LOS ANGELES, CA — On August 10, 1969, grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were murdered in their Los Angeles home by members of Charles Manson’s murderous cult. The brutal killings, which occurred one day after actress Sharon Tate, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, hairstylist to the stars Jay Sebring, and two other people were brutally killed by the Manson Family in Benedict Canyon, sent shock waves through Hollywood and the rest of the world.
Forty-seven years later, the murders continue to fascinate, horrify, and reflect the dark side of the Hollywood dream.
California Governor Jerry Brown recently denied parole for Leslie Van Houten, the youngest of Manson’s followers, who was a 19-year-old homecoming queen before joining the Manson clan. Van Houten is serving a life sentence for her role in the LaBianca murders. She did not participate in the Tate killings.
California parole officials recommended Van Houten, 66, for release following her April 14, 2016, hearing, in which it emerged that she had received college degrees and been a model inmate while incarcerated.
“I don’t let myself off the hook. I don’t find parts in any of this that makes me feel the slightest bit good about myself,” she told the panel. However she also went into graphic detail about her role in the killings, which she committed with Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson.
Van Houten testified that Manson (pictured below on The Manson Family Facebook page) wanted the killings to be more “gruesome” than the ones the night before, because he felt they had not caused enough “panic” in the victims. Van Houten explained that “Tex” and Manson broke into the house and tied up Leno and Rosemary.
“[Tex] told Pat and I to go into the kitchen and get knives, and we took Mrs. LaBianca into the bedroom and put a pillowcase over her head,” Van Houten said. “I wrapped the lamp cord around her head to hold the pillowcase on her head. I went to hold her down.”
After Rosemary began calling out her husband’s name, Van Houten said that she and Krenwinkel stabbed her in the torso; the coroner’s report eventually concluded that Rosemary had been stabbed between 14 and 16 times.
Van Houten was convicted in 1971 for the LaBianca murders and initially sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted to life with the possibility of parole when California temporarily abolished the death penalty.
“Both her role in these extraordinarily brutal crimes and her inability to explain her willing participation in such horrific violence cannot be overlooked and lead me to believe she remains an unacceptable risk to society if released,” Brown wrote when denying Van Houten parole.
Manson, 81, and the other followers involved in the LaBianca killings are still in prison. Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson have each been denied parole multiple times, while fellow defendant Susan Atkins died in prison in 2009.
Cory LaBianca, Leno’s daughter and Rosemary’s stepdaughter, said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times, prior to Governor Brown’s decision to deny parole, that she “very much disagrees” with the parole board’s decision to recommend Van Houten’s release after 19 prior denials.
“We all need to be held responsible for our behavior,” she told the newspaper. “The least we can do, for someone who commits a crime against another human being, is to keep them in jail. Maybe Leslie Van Houten has been a model prisoner,” she added. “But you know what, we still suffer our loss.”
Cory LaBianca said it was only recently that her young grandson asked how her father died, and the horror of the murder spree came flooding back into her memory.
Last month, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey and relatives of the victims turned in 140,000 signatures of people who opposed Van Houten’s release. Sharon Tate’s sister Debra Tate delivered the signatures to Brown’s office.
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The Tate residence has been torn down and replaced, but the LaBianca home (pictured above) is still standing. After the murders, a Filipino couple (rumored to be friends with Imelda Marcos) bought the home and over time, a pool and carport have been added. The address has been changed from 3301 to 3311 Waverly Drive.
Meanwhile, the Spahn Ranch (below) was an old movie set where Manson and his followers last lived; it’s also where, according to Curbed LA, convicted killer Susan Atkins recounted, “We were just like wood nymphs and wood creatures. We would run through the woods with flowers in our hair, and Charlie would have a small flute.” The ranch burned down in a wildfire in 1970, but visitors still regularly hike to the “Manson Family Cave.”
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The Tate murders made headlines around the country, but the LaBianca murders plunged Hollywood into a panic, with many stars openly wondering if they would be targeted. Vincent Bugliosi wrote in the book Helter Skelter that Frank Sinatra was in hiding, and Mia Farrow wouldn’t attend her friend Sharon’s funeral because, according to a relative, she was afraid that she “would be next.“ Tony Bennett moved from his bungalow on the grounds of the Beverly Hills Hotel to an inside suite for “greater security”; Steve McQueen began keeping a weapon under the front seat of his sports car; and Jerry Lee Lewis installed an alarm system in his home, complete with closed circuit TV.
“Friendships ended, romances broke up, people were abruptly dropped from guest lists, parties canceled — for with the fear came suspicion,” Bugliosi wrote. “The killer or killers could be almost anyone.”
Los Angeles Times columnist Patt Morrison said that the crimes created a gruesome catchphrase that summed up the era, “Live freaky; die freaky,” and brought an end to Tinseltown’s “decade of love.”
“It was the dark side of paradise,” Morrison said. “People could shake their fingers and say, ‘This is where your high-living, rich, hippie, movie-star lifestyle gets you. This is where the drug culture gets you.’ It’s the boomerang effect, the wages of sin.”
Main photos: Leno and Rosemary LaBianca [Wikimedia Commons]