Since organizing the Tate-LaBianca killings in 1969 and other murders, Charles Manson and those connected to him have become synonymous with evil. And now that the Manson biopic Charlie Says is out, audiences will get to learn more about the “family” Manson surrounded himself with who helped him carry out these vicious crimes, including Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón), who even after being sentenced to death remained loyal to Manson.
While Charlie Says shows how a grad student named Karlene Faith attempted to rehabilitate the women, Van Houten is sure to stand out. Surprisingly, Faith developed a close relationship with Van Houten, who has also gained support from filmmaker John Waters. Here’s a look at how Van Houten became involved with Manson, where she is today, and why she stands out among the Manson Girls.
How Van Houten Was Involved In The Manson Murders
Charles Manson built a family of women around him and one of the youngest members was Van Houten. AP News reports that Van Houten was 19 years old when she helped other members of Manson’s cult stab Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in 1969. She was not there for the massacre at the home of Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate the night before. Van Houten said during one of her parole hearings that she was traveling the California coast when acquaintances introduced her to Manson and has suggested that she wasn't in her right mind when the acts were committed. When she was recently up for parole in 2016, Rolling Stone reported that Van Houten claimed she was emotionally troubled and under the influence of LSD when the murders happened.
The Consequences Van Houten Faced For Her Actions
While Manson is still viewed as spearheading these vicious acts, Manson, Van Houten, and the rest of his followers involved in the murders were all sentenced to life in prison after the death penalty was banned in California in 1972. Former Gov. of California Jerry Brown blocked two recommendations from a parole board that Van Houten be released and a third will be determined by new Gov. Gavin Newsom.
When appearing in front of the 22nd District Court of Appeal to review a lower judge’s order that denied Van Houten’s release in April of this year, her attorney said that Van Houten took responsibility for her crimes. However, Debra Tate, Sharon Tate’s sister, was at the hearing and told The Associated Press, “A truly remorseful individual would reach out in any way they could to say they’re sorry, not to the people who have the power to free them, but to the people they’ve hurt the most.”
Van Houten's Supporters
Faith, played by Merritt Wever in Charlie Says, wrote a book titled The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten: Life Beyond the Cult and even supported Van Houten’s release until Faith died in 2017, Rolling Stone reports. Guinevere Turner, the screenwriter of Charlie Says, told Rolling Stone that Faith wanted to make sure the film didn’t threaten the Manson women’s chances of parole. Faith spoke also with The New Yorker in 2014 and told the publication that she had rejected requests from people who were interested in telling Van Houten’s story until Charlie Says.
Despite Van Houten’s handful of supporters, it still remains to be seen if Gov. Newsom will accept the recommendation to grant her parole. There are plenty of people passionately calling for the opposite. Sharon Tate's sister has a website that aims to ensure all members of the Manson Family remain in prison for life and a change.org petition connected to the site has over 160,000 signatures calling for Van Houten’s continued incarceration.
Members of Manson’s following who have played an instrumental role in killings have not, historically, been granted release from prison, so the decision, when it's finally determined, has the potential be a big one.