Tuesday’s episode of ABC’s documentary series 1969 devoted an hour to the cult of Charles Manson and the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders, the 50th anniversary of which will occur in August (hence current resurgence of media stories about Manson). The episode, dubbed “Manson Girls,” mostly rehashed the Helter Skelter narrative of Manson assembling a cult, attempting to set off a race war (via his white-supremacist beliefs), ordering his followers to murder on his behalf, and then going to trial and ultimately prison for the crimes. Exclusive to the show, though, were interviews with former Manson Family members Dianne Lake and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (who extended her notoriety beyond her association with Manson by attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975).
While Lake came off as remorseful and an entirely different human than the lost girl who fell for Manson as a 14-year-old now more than 50 years ago, Fromme seemed to have fewer regrets. (Neither was involved in the Tate-LaBianca murders, and Lake was a witness for the prosecution in the case against Manson.)
“Was I in love with Charlie? Yeah,” said Fromme with a smile. “Oh yeah. Oh, still am. Still am. I don’t think you fall out of love.”
“He said, ‘I can’t make up your mind for you,’” she recalled during her first meeting with Manson. “That’s why I went with him. And he never did make up my mind for me. These stories that have come out about his ordering people to do things, never ordered me!”
Additionally, she put Tate’s murder into the perspective of the turbulent late-’60s... that is, her perspective of the turbulent late-’60s: “At the time, it was just one more person who was being killed. I’m telling you, when the war is very visible, and conflict in the streets is visible, I determined not to make judgements.” Judgements about... murder.
Fromme also called herself “very honored” to have met Manson. Virtually everything that came out of her mouth was outrageous enough to make her small amount of screen time surprising in retrospect—she was easily the most fascinating part of this show, still apparently under Manson’s grip after his death, seemingly because that’s where she wants to be.
Though brief, the show did adequately contextualize how Fromme and Lake were able to fall in with Manson’s crowd as lost, young teenagers (it was more successful in doing so than, say, Mary Harron’s limp Charlie Says film). Looking back on her time in the Family, Lake said, “I feel very strongly that it’s only by the grace of God that I was protected throughout this, and I was a victim. You know, I was abused, I was neglected, I was abandoned... I hope that my story will help tell a cautionary tale.”