At just 19-years-old, the youngest member of the Manson Family cult was sentenced to serve life in prison for her role in the savage murder of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. Now at age 68, it would appear that at least one of the women who had been involved in the shocking murder spree orchestrated by Charles Manson may be getting a second lease on life.
Leslie Van Houten has spent almost her entire adult life inside prison walls. During that time she became a model inmate and has earned several college degrees. She has also spoken candidly about her role in the murder of the La Biancas. Van Houten says she held down Rosemary La Bianca as she was stabbed by another Manson Family member, then she picked up the knife and stabbed the woman 12 more times. While she can’t undo the past, she says, “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.”
A former member of Manson’s cult who had not been involved in the murders, Catherine Share, testified before the parole board on Van Houten’s behalf. She explained that when Van Houten had been involved in Manson’s cult she was young, impressionable, and too afraid to leave.
Van Houten, who had once been an athlete and a homecoming princess, explained that she fell in with Manson and his “family” after her parents had filed for divorce. The divorce of her parents was a devastating blow, but even more shocking is the former cheerleader became pregnant at a time where unwed mothers were frowned upon. It was shortly after this time that Van Houten began experimenting with drugs. Before long she had dropped out of high school and ran away to live with a charismatic aspiring musician and spiritual guru.
This isn’t the first time Van Houten has been approved for parol. In 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown overturned the court’s decision. While Brown took into account Van Houten’s age at the time of the slayings and her status as a model inmate, Brown said Van Houten failed to sufficiently explain how an upstanding teenager evolved into a ruthless killer.
“Both her role in these extraordinarily brutal crimes and her inability to explain her willing participation in such horrific violence cannot be overlooked and lead me to believe she remains an unacceptable risk to society if released,” Brown later wrote in a press statement.
Similarly, Brown has 120 days to determine whether or not Van Houten may still pose a risk to society. If parol is denied, Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, says they will not give up hope. “I’m not going away, and she’s going home.”