Barely out of their teens, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, laughed their way through their trial for multiple murder. Did cult tactics make them kill?
Some thirty years on, Charles Manson and his infamous ‘family’ still repel and fascinate us. We can’t seem to forget the trio of hippie girls who laughed their way through their death penalty trial-and offered up bizarre displays of devotion to their scrawny, enigmatic guru.
Barely out of their teens, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel didn’t fit our notions of what brutal killers should look like. All grew up in California’s booming, post-war suburbs. They were children of the middle class who went out into the night and butchered seven people they did not know.
How did it happen? Were they victims themselves, brainwashed by Manson’s personality, and a mix of drugs and sex? And what of the most devoted of Manson’s girls – Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme – who led daily vigils on the sidewalks outside of court? Who was she? How did this brew of personalities lead to the country’s first cult murders?