The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder

The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder

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,...

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Title:The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder
Author:Nikki Meredith
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The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder Reviews

  • Valerity (Val)

    Journalist Nikki Meredith spent more than twenty years getting to know Patricia Krenwinkle and Leslie Van Houten and takes a deep dive into studying how they became involved with Charles Manson. She does a very involved look at what it takes to get to the point that they were at when they committed the murders while getting to know them during repeated visits over the years.

    She also interviews other people in their lives, past and present. A very interesting book that looks at how they have been

    Journalist Nikki Meredith spent more than twenty years getting to know Patricia Krenwinkle and Leslie Van Houten and takes a deep dive into studying how they became involved with Charles Manson. She does a very involved look at what it takes to get to the point that they were at when they committed the murders while getting to know them during repeated visits over the years.

    She also interviews other people in their lives, past and present. A very interesting book that looks at how they have been since the murders, what they have claimed, how they have acted, and their attempts at parole. It tells the author's relationship with them as she battles to understand them on such a deep level, and herself.

    An advance digital copy was provided by NetGalley and author Nikki Meredith for my honest review.

    Citadel

    Publication date March 27, 2018

  • *TUDOR^QUEEN*

    Thank you to the publisher Kensington Books who provided an advance reader copy via NetGalley.

    This book focuses primarily on Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, members of the notorious Manson family imprisoned since the 1970s involving the Sharon Tate and LaBianca murders in LA. While author Nikki Meredith also interviewed former Manson member Tex Watson in prison, she established a twenty-year relationship visiting Van Houten and Krenwinkel at the Frontera prison where they both are inm

    Thank you to the publisher Kensington Books who provided an advance reader copy via NetGalley.

    This book focuses primarily on Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, members of the notorious Manson family imprisoned since the 1970s involving the Sharon Tate and LaBianca murders in LA. While author Nikki Meredith also interviewed former Manson member Tex Watson in prison, she established a twenty-year relationship visiting Van Houten and Krenwinkel at the Frontera prison where they both are inmates. When the author initially broached interviewing these women, she also reached out to fellow former Manson family member Susan Atkins, also an inmate at Frontera. Although Atkins initially seemed open to it, she ultimately denied access claiming it would interfere with another media project she was involved with. In hindsight, Nikki Meredith was relieved of the abandoned Atkins interview opportunity; she sensed an inherit evil about Atkins that she did not find in Van Houten and Krenwinkel. Atkins died in prison in 2009 from brain cancer.

    Not only is this book about the Manson women, but about the author herself, and some connections she has to people involved in the Manson/LaBianca orbit. She was high school friends with a girl named Catherine Share who later became Manson family member and recruiter "Gypsy". She also was high school friends with Stephen Kay, who became deputy district attorney in LA, working directly under lead Manson prosecutor Victor Bugliosi during that trial. She also has the experience of her brother having spent a short time in prison, and leading a rehabilitated, meaningful and successful life afterwards. Finally, Meredith has been a magazine writer, NPR reporter, award-winning Bay Area journalist, family therapist and probation officer. It is with this varied professional and personal background that she delves into the psyche of these Manson women.

    The parts about the book I found most interesting were the author's meetings and conversations with Van Houten and Krenwinkel in prison. She also had the opportunity to interview a couple of their parents. Throughout the book, she tries to come to conclusions as to whether they are rehabilitated, how they really feel about what they did, and to figure out how they became brainwashed by Manson. Interspersed throughout the book she cites various psychological studies regarding people who murder and how they can become immune to feeling anything about it. Although I read a least half of these accounts, I admit I tired of the medical jargon and began to page through these sections. I was more interested in the one-on-one experiences the author had with the Manson women.

    Ultimately, the author's opinion (and that of the parole board) is that Leslie Van Houten should be paroled after her almost 50 years in prison. However, Governor Jerry Brown once again declined her parole in January 2018, although this had still been undecided at the time of this book's writing.

