Former Manson follower Leslie Van Houten freed; ‘gut-wrenching,’ says relative of a victim

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Former Manson follower Leslie Van Houten freed

Van Houten, 73, was serving a life sentence for her role in the 1969 murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in Los Angeles.

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Capping a decades-long quest for freedom, former Manson family member Leslie Van Houten was released from prison Tuesday after more than five decades behind bars for horrific murders that stunned the nation.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Van Houten, 73, was “released to parole supervision.” She had been serving a life sentence for her role in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in Los Angeles in 1969.

For the record:

4:31 p.m. July 14, 2023A previous version of this article referred to victim Steven Parent as a friend of Sharon Tate. He was a visitor to the property. Tate’s friend Voytek Frykowski was also killed.

3:50 p.m. July 14, 2023An earlier version of this article stated Leslie Van Houten was a former homecoming queen. She was a homecoming princess her freshman year at Monrovia High School.

The nephew of Manson family victim Jay Sebring has spoken at Van Houten’s parole hearings on behalf of the LaBianca family. He told The Times on Tuesday that her release was expected, “but it doesn’t make it any less painful.”


“It doesn’t lessen the blow,” Anthony DiMaria said. “It’s just as mind-numbing, nauseating, gut-wrenching and painful to think that this release is real.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom had denied Van Houten’s parole three times, and his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, also denied Van Houten’s parole when he was in office.

But Newsom was overruled by a California appeals court this year, and on Friday, he said he would not challenge the appellate court’s decision to allow parole for Van Houten.

Newsom was “disappointed by the Court of Appeal’s decision to release Ms. Van Houten,” Erin Mellon, communications director for the governor’s office, said Tuesday in a statement.

Van Houten, 73, is serving a life sentence for helping Manson and members of the cult leader’s “family” kill Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in August 1969.

July 7, 2023

Legal experts called Van Houten’s release rare in light of previous parole denials.

“I don’t think most people thought any member of the Manson family would get out alive,” said Laurie Levenson, professor of law at Loyola Law School. “The crime was horrific, but I think the governor realized he wasn’t likely to overturn the parole commission and the Court of Appeals.”

A former homecoming princess from Monrovia, Van Houten became involved with the Manson family in the 1960s. Supporters described her as a misguided teen under the influence of LSD on the night of the killings.


She was involved in the second of the Manson family murders — the killings of LaBianca and his wife at their Los Feliz home.

Van Houten and another woman held down Rosemary LaBianca as Charles “Tex” Watson stabbed Leno LaBianca. After Watson stabbed Rosemary LaBianca, he handed Van Houten a knife. She testified to stabbing the woman at least 14 more times.

“And I took one of the knives, and Patricia had one — a knife — and we started stabbing and cutting up the lady,” Van Houten testified in 1971. (Patricia Krenwinkel was a co-defendant and family member.)

The day before the LaBianca murders, Manson followers — including Watston and Krenwinkel — had killed Sharon Tate and her friends Sebring, Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger, and Steven Parent — a visitor to the property — in a brutal attack at a home on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon.

The two slayings, commonly referred to as the Tate-LaBianca murders, drew international attention and became inexorably linked to Los Angeles and the late 1960s.

Read our full coverage of the Manson murders.

July 26, 2019

Van Houten went through three trials for her role in the killings. The first led to her conviction and a death sentence, which was overturned on appeal because her lawyer disappeared before the verdict.


The second trial ended with a hung jury, and the third led to her murder conviction and a sentence of seven years to life with the possibility of parole.

Nancy Tetreault, Van Houten’s attorney, was “thrilled” that her client was “going to be given a chance at freedom.”

“I’m really happy for Leslie because the thing about her is, she entered prison as a 19-year-old young woman who was struggling with a lot of problems in her home life,” Tetreault said. “She got introduced to the Manson cult under the guise that it was a happy hippie commune, and it turned out so bad for her.”

Van Houten is now parsing through job offers and trying to “find her bearings,” Tetreault said Tuesday afternoon.

“I think she wants to get into some field where she can make an impact,” she said. “When in prison, she mentored other inmates and tutored them to get GEDs and even bachelor’s degrees.”

Fifty years later, the Manson “family” murders remain seared into the collective memory of Los Angeles. The question, which persists to this day, is why?

July 28, 2019

Rich Pfeiffer, another of Van Houten’s attorneys who has been working on her case for a decade, said he was “relieved” after her release.


“It’s been a long battle, and it’s been emotional for her at times,” he said. “All of these hearings have been hard. The governor always waits until the last possible minute to reverse the grant of parole before she can be released. I think that’s incredibly mean.”

Pfeiffer said that Van Houten, who earned a master’s degree in humanities while incarcerated, has job offers and the support of family and friends.

“She’ll do just fine,” he said.

Van Houten didn’t want to make any public statement because she’s “afraid if she says anything, it’ll offend the victims,” Pfeiffer said.

“She has respect for them,” Pfeiffer said.

Families of the victims had long fought Van Houten’s release. Cory LaBianca, Leno LaBianca’s daughter, and Deborah Tate, Sharon Tate’s younger sister, previously urged the courts to deny parole for the killer. Attempts to reach both of them Tuesday were unsuccessful.

DiMaria, Sebring’s nephew, said Tuesday that there was a concern among the victims’ families that other Manson followers could also be released.

“It’s difficult to hear when Leslie Van Houten and her attorneys state that, ‘Leslie is a changed person and she is rehabilitated,’” DiMaria said.


“Rosemary and Leno LaBianca remain unchanged,” DiMaria said, his voice wavering. “They remain un-rehabilitated, unparoled. They are just as dead today as when they were killed on the night of Aug. 10, 1969.”

Kay Hinman Martley, whose cousin Gary Hinman was among those murdered by members of Manson’s cult, said she had spoken with survivors of the LaBianca and Tate families in recent days, and they are all horrified that Van Houten is free.

“We have four other Manson killers in there, and I fear they will all get out,” she said. “They are all psychopaths who have manipulated the systems. All these killers get all the help they want, but no one is doing anything for the victims’ families.”

Despite the parole of Van Houten, who had been touted as a model prisoner, Levenson said her release was unlikely to have an effect on other members of the Manson family still in prison.

Watson, 77, is still in custody at the RJ Donovan Correctional facility in San Diego and was denied parole in 2021.

Krenwinkel, 75, is at the California Institution for Women in Chino. In May 2022, a parole board recommended she be released, but Newsom blocked the effort in October, saying she posed an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”


“For all these years, the focus has been on the crime, not the individual or the inmate,” Levenson said. “I think that’s why people had such little hope that Leslie Van Houten would be released. Recently, there’s been more of a focus on if the individual is a danger to society.”