When you think of the horrific murders Charles Manson and his "family" carried out in 1969, friendship certainly isn't the first topic that comes to mind. And yet two girls, who were teenagers at the time of the murder, have formed an unusual, decades-long friendship that has its basis in the murders. The women are Debra Tate, whose older sister Sharon was one of the murder victims, and Barbara Hoyt, who was a member of the infamous Manson family.
While it may seem bizarre that the women, who were both 17 when the murders occurred, would have connected—seeing as Hoyt was part of the very group that brutally killed Tate's sister—in fact, it makes a certain kind of sense. You see, Hoyt (seen above left in 1970) was a member of the Manson family cult but she never actually committed any crimes along with them, and it was her testimony that helped made the case against Manson and his fellow murderers. And after the trial, Hoyt and Tate (pictured above right, as she attends last week's parole hearing for Manson) shared a common interest: Keeping Manson and company behind bars forever.
Tate's reason for this is obvious, but it was a little more complex for Hoyt, who now works as a registered nurse. She says she first testified at Manson family parole hearings because she feared they'd come after her if they got out, but gradually she realized that dealing with the pain of reliving her role in the Manson family is part of the way she can pay back society:
It's a descent into hell and then having to climb back out again. I think about it and I feel I was simply there to be a witness, because that has been my role. God gave me that role, and that's my reality.
Tate, who now runs a group for crime victims, says of their unique friendship, "We are completely linked by this event whether we want to be or not. She understands me, and I understand where she's coming from." Tate says she's discovered that Hoyt has suffered from the murders as much as she has: "She flew under such a horrible social stigma for so long. For Barbara to have suffered the same stigma as those other sociopaths, well it just wasn't right." They also both continue to be harassed by Manson supporters to this day.
The women, who are now around 60, have become quite fond of one another, after they've gotten to know each other during their time advocating against the murderers' release. The two say they provide support for each other when it comes to dealing with the tragic event which is still, all these years later, a centerpiece in both their lives. They talk on the phone and see each other when they end up in the same town—usually for parole hearings.
Their mission, which has been supported by many others over the years, to keep Charles Manson behind bars has essentially been declared a success. He's 77 and he was denied parole again last week for what many assume will be the final time before he dies. As for the other core members of the Manson family, it's unlikely they'll ever see the light of day, but Hoyt and Tate keep up the fight to ensure they're never let out onto the streets again.