Life after Manson: Patricia Krenwinkel talks piecing her life together again

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My Life After Manson

By Olivia Klaus

I vividly remember entering the California Institution for Women for the first time in 2001. As the prison guard slammed the gate behind me, I wondered if I had made the right decision to become a volunteer for an inmate support group. But my nerves were eased by a woman who introduced herself as "Krenny." Welcoming me into the group, she seemed quiet and insecure -- yet also exuded an inner strength. I had no idea how she got here and didn't ask.

Charles Manson
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Life after Manson: Patricia Krenwinkel talks piecing her life together again
It looks like Charles Manson’s marriage license is going to expire before his bride-to-be is able to walk down the aisle… or the prison hallway.
Here's Charles Manson and his 26-year old girlfriend, who he just got a license to marry:
**FILE** Charles Manson was denied parole Wednesday May 23, 2007, the 11th time since 1978 that the cult leader was ordered to continue serving life sentences for a murderous rampage in 1969. (AP-Photo)
In this photo taken June 16, 2011 and provided by the California Department of Corrections, Charles Manson is seen in Corcoran, Calif. Manson is scheduled to have a parole hearing at Corcoran State Prison on Wednesday, April 11, 2012. (AP Photo/California Department of Corrections)
Charles Manson is escorted on his way back to jail after court arraignment in Los Angeles, Ca., Dec. 22, 1969. (AP Photo)
FILE ** In a Dec. 17, 1970 file photo, right, Charles Manson is pictured en route to a Los Angeles courtroom. At left, a 74-year-old Manson is shown in a file photo from March 18, 2009 released by California corrections officials taken at Corcoran State Prison. (AP Photo/HO/Files)
Charles Manson Mugshot
The three female defendants in the Tate/LaBianca murder trial leave the Los Angeles courtroom after being convicted of first degree murder, 25th January 1971. From left to right, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins and Leslie Van Houten were found guilty of the murders of actress Sharon Tate and six other people, in collaboration with Charles Manson. (Photo by Bride Lane Library/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
hideout where charles manson was arrested located in death valley california above the ghost town of ballarat in goler gulch
Charles Manson, head of the cultic "Manson Family," is escorted by deputy sheriffs on his way to court, in Los Angeles, Calif., on August 20, 1970. He is charged with murder-conspiracy in the Tate-LaBianca slayings. (AP Photo)
Charles Manson, leader of a hippie cult linked to the Sharon Tate murders, strides from jail to courtroom at Independence, Calif., Dec. 3, 1969, for a preliminary hearing on charges of possessing stolen property. (AP Photo)
Debra Tate, sister of murder victim Sharon Tate, talks to reporters after former Manson family member and convicted murderer Patricia Krenwinkel was denied parole, at a hearing at the California Institution for Women in Corona, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Charles Manson is shown during the time of his arraignment and on his way to court in 1969. (AP Photo)
Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment on conspiracy-murder charges in conneciton with the Sharon Tate murder case, 1969, Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo)
Members of Charles Manson's "family" congregate in the Los Angeles Hall of Justice for arraignment of Patricia Krenwinkel, a defendant in the Sharon Tate murder case, Feb. 24, 1970. None of these is accused. Identifiable are, Lynette Fromme, far left, Sandra Good, obscured, Mark Ross, tall with dark beard, Paul Watkins, front center, and Catherine "Gypsy" Share, holding Sandra Good's son Ivan. (AP Photo/Wally Fong)
Charles Manson followers, from left: Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, shown walking to court to appear for their roles in the 1969 cult killings of seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate, in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 20, 1970. (AP Photo/George Brich)
Patricia Krenwinkel, shown, Sept., 1985. (AP Photo)
Mary Brunner, a former University of Wisconsin librarian who became a member of the Charles Manson family, is taken to a hearing on her petition to represent herself in her trial on murder charges in the slaying of musician Gary Hinman Los Angeles court, June 22, 1970, Los Angeles, Calif. The judge rejected her plea. She was indicted after Robert Beausoleil, another member of the Manson clan, was convicted of murder in Hinmans death. (AP Photo/George Brich)
Dressed in jail denims, three women who are co-defendants with Charles M. Manson in the Sharon Tate murder trial, walk toward a Los Angeles courtroom, Aug. 6, 1979. The women are on their way to listen to further cross-examination of Linda Kasabian, the state's principal witness against them. Left to right are: Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel. (AP Photo/Wally Fong)
Three women defendants return to their cells after they were sentenced to death for the Tate-LaBianca murders, April 19, 1971. Left to right, Leslie van Houten, Susan Denise Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel. (AP Photo/Wally Fong)
Patricia Krenwinkel, left, is escorted by deputy sheriff Elaine Slagle to court in Los Angeles, Ca., March 3, 1970. Krenwinkel, a member of the cult Manson Family, will plead innocent to murder charges involving the deaths of actress Sharon Tate and six others. Krenwinkel, who was denied permission to defend herself on grounds she is incompetent, is represented by an appointed deputy public defender. (AP Photo)
Holding hands and singing, three girl defendants in Sharon Tate murder case walk down a Los Angeles Hall of Justice corridor, March 19, 1970 for a pre-trial hearing. The girls, from left, are Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten. Deputy accompanying them is Aileen Stagle. (AP Photo/Harold Filan)
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, 24, a member of the former Charles Manson "family," tells details of her arrest as she talks through a glass panel in the women's jail at Stockton, Calif., Nov. 18, 1972. She and several others were booked on investigation of murder following the finding of two bodies at Stockton. She maintains her innocence. (AP Photo)
Members of Charles Manson's "family" who showed up for the arraignment of cult member Patricia Krenwinkel are shown, Feb. 24, 1970. From left: Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, Sandra Good, Mark Ross, Paul Watkins and Catherine "Gypsy" Share holding Catherine Good's son Ivan. (AP Photo/George Brich)
Patricia Krenwinkel, a defendant in the Tate murder case, enters the Los Angeles superior court for arraignment, which was postponed, Feb. 24, 1970. (AP Photo/George Brich)
Patricia Krenwinkel, 22, of Los Angeles, left, is shown in the courthouse with her attorney, M.A. Marsal before a hearing at which Marsal sought her release on bond, Thursday, Dec. 4, 1969, Mobile, Ala. She bad been arrested on a fugitives warrant based on murder charges in Los Angeles in the Sharon Tate murder case. A judge said he would rule on Friday. (AP Photo)
Charles Manson is pictured en route to a Los Angeles courtroom on Dec. 17, 1970. He is being arraigned on charges of murder in the disappearance of Donald J. "Shorty" Shea, who vanished about the time of the Sharon Tate murders, for which Manson is on trial. (AP Photo)
Charles Manson is escorted to court for formal sentencing in Los Angeles, Ca., on April 19, 1971. He is convicted with three women followers of murder-conspiracy in the slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six others. (AP Photo)
Leslie Van Houten, a member of the Charles Manson cult family, hears the decision of the parole board in Frontera, Ca., Friday, July 11, 1986. The three-member panel refused to release Van Houten citing the "heinuos, atrocious" nature of the 1969 Sharon Tate-LaBianca murders. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
*** FILE **** Susan Atkins, a key witness in the Sharon Tate murder trial is seen, in this 1969 file photo. Atkins, the former Charles Manson follower who confessed to killing pregnant actress Sharon Tate during a murderous rampage in 1969, has a terminal illness and has asked for compassionate release from prison in her final days, authorities said Thursday June 12, 2008. (AP Photo, File)
Alternatively relaxed and serious, Linda Kasabian answers questions during a press conference in Los Angeles Wednesday, Aug. 20, 1970, at the end of 18 days of testimony as the state's star witness in the Sharon Tate murder case. She said she would like to see Charles Manson and three girl defendants "fall down on their knees and seek forgiveness." (AP Photo/David F. Smith)
Convicted murderer Charles Manson stares at the parole board in San Quentin, Calif., on Feb. 4, 1986. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Former Manson family member and convicted murderer Patricia Krenwinkel appears at a parole hearing at the California Institution for Women in Corona, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Combo image shows the five victims slain the night of Aug. 9, 1969 at the Benedict Canyon Estate of Roman Polanski. From left, Voityck Frykowski, Sharon Tate, Stephen Parent, Jay Sebring, and Abigail Folger. The next night, it happened again. Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, a wealthy couple who lived across town, were stabbed to death in their home. Thirty years later, the ghosts of the Tate-La Bianca murders will not rest. The Charles Manson cult that carried them out haunts the Internet and a new generation is oddly fixated on the nation's most bizarre and notorious killings. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - This April 4, 2012 file photo shows an image provided by the California Department of Corrections of 77-year-old serial killer Charles Manson. Craig Carlisle Hammond has been arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle a cellphone to the cult leader at Corcoran State Prison. (AP Photos/California Department of Corrections, file)
Charles Manson Mugshot

