Leslie Van Houten, the youngest Manson follower convicted in the 1969 Tate-La Bianca murders, is up for her 20th parole hearing today. Van Houten was a girl of 19 when she was convicted of murder and conspiracy for her role in the fatal stabbing of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca, committed one night after Charles Manson's followers broke into the home of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and brutally murdered her and four others.
Though the youngest Manson follower did not participate in the Tate killings, she went along the next night when the La Biancas were murdered in their home. Van Houten confessed during the penalty phase of her trial of jumping in and stabbing Mrs. La Bianca after she was dead. During the trial, Van Houten walked arm-in-arm with fellow Manson women Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, smiling and singing as they walked through the courtroom halls. The brutality of the crimes -- Sharon Tate, two weeks from her due date, reportedly begged to live long enough to deliver -- and the gleeful antics of the Manson women during the trial unnerved the public and horrified the victims' families, ensuring that the grotesque saga of Charles Manson and his followers would linger in the American memory for years to come.
And so it has. The youngest Manson follower's bid for parole will, like her previous 19 attempts, be met with harsh opposition by a prosecutor and survivors of the victims. Even now, 44 years after Van Houten was sent to prison, the Tate-La Bianca murders remain one of America's most riveting crime stories -- and the brutality of the murder has hardly faded from public memory. If Van Houten were to succeed in seeking parole, it would be a phenomenal feat, one that no other Manson follower has accomplished.
Still, Van Houten's attorney Michael Satris says the youngest Manson follower intends to speak on her own behalf before the parole board, unlike her previous hearing in which she said very little. Satris explains that Van Houten has become a different person in the four decades since her conviction, dedicated to doing good works.
"She is living a life of amends for her crime on a daily basis," Satris said. "Everything she does now is to be of service and benefit to the world." Van Houten's value system, he added, is now the complete opposite of the one she held in 1969 as the follower of the "false prophet" Charles Manson.
Van Houten has been praised in the past for her work helping elderly women inmates at the California Institution for Women, where she and other Manson women have been imprisoned. The youngest Manson follower has earned two degrees while in custody.
The Tate-La Bianca murders are among the most notorious murders of the 20th century, taking on an unusual degree of cultural weight due to their occurrence in the unique time and space at the end of the 1960s. By August of 1969, what gentle dreams of love and peace had sprouted in the youth movements of the first part of the decade had darkened with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy as well as the Vietnam War.
Charles Manson, a charismatic cult leader who recruited his followers by seeking out lost souls among the flower children of the West Coast, dosing them with LSD and regaling them with his own trippy sermons and apocalyptic forecasts, thus came to symbolize the crashing and burning of the decade's loftiest dreams. Manson ordered the Tate-La Bianca as part of his "Helter Skelter" prophecy regarding the Manson Family's responsibility to save the worthy from impending race war. Manson told his followers that the scenario was spelled out in code in the Beatles' White Album.