In the summer of 1969, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel carried out horrific acts of butchery on the orders of the charismatic cult leader Charles Manson. At their murder trial the following year, lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi described the two so-called Manson Women as “human monsters.” But to anyone who knew them growing up, they were bright, promising girls, seemingly incapable of such an unfathomable crime.
Award-winning journalist Nikki Meredith began visiting Van Houten and Krenwinkel in prison to discover how they had changed during their incarceration. The more Meredith got to know them, the more she was lured into a deeper dilemma: What compels “normal” people to do unspeakable things?
The author’s relationship with her subjects provides a chilling lens through which we gain insight into a particular kind of woman capable of a particular kind of brutality. Through their stories, Nikki Meredith takes readers on a dark journey into the very heart of evil.
An excerpt from The Manson Women and Me
When the killers were ultimately identified, the dread only intensified. Manson, the mastermind of the carnage, was scary. But the young women he controlled didn’t look like anyone’s idea of cold-blooded murderers. They looked like our sisters, our daughters, our friends—ourselves—and yet their bloodthirsty behavior was something out of a horror movie.
Twenty years ago, I began visiting Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel in prison. I wanted to know if these women were radically different from the young women who carried out Charles Manson’s barbaric orders in 1969. If they were different, how did they understand what happened?
In grappling with the brutality of the events, I learned a great deal about human behavior, much of it disheartening, but some of it proof of our capacity as humans to transform ourselves, even those of us who have committed unspeakable acts.