She met Charles Manson in Manhattan Beach in 1967, along with Lynette Fromme and Mary Brunner, who were already known as "Charlie's Girls". In later interviews, Krenwinkel stated that she had slept with Manson the first night they met, and that he was the first person who told her she was beautiful. Mesmerized by Manson's charisma and starved for attention, she decided to go to San Francisco with him and the other two girls, leaving behind her apartment, car, and last paycheck.
As the Manson Family grew, Katie (as Krenwinkel was now known) and the others went on a drug- and sex-filled 18-month tour of the American west in an old school bus. She would later recount an idealized version of The Family's early days: "We were just like wood nymphs and wood creatures. We would run through the woods with flowers in our hair, and Charles would have a small flute". In the summer of 1968, Krenwinkel and fellow Family member, Ella Bailey, were hitchhiking around Los Angeles when Beach Boys founding member and Drummer, Dennis Wilson, picked them up. After being invited to his home while he continued on to a recording session, Krenwinkel and Bailey were able to contact the Family and tell them of their new "crash pad". When Wilson returned later that evening, he found Manson and the rest of the Family eating his food, sleeping in his bedrooms, and partying inside and outside his home. After causing Wilson financial problems, Manson and the rest of the Family left his mansion.
Meanwhile, still in jail, Susan Atkins began to tell all about their involvement in the Tate-LaBianca murders to cellmates Virginia Graham and Veronica "Ronnie" Howard. Because of Atkins' confessions and Howard's disclosure, Krenwinkel was arrested near her aunt's home in Mobile, Alabama on December 1, 1969. The following day, Krenwinkel was indicted for seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. After her arrest, Krenwinkel claimed that she had gone to Alabama because she feared Manson would find her and kill her, hence her attempt to fight extradition to California. Finally in February 1970, she waived extradition proceedings and voluntarily returned to California to stand trial with defendants Manson, Van Houten, and Atkins. Watson was tried separately at a later date after unsuccessfully fighting extradition from his home state of Texas.
Krenwinkel arrived onto California's death row on April 28, 1971. She received a death sentence for seven counts of first-degree murder for the August 9, 1969, deaths of Abigail Ann Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Earl Parent, Sharon Tate Polanski and Jay Sebring and the August 10, 1969, deaths of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. She was also convicted of consipiracy to commit murder. The death sentence imposed on Krenwinkel (as well as Manson, Watson, Atkins, and Van Houten) was automatically commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court's People v. Anderson decision invalidated all death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972. At the beginning of her new life in prison, Krenwinkel remained loyal to Manson and the Family, but in time began to break away from them. In distancing herself from Manson, she has maintained a perfect prison record, and received a Bachelor's degree in Human Services from the University of La Verne. She is active with prison programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and along with these involvements, she has also taught illiterate prisoners how to read. Reportedly, Krenwinkel writes both poetry and music, plays the guitar, plays on a prison volleyball team and gives dance lessons.
Patricia Krenwinkel was portrayed by Actress Christina Hart in the made-for-TV film Helter Skelter (1976), and 28 years later in the film's remake by Actress Allison Smith. She was also portrayed by Leslie Orr in the 2003 film The Manson Family, by Kaniehtiio Horn in Leslie, My Name Is Evil (2009), by Vanessa Zima in Manson Girls (2013) and Serena Lorien in House of Manson (2014). Olivia Klaus made a documentary short film on Krenwinkel, Life After Manson. The film was shown at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and included her first interview in 20 years. On television, Madisen Beaty portrayed Krenwinkel in the 2015–16 series Aquarius, while Leslie Grossman portrayed her in the 2017 season of American Horror Story: Cult.
Krenwinkel's initial parole consideration hearing was held on July 17, 1978.
Krenwinkel, still incarcerated, is now at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California. In an interview conducted by Diane Sawyer in 1994, Krenwinkel stated: "I wake up every day knowing that I'm a destroyer of the most precious thing, which is life; and I do that because that's what I deserve, is to wake up every morning and know that." During that same interview, Patricia expressed the most remorse for what she did to Folger, telling Diane Sawyer, "That was just a young woman that I killed, who had parents. She was supposed to live a life and her parents were never supposed to see her dead." In that same interview, she said that Manson was "absolutely lying" about not ordering the murders. She said, "There wasn't one thing done--that was even allowed to be done--without his express permission."
During a 2004 parole hearing, when asked who she would place at the top of the list of people she has harmed, Patricia Krenwinkel responded, "Myself." She was denied parole following that hearing because, according to the panel, Krenwinkel still posed an "unacceptable risk to public safety". At her January 2011 hearing, the two-member parole board said that the 63-year-old Krenwinkel would not be eligible for parole again for seven years. The panel said they were swayed by the memory of the crimes, along with 80 letters which came from all over the world urging Patricia Krenwinkel's continued incarceration.
Following the 2009 death of fellow Manson gang member, Susan Atkins, Krenwinkel is now the longest-incarcerated female inmate in the California penal system.
When later questioned, Krenwinkel claimed the only thing going through her mind at the time was that "Now he won't be sending any of his children off to war." Before hitchhiking back to Spahn Ranch, the trio stayed a while in the LaBianca home — eating food, showering, and playing with the LaBiancas' two dogs. Meanwhile, Manson, Atkins, Kasabian, and Grogan reportedly drove around Los Angeles looking for someone else to kill, to no avail.
In Krenwinkel's parole hearing on December 29, 2016, the decision was postponed to investigate the defense claim that Krenwinkel was suffering from battered woman syndrome at the hands of Manson during the time of the murders. The parole hearing resumed on June 22, 2017 when the 69-year-old Krenwinkel was denied parole. She will be eligible to have another parole suitability hearing in five years. After her 2017 review, Krenwinkel has been denied parole fourteen times.