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Former Manson follower says despite murders, she still loves him: 'I don’t think you fall out of love'

"I don’t think you fall out of love," she said.

April 30, 2019, 12:55 PM

It's been nearly 50 years since notorious cult leader Charles Manson and some of his devout followers shocked the world with a series of brutal murders, including that of "Valley of the Dolls" actress Sharon Tate, who was more than eight months pregnant at the time.

And yet, despite knowing what he'd done, one of his followers, Lynette Fromme, said she's still in love with Manson.

"I don't think you fall out of love," she told ABC News. "I feel very honored to have met him, and I know how that sounds to people who think he's the epitome of evil."

Fromme and Dianne Lake, two members who lived with the so-called "Manson Family" for years, spoke to ABC News about how they came to know Charles Manson and how the group's 1969 murders shaped their lives and impacted American culture.

Watch the full story of "Manson Girls" tonight, April 30 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

While they never killed for Manson, both women were in his inner circle. They share very different memories of Manson today.

Manson and some of his followers were deemed responsible for a two-day rampage in August 1969 that began at Tate's California home.

PHOTO: Charles Manson followers, from left: Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, walk to court to appear for their roles in the 1969 cult killings of seven people, Aug. 20, 1970, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Charles Manson followers, from left: Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, walk to court to appear for their roles in the 1969 cult killings of seven people, Aug. 20, 1970, in Los Angeles, Calif.
George Brich/AP, FILE

Tate, hairstylist Jay Sebring, heiress Abigail Folger, writer Wojciech Frykowski and teenager Steven Parent were killed at Tate's rental home in the secluded neighborhood of Benedict Canyon on Aug. 9. The next day, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were killed at their home.

While Manson didn't commit the killings himself, he commanded others to do so. Prosecutors said he handed out knives and told his followers to commit savage murders of high-profile people around Los Angeles in a bid to start a race war. All seven victims were brutally stabbed.

Manson and his disciples, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were all convicted and given the death penalty, which was later commuted to life in prison.

Manson spent more than 40 years incarcerated for his role in the killings before dying in prison of natural causes at age 83 in 2017.

Fromme was never charged in relation to the group's murders but was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford in September 1975. She was released on parole in 2009.

Lake, who said she was with the Manson Family from ages 14 to 16, also said she was never involved with the killings.

Lake, now 66, and Fromme, 70, both were young when they found refuge with Manson's group.

Now a retired special education teacher and mother of three, Lake moved to Santa Monica with her family when she was 12. She said her parents "emancipated" her at 13 and she spent several months at a commune called "the Hog Farm."

She was introduced to Manson by a couple she'd been living with.

"They took me to this house in Topanga," Lake said. "Charlie gets up out of the circle, he'd been in the circle playing the guitar, and gives me a big hug and [said], 'Oh we're so happy to see you.' I just felt, Ah! Someplace I belong, someplace somebody wants me."

Lake said she was "awestruck." She described Manson as "cute," "playful" -- and "he was funny."

"That night, he made love to me and I felt very much like a woman, not just a little girl," she said. Though she gave consent, it was statutory rape because she was a minor at the time.

"So he snagged me there. And the whole scene with the girls. I mean, they were like sisters," Lake added.

Fromme also sought refuge with Manson after a falling out with her own family.

"My father and I, we argued one night and he said, 'Get out and don't ever come back,'" she said. "I hitchhiked to a place in Venice. … I thought maybe somebody would take me in. It was dark and nobody was there, and I was sitting looking at the ocean -- and here comes Charlie."

He offered her a place to stay, but Fromme said she was afraid to go.

"He said, 'I can't make up your mind for you.' That's why I went with him. And he never did make up my mind for me," she said. "These stories that have come out about his ordering people to do things ... [he] never ordered me."

The Manson family moved to Spahn Ranch, where Western movies had been filmed, in 1968.

Lake remembered, at first, it was "fun." They did drugs, danced, played music and there was "lovemaking," Fromme said.

Things turned sour when a hopeful relationship between Manson, an aspiring rock artist, and Beach Boys' co-founder Dennis Wilson disintegrated.

"There was definitely a turn for darker and frenetic energy, lots of new people," Lake said.

She shared that when she didn't "focus" on Manson she would get "hit or slapped." She remembered Manson "sodomized" her, and her trust in him crumbled.

PHOTO: Charles Manson is seen in court, circa 1986.
Charles Manson is seen in court, circa 1986.
Anonymous/AP, FILE

He became obsessed with the Beatles' "White Album" and their song "Helter Skelter."

He told the group he believed there would be a race war.

"There was going to be a revolution, and it would be violent," Fromme recalled.

"He played it backwards. He played it forwards," Lake said of the Beatles' music. "He was convinced that they were sending him a message -- that we as a family should go hide out until this war was over."

In July 1969, the group murdered music teacher Gary Hinman and tried to frame the murder on the Black Panthers in an attempt to start a race war.

Then, in August 1969, Tate and four others in her home were murdered, with Leno and Rosemary LaBianca murdered the next day.

Lake recalled waking up to a "horrible smell" and seeing member Leslie Van Houten burning a purse and other items in the fireplace.

"She gave me a bag of coins, some kind of coin collection. It turns out that that belonged to Rosemary LaBianca," Lake said. "We got swept off to Barker Ranch. … We took some acid and Leslie [Van Houten] and Susan Atkins and Patty Krenwinkle were telling me their participation in the Tate-LaBianca murders."

"They were like almost proud of what they had done," Lake said. "Spahn Ranch was very isolated. I just felt like the rocks and the trees were crying out to me I had made a mistake. I was just hanging on because I didn't know where else to go."

For Fromme, she said, "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 judgments."

On Aug. 16, 1969, police raided the ranch and arrested Manson Family members on suspicion of stealing cars.

"Then Susan [Atkins] started telling her cellmate about Charlie and her participation in these murders," Lake said. "Then by December, the case was breaking open. And they took all of us to testify before the grand jury."

Lake became a crucial witness for the prosecution.

"Leslie [Van Houten], Susan [Atkins], Patty [Krenwinkel] and Tex [Watson] had all told me what they had done. And I was going to have to face Charlie. I was really afraid," Lake said.

"One of the first questions was like, 'Did you love Charles Manson?' I was like, 'Yeah, I guess I did.' And he immediately blurted out, 'Don't put it all on Mr. Manson. She loved everybody.' They laughed," she recalled. "For me, it broke that anxiety. I was able to look him in the eye and he was just performing."

Manson eventually would die in prison.

"I'm sure he was flying high on a cloud. Just like a joke on society," Lake said. "The media rewarded Charles Manson all this fame and notoriety."

Lake said she felt lucky she was "protected" through her experience with the Manson family.

"I feel very strongly," she added, "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."