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It has now been half a century since Charles Manson and his band of followers robbed America of its innocence. Claiming he was inspired by music from the Beatles, Manson set out to form a group of young women and men who, entranced by promises of love and protection from their leader, would follow him in to the desert and return to save L.A. from the ashes of a race war, a race war that he had caused and that he had named ‘Helter Skelter’. How would he instigate such a war? By directing the killing of innocent people, including Sharon Tate and her unborn baby.

Now, fifty years later, the horror that shook L.A. those bloody nights of August 1969 has faded. But the effects are with us today. Leaving a door unlocked is unimaginable. Expensive alarm systems are commonplace, and school children are accompanied daily on their journey to and from school. Manson and his “family” can take dubious credit for all of these societal adjustments. And maybe these adjustments to changing times were inevitable.

But what is not inevitable, and what is stunning and frightening, is that the Manson playbook is as alive and well in 2019 as it was in 1969. Exhibit ‘A’ is Keith Raniere, who today stands trial for sex trafficking in New York. He is accused of luring young woman in to his Nxivm cult via techniques eerily similar to Manson’s. Using shaming methods employed by Manson fifty years ago, Raniere stripped young woman of their identities and possessions, even branding them to exert ultimate control over them.

Employing a twist on Manson’s playbook, Raniere used woman, including actress Allison Mack (best known for her role in ‘Smallville’), to recruit other young women in to the fold as his “slaves.” Raniere promised the new recruits “enlightenment” and “self-awareness,” if they would just do as he wanted.

Raniere does not stand accused of murder or intending to ignite a race war; his interests seem to have been limited to constructing a modern-day harem and to extracting money from his victims. But his intent in using the Manson playbook is not the point. The point is he used it and, in 2019, it worked.

As a mother of a daughter, I find this shocking and frightening. In order to stop the Manson playbook from continuing to be used, we must first identify it and name it, and recognize that our daughters can be vulnerable to it. So, I say, in 2019, let’s make our own promise: we will keep a watchful eye out for fledgling Mansons or Ranieres, and we will not allow our daughters to fall victim to their false promises. After fifty years, it’s high time to retire the Manson playbook.


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Hunting Charles Manson is the best true crime book you will ever read.  No one could tell this story better - from its very beginnings to the riveting end - than Lis Wiehl:  former prosecutor, legal commentator, and best-selling crime novelist.  Fact is so much stranger than fiction, and Manson’s dark and deadly life is proof of that.  Lock your doors, keep the night lights on, and read this book.”

– Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling crime novelist and former prosecutor

“Lis Wiehl is a pro who does her homework and knows what she’s talking about.  She’s a storyteller extraordinaire and this one, though non-fiction, reads like a thriller.  She gives voice and life to a troubling aspect of our history, one that is definitely worth remembering. “

– Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author

"You think you know everything about an infamous criminal case until brilliant writers and researchers like Lis Wiehl and Caitlin Rother come along to expose new layers and new insights. This is a must-read for true crime fans -- and those who think they know everything about the Manson case.”

–Gregg Olsen, #1 New York Times bestselling author

New York Times bestselling author and former federal prosecutor Lis Wiehl uses new research and first-hand interviews to tell the heart-pounding story of Charles Manson’s horrific crimes, the painstaking investigation that followed, and the inspired prosecution that put him away.

In the late summer of 1969, the nation was transfixed by a series of gruesome murders in the hills of Los Angeles. Newspapers and television programs detailed the brutal slayings of a beautiful actress--twenty-six years-old and eight months pregnant with her first child--as well as a hair stylist, an heiress, a small businessman, and other victims. The City of Angels was plunged into a nightmare of fear and dread. In the weeks and months that followed, law enforcement faced intense pressure to solve crimes that seemed to have no connection.

Finally, after months of dead-ends, false leads, and near-misses, Charles Manson and members of his "family" were arrested. The bewildering trials that followed once again captured the nation and forever secured Manson as a byword for the evil that men do.

Drawing upon deep archival research and exclusive personal interviews--including unique access to Manson Family parole hearings--former Fox News legal analyst and bestselling author Lis Wiehl gives readers a propulsive, page-turning historical thriller of the crimes and manhunt that mesmerized the nation. And in the process, she reveals how the social and political context that gave rise to Manson is eerily similar to our own.

Hunting Charles Manson book
Lis Wiehl author photo

is one of the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers and highly regarded legal commentators. The former legal analyst for Fox News and the O’Reilly Factor, she has appeared regularly on Your World with Neil Cavuto, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and the Imus morning shows, and was the host of the Wiehl of Justice podcast. She is also a professor at New York Law School and a host on the Law & Crime live trial network. A former legal analyst and reporter for NBC News and NPR’s All Things Considered, she also served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office and was a tenured professor of law at the University of Washington. Wiehl earned her JD from Harvard Law School and her MA in literature from the University of Queensland. She lives near New York City.



Very Scary People chronicles the twisted lives of some of the most frightening, diabolical characters in recent history. These biographies trace the crimes and evil deeds of bad people who were successful at eluding detection for quite a while and how they were ultimately caught.

Episodes 3 and 4 of this series spotlight Charles Manson and features interviews with Lis Wiehl and her revelations from Hunting Charles Manson.