Leslie Van Houten Wins Appeal
Is 50 plus years enough for her role in the 1969 killings? We’ll let you be the judge.
The Original Crime
The Tate–LaBianca murders, as they’ve come to be known, were carried out by members of the Manson Family between August 8th and 10th of 1969 in Los Angeles, California. Late in the evening on the 8th, Charles Manson gave his orders to Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian who drove from their makeshift home on Spahn Ranch to 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. The home belonged to film director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate. Polanski was away in Europe working on a film at the time.
Sharon Tate, nearly full-term in her pregnancy, was home and surrounded by a group of friends. By early on the morning of August 9th, Tate, her unborn child, celebrity hairdresser, Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Folger’s boyfriend Wojciech Frykowski and Steven Parent, an 18-year-old visiting the property’s caretaker; would all be dead.
Van Houten gets in on the action
The following night, the four Manson Family members who’d participated in the Tate murders, loaded into a car with Manson, Steve Grogan and Leslie Van Houten. Linda Kasabian drove the car to the home of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca at 3301 Waverly Drive. Leno and his wife, Rosemary, were found murdered the next day. Manson, Atkins, Grogan and Kasabian left the scene while Watson, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten carried out the gruesome crime.
After months of police work and thanks to Susan Atkins running her mouth to a cellmate while in prison for another crime, Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, Watson and Van Houten were all tried and convicted for their roles in the Tate-LaBianca murders. Each defendant received a death sentence.
Luckily for them, it was determined by California’s Supreme Court in 1972 that the death penalty laws were unconstitutional. The sentences were commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Life in Prison
Susan Atkins was denied parole a total of 14 times. She died in prison from brain cancer in 2009. She was 61-years-old. Her legal team’s request for compassionate release was also denied.
Charles Manson was denied parole 12 times and stopped even trying in 1997. He died in prison in 2017 from cardiac arrest due to respiratory failure and colon cancer. He was 83 at the time and had spent 70 years of his life behind bars in some fashion.
Charles “Tex” Watson remains incarcerated after being denied parole 17 times. The most recent denial came in 2021.
Patricia Krenwinkel also remains incarcerated, in fact she is currently the longest-incarcerated female inmate in the California penal system. Krenwinkel has been denied parole 14 times, most recently in 2017. In 2022, a panel gave her the thumbs up but it was overturned by California’s governor, Gavin Newsom.
But what about Van Houten?
The Court of Appeals wrote in 2019,
“Van Houten grew up in Southern California. Her parents divorced when she was 14. She lived with her mother until she graduated high school, then lived with her father and stepmother for a year while she attended Sawyer College and earned a legal secretary certificate. Van Houten began using drugs at age 14, including marijuana, methedrine, mescaline, benzedrine, and LSD. At 17 she became pregnant and had an abortion.
In 1968, after receiving her legal secretary certificate, Van Houten traveled up and down the California coast with a boyfriend for several months. She heard about a commune at the Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth, California established by Charles Manson and began living there.“
At the age of 21, Leslie Van Houten became the youngest woman ever put on California’s death row. She was also the youngest Manson Family member convicted. She has been denied parole a total of 22 times but at her three most recent hearings she was approved. In each case, the ruling was overturned by the Governor of California.
In May, the California state appellate court overturned Governor Gavin Newsom’s ruling. His office recently reported that he is not going to challenge. This means that Leslie Van Houten has the possibility to be (and will likely be) paroled shortly.
According to CNN, “Van Houten and her team are “thrilled” with the announcement. Van Houten will be released on parole pending a final behavioral hearing, with the exact date to be kept confidential for her safety, according to Tetreault.“
A Changed Woman?
Throughout her incarceration Van Houten has been hard at work. She had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a tutor certification, participated in the Victim Offender Education Group, Actors Gang Prison Project, a reentry program, Victim Awareness, Lifers Group, White Bison, Alcoholics Anonymous, and personal counseling, and worked as a tutor.
During a 2017 parole hearing she stated that, “I’ve dedicated my life in here to living amends. It’s how I live with what I did.”
When asked if she takes responsibility for her actions in 1969, “I take responsibility for the entire crime. I take responsibility going back to Manson being able to do what he did to all of us. I allowed it.”