Leslie Van Houten...
Leslie Van Houten
Louise Van Houten was born on August 23, 1949 in Los Angeles, California. By all
accounts, her auctioneer father and schoolteacher mother were doting, altruistic
parents who did everything they could for young Leslie and her brother Paul; their
kindess showed even further when they adopted two Korean orphans years later.
When Jane and Paul Van Houten divorced, though, Leslie took it extremely hard
and immediately started going down a destructive path. She began dating classmate
Robert Mackie and became sexually active at age fourteen. She became pregnant
that same year and had an abortion; she also began experimenting heavily with
LSD, dropping acid with her boyfriend at least once a week. Upon graduating from
Monrovia High School in 1967, she enrolled in sceretarial school. It was during
this period that Leslie, always prone to extremes, became a self-proclaimed "nun"
in the Self-Realization Fellowship, a sect that focused on spiritual betterment
through yoga techniques.
Leslie soon tired of the nun thing, though,
and at the age of 18 began wandering around California, seeking fulfillment in
sex and drugs. Her travels led her to cross paths with handsome musician Bobby
Beausoleil in 1968; the soon became lovers but Leslie still felt empty inside.
When she heard of Manson through Beausoleil friend Catherine Share (or Family
member Paul Watkins, according to his book) she immediately went to go meet the
man in person. It didn't take long for her to become a believer.
her big smile and model-good looks, Leslie remained somewhat distant from Manson
himself. She was never one of his favorites; even Charlie has said that she was
more "Tex's girl" than his. Perhaps this sense of isolation was what
led Leslie to try to "prove herself" to the Family on August 10, 1969
by accompanying Manson and several others on a second night of murder following
the horrific massacre of five people on the 9th. Around two in the morning Manson
dropped off Leslie, Charles Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel to the home of grocery
chain owner Leno LaBianca and his shop owner wife Rosemary.
inside the house Van Houten and Krenwinkel took 38-year-old Rosemary into the
master bedroom, put a pillowcase over her head, and wrapped an electrical cord
around her neck. Leslie then held the petrified woman down and watched as first
Krenwinkel and then Watson stabbed her numerous times. After Watson was done,
he told Leslie to stab the woman... and stab her she did, sixteen times in the
back. Van Houten has said that she thought Mrs. LaBianca was already dead at the
time but was not sure. Whatever the case may have been, there is no doubt that
she was dead once Leslie was finished with her.
After a California
state law overturned her death sentence in 1972, Leslie began to slowly separate
herself from Manson's influence. She began taking college course and wrote prolifically.
One of her short stories was even published in an anthology of prisoners' writings
called "Prose and Cons" in 1976. For a short time she was engaged to
the book's editor, an fellow criminal by the name of Frank Earl Andrews.
next brush with infamy came that same year, when she won a new trial due to ineffective
counsel during the initial Tate-LaBianca trial (her lawyer, Ronald Hughes, had
been found dead in late 1970). Her first retrial in 1977 ended in a hung jury.
Leslie was then released on bail for six months before a second retrial found
her guilty of first-degree murder. Since then she has been more or less a model
prisoner, with her one downfall being a short-lived jailhouse marriage to an ex-con
who allegedly tried to break her out of prison (though it should be noted that
Van Houten probably knew nothing of his plan). Her next parole hearing is in 2002.
psychiatrist, after evaluating Leslie Van Houten, described her as "a psychologically
loaded gun which went off as a consequence of the complex intermeshing of highly
unlikely and bizarre circumstances." The psychiatrist saw Van Houten as "a
spoiled little princess" who, from childhood on, was impulsive, easily frustrated,
and prone to displays of temper. She admitted, for example, to having beaten her
adopted sister with a shoe.
Although described as being the least committed
to Manson of the three female defendants, Van Houten nonetheless agreed to participate
in the murderous raid on the LaBianca home on August 10, 1969. She helped hold
down Rosemary LaBianca while Tex Watson stabbed her to death. In a November 1969
interview with police, Van Houten admitted to knowledge of the Tate-LaBianca murders,
but denied participation.
Van Houten's first attorney, Donald Barnett, was
dismissed after crossing Manson. Her second lawyer, Marvin Part, wanted to show
that Van Houten was "insane in a way that is almost science fiction."