  • Meow

    It can be said that the Manson Family murders killed the 60’s. I have never forgotten “Tex” Watson’s (the lone male who participated in the murders) words when asked by the victims at Cielo Drive “Who are you?” to which Watson replied “I am the Devil and I’m here to do the Devil’s business”.

    I’d always been puzzled and a bit fascinated by The Manson Girls. What struck me most about these young girls Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins was their air of detachment, girlish cou

    It can be said that the Manson Family murders killed the 60’s. I have never forgotten “Tex” Watson’s (the lone male who participated in the murders) words when asked by the victims at Cielo Drive “Who are you?” to which Watson replied “I am the Devil and I’m here to do the Devil’s business”.

    I’d always been puzzled and a bit fascinated by The Manson Girls. What struck me most about these young girls Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins was their air of detachment, girlish courtroom antics and their look of dangerous innocence. I wondered how, during the “peace & love” era of the 60’s, these girls were responsible for such a merciless massacre.

    The “Manson Women and Me” is Nikki Meredith’s inquiry into members of the Manson Family. Meredith wrote letters of interest to the girls, all housed at the California Institute for Women in Frontera, California, serving life sentences after the death penalty they received was abolished for being “unconstitutional”. This sparked the 20 year relationship between Meredith, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. While Susan Atkins had initially been contacted, the author chose not to pursue Atkins as Atkins had not only married while in prison but also found “religion”.

    Meredith’s had unlimited access to both Krenwinkel and Van Houten. Her research is extensive going as far as a trek to Death Valley where Manson and his Family were ultimately arrested. Meredith spent significant hours with Leslie Van Houten’s mother. Her interviews with Van Houten’s mother are almost heartbreaking. There are numerous interviews with others - former Manson followers and courtroom players. There is really not much new in this book that we don’t already know and I don’t think I will ever understand how these girls could have been such empty shells - so lacking in humanity - that they were able to take the lives of seven people with such brutality and such detachment.

    Thank you NetGalley and Kensington/Citadel for the advance digital copy.

  • Brooke

    3.5 stars

    It is evident that a lot of time and research went into creating this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed parts of it. I haven’t read Helter Skelter, and I only have minimal knowledge about the Manson Family, so I went into this book a little blind. The author does a good job of covering the facts needed for this book, and I think she succeeded at making some insights into Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel’s involvement. I don’t know if it was her goal to spark sympathy for these wom

    3.5 stars

    It is evident that a lot of time and research went into creating this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed parts of it. I haven’t read Helter Skelter, and I only have minimal knowledge about the Manson Family, so I went into this book a little blind. The author does a good job of covering the facts needed for this book, and I think she succeeded at making some insights into Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel’s involvement. I don’t know if it was her goal to spark sympathy for these women in the reader, but she did to an extent – it is hard to believe that they continue to be incarcerated after all these years, given their success and improvements in prison. But at the same time, I can see past Meredith’s glowing reviews of these women and understand the position of those opposed to their parole.

    Other reviews have said that the book lacks focus and sort of meanders through the topics, and I would have to agree. Many of the chapters left me asking ‘so what?’ as the purpose was unclear, and topics bounced around so frequently due to the short chapters that it was sometimes hard to see the connections between the tidbits of information being provided. The writing was also a bit repetitious at times, with the same facts being relayed several times (for example, almost every time Meredith referred to Debra Tate, she would mention that it was Sharon Tate’s youngest sister). My biggest problem with this book, however, is the connections that Meredith tried to draw between the Manson women and her own life. I found myself skimming over these chapters, trying to get back to the information on the Manson women. The connections she tried to make just did not work, and in my opinion they distracted from what she had researched and put together. This book could have been much stronger without the random tangents where she tried to bring the focus to her and her experiences, because quite frankly I didn’t care about her high school experience or her college boyfriend.

    I did enjoy this book and the information it provided, but it could have been better.

    I would like to thank the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review.

