Laughing Cult Girl Tells of Murders
Saturday, February 20th, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 20 – A laughing, bubbling 21-year-old girl, who tried to join a nunnery for the love of one man and murdered for the love of another, took the witness stand in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday to confess her part in the Tate and LaBianca massacre.
Pert Leslie Van Houten, the youngest of the three Manson Family “girls” convicted of the sadistic slayings last August, began to unfold her story of life and love as a clan member.
She is expected to end her story Monday — as did her codefendants — describing the killing of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca in their Los Feliz area home, the night following the killings at the home of pregnant actress Sharon Tate.
The girl’s demeanor, however, was in direct contrast to that of the girl she followed to the stand — Patricia Krenwinkel.
Miss Krenwinkel, a former insurance company file clerk, in chilling, unemotional tones told of the ghastly murders at the Tate and LaBianca homes on Thursday, then capped her testimony Friday by saying — in the same schoolmarm voice — that she was ready to die for what she had done.
Miss Van Houten, however, added emphasis — a laugh, waving hands, frowns, giggles — to every answer she gave as her attorney Maxwell Keith began questioning her.
Although claiming it was difficult to remember things in her past, the girl recalled her birthdate — Aug. 23, 1949 — and the fact she had an older brother, Paul, an adopted sister, Betsy, and an adopted brother, David, adding the last two were “war babies.” (Her mother had testified earlier that the two had been Korean war orphans.)
“Did you enjoy yourself as a child?” Keith asked.
“Yeah, I had a good time. But,” she added, giggling, “I couldn’t do things in the backyard because I’d mess it up…and my parents kept telling me I knew how far I could go before I upset them, so I didn’t do things I wanted to do because it would upset them…that is, until I learned to sneak around and not let them catch me.”
Pushed by Keith as to her childhood, she said she could remember only certain things:
“I remember the trees in the backyard and how much I enjoyed climbing them, and how disturbed I was when they cut them down to put in the swimming pool.
“And I remember how much I liked to lie on the old sofa until they bought the new kind with wrought iron and plastic cushions.”
Her parents, she said “didn’t like the things I liked” but she enjoyed being with them “sometimes.” Their divorce, she said, at first “shattered” her.
“But then I caught them arguing so I asked my father if he’d be happier, and he said ‘yes’ and I asked my mother if she’d be happier and she said ‘yes’ so I told them to go ahead…they were going to stick it put until I got older.”
She told the attentive courtroom that she “didn’t care one way or another” that she had been chosen as homecoming princess of her high school in Monrovia in her freshman and sophomore years.
She also participated actively in school affairs…”because I liked to win and I always won.”
But winning elections and honors suddenly stopped, she admitted when she met a boy named Bobby Mackey.
“Was he something special?” Keith asked.
“Yeh,” she smiled, tossing her arms over her head. “Even now…but he won’t have anything to do with me now.”
Mackey, she said, introduced her to marijuana and LSD when she was about 15 which she liked and decided to “take as much as I could.”
“It was just like a pretty guy,” she said, apparently trying to be helpful, “it’s there…someone asks ‘You want to try it?’ …you say, Yeah! Sure!
“It wasn’t an escape — It was complete curiosity,” she said.
It was then she started losing interest in school, she said, and the football players didn’t vote her homecoming princess anymore – “because I didn’t smile at them anymore.”
“I lost interest in competing…when I took acid I became happy with myself, so I didn’t have to go out and prove myself to anyone. Half the time I didn’t go to school anyway,” she said with a laugh, “I was seeing him (Mackey). They threw him out of school because he had long hair.
“Yeh,” she said in answer to Keith’s questioning, “my grades went way down. I was having more fun just going out and having fun with people than hiding my nose in a book.
“There were three kinds of people at school,” she explained. “One sat around with their heads in books, studying and writing things down; another drank and smoked cigarettes; another just dropped acid and looked at each other — that was me.”
She straightened out, she said, when her boyfriend decided he wanted to become a monk with the Self Realization Fellowship.
“Bobby wanted to be a monk for it, so I said I’d be a nun or whatever for it. All I did was study it; I didn’t learn anything from it. For three hours a night I was supposed to sit there and not think — I did it because I wanted to be with Bobby and if he was going to be a monk, I’d be a nun.
“I didn’t eat meat, smoke, drink, talk to men…nothing.
“I asked the people at church what they wanted and they said ‘a secretary’ so I went to school. I either mediated or did shorthand for eight months.
“I was the finest one in the school (Sawyer’s Business School in Long Beach.) I could take shorthand at 160 words a minute and type 65 words a minute for 10 minutes with no mistakes. I was like a machine.”
She claimed she had no thought of finding work, but only wanted the church to benefit from her talent. She found, however, that the church was “hypocritical”.
“You know,” she said in one of the many times she brought laughter into the solemn courtroom, “they wouldn’t let hippies in without shoes, yet their gurus didn’t have shoes. It didn’t make sense.”
She said she finally called her boyfriend and told him he could remain with the Fellowship, but she was leaving. She said he later followed suit, but, by then, they “didn’t have anything in common,” so they did not reunite.
She said the thought of a “nine-to-five” job was a “grey thought” so she abandoned it.
“All my life, I’d gone to school… a set routine… finally I was released from my parents, and getting a 9-to-5 job was being put back on a routine.”
She said when she left the Fellowship, she started using drugs again and finally ended up with a woman friend in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
“It was very frightening…it had changed from all I’d heard about it. There was supposed to be love on the streets and when I got there it was all gutter.”
But it was there she met a member of Manson’s “family” — Robert Beausoleil who was traveling with two girls. She became the third.
“I felt a good feeling around them. I bad looked all my life for someone to feel that way. They lived for the moment.”
Earlier, Miss Krenwinkel, under the best prosecution cross-examination thus far in the trial admitted she was willing to give up her life for her part in the killings on Aug. 9-10, 1969.
“Do you love children, Katie?” Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi asked.
“Did you observe Sharon Tate was pregnant?”
“Did it bother you that she had a baby in her womb?”
“No…I didn’t think about it,” she answered almost casually.
Admitting she had “empathy” for Abigail Folger, the San Francisco coffee heiress she admitted stabbing to death, she added that it was “only in the sense that I knew we were both one — as we all are.”
“But you didn’t bleed at all…it was just Abigail that bled,” the attorney pounded.
“Alright,” she answered, her hands folded in her lap.
“That’s the type of oneness — somebody else bleeds — not yourself.”
“No,” the girl answered, as Bugliosi switched to the LaBianca murders.
“Did Rosemary LaBianca scream?”
“Did she scream for her life?” the attorney asked.
“You couldn’t care less, could you?” Bugliosi said, still sitting at the counsel table, speaking into a microphone.
“That’s your expression,” the girl responded, “I had no thought.”
“Are you willing to give up your life for what you’ve done.”
“I am…I’m doing it here now…”
“Are you willing to suffer the death penalty for what you did?”
Her response was quick and quiet: “Yes.”
By MARY NEISWENDER