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Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten wants to be paroled this year

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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She was 19 when she was convicted for her role in Manson’s 1969 killing spree. Now, 50 years later, she wants to be released.

There were five of them, Charles Manson’s girls.

Patricia Krenwinkel, Lynette Fromme, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Leslie Van Houten were young women when they joined Charles Manson’s cult. All of them were in awe of the guru and his beliefs on free love and commune life. “We always wanted to do anything and everything for him,” Kasabian has said

That included witnessing and, in some cases, carrying out the brutal, vicious murders of seven people, crimes for which Manson, Krenwinkel, Fromme, Atkins and Van Houten were all convicted and imprisoned. The victims included Hollywood star Sharon Tate, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, Jay Sebring and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

For many, the image of Krenwinkel, Atkins and Van Houten with shorn hair and crosses on their foreheads, giggling as they walked into court, will forever be the defining picture associated with the Manson Family murders. 

Leslie Van Houten, at right, leaving her trial

Kasabian was the prosecution’s star witness whose testimony put Manson behind bars. “I could never accept the fact that I was not punished for my involvement,” Kasabian said in an interview in 2009.  “I felt then what I feel now, always and forever, that it was a waste of life that had no reason, no rhyme.”

Both Manson and Atkins, who admitted to the murder of eight months-pregnant Tate, have died and Fromme was released from prison on parole in 2009. But Krenwinkel and Van Houten remain behind bars. Now, 50 years after the shocking crime spree, Van Houten wants to be released.

According to Reuters, Van Houten has submitted almost two dozen requests for parole since she was imprisoned. Van Houten is serving a life sentence for her involvement in the second night of Manson murders, which saw the killing of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca on 9 August, 1969 when she was 19-years-old. 

Now aged 69, Van Houten is hoping that her most recent parole request will be granted. Each of the 22 requests made on her behalf over the last 50 years have been denied. Two requests made by the California Board of Parole Hearings were submitted directly to the state’s governor Jerry Brown, and both times they were refused. Her latest request will be heard by California’s new governor Gavin Newsom, and could take up to 150 days to process. 

Leslie Van Houten at a hearing with the California Prison Board

Van Houten was an 18-year-old homecoming queen when she met Manson in 1968. She became one of the youngest and most devoted members of his cult. Her involvement in the LaBianca murders included stabbing Rosemary in the back 14 times. 

In the years since her trial, Van Houten has claimed that she had taken LSD and was struggling emotionally at the time of the murders and could not be held responsible.

Her friend, the film director John Waters, argued for her release in his book Role Models. “She looks back from prison on her involvement… in utter horror, shame, and guilt and takes full responsibility for her part in the crimes,” Waters wrote. “I think it’s time to parole her.” 

But Van Houten’s most recent campaign for release was derailed when Sharon Tate’s sister Debbie organised a petition with more than 162,000 signatures to be sent to Governor Brown. “For years she showed no remorse at all for her actions,” the petition read. “When asked during her trial if she ever cried about the murder of Rosemary LaBianca she replied: ‘Cry for her death? Why? She’s not the only person who has died.’” 

Brown denied the parole request, deeming Van Houten’s release an “unacceptable risk to society”.

Leslie Van Houten 

2019 marks 50 years since the Manson Family Murders, so unsurprisingly interest in the case is once again at a high. It’s all going to culminate in the release of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s controversial examination of 1969 Los Angeles, an era the director believes marks the end of Hollywood’s innocence. 

The movie will focus on an actor and his stunt double trying to break back into the film industry, both of whom happen to live next door to Sharon Tate at the time of the murders. Although exact details of the film’s plot are still unknown, the Manson Family Murders will form part of the secondary plot. Australian actor Damon Herriman (Top of the Lake) will take on the role of Charles Manson, while Dakota Fanning will play Manson follower Leslie Fromme.

Margot Robbie stars as Sharon Tate, while Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play the actor and stunt double struggling to make it in show business.

After initially expressing her reservations about the movie, Tate’s sister Debbie met with Tarantino and found her concerns allayed. “This movie is not what people would expect it to be when you combine the Tarantino and Manson names,” Debbie has said

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood will be released on 26 July. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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