California Governor Jerry Brown finally ruled on the fate of Leslie Van Houten and denied her parole for what would be the 22nd time since her conviction for murder and subsequent incarceration. To which I say, "Thank you, Governor".
Van Houten may today be leading a more righteous life behind bars, but on the evening of August 10, 1969, after being denied her chance to "join in the fun" the night before at the house on Cielo Drive, she was cut loose and became a human monster who stabbed Rosemary LaBianca over and over with a bayonet, proving to Charlie Manson that she was a worthy acolyte of his death cult. For that she should not be able to walk among the free ever again.
Why say that, you may ask? As a teenager in the late 60s, I still remember the impact that those two terrible summer nights had on those who lived in the Los Angeles area. We lived but a half-hour's drive from the notorious Spahn Ranch and about 45 minutes from the killing grounds of the Tate/LaBianca killings. I lived in L.A. during the Hillside Strangler and Robert Ramirez rampages, and I worked with a guy who suddenly stopped coming to work, and who I later learned was one of the many victims of Patrick Wayne Kearney, the infamous "trashbag murderer".
Time has a way of eroding the memory and allows the greater consideration of forgiveness when it comes to heinous deeds. Not for me. While the heightened angst of living in the proximity to the hunting grounds of these human monsters has faded, the uncomfortable recollection of those times still hold a little dread when reminders come creeping back such as in the case of Leslie Van Houten's bid for release. Another page in the story of true crime and tragedy has been turned. Let's hope the book gets closed for good.
|Convicted murderer Leslie Van Houten in 2017.|
The gruesome details of the crimes on Aug. 10, 1969, were cited by California Gov. Jerry Brown in denying parole for Van Houten, now 68.
“She chose to enter the LaBianca home, brutally stabbed Mrs. LaBianca numerous times, and then helped clean up the scene and dispose of evidence,” the governor wrote in his decision dated Friday.
“There is no question that Van Houten was both fully committed to the radical beliefs of the Manson Family and that she actively contributed to a bloody horror that terrorized the nation,” Brown added. “As our Supreme Court has acknowledged, in rare cases, the circumstances of a crime can provide a basis for denying parole. This is exactly such a case.”
The governor’s denial of Van Houten’s bid for freedom is the second time in a row. She was first recommended for release by the California Parole Board in 2016, but was denied by Brown three months later. Twenty times before that, the parole board had denied her release.
Van Houten, then 19, was the youngest member of the Manson Family, the apocalyptic cult that followed Charles Manson amid the influence of drugs and orgies. The crime spree in the summer of ’69 was intended to spur a race war they called “Helter Skelter” after a song on the Beatles White Album. Helter Skelter would pit whites and blacks against one another, while the Family would have safe refuge in a “bottomless pit” in Death Valley.
The first massacre was Aug. 9, 1969, when four Manson Family members entered the Beverly Hills home of director Roman Polanski and slaughtered five people, including Sharon Tate, Polanski’s wife, who was eight months pregnant at the time.
According to the governor’s latest rejection, Van Houten had admitted at one point that she felt “left out” by not participating in the killings on Cielo Drive. But she was part of the group of seven the next night who arrived at the Los Feliz home of the LaBiancas—and took part in killing 39-year-old Rosemary LaBianca and her husband Leno, 44.
Brown wrote in his decision that he had considered that Van Houten was young at the time of the crimes, impressionable due to an abusive relationship with Manson, and had in most respects turned her life around in prison in the last half-century.
However, the governor said the crimes were just too serious—and she had not taken full agency for her part in the death of the grocer and his wife one night in the summer of ’69.
“Even today, almost five decades later, Van Houten has not wholly accepted responsibility for her role in the violent and brutal deaths of Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca," he wrote.
Rich Pfeiffer, the parole attorney for Van Houten, said Brown’s rejection was the first time in recent California legal history where parole was denied based on the seriousness of the crime alone.
“The governor did not look at Leslie’s actual participation but rather looked at Manson’s crimes as a whole,” Pfeiffer said after the decision. “Leslie is going to go home, the only question is when.”
The status of the “Tex Watson Tapes”—the recordings made by Manson’s right-hand man shortly after the Family was arrested by authorities, and which could provide another account of the crimes—remains to be seen.
Charles Manson, the leader of the group, died in prison in November at the age of 83.