My Life with the Manson Girls

Susan Atkins Prison Wedding
Forty years already, were does the time go? For me as with so many, the late 60’s and early 70’s were a time of turmoil. I was in the process of getting kicked out of my home in Boston by the original wicked stepmother, aka Marian Badasher Nazarian, “a women that my father slept with.” My adoptive mother Cecelia F. Nazarian died March 26, 1963, I was ten. “Dad” was lonely I guess and met this whore as a passenger on one of his ships. “Daddy” married her in 1966. And it wasn’t long before she managed to unload me thanks to her hard work convincing my father I was a “bad kid” (this “bad kid” grew up to be a cop and all these years later I can now look back and see what Marian conspired to do). I was on my way to a dry desolate little place called Saugus, California. Back in those days there was nothing much in Saugus, California and it was hot and it was dry and this was where my sister and her family lived, and it was were I was going to be living for a very long time. This would turn out to be some of the best times of my life….the 70’s.

Vincent Bugliosi and John NazarianWell as time went on I became friends with Deputies from the old Newhall Station on San Fernando Road and for me coming from a suburb of Boston this was like visiting a western movie set. I remember the Manson murder case and I also remembered very vividly a man called Vincent Bugliosi…Vincent was the prosecutor who became famous on so many levels in sending many of the Manson Family to state prison. We all watched in fascination on television those horrific events. Vincent had a powerful presence in those days and later in my life he would still have it. A few years ago I interviewed Vincent Bugliosi for the O.J.Simpson story I did for Discovery Channel and I was very impressed with his still very strong presence and energy, he is sharp as ever and opinionated and interesting to speak with. This was a man that I had watched as a teenager on TV and now I was at his house, in his living room, reflecting on a very large part of his career. That large part was Charlie Manson and the three girls, all vicious killers, though Charlie always stated that he killed no one….

My early entry into law enforcement was as a prison guard at CIW, California Institute for Women in Frontera. Not a question in my mind that the time spent with the California Dept. of Corrections was one of my best learning experiences. Go figure, and as time went on I was introduced to all the famous female killers and others who had achieved an interesting level of fame — bank robbers, child killers, drug dealers and “Queens of Fraud.” I had them all for 8 to 16 hours a day, and little did I know that when I took my initial physical at the prison hospital it was an inmate handling part of my “intake” as a California State Prison guard…looking back on that experience it was strange but hey, I did not care, I needed a job. My first few days I had to remind myself that these inmates were all “female” no matter how masculine they appeared or the roles they play while incarcerated.

Manson GirlsAs a Prison Guard at C.I.W. I had a great deal of interaction with Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten and of course the infamous Susan Atkins. These girls were celebrities in the prison system, and at one time were housed in the specialty housing unit aka Death Row. Till “the girls” arrival there was not a Death Row at C.I.W. Death Row, C.I.W. style, was built of brick and cement with the intent of holding the “Manson Girls.” In time “the girls” would be released to General Population aka, GP, once the death penalty in California was no more. Surviving this was an achievement for the three convicted murderers, as for one of the other inmates to kill them would have given that inmate a certain level of jailhouse fame…these three girls were very smart inmates. They got their educations and became mouthpieces for others, as they could get instant access to the administration. I always found them interesting, Susan was very friendly and I would be selected to handle her wedding, and to take a picture with her and her new and very short-term husband Don Laisure (he was a huckster and a con) and Captain Brueske. That picture was worth more than $10,000 during those days but I kept it. Over time I acquired many photos of the girls and even a lock-up order for Ms. Van Houten, as it was I that was placed in charge of locking her up for a period of time.

Leslie had violated an institutional rule and had to be confined…look at it as a jail within a prison. Inmates had rules and regulations that they had to follow or they would be punished. Like many of the infamous murderers and killers within the institutions and State Pens, most of these people “program” and were not security issues or trouble makers. The trouble makers in the prison system tend to be the petty thieves and drug dealers. The “heavys” tended to be very easy to deal with. The only reason I could figure was they “got it” and understood what needed to be done to “do their time.” All of the Manson Girls were very pleasant and social with guards in a very professional way, they knew they were “cons” and they also knew of their fame.

