Leslie Van Houten… (Convicted)

Leslie Van Houten (aka LuLu, Leslie Marie Sankston, Louella Alexandria, Leslie Owens , Susan, Louis Alexander, Louella Maxwell, Leslie Sue Owens, Green)

Leslie Louise Van Houten, mug-shot from her 1968 arrest for grand theft auto. Leslie was born on August 23, 1949 in Los Angeles, California.

Leslie Louise Van Houten was born on August 23, 1949 in Los Angeles, California. By all accounts, her auctioneer father and schoolteacher mother were doting, altruistic parents who did everything they could for young Leslie and her brother Paul. Their kindess showed even further when they adopted two Korean orphans years later.

When Jane and Paul Van Houten divorced, though, Leslie took it extremely hard and immediately started going down a destructive path. She began dating classmate Robert Mackie and became sexually active at age fourteen. She became pregnant that same year and had an abortion; she also began experimenting heavily with LSD, dropping acid with her boyfriend at least once a week.

Upon graduating from Monrovia High School in 1967, she enrolled in secretarial school. It was during this period that Leslie, always prone to extremes, became a self-proclaimed “nun” in the Self-Realization Fellowship, a sect that focused on spiritual betterment through yoga techniques.

Leslie soon tired of the nun thing though, and at the age of 18 began wandering around California, seeking fulfillment in sex and drugs. Her travels led her to cross paths with handsome musician Bobby Beausoleil in 1968; the two soon became lovers but Leslie still felt empty inside. When she heard of Manson through Beausoleil friend Catherine Share (or Family member Paul Watkins, according to his book) she immediately went to go meet the man in person. It didn’t take long for her to become a believer.

Despite her big smile and model-good looks, Leslie remained somewhat distant from Manson himself. She was never one of his favorites; even Charlie had said that she was more “Tex’s girl” than his. Perhaps this sense of isolation was what led Leslie to try to “prove herself” to the Family on August 10, 1969 by accompanying Manson and several others on a second night of murder following the horrific massacre of five people on the 9th. Around two in the morning Manson dropped off Leslie, Charles Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel to the home of grocery chain owner Leno LaBianca and his shop owner wife Rosemary.

Once inside the house Van Houten and Krenwinkel took 38-year-old Rosemary into the master bedroom, put a pillowcase over her head, and wrapped an electrical cord around her neck. Leslie then held the petrified woman down and watched as first Krenwinkel and then Watson stabbed her numerous times. After Watson was done, he told Leslie to stab the woman… and stab her she did, sixteen times in the back. Van Houten has said that she thought Mrs. LaBianca was already dead at the time but was not sure. Whatever the case may have been, there is no doubt that she was dead once Leslie was finished with her.

A psychiatrist, after evaluating Leslie Van Houten, described her as:

“a psychologically loaded gun which went off as a consequence of the complex inter-meshing of highly unlikely, bizarre circumstances.”

The psychiatrist saw Van Houten as “a spoiled little princess” who, from childhood on, was impulsive, easily frustrated, and prone to displays of temper. She admitted, for example, to having beaten her adopted sister with a shoe.

Her next brush with infamy came that same year, when she won a new trial due to ineffective counsel during the initial Tate-LaBianca trial (her lawyer, Ronald Hughes, had been found dead in late 1970). Her first retrial in 1977 ended in a hung jury. Leslie was then released on bail for six months before a second retrial found her guilty of first-degree murder.

Although described as being the least committed to Manson of the three female defendants, Van Houten nonetheless agreed to participate in the murderous raid on the LaBianca home on August 10, 1969. She helped hold down Rosemary LaBianca while Tex Watson stabbed her to death. In a November 1969 interview with police, Van Houten admitted to knowledge of the Tate-LaBianca murders, but denied participation.

Van Houten’s first attorney, Donald Barnett, was dismissed after crossing Manson. Her second lawyer, Marvin Part, wanted to show that Van Houten was “insane in a way that is almost science fiction.” Part saw her crime as influenced by LSD and Charles Manson, but Van Houten saw it differently: “I was influenced by the war in Viet Nam and TV.” At Manson’s urging, Van Houten fired Part and yet another attorney was appointed. When Van Houten’s third attorney, Ronald Hughes, also began pursuing a strategy that ran counter to that favored by Manson (Manson opposed any strategy that suggested the other defendants acted under his influence), the Family had him killed. No one has ever been charged with his murder.

Van Houten’s first-degreee murder conviction in the Tate-LaBianca trial was overturned by a state appellate court in 1976 on the ground that Judge Older erred in not granting Van Houten’s motion for a mistrial following the disappearance of attorney Ronald Hughes. In her first re-trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Released on bond for a few months, Van Houten lived with a former writer for the Christian Science Monitor. She was tried a third time in 1978 and convicted of first-degree murder after the jury rejected her defense of diminished capacity as the result of prolonged use of hallucinogenic drugs.

Since then she has been more or less a model prisoner, with her one downfall being a short-lived jailhouse marriage to an ex-con who allegedly tried to break her out of prison (though it should be noted that Van Houten probably knew nothing of his plan). A two-member California review board first granted parole to Van Houten in April 2016 and again in 2017, however, Gov. Jerry Brown rejected her parole in 2016 and is expected to reject it again when the 2017 review is responded to.

Van Houten’s life in prison is described in a book by Karlene Faith, The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten (2001).


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