Van Houten, a one-time homecoming princess, participated in the killings of Leno La Bianca and his wife Rosemary a day after other Manson family members murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in 1969.
Van Houten, aka Lulu, was born on August 23, 1949, in Los Angeles. She grew up in a middle-class family along with an older brother and two adopted siblings. Her mother and father divorced when she was 14. She began taking LSD and hashish around age 15, running away for a time but returning to complete high school.
At age 17, she became pregnant and was forced by her mother to undergo an abortion. Van Houten’s mother informed her sometime later that the procedure could not be referred to as an abortion as the fetus was too far along.
Van Houten stated that after this event, she felt very removed and harbored intense anger toward her mother. She had a period of interest in yoga and took a year-long secretarial course, but became a hippie, living at a commune.
After a few months in a commune in Northern California, Van Houten met Catherine Share and Bobby Beausoleil and moved in with them and another woman during the summer of 1968.
The four broke up after jealous arguments, and Share left to join Charles Manson’s commune. Van Houten, then aged 19, followed Share and joined the Manson Family. At this time, she phoned her mother to say she was dropping out and would not be making contact again.
Van Houten was a participant in the LaBianca murders. Van Houten was arrested in December 1969. Unlike other members of the Family, Van Houten provided a great deal of information.
Using the Manson family nicknames during interviews with police, Van Houten helped identify who had actively participated in the Tate and LaBianca murders, and who had been there but not killed anyone, thereby indicating that Kasabian was a crucial witness.
Van Houten implicitly admitted to direct knowledge of the LaBianca murders in police interviews.
Death Of Ronald Hughes
Van Houten’s lawyer Ronald Hughes disappeared while on a camping trip during a recess from the Tate/LaBianca trial in November 1970. His body was found in March 1971, but due to the severe decomposition of his body, the cause of death could not be determined. No one has been charged in connection with his death.
Vincent Bugliosi wrote in his book Helter Skelter that Sandra Good claimed that Manson family members had killed 35 to 40 people and that Hughes was the first of the retaliation murders.
Attorney Stephen Kay stated that the last thing Manson said to Hughes was “I don’t want to see you in the courtroom again”, and Hughes was never seen in the courtroom again.
On March 29, 1971, Van Houten was convicted of murder. Van Houten was sentenced to death. She was the youngest woman ever condemned to death in California. No death row for female prisoners existed, so a special unit was built.
The death sentences were automatically commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court’s People vs. Anderson decision resulted in the invalidation of all death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972.