Manson is the real-life Freddie Kruger.”
The former prosecutors worry that Manson, 74, is becoming a folk hero to a new generation. He is the subject of several websites, and Manson souvenirs are sold online.
“Evil has its lure and Manson has become a metaphor for evil,” said Bugliosi.
Those cult members lucky enough not to have killed for Manson on Aug. 9-10, 1969, have spent decades trying to bury their past and free themselves from his grasp.
Some never succeeded. Sandra Good and Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme committed crimes later that they said were for Manson and went to federal prison.
When Good, 65, was paroled she moved near the maximum security prison that holds Manson, reportedly so she could “feel his vibes.” Fromme, 60, is due for parole this summer after serving 33 years for the attempted assassination of president Gerald Ford.
In 1969, there were perhaps 30 of them, a ragtag band of runaways and dropouts living on a movie ranch in the San Fernando Valley, all loyal to a shaggy-haired con man who preached a gospel of violence. Five of the “Family” members and Manson are in prison for the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders. Three are in prison for others crimes and two have been released.
Those who are free are still trying to sort out how they fell under his spell and how they came so close to one of the worst crimes of the 20th century. This is the anniversary of their nightmare.
They were very young when they found Manson — or he found them. Some were just 14. Others were in their late teens and early 20s.
Share muses how she might have been a lawyer or journalist had she never met Manson.
“We were just a bunch of kids looking for love and attention and a different way to live,” 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 had left home after an argument with her father. She was sitting under a tree eating her lunch when a group of Manson followers came along in a van and asked her to go with them. They went 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 who 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.
“I was very young and I hadn’t been there very long,” said Hoyt. Others had joined the family long before she had and had been subject to Manson’s “deprogramming,” which included group sex and LSD trips.
“I wasn’t as dead in the head as others. He asked me one time if I could kill and I said if someone asked me I would talk my way out of it. There were other people willing to do it.”
Share said she was never asked, partly because she was older. But there was another reason: an extra 20 pounds that would have made it difficult for her to climb through windows.
“Let me tell you,” she said, “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.”
The two women, who are not in touch with each other, have struggled back to normalcy. Share became pregnant while living at Spahn Ranch and has a grown son who served in the Marines. She declines to identify the father but said it was not Manson or any other notorious cult figure.
She 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. Some of those in prison also have embraced Christianity.
Share went into retail sales and has just finished a book on her experiences with the Manson Family.
Hoyt went to college and became a nurse and 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.
“People freak out when they find out about my past,” she said.
She keeps track of the Manson Family members in prison and writes letters urging that they never be released.
Share is more sympathetic to those who were convicted. Susan Atkins, 61, who is dying of brain cancer and had a leg amputated, has been turned down for compassionate release and has a parole hearing coming up in September. Leslie Van Houten, 59, and Patricia Krenwinkel, 61, convicted with her, remain in prison for life as does Charles (Tex) Watson, 63, another of the killers.
“Everyone wants to make them monsters,” said Share. “They weren’t monsters. They did a monstrous thing and now they’re older people and they’re not monsters anymore. None of those people ever would have been violent if it weren’t for Manson.”