Leslie Van Houten was one of Charles Manson's hippie chicks who'd abandoned mainstream society and became part of his "Family" in the late '60s. Now she's free from prison on parole 54 years after participating in the shocking Los Angeles murder spree that left seven people dead in 1969. According to one news report, "She was a 19-year-old acid-head when Manson brainwashed her."
Born on Aug. 23, 1949 in Altadena, California, a Los Angeles suburb, Van Houten was "not averse to mischief and adventure, though, she started experimenting with drugs in her teen years. At first, it was hash and marijuana – but that quickly escalated. Before anyone was the wiser, young Van Houten was taking LSD on a regular basis. Once, she and her boyfriend ran off to San Francisco’s hippie Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. She turned 19 in the summer of 1968 – when her life took an unimaginable turn."
In Northern California, Van Houten met Bobby Beausolil and Catherine Share, who both knew Manson. Share and Van Houten went south to live with him.
"He moved the Family to a house in Topanga Canyon," wrote Christian Lorentzen in the London Reviw of Books in 2012. "The daily routine consisted of a perfunctory breakfast of leftovers; morning work for the men on cars and motorcycles lent or given to the Family; foraging in grocery store bins for the women; afternoon orgies; group dosings of LSD (Manson tended to give himself a lower dose); dinners where Manson performed his own songs and those of the Beatles on his guitar."
LSD is constantly mentioned when discussing Manson and his disciples. By then, "[Van Houten] became 'saturated in acid' and could not grasp the existence of those living a non-psychedelic reality."
"Leslie Van Houten was a 19-year-old acid-head when Charles Manson brainwashed her."
This continued at the Family's next location, the Spahn Ranch outside of Los Angeles where Western movies and TV shows had been filmed. Run down by then, owner George Spahn let the Manson crowd take over the property in exchange for upkeep. It's the same location featured in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood when Cliff (Brad Pitt) picks up Pussycat (Margaret Qually) hitchiking and drives her to the ranch where he finds George (Buce Dern) despondent and out of it. Cliff then gets into a fight with one of the dudes, pissing off all the girls.
The macabre violence played out over two days, first with the killings of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Steven Parent and Wojtek Frykowski in Tate's Benedict Canyon house on Aug. 8, 1969. Van Houten, dubbed "Lulu," did not participate in those murders. The next night she did when Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, we were killed at their Los Feliz home.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
"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."
She had 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."
On March 29, 1971, Van Houten was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, "making her the youngest woman ever put on California’s death row, as well as the youngest member of the Manson Family convicted of murder." However, capital punishment ended in California in 1972 (it was reinstated in 1977).
Years later, the New York Times reports. "Van Houten said she regretted taking part in the murders and that she had been mentally ill, a condition aggravated by LSD use." She's described in Huffington Post as one of Manson's "LSD soldiers." Supporters have long depicted Van Houten as a "misguided teen under the influence of LSD on the night of the killings."
Consider the time frame when all this happend. The country was at war in Vietnam and protestors were filling the streets in opposition. Just one week after the L.A. killings, Woodstock happened on the other side of the country. It was good news and bad news, the latter peaking with the Manson-fueled murders and the deadly Altamont concert in Northern California that December. As the decade came to a close, the war was still happening and Manson and his cohorts were in jail, responsible for the ghastliest Hollywood crime spree of all time.