Leslie Van Houton: Ex-Charles Manson cult follower released after 53 years for part in infamous murders
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Leslie Van Houten, who was sentenced to life for her part in the infamous murders by the Charles Manson cult when she was a teenager, has walked free from a US prison. Van Houten has spent 53 years behind bars after helping Manson’s followers carry out the killings of Leno LaBianca, a Los Angeles grocer, along with his wife Rosemary in 1969.
Now aged 73, Van Houten will remain under parole supervision after being released from the California prison in the early hours of this morning (Wednesday, July 12). She is now at a transitional housing facility as she faces the “difficult” process of adjusting to life outside prison walls after being incarcerated for more than five decades.
California’s parole board had ruled on five separate occasions since 2016 that Van Houten was not a danger to society and “suitable” for release. However, each time the governor’s office has ordered she remain in prison - decisions that were challeged by Van Houten’s lawyers.
In May, a state appeals court ruled Van Houten should be released, noting her accomplishments in prison including participating in a range of mental health programmes, working as a tutor and earning a master’s degree in humanities. Ms Tetreault told the Guardian on Tuesday: “She’s really thrilled, but she’s been in prison for 53 years and turns 74 next month so this is a huge change. She’s gratified that people are recognizing that she’s completely reformed, because she really is.
“I’ve never had a client who has dedicated herself to reform like she has. She spent 40 years in therapy and 30 years in what they call rehabilitative programming.
“She fell under the influence of Charles Manson and participated in these horrible murders and she worked really hard to get past that cult indoctrination and to understand it and take responsibility. And she had to confront her feelings of crushing guilt over what she did - she’s very remorseful. I think she’s just happy that her crimes are no longer defining her.”
Van Houten’s release has divided the state - Governor Gavin Newsom, who has been strongly opposed to Van Houten being freed, said he was disappointed that the courts had sided with her - but added he would not appeal the latest decision since he would be unlikely to succeed. Meanwhile, the Leno family are said to be “heartbroken” over Van Houten’s pending release.
Charles Manson died behind in prison in 2017 after nearly 50 years in prison, aged 83. Patricia Krenwinkel, another former Manson follower convicted of murder, was granted parole for the first time in 2022, but Governer Newsom blocked her release.
Susan Atkins, who was convicted of eight murders, died behind bars in 2009.