A scant two years after the “Summer of Love,” a 19-year old homecoming princess from Monrovia plunged a knife into a wealthy Los Angeles shop owner again and again and again. The event, which happened one night after actress Sharon Tate and four others were slaughtered in Benedict Canyon, scared Los Angeles and the world. This week, commissioners from the California Board of Parole deemed former “Manson girl” Leslie Van Houten suitable for parole.
Now 66 years old, Leslie Van Houten has never denied participating in the second night of the Manson Family murder spree. During the penalty phase of her 1970 trial, Van Houten admitted to immobilizing Rosemary LaBianca while others stabbed her to death, then taking the bloody kitchen knife and stabbing an already dead LaBianca an additional 14 times. She did not actually kill anyone, nor was she present at the Cielo Drive home of Sharon Tate the night before. Nonetheless, the former beauty queen was convicted of murder and sentenced to death along with Charles Manson and fellow cult members Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel. One year later, another Manson follower named Tex Watson was also sentenced to death for his part in the bloody murder spree. A fourth “Manson girl,” Linda Kasabian, was granted immunity from murder charges in exchange for testimony against Manson and the rest, according to CNN.
Van Houten, the youngest convicted member of the notorious “Manson Family” cult, had applied for and been denied parole 20 times. At a hearing in 2002, she told the parole board “I take very seriously not just the murders, but what made me make myself available to someone like Manson.” At her parole hearing in 2013, Van Houten explained to state commissioners that a forced abortion at age 14 along with her parents divorce around the same time traumatized her severely. – so much so that the young girl who came “from a good family” found herself mired in a world of drugs and, eventually, murder. Van Houten apologized to the families of the murder victims and “everyone she harmed,” according to an AP news report.
New York Daily News reported that Leslie Van Houten told parole commissioners on Thursday that she “looked off into the distance” as she held Rosemary LaBianca down with a pillow and a lamp cord and that it was not until another Manson follower told her to “do something” that she accepted a bloody knife and stabbed Rosemary LaBianca’s dead body more than a dozen times. Rosemary’s husband, Leno LaBianca, was also murdered in the couple’s Los Feliz home. When his body was found the next day, the word “WAR” was carved into his stomach, and a meat-carving fork was stuck in his belly.
At Thursday’s parole hearing, Van Houten told commissioners “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.”
During her 46 years in prison, Leslie Van Houten has been a model prisoner. According to New York Daily News, Van Houten earned two college degrees behind bars and was commended more than once for exemplary behavior.
At this week’s parole hearing, Van Houten’s attorney told commissioners the following.
“The only violent thing she has ever done in her entire life was this crime and that was under the control of Charles Manson. She is just not a public safety risk, and when you are not a public safety risk, the law says you shall be released.”
[Photo by George Brich / AP Images]