Who Is Leslie Van Houten?
Leslie Van Houten was born into a middle-class family in Southern California in 1949. In late 1968, she met Charles Manson and his "Family," moved onto their ranch and became infatuated with Manson. Less than a year later, Van Houten stalked into the house of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and participated in Rosemary's murder, stabbing her approximately 16 times. Van Houten was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, before her sentence was automatically commuted to life in prison when California banned the death penalty in 1972.
Leslie Van Houten was born in Altadena, California, on August 23, 1949. The second child in a middle-class family, she was outgoing and athletic in her youth and in high school she became homecoming princess.
However, during that time she began experimenting with drugs such as marijuana, hashish and LSD, which she took on a progressively more regular basis. At one point during her teens, she also ran away briefly with her boyfriend to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, a hub of the counterculture at that time.
Joining the "Manson Family"
In the summer of 1968, Van Houten met Bobby Beausoleil and Catherine "Gypsy" Share, and began traveling with them. Soon after they met, Share began telling Van Houten about a man named Charles Manson, whom she described as Christlike and having the answers to all of their questions.
By the fall of that year, 19-year-old Van Houten, the youngest member of the "Family," and the others were living with Manson at the Spahn Ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles County, but in 1969, Manson's message would change from peace to one of revolution and violence.
Soon, Van Houten said, "All we did was listen to the Beatles' White Album and read [the biblical book of] Revelations." Manson had visions of a race war, and he had a bizarre plan intended to instigate it, beginning with the murders of model/actress Sharon Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, and others on August 8, 1969.
While Van Houten was not directly involved in those murders, the following night she participated with Charles "Tex" Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, during which she was responsible for inflicting a reported 16 of the more than 40 stab wounds LaBianca received.
Life in Prison and Parole Hearings
By the end of 1969, the entire Manson Family was arrested and charged for their involvement in the brutal murders that horrified the country. The ensuing trials quickly developed a circus-like atmosphere because of the defendants' bizarre behavior and the media frenzy over their horrific crimes.
On March 29, 1971, Van Houten was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, California's subsequent ban on the death penalty automatically commuted her sentence to life in prison. In a 1977 retrial, she was once more found guilty of first-degree murder, but her life sentence included the possibility for parole.
In April 2016, after 19 unsuccessful previous hearings, a parole board recommended that Van Houten be released. However, California Governor Jerry Brown, acting on his authority to veto the decision, refused to release her, stating she posed "an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison."
On September 6, 2017, 68-year-old Van Houten appeared before a parole panel for the 21st time. "To tell you the truth, the older I get the harder it is to deal with all of this, to know what I did, how it happened," Van Houten told the two-person panel at California Institution for Women in Corona.
Despite another positive recommendation from the panel, Governor Brown again denied Van Houten parole, as did his successor, Gavin Newsom, in June 2019.
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