Myself and Officer Sonny White were assigned one time to take Susan Atkins out to a medical appointment. This was huge as Susan had not been outside the C.I.W. since her arrival many years ago. Security was very tight and I was driving, not even the media caught wind of this event…she too was a little excited as it was a big deal. Note: I was the first armed prison guard to ever transport a female inmate on a one on one basis, back in those days this was a huge task. A female convicted felon could concoct a million stories as to what did or did not occur while away from the prison. Over the time I was assigned to C.I.W., along with Officer White and Officer Bertha Gonzalez, the three of us transported hundreds of felons off the prison grounds and never was there one incident. Well, sorta, that being I was attacked while moving an inmate from a building at Riverside General Hospital to a State Prison Vehicle for return to C.I.W. Yes, I was attacked by a German Shepherd/Collie mix! No he did not bite me but I did fire three .38’s into him and all hell broke loose. “A state prison guard fires his weapon,” well it was as if I had shot and killed Lassie. I love dogs, but I love me too.

John Nazarian and CIW Supt. Sylvia JohnsonThere was another time that I and Officer Sonny White may have foiled a rescue attempt. One late afternoon we were headed back to the prison when we spotted an inmate who had been released a few days earlier. Neither I nor White knew of her release, we thought that she had escaped…when in fact she was going to try and either make contact with her lesbian lover or try and rescue her from our custody. Well, after much yelling as you see on TV and handcuffed bodies it was all figured out. The recently released inmate was in violation of her parole by being so close to the prison. Also, when she saw it was Officer White and myself, she knew that any rescue attempt would have ended in a shootout, and I still believe that she “weighed her options” and took the heat for being so close to the prison and dealt with that. Her “lover” was returned to the confines of C.I.W. and Officer White and I went home that night.

I have nothing but very fond memories of my time at C.I.W and many of the inmates that I dealt with there. Some had been dealt some bad cards, for others it was just the life they chose. I can recall one inmate telling me, “Mr. Nazarian, I will stop coming back when I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

My interaction with Susan Atkins was always a positive one. As was my contact with the other two, I found them very interesting as I did many of the infamous felons that as a guard I was in charge of. Susan knew that if I had to, I would have killed her, and as an inmate she “got it.” And at the same time, based on what I am hearing of her terrible ill health, I think that she should be allowed to die outside the confines of C.I.W. And I do understand revenge, probably better than I want to, and I know more of what took place at the scenes of all of those murders back in the days of “Helter Skelter”…however, enough is enough, she spent her entire life in prison and is dying as I type, let her go, she has only one leg and is terminal with brain cancer. We all have beginnings and ends, her end is real and will arrive very soon, the point has been made, she spent her natural life locked up in a state prison.

To Susan I wish you comfort, and to Patricia and Leslie, you are some of my most interesting memories.

John J. Nazarian, Former State Prison Guard at C.I.W.

17 Responses to My Life with the Manson Girls

  1. raven says:

    Wow! What an interesting story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. heath says:

    Good story John…I think the Manson killings have been a part of modern history for a long time and I also think it will not die because the Manson gang does..

    They did some horrible stuff.

    But yes the point has been made.

    I am conflicted about Capital Punishment. Some bastards should be hung real high.

  3. jojobo1 says:

    I’m with you heath I thought I just read where another murder happened and it was in the news a few weeks ago that they cut a women open and took her child,but the child was found in a hospital. I just remember catching it while going thru the news, Sick people out there. John you turned out well.

  4. Julie says:

    In the time that you knew them, did they ever show a shred of true remorse, responsibility or even understanding of the horror that they committed against completely innocent human beings, including an unborn child?

    I am mostly against the death penalty, and imagine I am much squishier than you are on these issues, and yet I have zero compassion for these women. After what they did, they are lucky that they were allowed to live out their natural lives and die in prison. Why on earth does being fatally ill warrant a reprieve for someone who committed the height of evil? Does everyone sentenced to life in prison deserve to get out at the end? I sure don’t think so. Then why Susan Atkins, who did far worse than many people who have been executed for their crimes? Do you think the Lockerbie bomber deserved a reprieve, too?

  5. John J. Nazarian says:

    #4, I am not sure of my position on this, however, at some point it is over. And for Susan her visit on this planet is over and it makes no difference for her in her present condition. Either way she is in prison and has been dieing a miserable death.

    My thoughts,
    The Lockerbie bomber, my opinion he should have been taken by helicopter to about 15 thousand feet and thrown out!

  6. susan portuguez burton says:

    I found your article to be real and informative. I was an inmate at CIW in 1992 thru 1994 and had met all three of the Manson girls. I also heard that Susan passed away last week. May she RIP.

  7. tracy says:

    wasn’t it because of susan atkins attempt to stab one of her husbands on a family visit that lifers at CIW no longer have the chance to spend time with their families? i was in CIW from 11/06 until i want to fire camp in malibu (camp 13). is that story about family visits and lifers true?

