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Ventura County grandmother held dark secret for decades. She was a member of the Manson Family

Dianne Lake was just 14 years old when she joined the Manson Family.

Dianne Lake spent two years as part of the Manson family, breaking away after other family members were arrested for the 1969 Tate/LaBianca murders.

She’s a Ventura County woman with kids and grandkids, and a successful career in education.

But for years, she carried a painful secret.  Dianne Lake was a member of the infamous Manson family.  While she wasn’t involved with the cult’s 1969 murder rampage, her time with them as a teenager is still a difficult memory.

"We were like sister-wives," said Lake. "I had been introduced to this alternative lifestyle...communes...this is what my parents wanted. It seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't really have anything else to compare it to."

Lake was born in Minnesota, but she and her parents moved to Santa Monica. Her parents had traditional jobs until she was 13. Lake says her parents started experimenting with drugs like LSD, and decided to buy a van, and live on the road.

Soon, the family was living with other sexually free-wheeling couples. She separated from her parents, living in a series of communes. It was all she knew. When she was 14, she went to a party in Topanga Canyon. Her parents had told Charles Manson about her. At the time, he was an aspiring musician who lived with a group of around a dozen young women in various places around Southern California.

"They just showered me with affection," said Lake. "Charlie took me to the bus, and made love to me."

She joined the family. They lived in various locations, including Topanga Canyon, the Barker Ranch in Death Valley, and most notoriously the Spahn Movie Ranch in Santa Susanna Pass, on the Los Angeles-Ventura County line. But, Lake says over the next two years, the family and Manson changed.

Manson believed there was going to be a race war. He invited a motorcycle gang to the ranch to provide protection. And, she said as he began to go off the rails mentally, he though he was the next Messiah.

Manson sent her out to the Death Valley ranch. But, she said she was so brainwashed by the sex and drugs, she returned to the Spahn Ranch. She was at the Spahn Ranch on August 8, 9, and 10, 1969 when seven members of the family went on their rampage. The first night, Tex Watson led three of the women as they brutally murdered actress Sharon Tate and four others. The second night, Watson, Manson and five others murdered a supermarket executive and his wife. Lake said she had no idea what was happening.

She was sent back out to the Death Valley Ranch, where Tex Watson finally told her what had occurred.

"He's got a newspaper in his hand, with the Tate-LaBianca murders on the headline," said Lake. "He shows it to me, slaps it, and says 'I did this...Charlie told me to.' It was my first knowledge of the murders."

Lake admits she was terrified, but didn’t know what to do. It soon became even more frightening.

"On an acid trip while we were there, the girls told me what they know, their participation," said Lake. "And, Charlie had threatened me. Hang me upside down, and skin me. I believed him."

Eventually, everyone was arrested. After detectives realized she wasn’t involved in the murders, she was called before a grand jury to testify. Lake was sent to a mental hospital to help her deal with her years of sexual abuse, and drug addiction. She says it made a difference.

Then, she said a miracle happened. The investigator who arrested her, Jack Gardiner, had been visiting her in the the hospital, and when she was released, he and his wife took her in as a foster child.

Eventually, she decided it was time to tell her story. In 2017, she wrote a book about her ordeal, called Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties.

Now 69-years-old, Lake said after her Manson Family ordeal she had a wonderful life. She had careers in banking and education. She had children and grandchildren, and after losing her husband, she reconnected with and married her college sweetheart.

Dianne Lake will appear at the Museum of Ventura County Thursday night at 6:30 to talk about her story. The event will also be available live online.