  • Bernadette

    3.5 Stars.

    As a child I had a fascination with the Manson killings. I read at a very early age and I used to steal my older brother’s books to read at night when I should have been asleep (then hid the books under my mattress). One of the books I should NOT have read was Vincent Bugliosi’s

    . Understandably, I was plagued by nightmares that baffled my parents. On the news, I remember seeing the girls with their bald heads and carvings on their foreheads.

    3.5 Stars.

    As a child I had a fascination with the Manson killings. I read at a very early age and I used to steal my older brother’s books to read at night when I should have been asleep (then hid the books under my mattress). One of the books I should NOT have read was Vincent Bugliosi’s

    . Understandably, I was plagued by nightmares that baffled my parents. On the news, I remember seeing the girls with their bald heads and carvings on their foreheads.

    by Nikki Meredith is a non-fiction book that details the author’s relationship to two of these girls, convicted killers Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel. Through twenty years of letters and jail visits with the two women, Ms. Meredith attempts to deconstruct the reasons that Krenwinkel and Van Houten to commit horrendous acts of violence. More astonishing is their complete lack of remorse, although that changes as they mature.

    Meredith’s interviews with the women are interesting, but the book was difficult for me to get through and I did find myself skimming at times. The author spends much of the book writing about herself and her connections, which are sometimes tenuous, to people involved in the case. The book lacks focus and moves from interviews with the murderers to Meredith’s thoughts about other horrific crimes and even genocide. The title suggests that the book is intended to be about the author’s relationship with the killers, but I felt that the book focused too much on the author. It is interesting to read about Manson’s manipulation of young women, using the same techniques as other infamous cult leaders. Throw drugs into the mix, and it becomes somewhat clearer how he was able to convince these young women to do the unspeakable.

    Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the opportunity to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  • Michelle

    The history of Charles Manson and the pure evil and terror that followed in the Tate-LaBianca murder’s that altered the peaceful social fabric of the U.S. in August 1969. The knowledge that innocent people were slaughtered without a reason or motive; horrified the nation. Nikki Meredith revisited the Manson crime in her book: “Monsters, Morality and Murder: The Manson Women and Me”. Meredith articulated on the reasons these crimes occurred, and the impact of evil related to the Holocaust and oth

    The history of Charles Manson and the pure evil and terror that followed in the Tate-LaBianca murder’s that altered the peaceful social fabric of the U.S. in August 1969. The knowledge that innocent people were slaughtered without a reason or motive; horrified the nation. Nikki Meredith revisited the Manson crime in her book: “Monsters, Morality and Murder: The Manson Women and Me”. Meredith articulated on the reasons these crimes occurred, and the impact of evil related to the Holocaust and other criminal acts. Other matters researched and explored were authors relationships with convicted Manson family murderesses Patricia Krenwinkel (1947-) and Leslie Van Houten (1949-) both women are currently serving time at the Frontera California Women’s Prison.

    A detailed update on the lives of the Manson killers were included, and interviews with affiliated friends and families. The family of Sharon Tate has campaigned tirelessly through victim rights/awareness and extensive letter writing campaigns that the killers remain behind bars and not eligible for parole. The author included detailed prison visits and conversations with Krenwinkel and Van Houten, Susan Atkins (1948-2009) and Charles “Tex” Watson (1945-) that began in 1995, and covered a period of over two decades. Meredith’s best writing covered the Barker Ranch (with a photograph) located in the “sinister” rugged canyon terrain of the Panamint Mountains. The author attended high school with Manson recruiter Catherine “Gypsy” Share and Los Angeles deputy district attorney Stephen Kaye, and used these connections throughout her book to (seemingly) verify her connections to the Manson case.

    The author provided a researched exploration of 1960’s encounter groups, the cultural “Be In” at Golden Gate Park, Timothy Leary, and exhaustive criminology reports of various cases including the case of Tashfeen Malik, who, with her husband slaughtered 14 of his co-workers in San Bernardino, Ca. (2015). The Manson family criminal actions were frequently compared to the horror of the Holocaust, as the author signified her connection to the Manson family through her own Jewish heritage. Manson revealed his hatred for the Jews when he carved a swastika on his forehead while in prison.

