Charles Manson may have passed away in 2017, but as long as the members of his cult ‘Family’ and the relatives of their victims are still alive, the murders will continue to generate anguish and controversy.
Leslie Van Houten has long been considered the least blameworthy of Manson’s addled groupies. She did not participate in the infamous murders of Sharon Tate and the four others in that Benedict Canyon house. But she did take part in the even more brutal murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the next day.
In Van Houten’s 1971 testimony, she described in chilling detail holding Rosemary LaBianca down as Charles “Tex” Watson stabbed her, then taking a knife herself and stabbing the woman at least 14 more times as Rosemary pleaded for her life.
Van Houten was 19 at the time and, like all of Manson’s followers, was taking large doses of LSD. Van Houten and the other Manson Family members were at first sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted to life in prison when California abolished the death penalty.
Van Houten, unlike most of the Family members, cooperated with police after the arrests, helping them to figure out who had actively participated in the murders. By all accounts, she has been a model prisoner during her four decades behind bars. She earned a college degree and edited the prison newspaper. She has called herself “deeply ashamed” for the murders and for allowing herself to become enthralled by Manson.
Van Houten has been coming before the parole board regularly since 1979. In 2016, after 19 rejections, a two-person panel granted her parole request. California Governor Jerry Brown, however, refused to release her saying, “her inability to explain her willing participation in such horrific violence cannot be overlooked.”
Then, in 2017, Van Houten was granted parole again. At that hearing, Van Houten said, “I don’t let myself off the hook. I don’t find parts in any of this that makes me feel the slightest bit good about myself.” Governor Brown is still debating whether or not to release her.
Van Houten’s lawyer is optimistic. But relatives of the murdered LaBiancas say none of the Manson followers deserve parole, ever - including Van Houten. In 2016, Corey LaBianca, Rosemary’s daughter, told the Los Angeles Times, “We all need to be held responsible for our behavior,” adding, “We still suffer our loss.”
At the most recent parole hearing, according to the Associated Press, LaBianca grandson Tony LaMontagne told the board, “Please see to it that this fight doesn’t have to happen every year for the rest of our lives.”
Feature photo of Charles Manson: New York Daily News / Getty Images