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Leslie Van Houten

Leslie Van Houten during the Tate/LaBianca trial.
Born August 23, 1949 (1949-08-23) (age 60)
Altadena, California, U.S.
Conviction(s) Robbery, murder, and conspiracy
Penalty Life imprisonment

Leslie Louise Van Houten (born August 23, 1949, Altadena, California) is a former member of Charles Manson's "Family" who was convicted of the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.


Early life

Van Houten was born in Altadena to an automotive auctioneer and a schoolteacher. She grew up in a middle class household with an older brother, along with a younger brother and sister adopted from Korea. Van Houten attended Monrovia High School, where she was twice elected homecoming princess.

In 1963, her parents divorced, with her father moving out, while the children stayed with their mother. Van Houten took the divorce very hard and later started experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs and marijuana. At 15, she became pregnant and her mother arranged an abortion. She wanted to keep the child, but was forced to undergo the abortion. Van Houten was deeply angered, and the relationship with her mother became extremely difficult. Van Houten graduated from high school in 1967. She moved in with her father and began attending business college, studying to become a legal secretary. She became very interested in spirituality and considered becoming a nun in the Self-Realization Fellowship spiritual community in Los Angeles.

Life with Manson

In the summer of 1968, Van Houten met Catherine Share and Bobby Beausoleil in San Francisco. It was through them that she heard of Charles Manson and his community. She was told that Manson was "like Jesus Christ and that he had the answers."[citation needed] When she met Manson, she was immediately captivated by him and the people associated with him. His way of life intrigued her, and she joined his group in September 1968, moving to the Spahn Ranch.

Although Van Houten was devoted to Manson, he was never very interested in her and treated her as if she "belonged to Bobby"[1] since she had been Beausoleil's girlfriend when she arrived at the ranch in 1968. Manson's attitude left her with a strong need to prove herself to him and the rest of the family.

Like the other members of Manson’s group, Van Houten was a heavy user of LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs, which rendered her susceptible to Manson’s concept of "Helter Skelter," an apocalyptic race war that he envisioned occurring between blacks and whites and that he believed - or claimed to believe - would put him in a position of leadership.

The murders

On the night of August 10, 1969, Manson drove Van Houten, Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, Steve Grogan, and Linda Kasabian to an address in Los Feliz, the home of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. Manson entered the house with Watson and handed him the ropes around his neck; he then left the house, instructing Krenwinkel and Van Houten to go inside and join Watson. The house had previously been cased in a process they called "creepy-crawling."

Krenwinkel and Van Houten found Rosemary LaBianca in a bedroom, to which she had retired while her husband had fallen asleep while reading in the living room. Van Houten put a pillowcase over Rosemary LaBianca's head, and the two women tied the electrical cord from a lamp around her neck. LaBianca started struggling; meanwhile, her husband, who had been tied up in the living room, started screaming as Watson began stabbing him. Rosemary grabbed the lamp and swung it at Van Houten, who fought with her and knocked the lamp away. Van Houten then held LaBianca down while Krenwinkel tried to stab her in the chest, but the blade bent on LaBianca's clavicle. Van Houten called for assistance from Watson, who entered the bedroom and took charge. Van Houten exited the room and stood in the hallway, staring into an adjacent empty room.

Watson then stabbed Rosemary LaBianca several times, found Van Houten, handed her the knife, and told her to "do something."[1] Van Houten proceeded to stab Rosemary 16 times in the lower torso. The autopsy showed that several of the wounds had been inflicted post-mortem. Van Houten then wiped the premises down for fingerprints, changed into LaBianca's clothes, and took food from the refrigerator before leaving the house.


Van Houten was tried in Los Angeles along with Manson, Krenwinkel, and Atkins for her part in the murders. Watson was later tried separately, since he was in Texas fighting extradition at the time. Van Houten was the youngest of the defendants and considered the least committed to Manson, so she was thought to be the most likely to receive a recommendation for mercy. Throughout the trial, however, she was disruptive, uncooperative, and inclined to giggle when listening to testimony, particularly when the deaths of the LaBiancas and that of Sharon Tate were discussed. As a result, she quickly lost the sympathy of the jury.

All of the defendants were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to death on March 29, 1971. The death sentences were automatically commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court's People v. Anderson decision resulted in the invalidation of all death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972.

Van Houten won a retrial in 1977 on the grounds that her counsel had not effectively represented her at the original trial. The lawyer at her first trial, Ronald Hughes, had disappeared during the trial and was later found dead. It was alleged that members of the Manson Family killed Hughes, but this has never been proven. Van Houten's second trial ended in a hung jury. She was tried a third time, during which she was free on bond. She was found guilty of felony robbery, murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Once again, she was sentenced to life in prison.

Parole requests

With one exception, Van Houten has had an uneventful prison record. In 1981, she married an ex-convict who was subsequently found to be in possession of a uniform used by pregnant prison employees. Van Houten quickly divorced him and ended the association, stating that she had known nothing about any plans he might have had to break her out of prison.

In 2002, Van Houten filed an appeal of her 2000 parole rejection, which received a hearing in Superior Court.[2] Superior Court Judge Bob Krug ordered a new parole hearing,[3] Krug pointed out that at the 1977 retrial, Van Houten was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, but having served eight years in prison, she was already eligible for parole by 1978. Krug's ruling for Van Houten was overturned on appeal in 2004.[4]

Van Houten was denied parole on August 25, 2004. She was again denied parole on September 7, 2006, her 16th unsuccessful application.[5] At this hearing she was informed she may apply again in one year as opposed to the usual two years[5][6] She was once again denied parole on August 30, 2007, but would be allowed to have a hearing again in two years. Van Houten's parole hearing scheduled for August 2009[7] was postponed until August 2010 after she requested a postponement due to current legal issues being pursued in court, wherein she is challenging her 2004 parole denial in federal court.[8]

Van Houten remains housed in the California Institution for Women in Chino, along with Krenwinkel. Filmmaker John Waters has actively advocated for Van Houten's parole.[9][10]


  1. ^ a b "CNN Larry King Weekend, Encore Presentation: Interview With Leslie Van Houten". Cable News Network LP, LLLP.. 2002-06-29. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  2. ^ Deutsch, Linda (2002-05-24). "Hearing held for Manson follower". Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  3. ^ "Judge orders new parole hearing for Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten". Associated Press. 2002-06-05. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  4. ^ "High Court Spurns Leslie Van Houten’s Bid for Release". Metropolitan News-Enterprise. 2004-06-24. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  5. ^ a b Former Manson disciple denied parole. The Age. (September 8, 2006). Retrieved 2006-09-08.
  6. ^ "Former Manson disciple Leslie Van Houten denied parole". San Diego Union-Tribune. Associated Press. 2006-09-06. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  7. ^ "Manson follower denied parole for the 18th time". Charleston Daily Mail. Associated Press. 2007-08-31. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  8. ^ "In re Leslie Van Houten" (PDF). Biennial Report Major Activities 2007-2008. California Department of Justice. 2008-09-15. Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  9. ^ "John Waters: Manson Family Member Should Be Free". 2009-08-05. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  10. ^ "Leslie Van Houten: A Friendship". 2009-08-03. Retrieved 2009-09-08. 


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