After a parole board’s recent decision to allow Manson Family follower Leslie Van Houten her freedom, California’s Governor overruled the choice. This is the third time a parole board has recommended release for Van Houten and the sitting Governor has denied it. Van Houten, who is 69 years old and has spent the vast majority of her life behind bars, is still considered a threat, Governor Gavin Newsom said, due to her involvement in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. He explained his decision by writing, ‘While I commend Ms. Van Houten for her efforts at rehabilitation and acknowledge her youth at the time of the crimes, I am concerned about her role in these killings and her potential for future violence. Ms. Van Houten was an eager participant in the killing of the LaBiancas and played a significant role.’
Of the three women deemed the ‘head’ Manson girls, both Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel are still alive. Susan Atkins died of brain cancer in September 2009, having also been denied parole only a few weeks prior. Charles Manson died in 2017.
The chances are that Leslie Van Houten will die behind bars. This case has always been too high profile and too controversial for any California Governor to allow a recommendation of parole to go forward. The case is obviously back in the headlines this year because of the 50th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders and the upcoming release of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (as well as the limited release of Mary Harron’s Charlie Says). Regardless of whether the women themselves have been rehabilitated - and all three had stellar reputations as model prisoners who have spent decades talking about their regretful involvement in the murders - this is a case where life in prison will mean life in prison.
Of course, not all of the people involved in the Manson murders faced the same fate. Steve ‘Clem’ Grogan, who helped to kill ranch hand Donald ‘Shorty’ Shea, was paroled in 1985. But the Manson case has always been far more heavily focused on the grotesque allure of the ‘girls’: These teenagers and young women who seemed obsessively committed to Manson and would carve signs in their foreheads out of devotion. The Manson murders story exacerbated a lot of American unease with the hippie movement in the late 1960s and played into a lot of fears over the idea that nice middle-class white girls would suddenly turn bad if they took drugs, had sex, and listened to rock music.
Leslie Van Houten’s lawyer has already said that they will take the case to appeals court. She has many supporters advocating for her release, including film-maker John Waters, who wrote about her in his book Role Models.
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