Everything You Need to Know About the Manson Family Before ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Drops

The summer of love is recognized in the zeitgeist as a time of peace, love and lots of marijuana smoking. But did you know it also birthed one of the most notorious cults in American history?

Before Quentin Tarantino’s long-awaited film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood hits theaters on August 9, dive into the deep, dark history of the Manson Family, the group of Charles Manson followers who committed a slew of murders in 1969.

charles manson laughing
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

How The Manson Family Formed

After being released from prison in 1967, an aspiring musician named Charles Manson (played by Damon Herriman in the film) moved to San Francisco. It was the summer of love and it wasn’t long before Manson’s magnetic energy and preaching began to resonate, specifically with women. His first follower was Mary Brunner, whom he was romantically involved with. He moved into her home and, soon after, 18 other women resided there with them.

Manson borrowed ideology from the Process Church of the Final Judgment, whose followers believe Satan would reconcile with Christ, and developed a power over these women. In line with the hippie lifestyle, they believed in free love and LSD. They fed themselves by dumpster diving and bartering. Some of the more notable members were Charles “Tex” Watson (who will be played by Sutin Butler in the film), Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, Linda Kasabian, Steve “Clem” Grogan, Bobby Beausoleil (who was kind of an outsider) and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (who will be played by Dakota Fanning), however there were many more involved.

Soon, Manson moved himself and “The Family” (as he began to call them) to Los Angeles. There, the Manson girls (as they were called) met Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys while hitchhiking in Malibu. The Family moved into his home for some time and, knowing Manson wanted to be a musician (it was basically all he talked about—that and how he was Jesus), Wilson introduced him to music producer Terry Melcher.

But the Manson family’s relationship with Wilson soured not long after and they moved to the dilapidated Spahn Movie Ranch in Topanga Canyon. Melcher came to the ranch to hear Manson and his girls sing one evening but didn’t offer to give them a record deal. This upset Manson so much that he soon altered the mission of his once “make love and not war” cult and made The Family train for the end of the world. He was sure “Helter Skelter,” as he referred to it, would happen because of a race war. He regaled his followers with stories of how they would be safe because they were prepared, but when Helter Skelter didn’t come he decided to put it into motion himself.

susan atkins patricia krenwinkel and leslie van houten at trial
Bettmann/Getty Images

The Manson Family’s Murder Victims

On July 1, 1969, Manson shot African American drug dealer Bernard “Lotsapoppa” Crow in hopes of starting a race riot. It didn’t work. On July 25, he ordered Brunner, Beausoleil and Atkins to go to music teacher and friend of The Family’s Gary Allen Hinman’s home to get money from him. When he said he didn’t have any, they held him hostage for two days, Manson cut his ear off with a sword and then The Family stabbed Hinman to death. In order to frame the Black Panthers, the Manson Family wrote “Political piggy” on the wall and drew a panther paw.

Stewing in frustration at being rejected by Melcher, Manson ordered Watson, Atkins, Kasabian and Krenwinkel to go to Melcher’s home and kill everyone there. The thing is, Melcher had moved out and actress Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) and her writer-director husband, Roman Polanski (played by Rafal Zawierucha), had taken up residence. On the evening of August 8, Polanski was away on work and an eight-and-a-half-month pregnant Tate was home with her friends, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski. The Manson family brutally murdered them all, including Tate’s unborn son and a delivery boy named Steven Parent. Atkins wrote “pig” in Tate’s blood on the front door.

Manson was unhappy with the way in which his followers had murdered Tate and her friends so on the evening of August 9, he told Van Houten, Grogan and the four other followers who had perpetrated the Tate Murders he was going to “show them how to do it.” He drove them to a random home they’d attended a party at a year prior and opted to target the family next door. Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, a supermarket executive and shop owner respectively, were senselessly stabbed to death in their home by the Manson Family. Although Manson had told the group he would “show them how to do it,” he merely instructed them and didn’t physically partake in the killings.

susan atkins patricia krenwinkel and leslie van houten laughing after recieving death sentence
Bettmann/Getty Images

The Manson Family Trial And Sentencing

The police didn’t initially see the connection between the Tate and LaBianca murders until, by chance, they arrested Manson and a gaggle of his followers for a string of automobile thefts. While in jail, Atkins bragged about the murders to her cellmate, who told a motorcycle gang she knew, who told the police. The remaining Manson family members involved were arrested on December 1, 1969, and the trails began on June 15, 1970.

Ultimately, Manson, Atkins, Kasabian, Watson and Krenwinkel were charged with seven counts of murder and one of conspiracy. Although Manson didn’t technically kill anyone, he was deemed just as guilty—and rightfully so. Van Houten, who was only present for the LaBianca murders, was charged with two counts of murder. Kasabian was granted immunity for breaking the case open and the rest of them were found guilty and sentenced to prison in 1971.

leslie van houten in prison1

The Manson Family Today

Despite repeated appeal pleas, most of the Manson Family has remained in prison. Manson, however, died on November 19, 2017. Atkins died on September 24, 2009. Watson, now 73 years old, and Krenwinkel, who’s 71, both remain incarcerated. Van Houten, 69, was recommended for parole early this year.

Post-Manson Family, Fromme tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975. She was given a life sentence and was eventually paroled in 2009.

Want to know more about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?


Cat mom, yogi, brunch enthusiast

Lex is an LA native who's deeply obsessed with picnics, Slim Aarons, rosé, Hollywood history and Joan Didion. She joined PureWow in early 2017.