Well, now! Leslie Van Houten has been approved for parole. Again.
Yes, I’m talking about the woman who confessed to stabbing Rosemary LaBianca.
Van Houten went up for her 21st parole hearing on September 6, 2017, and was approved. The two-member panel decided Van Houten has “radically changed her life” in the 47 years she’s spent in prison since the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders.
It isn’t the first time.
Here’s Ms. Van Houten on April 14, 2016, conferring with her attorney Rich Pfeiffer (not shown) during a break from her hearing before the California Board of Parole Hearings at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.
She was also approved in 2016, but California’s Governor Jerry Brown put the kibosh on that one, as he’s done four times thus far in Bruce Davis’s case. Davis, however, was a grown man at the time of the crimes. He’s also been convicted of far more than one homicide (e.g. the Donald Shea and Gary Hinman cases), and is suspected of several more, while Van Houten was only 19 at the time of the killings and was not even at the scene of the Sharon Tate murders.
Now Governor Brown has another 120 days to make his decision about this new bid for parole.
Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were stabbed to death on the night of August 9, 1968, during a home invasion by members of the Manson Family.
The Sharon Tate murders had taken place only the night before, and had all of Los Angeles in an uproar. So Manson decided to up the ante. He took Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, Steve Grogan, and Lindia Kasabian to the house in Los Feliz where the LaBiancas lived. And, at her own request, he took Leslie Van Houten too.
The house was not chosen at random. It was next door to a house being rented by a close friend of Phil Kaufman.
Who’s that, you ask?
He’s an American actor, record producer, tour manager, author, and all-around huckster.
Here, he’s shown arriving at the Egyptian Theater for Warner Home Video’s 20th Anniversary celebration of the film “The Right Stuff” in 2003.
Phil Kaufman started out as a driver for the Rolling Stones, and wound up working with Emmylou Harris, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, Hank Williams III, and Etta James, among others. Still, he’s probably best known for stealing the body of his buddy, country singer Gram Parsons (of The Flying Burrito Brothers), and burning it out in the Joshua Tree National Monument, after Parsons OD’d.
The caper was later depicted in the film “Grand Theft Parsons” wherein we learn that Kaufman and Parsons had made a pact about the survivor cremating whoever died first out in a favorite patch of the desert.
Phil Kaufman first met Manson while they were both inmates in the federal prison at Terminal Island, in Long Beach, CA. So, yes. Kaufman is also an ex-con.
Kaufman was doing a stint for smuggling marijuana.
The two hit it off, possibly as a result of their shared interests in music and the art of the con. Not that Phil was a fan. He says now that he never thought Manson was any good on a guitar, but did think he might make it in music on the basis of his singing and songwriting.
They parted ways when Manson requested a transfer to Leavenworth, where he expected fewer complaints from other prisoners about his incessant practicing on the guitar. At that time, Kaufman gave him the name of a friend in the music industry, Gary Stromberg at Universal, and offered to help him make contact.
Which actually happened, and resulted in a studio recording session. The outcome, however, did not turn out well. Manson apparently ignored all of Kaufman’s advice on how to go about it, and Stromberg said no go.
Stromberg apparently thought Manson’s act was “amateurish.” Like Terry Melcher, whose house was being rented by Sharon Tate at the time of her murder, Stromberg shied away from Manson and his music.
At any rate, when Kaufman was released from prison the following year, he spent time living with the Manson Family. Small wonder. There was no shortage of drugs and more than a few of the female members were made available to him According to Kaufman himself, he has “had sex with more serial killers than anyone else in Show Business.”
Okay, dude. If you’re into that sort of thing.
The relationship resulted in Manson attending a number of parties thrown at the house next door to the LaBiancas, as detailed in this book:
Later on, though, the two men had a falling out over who should be following whom, and Kaufman moved on.
He didn’t move that far, though. The year after the Tate-LaBianca murders, he produced this record album:
Lie: The Love and Terror Cult was released on vinyl on March 6, 1970 by Phil Kaufman through a label called Awareness Records.
According to the album’s original sleeve notes, the music was recorded primarily at Gold Star Studios on August 8, 1968, with track B3, “Sick City”, recorded September 11, 1967 in an unspecified location. Two tracks from the album were recorded in June 1967 at a demo session for Uni Records (a subsidiary of MCA) and appeared on a privately pressed 45 rpm single credited to “Silverhawk”. No established record label would touch it, however, and no one was willing to stock the album, which was finally released via the bootleg group Trademark of Quality. It sold a grand total of 300 copies.
Manson has apparently had more success selling autographs than record albums.
Disappointed, Manson later backpedaled on the whole thing. Despite his having called Kaufman as often as five days a week while he was awaiting trial, urging the producer to get his music out to the public, Manson later told Ron Reagan Jr. (during a 1991 interview), “That particular album was made off a little old $7 tape recorder, and it was put together as a promotion angle, and the guy made six or seven hundred dollars for that. My music is not on tape.”
Why does it matter? Because the Tate and LaBianca murders were at least tangentially aimed at Manson’s contacts in the music industry. And a third bloodbath might well have happened that night if not for Linda Kasabian getting an address wrong.
Linda Kasabian (born Linda Darlene Drouin) was a key witness at Manson’s trial for the Tate-LaBianca killings, where she told ADA Vincent Bugliosi: “We always wanted to do anything and everything for him [Manson].” Apart from her loyalty to Charlie, she had a valid driver’s license, which Manson thought might be needful if they were pulled over by the cops.