Part saw her crime as influenced by LSD and Charles Manson, but Van Houten saw
it differently: "I was influenced by the war in Viet Nam and TV." At
Manson's urging, Van Houten fired Part and yet another attorney was appointed.
When Van Houten's third attorney, Ronald Hughes, also began pursuing a strategy
that ran counter to that favored by Manson (Manson opposed any strategy that suggested
the other defendants acted under his influence), the Family had him killed. No
one has ever been charged with his murder.
Van Houten's first-degreee murder
conviction in the Tate-LaBianca trial was overturned by a state appellate court
in 1976 on the ground that Judge Older erred in not granting Van Houten's motion
for a mistrial following the disappearance of attorney Ronald Hughes. In her first
re-trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Released on bond for a few months,
Van Houten lived with a former writer for the Christian Science Monitor. She was
tried a third time in 1978 and convicted of first-degree murder after the jury
rejected her defense of diminished capacity as the result of prolonged use of
In prison at the California Institution for Women
, Van Houten accepted responsibility for her crime: "Being a follower does
not excuse." She earned a degree from a correspondence school (with a major
in English Lit), edited the prison paper, sewed for the homeless, and wrote short
stories. Although no one could find fault with her prison record, she was again
denied parole in 2002. Van Houten's life in prison is described in a recent book
by Karlene Faith, The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten (2001).
VAN HOUTEN - PAROLE
Leslie Van Houten is 52 years old. She is serving a
life sentence in California for two murders that occurred 33 years ago while she
was a member of the Charles Manson "family". She recently went before
the parole board, which denied her application for parole for the fourteenth time.
was after midnight on August 6, 1969 when "Manson family" members entered
the Bel Air home of director Roman Polanski and slaughtered his wife actress Sharon
Tate and 4 other people. Nineteen year old Leslie Van Houten was not present that
night. She did attend the following night when the "family" invaded
the home of grocers Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and stabbed the two to death.
two cases were tried together. Eventually Van Houten was convicted along with
Manson, Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkle.
All were sentenced to death but this was reduced to life imprisonment when the
Supreme Court struck down the death penalty law. All of the killers are still
Van Houten's initial conviction was overturned on the basis that
she had received an inadequate defence. Her lawyer, Ronald Hughes had disappeared
just before counsel were to make their final addresses to
the jury (his body
was found after the trial was over). He was replaced on very short notice by another
The second trial resulted in a hung jury. She was again convicted
after the third trial.
The case of Leslie Van Houten illustrates clearly
that parole eligibility does not always evolve into actual release on parole.
The parole board must first determine that the candidate meets all the necessary
criteria before this will happen. Van Houten has failed to satisfy the California
state parole board of this on fourteen separate
occasions. Manson and the others
have also been unsuccessful in their applications for parole.
But Van Houten
is arguably different from the rest. She was the youngest and the most vulnerable
to control by Manson. Since being incarcerated, she has gone through drug and
alcohol rehabilitation programs. She has
helped run such programs for other
women. She has completed two college degrees. She has undergone both group and
individual psychotherapy. Her psychiatric evaluations indicate that she is not
a danger to society and
that she is suitable for parole.
Attorney counters that the offences here were so heinous that she should never
be paroled. A California Superior Court Judge has stated however that the law
prohibits the parole board from simply
ignoring her accomplishments and turning
her sentence into life without parole.
That is one issue raised by this
case. Should murderers be eligible for parole at all? There are arguments to be
made for both sides. The argument against is quite simple. Murder is such a serious
offence that if we are not going to execute murderers, then nothing less than
life imprisonment without parole can could possibly express the public
Those in favour of parole stress that neither all murderers nor
all murders are exactly alike. Robert Latimer should not be treated the same as
Clifford Olsen or Paul Bernardo. While there are murderers who should
be released, there will also be those whose previous good character or whose attempts
to rehabilitate themselves after the fact should allow them at least a chance
at parole even for such a serious
offence. This opportunity should only be
available however after they have spent many years in the penitentiary paying
for their crime. This issue will not be resolved here but will continue every
time a murderer comes up for his or her parole hearing.
For Leslie Van Houten
the parole board found that the murders were committed in a "cruel and calculated"
way and that her progress in prison did not outweigh the seriousness of her crime.
She will continue to serve her sentence in prison.