Charles Manson is dead and buried in a location known only to very few, the secrecy intended to prevent that site from becoming a shrine for cult followers who still pore over every move made by the mass murder mastermind and his “family” during their heyday in the late 1960s.
But the Manson murders, remarkable for their vicious and political quality, remain in the headlines because his gang members seem to come up for parole continuously, some being presented by their lawyers and even parole commissioners as model prisoners deserving release more than 50 years after their crime spree.
Here’s the bottom line: None of the Manson murderers should ever go free, no matter how many prisoners are released because of the coronavirus. Their crimes, as ex-Gov. Jerry Brown once stated in rejecting a parole board decision, were simply too horrible, no matter how much they may have reformed.
The current parole applicant is Leslie Van Houten, whose release has repeatedly been approved by the parole board, most recently in late July. Sentenced to seven years to life imprisonment in 1978, her fate now rests with Gov. Gavin Newsom, who rejected parole for her early in his term. Newsom was a mere toddler when the 70-year-old committed her crimes. He is now in a 120-day period before he must veto the latest board decision or let it stand.
The possibility that more than one of mastermind/guru Charles Manson’s killer gang members could soon be back on the streets was unheard of just a few years ago – and should still be.
In contrast to Newsom, Brown remembered the Manson crimes well. He lived in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles while the “family” ran wild, cutting off ears, smearing bloody racist messages on victims’ walls and killing anyone they found at their intended victims’ homes. Brown’s quarters were just two canyons east of Benedict Canyon, where the Manson group executed actress Sharon Tate and four others in and around her sprawling mansion in the Santa Monica Mountains above Beverly Hills.
Van Houten, then a 19-year-old acolyte of the wild-eyed, mesmerizing Manson, was not along on her friends’ run to the home of Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski. The life of the director, now living in exile in Poland after fleeing the country while awaiting sentencing for statutory rape, might have been very different had Tate lived.
Van Houten became deeply involved in a grisly murder the night after the Tate murders, which terrorized Southern California. She joined fellow killers Charles (Tex) Watson and Patricia Krenwinkle, breaking into the home of grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in the Los Feliz area of the Hollywood Hills.
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Van Houten’s admitted job was to hold down Mrs. LaBianca while Watson and Krenwinkle repeatedly stabbed her. She then added 14 stabs of her own (later saying it was “about 16”). Next, she daubed racist slogans in Mrs. LaBianca’s blood on several interior surfaces of the house. And she carved the word “WAR” into the stomach of Leno LaBianca, murdered with his wife.
If murderers can eventually go free after behaving as brutally as Van Houten did in 1969, what value does California place on human life? If Van Houten, who now looks like someone’s bespectacled granny, can go free, what would that say to others who might contemplate similar crimes?
Her lawyer, however, has long claimed she fell under Manson’s evil influence while using drugs after a troubled childhood. Van Houten grew up in an affluent Los Angeles suburb with two adopted siblings and parents who divorced when she was 14. Such circumstances do not often produce bloodthirsty killers.
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There is little doubt Van Houten, like fellow incarcerated Manson followers Watson, Bruce Davis and her late pal Susan Atkins, has been an exemplary prisoner. Some prison chaplains bemoan her continued incarceration because she has become “a deep and noble person.”
Those folks never saw Atkins, Van Houten and a few other Manson followers repeatedly enter courtrooms with carved X’s on their foreheads to mark their devotion to Manson – even though they had been separated from him for many months by then.
This suggests his malignant influence was lasting.
The bottom line: Freeing Van Houten or any “family” members would send a dangerous message to other murderous individuals: Live long enough and this society will eventually forgive you, no matter how evil your actions.
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Thomas D. Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column. He is author of the book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It.”
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