After tying up the LaBiancas and stealing a wallet they would discard later in hopes of incriminating any black person who picked it up (according to Kasabian’s court testimony), Manson then sent Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten into the house to do the deed. Meanwhile he took off with Atkins, Grogan and Kasabian. At a third location Manson sent the second crew after a Lebanese actor who’d had sex with Linda Kasabian on another occasion, but she led Atkins and Grogan to the wrong address (on purpose, it seems, if you accept her account at face value).
So what did Leslie Van Houten actually do that night? She’s told more than one version.
Here, Van Houten is shown leaving the courthouse with two sheriff’s deputies on December 19, 1969.
She’s admitted that she and Patricia Krenwinkel found Rosemary LaBianca tied up in her bedroom, while her husband was in the living room. Watson put a pillowcase over both of the LaBianca’s heads, and tied an electrical cord from a lamp around Rosemary’s neck but Rosemary started struggling when her husband screamed while he was being stabbed to death in the living room.
At that point, Rosemary managed to grab the lamp and swung it at Van Houten, who fought with her and then held her down while Krenwinkel tried to stab her in the chest. It didn’t work. Krenwinkel’s knife blade bent on Rosemary LaBianca’s collar bone.
So Van Houten called for help, and Tex Watson came back in and stabbed Rosemary LaBianca several times. He then gave the knife to Van Houten and told her to “do something” with it. Leslie Van Houten obeyed, and used the knife to stab Rosemary in the lower back and buttocks over a dozen times.
Later Van Houten would tell Dianne Lake, another Manson family member, that she had stabbed someone who was already dead.
The autopsy report states that some of the 47 stab wounds Rosemary suffered had been inflicted post-mortem.
Later on, however, when her lawyer tried to show she felt remorseful about the killings, he asked Van Houten if she felt sorrow or shame for the death of Rosemary LaBianca. And Van Houten replied, “Sorry is only a five-letter word.”
When cross-examined, Van Houten then said she’d inflicted some of the wounds while the victim was still alive, and severed Rosemary LaBianca’s spine in the process.
From left, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten are shown walking into court on August 20, 1970. At this point, Manson had carved a swastika into his own forehead, and his three co-defendants had done the same to show their devotion to him.
Which version is the truth? Who knows. During the first trial, Leslie Van Houten’s lawyer advised her to tell the court the murders had been committed on Manson’s orders.
Charlie didn’t like that. And during a trial break the lawyer, Ronald Hughes, disappeared.
Hughes disappeared on November 27, 1970, while on a camping trip, as described in an earlier post (see Part 3). His remains were found by a pair of fishermen on March 29, 1971. The death was ruled accidental, mostly for sheer lack of physical evidence, but could easily have been the result of foul play.
Manson, Krenwinkel, Atkins, and Van Houten were all convicted and sentenced to capital punishment for the murders , making Leslie Van Houten the youngest defendant ever condemned to death in California history.
However, the sentences were commuted to life sentences when the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in another case by the California Supreme Court. Then, in 1977, Van Houten was granted a retrial. Why? Because the judge declined to order a mistrial when her lawyer, Ronald Hughes, disappeared, appointing new counsel instead. This time around her defense was diminished capacity due to both heavy LSD use and Manson’s influence. This second trial ended up with a hung jury.
At her 1977 retrial, Leslie Van Houten looked a lot more like her earlier, far more innocent self in high school.
Leslie Van Houten, prom queen. That’s right. Prom Queen.
A second retrial immediately followed. This time, the prosecution changed its theory of the crime, adding a charge of robbery (remember that wallet?). That brought the felony murder rule into play, whereby when anyone dies during the commission of a felony (even if it’s your accomplice, even if your accomplice is actually killed by the cops), you are guilty of murder. The prosecution did that, even though what was stolen was small potatoes compared to the rest, in order to undermine that reduced capacity defense.
And it worked. Van Houten was found guilty of first degree murder and given a life sentence. With the possibility of parole.
Which is where we are, right now.
Van Houten, then and now.
Is she still dangerous?
I don’t know.
We’re told than Van Houten has been a model prisoner and earned college degrees while in custody. That she writes short stories. That she was the editor of the prison newspaper for a while, and that she’s worked as a secretary while in prison. That she “takes offense to the fact that Manson doesn’t own up” to his role in the murders. Reportedly, she told Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who sent her to prison, “I take responsibility for my part, and part of my responsibility was helping to create him.”
So is she rehabilitated?
If she asked me that question, I know what I would say.
You weren’t roped into those murders.
You asked for it. Literally. Having heard all about the gruesome Sharon Tate killings, you got all excited about it. And when you weren’t chosen for the team on the following night, you begged Manson to let you go too.
Afterward you bragged about it in court, no matter what you said to Dianne Lake. You boasted about your stabbing that woman so viciously that you severed her spine with your knife blade.
And when your lawyer asked you if you were sorry you did it, you said sorry’s just a five letter word.
Yeah, your lawyer. Ronald Hughes. Who pissed off Charlie Manson by trying to get you off. Who vanished, and whose death has been called “the first of the retaliation murders” by no less than Squeaky Fromme. Remember him?
Attorney Stephen Kay, who helped Bugliosi prosecute you and Manson and Atkins and Krenwinkel? He says, “The last thing Manson said to him [Hughes] was, ‘I don’t want to see you in the courtroom again, and he was never seen again alive.”
That man died defending you, and still you’ve never told us what you know about his death. You’ve never said a single word on his behalf.
That’s why, no matter how many times or in how many ways you try to tell us you’re sorry for what you’ve done… I’m never going to believe you.