Leslie Van Houten - Member of the Manson Family:
At age 19, self-proclaimed Manson family member, Leslie Van Houten, took part in the 1969 brutal murders of Leon and Rosemary LaBianca. She was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to death. Because of an error in her first trial she was granted a second which deadlocked. After spending six months free on bond, she returned to the courtroom a third time and was convicted and sentenced to life.
Leslie Van Houten - Before Manson:
Leslie was an attractive, popular teenager and sexually active by the age of 14. By age 15 she was pregnant and had an abortion. However, even with her sketchy behavior she was popular among her peers and was twice voted as homecoming queen at her high school. This acceptance didn't seem to sway her bad choices. By the time she left high school she was involved in hallucinogenic drugs and was drifting toward a "hippy" type lifestyle.
A Self-Proclaimed Nun:
After graduating from high school, Leslie moved in with her father and attended a business college. When she wasn't busy studying to become a legal secretary, she was busy being a "nun" in a yogic spiritual sect, The Self-Realization Fellowship. The community failed to keep her focus for long and at the age of 18 she decided to visit a friend living in San Francisco.
Joining the Manson Family:
Van Houten liked the San Francisco streets where drugs flowed as free as the music and a "free-love" attitude was a popular life style. She met Bobby Beausoleil, his wife Gail and Catherine Share, and began traveling around California with them. In September 1968, they took her to meet Charlie Manson and the "family" at Spahn's Movie Ranch, a 500-acre ranch, located in the Santa Susana Mountains. Three weeks later she moved into the ranch and became one of Manson's devout followers.
Manson Gives Van Houten to Tex Watson:
Later described by a psychiatrist as "a spoiled little princess", Van Houten was accepted by the family members, but Manson seemed disinterested in her and her pretty face. He never gave her a special family name and immediately after her arrival he assigned her to be Tex Watsons' "girl." The lack of attention from Manson made Leslie try harder to get into his good graces. When the opportunity to prove her commitment to Manson arrived on August 10, 1969, she accepted.
Making Charlie Proud:
With her family idol, Patricia Krenwinkel, and boyfriend, Tex Watson, by her side, Van Houten entered the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianco. She was aware that on the previous night, family members had butchered Sharon Tate and four others. She listened the night before to the stories Krenwinkel told about the thrill she received as she stabbed the bound, pregnant Sharon Tate. Now it was Van Houten's chance to make Manson see her true commitment to him by performing equally horrific acts.
The LaBianca Murders:
Inside the LaBianca home, Van Houten and Krenwinkel tied an electrical cord around the neck of 38-year-old Rosemary LaBianca. Rosemary, laying in the bedroom, could hear her husband, Leon, being murdered in the other room. When she began to panic, the two women put a pillow case over her head and Van Houten held her down as Tex and Krenwinkel took turns stabbing her. After the murder, Van Houten cleaned up traces of fingerprints, ate, changed clothes and hitched hiked to Spahn's Ranch.
Van Houten Implicates Charlie and the Family in Murder:
The police raided Spahn's Ranch on August 16, 1969 and Barker Ranch on October, 10th and Van Houten and many of the Manson family members were arrested. During interrogation, Van Houten told police about Susan Atkins' and Patricia Krenwinkle's involvement in the Tate murder. She also told authorities of Atkins' involvement in the murder of music teacher, Gary Hinman, after a botched drug deal.
Giggles and Chants:
Van Houten was eventually tried for her involvement in the murder of Rosemary LaBianco. She, Krenwinkel and Atkins made several attempts to disrupt court proceedings by chanting, yelling at the prosecutors and giggling during descriptive testimony about the Tate and LaBianco murders. Under Charlie Manson's directions, Van Houten repeatedly fired the public defenders who tried to separate her trial from those being tried for the Tate murders since she had not participated in the crimes.
The Murder of Ronald Hughes:
Toward the end of the trial, Van Houten's "hippie lawyer" Ronald Hughes, refused to allow Manson to manipulate his client by allowing her to implicate herself further in the murders to protect Manson. Soon after he made his objections known to the court, he vanished. Months later his body was found wedged between rocks in Ventura County. Later, some of the Manson Family admitted that family members were responsible for his murder, although no one has ever been arrested.
Sentenced to Die: The jury found Leslie Van Houten guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder and she was sentenced to death. California outlawed the death penalty in 1972 and her sentence was commuted a life imprisonment.
Out on Bail: Van Houten was granted a second trial after it was determined that Judge Older failed to call a mistrial after Hughes disappearance. The second trial began in January 1977 and ended in a deadlock nine months later and for six months Van Houten was out on bail.
Denouncing Charlie: The Van Houten who appeared in the original murder trial and the one who appeared in the retrial was a different person. She had cut off all ties to Manson and publicly denounced him and his beliefs and accepted the reality of her crimes.
Back to Jail for Good: In March, 1978 she returned to the courtroom for her third trial and this time she was found guilty and sentenced again to life imprisonment.
Leslie Van Houten's Prison Days: While in prison, Van Houten has been married and divorced, received a B.A. in English Literature, and has been active in recovery groups in which she shares her experience, strength and hope. She has been denied parole 14 times, but has said she will keep trying.
As to her involvement in the horrific acts committed on that August evening in 1969 -- she chalks it up to LSD, mind control methods used by Charles Manson, and brain washing.
Currently she is at the California Institute for Women in Frontera, California.
See Also: The Manson Family Photo Album
Desert Shadows by Bob Murphy
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
The Trial of Charles Manson by Bradley Steffens