Former Manson Family Member Reflects 50 Years After Tate Murders: ‘Just a Commune of People That Went Wrong’

Dianne Lake, who joined the Family when she was 14 tells TheWrap about how she met Charlie — and tried to stay in his good graces

Dianne "Snake" Lake Manson Family
Dianne "Snake" Lake (Oxygen)

Exactly 50 years after some of Charles Manson’s followers murdered actress and expecting mother Sharon Tate and her friends in cold blood, one of Manson’s commune members speaks out about what drew her to Manson, how he loved her — and how he abused her and pimped her out.

Dianne Lake, now 65, was 14 when she first joined the commune after her parents got involved with counterculture. She lived with different couples, never really fitting in anywhere, she told TheWrap. After her parents granted her emancipation and she started living with a couple in Highland Park, that’s when she met “Charlie.”

“Two weeks later, the couple told me, ‘We’re going to this party in Topanga and we want you to meet this groovy guy and his commune girls,” Lake told TheWrap, adding that she was immediately welcomed into the group by the girls of the commune.

“It was pretty magical, actually,” she explained. “I had been disenfranchised from my family and the commune they were living in. Charlie comes over, offers me some root beer and invites me to come join the circle where he is playing the guitar. This is November of 1967. That evening, he took me to the bus and made love to me. He made me feel very special and made me feel accepted and loved and wanted and not like a little girl.”

Lake didn’t decide right away to join Manson and his followers, but within a month, she made up her mind to tag along because they were going to go on a trip in the bus to New Mexico and Arizona, and she didn’t want to be left behind.

Manson’s ways of getting supplies for his loyal followers was something he called “postulating,” Lake — whose nickname was Snake in the commune — explained, which involved positive thinking for the things the Family needed. “Whether he was manipulating things behind the scenes, I don’t know,” she said. “It just seemed unbelievable that we would postulate things and they would appear… some people would pass through and give us their parents’ credit card, and it was always about gas for the vehicles, but people would give us clothes, the Helms bakery would bring up day-old stuff, and we’d go dumpster diving behind the grocery stores.”

Although she had that “loving” and “feeling of belonging,” things quickly turned dark. Lake explained that once Manson started talking about Helter Skelter and the black/white race war, he began a downward spiral. Lake said there was a lot of stealing Volkswagens which the commune turned into dune buggies. The most famous motorcycle club at the time, the Straight Satans, were passing out guns and knives.

“The energy was just frenetic and kind of desperate,” Lake explained. “I was just hanging on by a thread, hoping for things to return to when it was good — back when I felt everything was good.”

There were times when Lake wanted to flee the group, possibly run away and go to a rich person’s house and ask to be their maid, she said. But without proper clothes, money or resources, that didn’t seem possible. “I just didn’t know where to go,” Lake said. “I just wanted to get back into Charlie’s good graces.”

All she wanted to do was have sex with Manson to know she still was loved, but even intimacy with the cult leader became torturous.

“He beat me with an electrical chord and winked while he was doing it, as if to say, ‘You can take it, Snake. I’m just making an example of you.’ Then one day, he hadn’t made love to me in a while and I wanted to have sex with him and I made some overtures,” she explained. “He took me to the gypsy caravan in a meadow and turned me around and sodomized me roughly — it wasn’t what I wanted. He made me cry and just said, ‘this is the way we do it in prison,’ something to that effect. And then he left me and I never asked for sex from him again.”

At other times, she said, Manson would want her — and the other girls — to have sex with men he chose for them. He would tell them, “you’ve gotta get rid of your inhibitions.”

“But really, what he was doing was he was pimping us out for whatever favors he got,” she said, adding that when she declined, he brow beat her into having sex with other men. “I don’t remember him hitting me over those incidents, he would just say ‘do it,’” Lake said. “At that point he had hit me for discipline and I didn’t want to be hit again so I did it.”

After the Tate murders, Lake, among other members, was arrested by a joint force of National Park Service Rangers and officers from the California Highway Patrol and the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office during the second raid of both the Myers and Barker ranches in October 1969. They were arrested for grand larceny for burning “this road grader in the desert,” Lake said. The first raid had taken place in August at Spahn Ranch. It was in jail when Susan Atkins — one of three Family members convicted in the Tate murders — told her cell mate about her involvement with the murders and Lake was sent to the Los Angeles County Jail to indict everyone involved in the murders. When they found out she was underage, they committed her to a 90-day observation in a hospital and realized she could be a witness for the trial. Later, her arresting officer legally adopted her and became her guardian  until she was 18 years old, helping her get into junior college. After the raids, Lake had little to no contact with Manson.

“The last time I talked to Charlie was probably when we got arrested,” she said. “I might’ve spoken to him at the trial but I don’t remember specifically. I just remember when they asked me, ‘Do you love him?’ and I said, ‘I guess so,’ Charlie piped up and said, ‘Don’t put it on Mr. Manson! She loved everyone!’”

Never did Lake expect that her fellow commune members would commit such atrocious crimes, of murdering Tate (who was eight months pregnant), and her three friends, and then killing Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the following night.

“I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it,” she said. “How could they do that? My experience with hallucinogenics… you’d save bugs out of the pool — you wouldn’t kill an ant on LSD!  If they were taking drugs, they were taking something else. They really had to believe Charlie’s delusions.”

When Charlie died in 2017 at age 83, Lake said she felt “relief.” When asked what countless TV and movie adaptations portrayed Manson right, Lake pointed to one specific series — NBC’s TV series “Aquarius”.

“What impressed me about [‘Aquarius’] was that they must’ve had a good consultant because they got the Charlie-isms and the little catch phrases and the way he said things. That was amazing to me. Sometimes, he is portrayed as more intently evil than I think he was — I just don’t think he was trying to be intently evil. He just got caught up in his own delusions about being Christ, and yet, Christ wouldn’t have been mean or violent,” Lake said.

To her, Manson will always be an enigma. He had this “uncanny ability to become a multitude of different people, from the homeless bum to an attorney.” Lake said he had a knack for regurgitating things he had heard — “that’s why his nonsense kind of made sense,” she said.

Despite all of the evil she endured while in the commune, one portrayal of the Manson Family that Lake disagrees with was the idea that they practiced Satanism. “We didn’t do any practices like that or black magic. It was just a commune of people that went wrong.”

Lake can be seen in Oxygen’s “Manson: The Women” special, alongside three other former commune members, on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET/PT.