After serving over fifty years of a life sentence for two brutal murders, Leslie Van Houten, a former follower of infamous cult leader Charles Manson, has been released on parole. At the age of 73, Van Houten was just 19 when she participated in the shocking murder of a Los Angeles grocer and his wife in 1969 as a member of the notorious “Manson family.”
California’s governors had previously blocked Van Houten’s parole on five occasions, but a recent decision by a state appeals court reversed their rulings, leading to her release. Van Houten, once a homecoming queen, holds the unfortunate distinction of being the youngest Manson follower convicted of murder for her role in the death of California grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary.
During the brutal killings, which occurred in the aftermath of actress Sharon Tate’s murder and that of four others, Van Houten restrained Rosemary LaBianca while another individual stabbed her. Van Houten later admitted to also stabbing the deceased woman after her demise.
Van Houten’s lawyer, Nancy Tetreault, informed the Associated Press that her client departed from a women’s prison in California early on Tuesday morning. Van Houten is now expected to be on parole for three years and expressed her desire to find employment soon, according to Tetreault.
Charles Manson, considered one of America’s most notorious cult leaders, orchestrated a series of nine murders with the aim of inciting a race war named “Helter Skelter,” inspired by a famous Beatles song. Manson died in prison in 2017. While incarcerated, Van Houten pursued her education and obtained both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. She also worked as a tutor for fellow inmates.
Van Houten’s journey to parole was marked by numerous denials, but in 2016, she was finally recommended for parole. However, the recommendations were rejected by California Governor Gavin Newsom and his predecessor, Jerry Brown. The denial in 2020 was later overturned by a California appeals court.
On July 8, Governor Newsom announced his decision not to block Van Houten’s parole, clearing the path for her release on Tuesday. In a recent statement, he expressed his disappointment with the decision, highlighting the enduring impact the Manson cult’s brutal killings had on the victims’ families. Governor Newsom added that it was unlikely the case would be heard by California’s Supreme Court if the legal battle continued.
Now released from prison, Van Houten is expected to spend approximately one year at a halfway house. Her lawyer, Nancy Tetreault, emphasized that Van Houten would need to acclimate to a drastically different reality compared to when she was first incarcerated. This includes learning to navigate the internet and adapting to a cashless society. In parole hearings, Van Houten expressed remorse for her role in the killings and her association with Manson, acknowledging that she had unquestioningly accepted his beliefs.
“I bought into it lock, stock and barrel,” she admitted during a 2002 parole hearing, reflecting on her unquestioning acceptance of Manson’s ideology. “I took it at face value.”