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.

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

Photo of Charles Manson

(Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Charles Manson is escorted to court for preliminary hearing on December 3, 1969 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by John Malmin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Here's Charles Manson and his 26-year old girlfriend, who he just got a license to marry: http://t.co/tmLhvgqnlO http://t.co/NU9UuBNz2a

In this handout photo from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Charles Manson, 74, poses for a photo on March 18, 2009 at Corcoran State Prison, California. Manson is serving a life sentence for conspiring to murder seven people during the 'Manson family' killings in 1969. The picture was taken as a regular update of the prison's files.

(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Getty Images)

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)

Charles Manson who led a cult that committed murders in Los Angeles in the sixties is clean shaven in closeup photo.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Charles Manson talks during an interview August 25, 1989.

(STR New/Reuters)

The three female members of Charles Manson's 'family' ham it up for photographers through the window of the sheriff's van as they arrive at the courthouse to continue the murder trial in the Tate-LaBianca case. Patricia Krenwinkle (left) makes a face as Leslie Van Houten and Susan Atkins (right) smile. August 5, 1970.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Charles Manson clowns around as he is led to his cell upon the conclusion of his exclusive interview with Reuters August 25, 1989.

(STR New/Reuters)

Pittsburg Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht, MD, JD. is seen in this photo taken January 22, 1998. Dr. Wecht is a nationally-known forensic pathologist who is often consulted on high-profile murder cases such as the John F. Kennedy assassination, O.J. Simpson case, Jon Benet Ramsey and the Helter Skelter murders of Charles Manson. The first non-governmental forensic pathologist to be granted access to autopsy materials in the 1963 Kennedy assassination, he said there was not enough information to challenge the Warren Commission's conclusion that a lone gunman killed the president and that investigators failed to find all those responsible for the killing.

(STR New / Reuters)

Charles Manson is led to court on March 29, 1971.

(Photo by Rick Browne/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Leslie Louis Van Houghten, (yellow dress), is taken by policewomen to a jail cell in the Hall of Justice, after she and two other girls waive arraignment on murder charges in connection with the Tate-LaBianca slayings. The three allegedly were members of a hippie cult led by Charles Manson.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Charles Manson on his way to court in 1970.

(Photo by Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Leslie Van Houten listens during her parole hearing in Corona, California, June 28, 2002. Los Angeles' top prosecutor on June 28, 2016, urged California Governor Jerry Brown to keep former Charles Manson follower Van Houten behind bars, despite the recommendation of a parole board that she be released.

(REUTERS/DamianDovarganes/POOL)

Charles Manson prior to his appearance in Dept. 106 on March 6, 1970 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Frank Q. Brown/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

One of many historic photos that is part of L.A.'s longest mural, depicting 150 years of history in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Building a.k.a. the Criminal Courts Building, Wednesday afternoon in downtown L.A. The mural covers 2,300 square feet, 18 walls, two floors and has 625 images. This is a photo of Charles Manson as he's escorted back to his cell after his arraignment.

(Photo by Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A trio of suspects in the Sharon Tate murder case sing as they march to court for a hearing. Left to right: Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten march abreast along a corridor toward the courtroom where Judge William Keene set April 20th as the date for their trial with fellow suspect, Charles Manson.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Charles 'Tex' Watson. Watson was convicted of murder for his part in the killings of Sharon Tate and others while a member of the 'Manson Family'

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Three days before he ran away from Boy's Town, Charles Manson poses in a suit and tie.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

A TV picture of American musician, cult leader and murderer Charles Manson, September 1975. The image was broadcast around the time that Manson acolyte Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme was arrested after an attempt to kill US President Gerald Ford.

(Ernst Haas/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Charles Manson as an adolescent. He would later become infamous for attempted to foment social chaos by murdering prominent celebrities.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Accused murderer being led to and from court house in Inyo County, California. He is Charles Miller Manson, aged 34 years. 

(Photo by Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

Accused murderer being led to and from court house in Inyo County, California. He is Charles Miller Manson, aged 34 years.

(Photo by WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

Charles Manson sits in the courtroom during his murder trial in 1970 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

American actress Sharon Tate, on her wedding day to film director Roman Polanski. She was murdered by Charles Manson in California, 1969.

(Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Charles Manson, accused leader of a hippie cult charged with the Tate-LaBianca murders, is heavily guarded as he leaves the Hall of Justice following arraignment December 11th. He is shown being taken to a police van for removal to a jail cell and peering through the barred windows of the police van. Bearded, short of stature, he is wearing a fringed buckskin outfit.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Polish film director Roman Polanski with his wife actress Sharon Tate in London. Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969 by Charles Manson and his followers.

(Photo by Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images)

Charles Manson, convicted hippie leader, is sullen as he is led back into the courtroom to hear the penalty he and this three female followers must pay for the Tate-LaBianca murders of August 1969. Manson and his followers, Denise Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten were decreed the gas chamber by the jury following a nine month trial.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

A portrait of American criminal Charles Manson. 1970s

(Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

Susan Atkins testified before the Los Angeles Grand Jury in December 1969, which indicted five individuals, including Atkins, and Charles Manson for the Tate-LaBianca killings.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

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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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