    In 1956, the author traveled throughout Europe on a family vacation, her long stories about her routine ordinary life would have been better told in shorter sentences, paragraphs or segments—instead, stories from her personal life and interests were too lengthy as the author continually refocused the storyline on herself and any possible connection linking herself to the Manson case and followers. Excellent photos included. 3* GOOD. **With thanks and appreciation to the CITADEL PRESS BOOKS via NetGalley for the DDC for the purpose of review.

  • Julie

    I wanted this one to work for me but sadly it did not and here is why. There is no doubt that Nikki Meredith has a strong obsession with the Manson Murders, but where this book fell flat for me is its complete failure to divulge into the psyche of Charles Manson or that of the two women. In fact, Nikki Meredith’s telling seems to be more geared towards her outlook, her personal history, her experiences with the women that made up a part of Manson’s following,

    I wanted this one to work for me but sadly it did not and here is why. There is no doubt that Nikki Meredith has a strong obsession with the Manson Murders, but where this book fell flat for me is its complete failure to divulge into the psyche of Charles Manson or that of the two women. In fact, Nikki Meredith’s telling seems to be more geared towards her outlook, her personal history, her experiences with the women that made up a part of Manson’s following, her fascination and perspective of Manson… do you follow the trend? This book contained more ‘me, me, me’ than anything else, which left me with the feeling that there were too many points where this book strayed far from its intended subject matter.

    While I feel Nikki Meredith did offer some insight into Manson’s history, I was also left feeling empty due to a lack of any true take away at the end of this book. This was largely due to the fact that I did not gain any additional scraps of information on Charles Manson or the Manson Murders since everything contained herein I already had prior knowledge of. The one and only portion of this book that truly drew me in were the conversations that Nikki Meredith recounted with Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel.

    In addition to the above, there was an endless repetitive theme to this book filled with one too many moments where I was left utterly confused why it was included at all. There was an extreme lack of focus and the writing seems to ramble on mundane topics that were completely unrelated. This just created a hot mess. I also felt cheated in my expectations. Labeling this book as an autobiography, with a very misleading title, would have made way more sense to me. Readers who are also seeking to gain insight in understanding the inner workings of Charles Manson and the women that made up his cult will not benefit from this read.

    This subject had so much potential, however, the platform was used more as a memoir than anything else. As I am sure that Nikki Meredith is a darling individual, her life story was not what I intended to learn when picking up this book. Unfortunately, this was not for me and I feel it truly lacked in reaching its true potential.

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  • Meike

    This book is severely lacking focus: Although it is marketed as being a current portrait of Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, it is in fact a memoir of Nikki Meredith that contains parts in which she talks to the aforementioned women and some of their relatives. I guess that Meredith's basic question was how these women were able to commit such heinous crimes, but instead of taking a journalistic or research-based approach, she chooses to a) radically relate all incidents to her own lif

    This book is severely lacking focus: Although it is marketed as being a current portrait of Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, it is in fact a memoir of Nikki Meredith that contains parts in which she talks to the aforementioned women and some of their relatives. I guess that Meredith's basic question was how these women were able to commit such heinous crimes, but instead of taking a journalistic or research-based approach, she chooses to a) radically relate all incidents to her own life and b) superficially compare them to other, completely unrelated atrocities. Unsurprisingly, this turns the whole book into a hot mess in which we learn a lot about Meredith and almost nothing about Van Houten and Krenwinkel.

    Don't get me wrong: It is legitimate question to ask through which lenses we judge our environment or to ponder how such crimes influence our own lives. There is a lot of research about this, especially in the fields of media studies and psychology, none of which is cited in the book. We are getting anecdotes instead: Meredith's brother went to jail, just like Van Houten and Krenwinkel (completely different and unrelated crime of course). The parents of her ex-boyfriend were anti-Semites and despised her for her Jewsih heritage (the victims of the Manson murders were also innocent and hated and killed for no reason). Meredith's ex-boyfriend hit her (violence). Meredith traveled to Germany and Rwanda, where terrible genocides took place.