It was only several years later, while documenting the support group for a documentary film, "Sin by Silence," that I learned Krenny's full name: Patricia Krenwinkel. I was astounded. She was one of the infamous Charles Manson followers, convicted of seven murders. She eventually approached me to go on camera with her story.

In this Op-Doc video, Ms. Krenwinkel provides her first on-camera interview since 1994, reflecting on her life before and after Manson. This week is the 45th anniversary of her crimes.

In 1969, at age 21, Ms. Krenwinkel was a member of Mr. Manson's cult in Los Angeles. His group, which he called the "Family," included more than a dozen men and women who adhered to a bizarre mixture of hippie culture and apocalyptic paranoia. Seeking to inspire a race war, Manson ordered Ms. Krenwinkel and other members of his group to commit a series of murders. Over the course of two nights, they savagely murdered seven people, inflicting more than 130 stab wounds. One of them, the actress Sharon Tate, was eight and a half months pregnant. At their trial, the women shamelessly admitted their crimes and flaunted their allegiance to a leader they loved, but who clearly controlled their minds.

Over the years, I had gotten to know this woman -- and our many conversations about life, love and politics had revealed slivers of a dark past. But not until her on-camera interview, featured in this Op-Doc, did I fully comprehend her journey of self-discovery. In prison, she has struggled mightily to reconcile two parts of her life: the 21-year-old girl who committed crimes to win the approval of the man she loved; and the 66-year-old woman who lives each day haunted by the unending suffering she has caused.

Ms. Krenwinkel is now the longest serving woman in the California prison system. She says she takes full responsibility for her actions -- finally, she says, she is a woman she can accept. But is society ready to accept her back? She is next eligible for parole in 2018.

Related Topics:
Doomsday Cult
Helter Skelter
United States Death Row Inmates

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