Leslie Van Houten
Leslie Louise Van Houten (born August 23, 1949) is an American convicted murderer and former member of the Manson Family. Under direction of cult leader Charles Manson, Van Houten participated in the murders of Leno and Rosemary La-Bianca alongside fellow Family members Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Steve "Clem" Grogan, on August 9, 1969. Initially sentenced to death for her role in the murders, her sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
Van Houten is currently incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California. She has applied for parole 22 times since she began her sentence, but has been denied each time.
Van Houten was born on August 23, 1949, in the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena. She grew up in a middle class churchgoing family along with an older brother and two adopted siblings, a brother and a sister, who were Korean. Her mother and father divorced when she was 14. She began taking LSD, Benzedrine, and hashish around age 15, running away for a time but returning to complete high school. At 17, she became pregnant and was forced by her mother to undergo an abortion. Van Houten's mother informed her sometime later that the procedure could not be referred to as an abortion as the fetus was too far along. Van houten stated that after this event, she felt very removed and harbored intense anger toward her mother. She had a period of interest in yoga and took a year long secretarial course, but became a hippie, living at a commune.
Joining the Manson Family
After a few months in a commune in Northern California, Van Houten met Catherine Share and Bobby Beausoleil and moved in with them and another woman during the summer of 1968. The four broke up after jealous arguments, and Share left to join Charles Manson's commune. Van Houten, then aged 19, followed Share. At this time, she phoned her mother to say she was dropping out and would not be making contact again. Manson decided when they would eat, sleep, and have sex, and with whom they would have sex. He also controlled the taking of LSD, giving followers larger doses than he himself took. According to Manson, When you take LSD enough times, you reach a state of nothing, of no thought. According to Van Houten, she became "saturated in acid" and could not grasp the existence of those living a non-psychedelic reality.
From August 1968, Manson and his followers were based at the Spahn Ranch. Manson ostensibly ran his Family based on hippie-style principles of acceptance and free love. At the remote ranch, where they were isolated from any other influences, Manson's was the only opinion heard. At every meal he would lecture repetitively. Van Houten said Manson's attitude was that she belonged to Bobby. According to Van Houten, she and other Manson followers looked to 14 year old Family member Dianne Lake as the empty vessel, the epitome of what women were supposed to be in the Manson system of values. When Barbara Hoyt spoke at Van Houten's parole hearing in 2013, she said that Van Houten was considered a leader in The Manson Family.
Manson was preoccupied with becoming a pop star. From June 1967 to August 8, 1968, he had a number of recording sessions but was not thought promising enough for a contract. Manson, however, saw himself as a musical genius who would transform mainstream society. He identified with the subject of the Beatles song Piggies, through a world shaking pop album he would record. Influenced by the Bible, Manson taught the Family that they would be joined by the Beatles and escape to a bottomless pit, which they could enter through a hole in the ground. They would emerge and be acknowledged as the rightful rulers after 150 years at the center of the Earth, where the Family would have grown in number to 144,000 and their bodies taken on new forms.
By April 1969, Manson had involved followers in criminal activity such as auto theft and residential burglaries, and Van Houten who burglarized her father's home twice had been arrested and spent a few days in jail. That same month, in a dispute over drugs, Manson confronted and shot a man named Bernard Lotsapapa Crowe. Although Crowe survived, Manson believed that he had killed him. He also falsely believed that Crowe, an African American, was a member of the Black Panther Party. This incident led Manson to become increasingly paranoid, and to imagine that Black Panthers were intent on exacting vengeance against him. Preparations for what he saw as a coming attack by the Black Panthers included Tex Watson demonstrating how to kill with a knife.
One night after the murder of Sharon Tate, Manson lead a group of Family members to the home of Leno and Rosemary La-Bianca. She and Krenwinkel held Rosemary in place while Tex stabbed her several times, but he couldn't continue after he bent the blade of his knife. Van Houten took a knife and stabbed Rosemary's lower back and buttocks over a dozen times.
On August 16, Van Houten was one of those booked after a raid on the Spahn Ranch in Chats-worth by police investigating auto thefts. Manson suspected ranch hand Donald Shea had blown the whistle and had him tortured and murdered. The Family then moved to Barker Ranch, two hundred miles away in Death Valley. Manson was arrested there on October 12, 1969. Meanwhile, Van Houten and another woman stayed at Barker ranch, searching for the 'hole in the ground, before being arrested in December 1969. Unlike other members of the Family, Van Houten provided a great deal of information. Using the Manson family nicknames during interviews with police, Van Houten helped identify who had actively participated in the Tate and La-Bianca murders, and who had been there but not killed anyone, thereby indicating that Kasabian was a crucial witness. Van Houten implicitly admitted to direct knowledge of the La-Bianca murders in police interviews.
Trial and aftermath
On March 29, 1971, Van Houten was convicted of murder along with the other defendants. During the sentencing phase of the trial, in an apparent attempt to exonerate Manson, Van Houten testified that she had committed a killing in which she was not, in fact, involved. She told a psychiatrist of beating her adopted sister, leading him to characterize her as a spoiled little princess and a psychologically loaded gun, and was adamant that Manson had no influence over her thought processes or behavior. Van Houten also told the psychiatrist that she would have gone to jail for manslaughter or assault with a deadly weapon without ever meeting Manson. When her lawyer, attempting to show she felt remorse, asked if she felt sorrow or shame for the death of Rosemary La-Bianca, Van Houten replied sorry is only a five-letter word and you can't undo something that is done. In cross-examination, Van Houten aggressively implicated herself in inflicting wounds while the victim was living, and severely wounding the victim, severing her spine, which might have been fatal by itself. She vehemently denied acting on instructions from Manson, and said a court appointed attorney who had a lot of different ideas on how to get me off had told her to claim Manson ordered the killings.
Van Houten was sentenced to be executed she was the youngest woman ever condemned to death in California. No death row for female prisoners existed, and a special unit was built. The death sentences were automatically commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court's People Anderson decision resulted in the invalidation of all death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972. With murder or manslaughter convictions she was eligible for parole once she had served seven years. In order to be released after seven years, her first parole hearing would have had to have granted her parole and the Governor not veto the decision.