    Which brings us straight to the next issue here: It simply makes no sense to throw all kinds of atrocities in the mix and compare them to the Manson murders: The Holocaust! Rwanda! Abu Ghraib! The Heaven's Gate sect! ISIS! Of course you will gain zero insight that way, because there is no universal formula as to why people behave violently. What causes myriads of historians and political scientists to dissect these events over the course of whole lifetimes is to find out the specific aspects that came into play and how they were interrelated. The commonalities between these crimes are obviously banal, because they are the lowest common denominator. Meredith talks about mirror neurons and the Stanford Prison Experiment as if this was cutting-edge insight and not common knowledge.

    The lack of focus also shows in the writing itself, which meanders on and on and gives a myriad of details that are completely irrelevant: Meredith once bought a pair of wooden shoes in Amsterdam for her high school teacher. She went to Mommy and Me swim classes with her daughter. Once she went dress-shopping with her mom and then they had lunch at the Pig'n Whistle a few blocks up Hollywood Boulevard from the Broadway. What is the function of these remarks in the context of this book? They serve no purpose at all.

    And there are logical inconsistencies that Meredith herself is even aware of: "None of the above has anything directly to do with Catherine (Share), but in my mind, it's always been connected." Well, good for you, but why are you informing me about it? Regarding the closed-down nuclear reactor close to the prison, she writes: "(...) it was hard to separate my uneasiness about lingering radiation from the horror I always felt whenever I thought about the murders, the murderers and the victims." Seriously? And then, of course, when she visits Manson's ranch: "The sight of that comet that night in Death Valley struck me as synchronistic, another "sign" connected to the murders. For the life of me now, I can't remember what I thought it was a sign of (...)". I rest my case.

    Plus there are some not well thought-out passages: The prison system is a "totalitarian regime" - there is certainly a lot wrong with the prison system, but to use this term for it after writing page after page about the Nazis is a little thoughtless, to say the least. Meredith's father believed that people should pay taxes, which is a "Marxist principle"? Nope. And of course there's confusion about the terms Communist, Marxist and Stalinist - but why are we even dealing with that in a book about, yes, Krenwinkel and Van Houten? Oh, and if you want to meet some "soma-types", you have to go to the milk bar in

    , psychology discusses somatotypes, or did discuss them, because the concept is outdated. But good to know that Meredith's ex-boyfriend was mesomorphic (WTF).

    It should be noted that Meredith was an advocate for Van Houten's release - as I am no mental health professional, have never met Van Houten and accordingly cannot judge whether she still poses a threat to society, I have no position on this. The way Meredith slams prosecutor Stephen Kay though ignores the main point here: When he speaks out in favor of releasing Van Houten and something happens, who will be blamed? It's strange to read her downright ruinous remarks after all those pages about empathy.

    To be fair, Meredith's conversations with Van Houten and Krenwinkel as well as some of their relatives are interesting, but they are buried under ... stuff? This concept just does not work. This could have been so much better!

  • Trish

    A more apt title for this book would be Me, and oh by the way I mention the Manson Women Murderers ...

    This book meanders all over the place and I'm not sure what comparisons, if any, the author attempted to draw from sharing her life experience/background with the two women - Krenwinkel and Van Houten other than to publish a book that advocates parole for Leslie Van Houten. If the comparison was that Mason was equivalent to Hitler in convincing people to carry out his orders, then again ... so

    A more apt title for this book would be Me, and oh by the way I mention the Manson Women Murderers ...

    This book meanders all over the place and I'm not sure what comparisons, if any, the author attempted to draw from sharing her life experience/background with the two women - Krenwinkel and Van Houten other than to publish a book that advocates parole for Leslie Van Houten. If the comparison was that Mason was equivalent to Hitler in convincing people to carry out his orders, then again ... so what? There is always evil, there will always be evil.

    At the end of the day, if you want to understand why these women did what they did, don't look to find the answer in this book. In fact when it comes to reading this book, don't waste your time ...

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