It was the summer of ‘69. In July, we landed a man on the moon. Woodstock was still to come. But a week before the three days of peace and music began, America was left reeling from the ritualistic murders perpetrated by the Charles Manson family, a group who purportedly wanted to start a race war they felt was foretold in the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter.” And now, according to the Los Angeles Times on April 14, a member of that murderous family, Leslie Van Houten, has been recommended for parole.
For those who don’t remember the crime, five people were murdered at the home of film director Roman Polanski in the overnight hours of August 8th and 9th, 1969, including Polanski’s pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate. Manson wasn’t happy. He felt the murders were sloppy. So he sent his family out again looking for victims. The family found and brutally murdered supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary the next night.
Leslie Van Houten was the youngest member of Charles Manson’s family. And although she didn’t participate in the murder of Sharon Tate on that hot August night long ago, she was instrumental in the murder of Rosemary LaBianca. She admits to stabbing Rosemary in the back at least 14 times. Supposedly, Van Houten was under the influence of LSD at the time of the murder.
In 1971, the Manson family was sentenced to death for their crimes. Those sentences were commuted to life in prison when California banned the death penalty in 1972. Leslie Van Houten, now 66, has been incarcerated since that time.
Van Houten has been a perfect prisoner during her incarceration, even to the extent of earning advanced degrees while running self-help groups for other inmates. She has shown more remorse than any of the other Manson family members who have come up for parole. At the parole hearing she told the board, “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.”
Not everyone is buying it, though. Cory LaBianca, 21 when her father and stepmother were slaughtered by the Manson family, said she was “disappointed” by the decision. As before, she will advocate for rejection of Van Houten’s parole. “Maybe Leslie Van Houten has been a model prisoner, but you know what? We still suffer our loss. My father will never be paroled. My stepmother will never get her life back. There’s no way I can agree with the ruling today.”
Another who opposes Van Houten’s release is Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. “We disagree with the board’s decision and will evaluate how we plan to proceed.”
So what do you think? Should Van Houten’s good works while incarcerated mitigate the heinous nature of the crime she committed? Has she served long enough and, quote, unquote, “paid her debt to society”? Leave a comment below.