Name: Leslie Louise Van Houten
Date of birth: 08/23/1949
Place of birth: Los Angeles, California
Prisoner ID: W13378
Whereabouts: California Institute for Women (life sentence)
Documents: 2016 Parole Board Transcript
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 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 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. At this time, she phoned her mother to say she was dropping out and would not be making contact again.
On Manson’s orders, Van Houten participated in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Along with Manson, Watson, Atkins, Grogan, Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian, Van Houten went to the home of Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, on Waverly Drive. After Manson and Watson tied up the couple, Manson left, giving orders to Van Houten and Krenwinkel to go with Watson and to do whatever he said. Watson told Van Houten and Krenwinkel to take Mrs. LaBianca into a bedroom and kill her. Leaving Manson, Atkins, Grogan and Kasabian in the car outside, the trio proceeded to kill the couple.
Van Houten and Krenwinkel tied up Mrs. LaBianca with a lamp cord and put a pillowcase over her head. Mrs. LaBianca, who was being held in the master bedroom, could hear the screams and struggling of her husband who was being held in the living room as Watson began stabbing him while he pleaded for his life. She began to struggle. Van Houten ran for Watson in the other room; he told her “to do something.” Krenwinkel got a fork from the kitchen and stabbed Mr. LaBianca with it. Once again wielding the knife, Krenwinkel stabbed Rosemary LaBianca while Van Houten held her down. However, the knife bent and she was unable to actually stab the struggling woman. Van Houten and Krenwinkel called to Watson, who came into the master bedroom and gave Van Houten a knife. Van Houten then repeatedly stabbed Rosemary LaBianca in the back. According to testimony from the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, Mr. LaBianca suffered 47 stab wounds.
Van Houten stabbed Rosemary’s lower back over a dozen times. Van Houten later told Dianne Lake that she had stabbed someone who was already dead. The autopsy indicated that some of the 47 stab wounds Rosemary suffered had been inflicted post-mortem.
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.
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 again alive.
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 v. Anderson decision resulted in the invalidation of all death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972.