Charles Manson’s so-called “Family” was once a safe haven for 14-year-old Dianne Lake as the teen was searching for love and acceptance, but she began to turn against the Family after what she describes as a horrific act at the hands of the powerful cult leader.
Lake, who would later become a key witness for the prosecution in the murder trials that stunned the country, described being sexually assaulted by Manson during her time at the Spahn Ranch in the ABC special “Manson Girls.”
“I was feeling disenfranchised with Charlie, and I wanted him to want me, and so he took me inside and I thought we were gonna make love but instead he turned me around and he sodomized me,” she said in the special that aired Tuesday. “When he was finished, he said, ‘That’s the way, you know, we do it in prison,’ and I didn’t really trust him after that.”
Despite the violation, Lake continued to live at the Ranch, although she began to pull away as Manson’s followers were becoming “darker” with more “frenetic energy” when Manson’s plans to become a successful recording artist soon transformed into preparing for a supposed race war.
Manson, she said, became obsessed with the popular Beatles song “Helter Skelter” and believed the song carried hidden messages about an ominous future.
“He was convinced that they were sending him a message that we, as a family, should go hide out until this war was over,” Lake said.
Lake’s despair continued to deepen in the summer of 1969.
“Spahn Ranch was very isolated, I just felt like the rocks and the trees were crying out to me, I had made a mistake,” she said. “I was just hanging on because I didn’t know where else to go.”
Lake had initially found her way to the Family after her own family joined a commune known as the Hog Farm. The young teen was already sexually active and the commune’s leaders didn’t want her to stay because they believed she was “jailbait.”
“Communes were on the rise,” Lake recently told HISTORY. “People were smoking pot on the street. There was all this free love. And I’m lost. Because the counterculture did not have a place for a sexually active 14-year-old. I was jailbait.”
She was eventually introduced to Manson by a couple she had been staying with and said she had sex with the charismatic leader the same night she met him.
“I am immediately just awestruck. That night he made love to me and I felt very much like a woman, not just a little girl, so he snagged me there, and the whole scene with the girls, I mean they were like sisters,” she told ABC of the cult’s powerful pull.
But while Manson once had a hypnotic hold on the young teen, she would eventually become one of the prosecution’s star witnesses after Manson and other cult members were arrested for a brutal series of murders, including the slaying of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and her friends.
Lake told ELLE Manson had once threatened to hang the teen, then 16, upside down and skin her alive if she ever discussed the brutal details of the crime, but she decided to testify after spending time at the Patton State Hospital. She was taken to the mental hospital after prosecutors learned that she was still technically underage.
“It's embarrassing – or it used to be – for me to admit that I spent eight months in a mental hospital. But I realize now, years later, that I needed that time. I was safe, I was protected. I went to school, I learnt how to play the flute and to crochet. I was being normal, and those things took me a long way after I got out,” she told the magazine.
Lake, who told ABC it was “devastating” to learn her friends could commit such heinous acts, was also taken in as a foster child by her arresting officer after she was released from the hospital and began to live a normal life.
Lake confronted the man who had once held such power over her in court and was able to escape Manson’s powerful hold on her to go on and get married and start a family of her own.
Now, decades later, she views the sexual revolution and free love movement from a different perspective.
“This sexual freedom provided opportunity for women to be abused or taken advantage of,” she said.
Manson was never charged with assaulting Lake.
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