  8. willie says:

    I totally disagree with you, Mr. Nazarian—and this comes from someone who spent enough time at CIW, with Atkins, to know that she DID NOT deserve any compassionate release.
    Did she have “compassion” on her victims—-notably, a young, pregnant, innocent , talented woman who had everything to live for? No!!
    Susan Atkins NEVER did feel any remorse. Not once during all her years in that prison did she EVER learn —or come down to earth.
    You say she was always well-behaved with you. Well, of course she was—she was a great manipulator who knew just where her bread was buttered. Come On! Were you, are you that naive—or just biase?
    Out of the 3 Manson girls, only Leslie has come to learn from her actions and has become a somewhat decent human beind. But the other 2 were—and are—-as evil as ever.
    Atkins died—in my opinion, she should have lived longer so that she could suffer longer.
    In all her years in prison she had a very easy existence—not one day of hardship—-for a prison inmate.
    She was allowed to live, eat, breath, marry(several times), she even had a child( a fact many people are not aware of), while her innocent victims were never given those rights or privileges.
    In all her years in prison, she remained relatively free of harassment and harm—-and she had her run of the prison.
    In other words, she was coddled and pampered, and, ironically, because her henious crime and notoriety, the prison staff gave her more privileges than others.
    She always had the attitude as if people should bow down to her and ALWAYS greet her as she passed by.
    One day, when I accidentally failed to GREET the queen, she really got vicious and sarcastic with me.

  9. macbert says:

    To willie: your judgmental and media-biased attitude is appalling. Do your homework and go do some research about Susan Atkins: she really expressed deep remorse in private and in public many times, became a very good person when she became a born-again Christian, she was transformed inside. Although she had to take responsibility for her actions (if I’m well informed, she assisted in the crimes, but she did not kill anyone herself, even though I agree that her telling Sharon Tate that she didn’t have mercy on her and her baby was ever so cruel). I’d like to know how you would have dealt with a painful and violent childhood like she had, a series of bad choices like getting entangled with Manson ‘family’, several hundreds of LSD trips. Once she came back from that state of mind in 1974, she realized what she had done and changed radically. Judgmental attitudes like yours only lead to making the system less human every time for the whole society, instead of trying to get criminals out of their mental state and REHABILITATE them (what the name ‘California Corrections and Rehabilitation Departement’ should normally stand for.
    Granted that those crimes were horrendous and that the victims went through an unbelievable tragedy. But revenge is what the parole boards and the political system and the families of the victims were after. Like Nazarian said, by keeping Susan Atkins all her life behing bars, the point (from the system’s point of view) had been made. Releasing her would have been an act of humanity (mercy) even though Susan Atkins showed no mercy for Sharon Tate (after all, doesn’t the system have to be an example by being merciful even to people who did not show mercy?). Also, in America the common religious culture is based on Christianity. If the Lord’s prayer ‘forgive our sins as we forgive those who have offended us’ means anything to you, how are you going to escape from God’s judgement? The only way out is to forgive people who have deeply, radically turned away (repented) from their sins (offenses), like Susan Atkins did. RIP in the presence of the Lord, Susan.

  10. barbara says:

    hope she never enters the gate of heaven,and anyone who says she has changed is nuts,,,and before we look at her we should look at the victims who are lost and there familys who have lost there love ones.and remorse what is that.crock of bullshit. sorry, people who get off on killing people shouldnt get remorse or parole.those three bitches should have recieved the death penalty.iam a prison gaurd in canada and i belive that all inmates should be locked down….if they wanted good educations and remorse and a married life they should have choosen that,,,people who are sentence to life should remain till there life ends,considering death row,they got away with that,,,those three women are low lifes and i dont care what life they lived..sharon tate had a beautiful life to and a life to look forward to in her life it was taken by three women who mock society laugh and think jesus is charles a prison gaurd i have no right to judge people,but i dont have to like them either..your photo with susan is a disgrace,how dare you,maybe instead of a gaurd you should have been on the parole board….why dont you sit down with sharons sister and crock your bullshit to her.she died where she should have 40 years ago is when she should have people in usa have a 3 strike law,,your system is stupid,,and when a judge sentences you to death thats where you should be dead.guess its easy to wake up and say i was the gaurd of the manson girls big deal,if i worked at your prison,i would poison them..and i would have no remorse for doing it…my prayers are with there victims family sharon tates sister.i bet she gets tired of this and if they were all put to death maybe she could have some time to breathe,and i hope susan died suffering.hope she had a long death…after all she was never sent to death row.she got a life what she deserved but she got one …sharon tates sister is a hero a voice for her sister her family.and to the parole board never let them go,let them die where they sleep . in canada we say you made your bed now lay in it

  11. nour says:

    people tend to forget what susan was before she became manson’s murder weapon. I think, because of her childhood suffering, susan’s emotional lifge was really distorted. Manson might have been a trigger only. I do not believe for one minute that a person, damaged so early in life, can feel the true remorse people expected from her. Therefore I think it was a wise dicision not to give her back freedom. Susan grew up, but that doesn’t mean she was ‘healed’.

