Leslie Van Houten was a normal teenager from a traditional American family until she discovered drugs and Charles Manson.

Here is how a bright young woman’s life unraveled as she became part of the Manson family. Leslie Van Houten is 71 years old and spent over 50 years of her life behind bars.

She ruined her life in exchange for one year of fun, from the crazy summer of 1968 when she joined Charles Manson’s cult-like group till the night of August 9, 1969, when the 20-year-old Leslie stabbed a woman, a complete stranger, to death on Manson’s orders.

A Rebellious Young Girl

Born on August 23, 1949, Leslie Van Houten grew up as an ordinary girl in Altadena, a suburb of Los Angeles. Her family was middle-class, God-fearing folk who had another boy, older than Leslie, and had adopted two Korean siblings, a boy, and a girl. Her carefree childhood came to an abrupt end when she was 14 and her parents divorced.

By the time she turned 15, Leslie was smoking hash, taking LSD and benzedrine. She managed to finish high-school and was popular enough to be named homecoming queen.

The real drama of Leslie Van Houten’s life started when, aged 17, she ran away to San Francisco for a summer of love. Upon return, she discovered she was pregnant. Her mother forced her to undergo an abortion and bury the fetus in the garden.

Moreover, her mother told her the baby was too big for it to qualify as an abortion, implying it was practically infanticide, or murder.

Leslie fell out with her mother, resenting her for forcing her to get rid of the child. She became a hippie and moved to a commune.

Finding A New Family

Leslie van Houten had been living in a commune in Northern California when she met Catherine Share and Bobby Beausoleil, who were devoted followers of a man called Charles Manson.

They described Manson as a Christlike figure and assured Leslie he had the answer to all her questions. As a very young woman with already a traumatic past, Leslie Van Houten joined Charles Manson’s commune in the summer of 1968.

The Man Who Wanted To Start A Revolution

Charles Manson was a silver-tongued 34-year-old man when Leslie met him. He’d been released from jail barely one year before, after serving a ten years for pimping.

He had a charming personality and quickly amassed dozens of followers, outcasts, and misfits. Charles Manson had an ambitious dream of becoming a successful musician. Failed that, he wanted to start a revolution, which he called Helter Skelter, in reference to a song from The Beatles’ White Album.

It was the prosecution who claimed at the trial that Manson planned a race war. Charlie was obsessed with that album and had his followers listen to it all the time. “All we did was listen to the Beatles’ White Album and read Revelations,” Leslie later explained.

Life At Manson’s Ranch

When Leslie Van Houten joined the Manson family they lived at Spahn Ranch, an abandoned old movie set in LA county. Life there was everything you’d expect of a hippie commune, except for the fact that it was Manson who told them what to do.

Besides learning obedience and being lectured daily, the residents were encouraged to have free sex, although, again, it was Manson who dictated who was to sleep with whom.

Charles Manson had all the qualities of a cult leader and he also had LSD, which it fed to his loyal followers. Still, things weren’t going that well for the Manson family.

People were getting bored, fed up with their guru’s constant talking of a revolution that never happened. Some left and Leslie wanted to get out herself. When Manson found out he loaded her in a buggy and took her to the top of the Santa Susana Mountains.

“If you want to leave me, jump,” Manson told her. Leslie returned to the ranch and spoke no more of her plan to leave.

Manson had his followers steal cars and commit burglaries, using part of the money to fund his attempts of making it into the music world. Leslie herself spent a few days in jail after burglarizing her father’s house twice.

Becoming A Killer

Things came to an abrupt end in the summer of 1969, when several things happened in quick succession. First, Manson’s official partner Mary Brunner was arrested for card fraud, then he entered into a fight with a member of the Black Panthers who he wrongly believed he had killed.

Charles Manson never provided a motive for ordering the Sharon Tate murder. Leslie Van Houten did not take part in the killings of August 8, 1969, when a heavily-pregnant Tate was murdered, together with other 4 people who were at the residence that fateful night.

Manson, however, was not satisfied with the reaction to the murders, fearing it was not enough to start a revolution so he ordered another killing.

Leslie Van Houten was among those sent to the LaBianca residence where they killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

At first, Leslie only held the woman down while another member of the gang stabbed her, but Manson had given instructions that all were to take part actively in the murders.

The man Manson put in charge was Tex Watson and it was he who gave Leslie Van Houten a knife and told her to do something.

Leslie stabbed Rosemary over a dozen times and claimed at her trial she thought she was stabbing someone who was already dead. The autopsy report did indicate that some of the stabs had been inflicted post mortem.

Leslie Van Houten Sentenced To Death

Charles Manson was arrested in October 1969 and Leslie in December of the same year. At the big Manson trial that followed, some of the defendants accused their leader of ordering the Tate-LaBianca murders, but not Leslie Van Houten. She dismissed three lawyers for suggesting that she had acted on Mason’s orders.

At the time of the trial, Leslie Van Houten had an odd behavior, consistent with that of a person under the influence of drugs.

Years later she claimed she had been supplied with LSD during the trial. Her mental condition was put in doubt when Charles Manson appeared in court with an X carved on his forehead.

Leslie and two other women co-defendants immediately carved Xs on their foreheads to indicate they still followed Manson.

In 1971, Leslie Van Houten was sentenced to death, the youngest woman in the history of California to be placed on death row.

They did not even have a death row for female prisoners, one was built especially for her, but in 1972 all death sentences in California were commuted to life in prison.

However, Leslie Van Houten was granted the possibility of a re-trial, which ended with a hung jury, and then a new trial which ended with a life sentence.

She has appeared in front of a parole board more than 20 times but did not win her freedom. The latest hearing was in 2019 and Leslie was recommended for parole for the third time.

Like his predecessor before him, Gov. Gavin Newsom overruled the board’s decision, claiming the 70-year old woman was still a threat to society, although Leslie has renounced Manson long before his death in 2017.

She fully accepts her role in the events of 1969 and has expressed deep regret for her actions.

No members of Manson’s family were granted parole, but Leslie is confident she will walk free one day.

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