Mel Lyman, leader of a personality cult in Boston, photographed by Diane Arbus.
In 1971, Rolling Stone magazine published a cover exposé, an extensive philippic on the Family by associate editor David Felton. The Rolling Stone report described an authoritarian and dysfunctional environment, including an elite “Karma Squad” of ultra-loyalists to enforce Lyman’s discipline, the Family’s predilection for astrology, and isolation rooms for disobedient Family members. Family members disputed these reports.
The Rolling Stone article and the earlier trial of Charles Manson, who seemed to share some traits in common with Lyman, raised the Family’s profile and – whether fairly or not – established Lyman in the sensationalist part of the public mind as a bizarre and possibly dangerous person.
…However, in 1973, members of the Family, including Frechette, staged a bank robbery. One member of the Family was killed by police, and Frechette, sentenced to prison, died in a weightlifting accident in jail in 1975.
Frechette said the place was not a commune: “It’s a ‘community,’ but the purpose of the community is not communal living. … The community is for one purpose, and that’s to serve Mel Lyman, who is the leader and the founder of that community.”
Thus it has been said that, unlike the Manson Family, Lyman’s did not explode in a dramatic denouement. Rather, the Family took a lower profile and carried on, quietly building on the relationships formed in the turbulent early years. Lyman died in 1978, age 40, under unknown (but presumably natural) circumstances.