Is 'Aquarius' Emma Karn Real? The True Story Of Charles Manson's Followers Doesn't Fall Far From The Show
NBC's new summer series Aquarius begins each episode with the following advisement: "Inspired in part by historical events, this program contains fictitious characters, places and circumstances." Aquarius takes place during the very historically real "Summer of Love," a.k.a the summer of 1967. It follows the fictional Los Angeles homicide detective, Sam Hodiak (played by David Duchovny), looking into the disappearance of the teenage daughter of a former girlfriend; as you quickly learn in the premiere episode, that daughter, Emma Karn, has taken up with Charles Manson, real life murderer and cult leader who, along with his followers, was living at an abandoned ranch in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles in 1967. But, is Aquarius' Emma Karn based on a real Charles Manson follower? The lines of reality and TV show are getting that druggy haze around them in respect to this topic.
Basically, Aquarius is a fictionalized story of Charles Manson in the two years leading up the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders. But, as many of the Manson plot points are based on real events, it becomes difficult to suss out what and who are based on fact, and what's completely fictionalized within the growing community that Manson is building around himself. And, while the name Emma Karn won't be found in any biographies of Charles Manson, her character's quick ascent in his ranks in Aquarius closely parallels the real life people who followed, worshiped, and murdered for Manson...
The Manson Family
The most obviously historically accurate aspect of Aquarius' depiction of Emma Karn's involvement with Manson is her acceptance into the "Manson Family." Charles Manson spent much of the 1960s in prison for petty crimes, but when he was released in March of 1967 he began collecting a following of like-minded (read: drug and sex-obsessed) young people who roamed California living in various abandoned ranches. He essentially created what could have appeared to be an average hippy commune, but would later be revealed as a much more sinister gathering of young people. Manson was especially skilled at luring and manipulating young women, as evidenced in the show by Emma's escalation from being intrigued by Manson's message of freedom to having sex with who he tells her to so that he can get some extra time in the recording booth. Speaking of...
Perhaps the most fictional-seeming aspect of Aquarius' Manson and his following is their almost silly insistence that Manson is going to be "bigger than The Beatles." But, in the late '60s, music was, in fact, a very real part of Charles Manson's pull. Before they began worshiping him as a god-like figure, Manson's followers functioned more like groupies, obsessed with his "music." Like in the show, Manson did manage to make a few connections in the recording industry, mostly thanks to a connection with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. But, while Manson did manage to become well-known, it definitely wasn't for his musical abilities.
Manson has a few dedicated male followers in Aquarius, but as the murders that eventually sent him and many of his followers to jail later proved, the show's focus on Manson's ability to lure women into his manipulative web and use them for his own bidding is disturbingly accurate. Even though Emma Karn seems to be made up entirely for the narrative of the show, it's been pointed out that Katie and Sadie, the two women who take her under their wing, are likely based on Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins. They went by "Katie" and "Sadie" within the Manson Family, and were later sentenced to life in prison for their role in murder spree orchestrated by Manson in 1969 that left seven people dead, known commonly as the Tate-LaBianca murders. Manson used the many women under his spell like acolytes, sending them out to do his bidding, including murdering and maiming.
Though Emma is an amalgamation of the many young women lured in by Manson, she is fictional. Still, it's my theory that Emma might be loosely based on Linda Kasabian, the young woman who served as the getaway driver during the murders, but was so disturbed by the deaths, she ended up turning herself in and serving as the prosecution's star witness during the murder trial. Towards the end of Aquarius, Emma starts to get turned off by Manson's true character, and almost reluctantly goes along with the things her sisters are happy to do. But, whether my theory is true, or not, one thing is for sure: Manson's brand of female followers were very real and Emma is perfectly emblematic of how easy it was to get lured in.
Images: Jim Fiscus/NBC; Vivian Zink/NBC