- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

LOS ANGELES | Forty years ago, they were kids. Vulnerable, alienated, running away from a world racked by war and rebellion. They turned to a cult leader for love and wound up tied to a web of unimaginable evil.

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,” said Barbara Hoyt, who was 17 in the summer of the Sharon Tate-LaBianca murders. “I’ve long ago accepted the fact it will never go away.”

Those family members who aren’t in prison are scattered across the country. 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. “He destroyed lives. There are people sitting in prison who wouldn’t be there except for him. He took all of our lives.”

On the morning of Aug. 9, 1969, a housekeeper discovered five bodies scattered around an estate in lush Benedict Canyon. 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. On the front door the victims’ blood was used to scrawl the words, “Death to Pigs.”

A similar murder scene was discovered the next night. Wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca, 44, and his wife, Rosemary, 38, were found fatally stabbed in their home across town. The word “WAR” was carved on Mr. LaBianca’s body, and 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.

The discovery of Manson’s clan living in a high desert commune opened up the astounding story of an ex-convict who gathered young people into a cult and ordered them to kill. His reasons remain a subject of debate. Some say he wanted to foment a race war; others say it was just senseless.

“It was a real-life horror story,” said 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 Web sites, and Manson souvenirs are sold online.

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 R. 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. Five of the “Family” members and Manson are in prison for the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders. Three are in prison for other crimes, and two have been released.

Those who are free are still trying to sort out how they fell under his spell. 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.

Hoyt was a 17-year-old who 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.

“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.

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,” Hoyt said. Others 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 and because an extra 20 pounds would have made it difficult for her to climb through windows.

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 Marine Corps.

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.

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.

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