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.