  12. constance says:

    macbert needs to read: Restless Souls
    The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the manson Murders and a Crusade for Justice

  13. mooncake says:

    I am something of a Manson buff so pretty well up on this stuff. First I am horrified at ‘barbara’. You would poison the women? and you are a prison guard? Wish I knew which prison so I could inform them they have a potential killer, a remorseless one, who makes her own judgments and executes them. What do you mean “they shouldn’t be allowed remorse’?

    Next, I do not believe Susan had a child in prison. Nor did she try to stab Donald Laisure. That guy is just a crazy liar. Susan was married twice, not several times. And the reason for conjugal visits being stopped is down to the turn to a more punishment based style of imprisonment instead of focusing on rehabilitation. The usual US unpleasantness that shocks the rest of the civilised world.
    As for remorse, you can watch an interview with Pat Krenwinkle and her suffering is agonising. Even Patti Tate is stunned and frozen by it. She even accepts that it is genuine, but explains, honestly, that she doesn’t want to hear it because she does not want to forgive, which is hard but fair. If you feel forgiveness would betray your sister, fair enough. But for Pat, one of the terrible things is how hard it is to make people see it is real. Some people just don’t want to believe it. It’s not like there’s a word you can only say if you really really mean it. All you can do is repeat ‘sorry’, it seems so inadequate. You have to hear the pain and anguish in her voice to know it’s real.
    As for Susan’s remorse, I did not believe in it but not because I think she was evil, but because she had a disorder, maybe a mild form of Asperger’s or BPD or maybe she was simply emotionally arrested due to the loss of her mother and the sexual abuse by every man in her life starting with her father. Susan placed no value on herself. She didn’t have the basic acceptance of self most people have, so they can turn their attention outward. All her attention was inward. So when she met a person, she didnt think “Do I like her?” but “What does she think of me? I want her to like me”, even if this person was unsuited to her. She wanted to ‘win the prize: a real friend”. That was her life’s obsession, getting a real friend. She said she didn’t feel guilt over the murders, but only over losing the Family. And all her actions were about getting them to like her again. It was as if the murders never happened.
    Additionally, she turned to Jesus too quickly. As soon as the Manson influence and the LSD alterations wore off, she had her vision of Jesus. She was totally alone by then with not a visitor, not a friend, not even any human contact. So she imagined Jesus. And he forgave her, for guilt she did not feel. Reading her two books, she scarcely mentions her victims and is obsessed with the fact that, as she saw it, Linda was just as culpable but got away with it. I can’t think a person is remorseful if they felt no guilt.

  14. Larry says:

    is it not Jesus Christ who told us to ‘turn the other cheek’? I wonder how many of you insisting that ‘they got their parole when they weren’t executed’ go to church every week and repent for your sins? a simple fact, at least for Leslie van houten, is if this case weren’t so famous, she would have been paroled long ago. if convicted nazi war criminals have been paroled after serving less time than her, how can we justify denying her parole continually? considering her sentence, she meets the criteria to be paroled, yet she is repeatedly denied. forgiveness is much harder and respectable than vengeance, and rehabiliation is possible. I am not saying what they did wasn’t heinous, but the original case can’t be the cause for her continued incarceration when nearly 45 years have passed. look at the person she is today, not who she was when she committed these crimes. she has changed, without a doubt. 40+ years is enough time to change ANY of us. she accepts responsibility, and is remorseful. those who deny it are blinded by hate and revenge.

  15. Robert says:

    Of them all I think Leslie Van Houten has more than piad her debt for her crimes! Her life has been taken away, no husband(except for a short time) no children no real life, so let her be paroled . After all, if she is truly remorseful, she will continue to torture herself for ever more.

    Go here and sign a petition and you can do anonymously

  16. I’m quite late on this, and since then Atkins has passed, but in all honesty, I don’t see what the point of keeping her in prison to die was.
    She’s dying. She is not going to go out and hurt anybody. She’s literally stuck in a bed. Why not save the taxpayers some money and let her go home? Let the family handle it and pay for it.
    I couldn’t believe they kept her.
    As far as Van Houten, she’s an old woman now. I think they should let her out, and let her have some small amount of life before her time comes. She was a completely brainwashed teen who thought Manson was a god.

  17. Jane Cooper says:

    I was in CIW from 2003 -05, and then went on to Malibu, (fire camp ), but yeah, they were old ladies, my God, time served.

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