Charles Manson's letters to Leslie Van Houten (lost prison letters from Manson Family leader to follower; 2013)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of murders.


Leslie Van Houten's mugshot.

Status: Lost

Leslie Van Houten is a convicted murderer most infamous for being a member of the Manson Family, led by Charles Manson. From August 9th-10th, 1969, Manson ordered the Tate-LaBianca killings, with Van Houten being involved in the latter. Manson, Van Houten, and several other Family members were convicted for these murders and sentenced initially to death on March 29th, 1971, which was later reduced to a life sentence. Manson remained in prison until his death on November 19th, 2017, while Van Houten was released on July 11, 2023 after more than fifty years in prison. Throughout his time incarcerated, Manson sent three letters to Van Houten, with Van Houten claiming they were attempts at manipulating her.


Despite some considering Leslie Van Houten to be good-looking during her time with the Manson Family, Manson's relationship with her was somewhat limited. Indeed, her relationship with fellow member Bobby Beausoleil led to Manson feeling that Van Houten "belonged to Bobby".[1] Nevertheless, Van Houten was influential enough within the Family that she participated in a set of murders Manson ordered be carried out. Van Houten did not participate in the Tate murders, where Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel killed five people, including heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate.[2] However, she was a key player in the subsequent LaBianca murders, volunteering herself because she wanted to prove herself to Manson, and how she looked up to Krenwinkel, believing that if Krenwinkel was willing to murder, she could as well. On August 10th, 1969, she, alongside the murderers, Manson, driver Linda Kasabian, and Steven "Clem" Grogan, travelled to 3301 Waverly Drive.[3]

Manson then ordered Van Houten, Tex and Krenwinkel to murder its occupants, consisting of couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The trio carried out this order, with Van Houten stabbing the latter at least 14 times in the back and buttocks.[4] Manson and the others then drove to the Venice neighbourhood of Los Angeles, where he ordered Atkins, Kasabian and Grogan to kill actor Saladin Nader. However, this never occurred because Kasabian claimed she deliberately knocked on the wrong door, waking a stranger up and thus causing the murder attempt to be abandoned.[5]

Manson, Van Houten, and the other Family members involved would be arrested, and aside from Kasabian, were charged with various counts of murder and conspiracy. On January 25th, 1971, Manson, Van Houten, Krenwinkel and Atkins were convicted on those counts and sentenced to death on March 29th, 1971. The removal of the death penalty in California in February 1972 meant their sentences were reduced to life in prison, with Van Houten's sentence being seven years to life behind bars following three trials.[6] Manson, who would also later be convicted for the murders of Gary Hinman and Donald Shea, remained incarcerated until his death on November 19th, 2017.[7]

Manson's Letters to Van Houten

Until July 11, 2023, Van Houten remained incarcerated at the California Institute of Women until being released on parole after serving 53 years, where despite being her being recommended for parole multiple times, had either been denied parole or had said request be overruled by the Governor of California.[8] In April 2016, the California Parole Board again recommended Van Houten's parole request be granted.[9] During her parole hearing, Van Houten admitted that she was still somewhat in contact with Manson after over 40 years behind bars, receiving the occasional letter from him, the last dating back to 2013. She received and read the three missives, claiming that "he accused me for not standing loyal, making up stuff, you know, not – it's all geared towards him getting out of prison and being critical of me and I've turned into the very thing that he tried to save me from, you know". She believed Manson was still trying to manipulate her after many decades of them being apart.[10][11]

Van Houten claimed she sent the letters to the California Institute of Women's institutional investigator's office and blamed the authorities for her receiving the messages to begin with. This led to Van Houten being criticised by some, including Sharon Tate's sister, Debra, who claimed that not only was she not taking responsibility for opening and reading the letters to begin with, but also felt she was still being influenced by Manson. It is unknown whether the letters, combined with the revelation that Van Houten was in a 15-year sexual letter relationship with a double murderer, influenced then-California Governor Jerry Brown's decision to deny the parole request in June 2016, with Judge William Ryan upholding this ruling in October 2016, both men deeming Van Houten was still a threat to society.[12][13] In 2021, Van Houten was recommended for parole for the fifth time. The recommendation was overruled by Governor Gavin Newsom, but the governor's denial was set aside by a California Court of Appeals. In July 2023, Van Houten was granted parole and released.[14]


Based on Van Houten's statement, the letters most likely remain within the office of the institutional investigator. Whether they still exist or have since been destroyed is unknown. Based on their context, the chances of the letters being publicly released remains slim. Thus, the only person who can detail what was written in the letters is Van Houten herself.

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