Leslie Van Houten’s Mother Testifies
Tuesday, February 2nd, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 2 – The second mother today took the witness stand in the penalty phase of the Tate-LaBianca murder trial attempting to save her daughter from death in the gas chamber.
Composed, but continuously dabbing at tears, Monrovia school teacher Mrs. Jane Van Houten told the five-woman, seven-man jury which will decide if her 21-year-old daughter, Leslie, will live or die that she “never would have believed…and don’t believe” that her daughter joined with Manson “family” members to murder seven people.
The ash-blonde woman, neat in a dark blue dress, smiled through her tears and winked once at her daughter as she testified.
She told a story of a girl who until her sophomore year in high school was full of life, a leader and obviously popular with her classmates, who elected her to class office and named her “homecoming princess” for two years.
Then, her personality changed, apparently because of an unhappy romance and she became withdrawn. Her school grades suffered and she dropped out of school activities.
Mrs. Van Houten, who has been divorced for eight years, said it was her daughter Leslie’s decision, together with her former husband and her older son, Paul, 25, that the family adopt two Korean war orphans.
“When the children were growing up, we felt we wanted them to make a good place for themselves in the world, so once a week we had a family meeting to talk things over. We could count on Les for a lively session. It was during one of these sessions that we decided to adopt the children. They were two and three years old,” the woman testified.
The children, she said, are now 16 and 17 years old and still live with her in Monrovia.
Monday, another mother, Mrs. Dorothy Krenwinkel, attempted to save her 23-year-old daughter, Patricia, from the gas chamber.
“I did love my daughter. I do love my daughter. I will always love my daughter, and no one can ever tell me she did anything terrible or horrible,” Mrs. Krenwinkel testified.
The jury gazed around the now-familiar eighth floor Los Angeles Superior Courtroom, doodled in notebooks and stared into space, as both the girl’s father and mother took the stand to tell of her life as a “model” child – until she ran away with Manson.
The girl chatted with her two girl codefendants, Miss Van Houten and Susan Atkins, and rarely listened for more than a few seconds at a time. Miss Krenwinkel was found guilty of murder in both the slaying incidents.
Hippie leader Charles Manson, however, seemed more interested. Although not in the courtroom because of his last outburst, he asked bailiffs to turn up the loudspeaker in his holding cell adjacent to the courtroom so he could hear better.
Joseph Leo Krenwinkel, an Inglewood insurance agent and Patricia’s father, look the stand first as the defense opened its part of the penalty phase of the trial. He took the stand despite his daughter’s plea not to testify.
She whispered, “It’s not going to do me any good,” as she entered the courtroom and spotted her divorced parents sitting together in the spectator’s section.
As her mother began to cry, the girl turned to her attorney, Paid Fitzgerald, saying, “I don’t want them up there.” But Fitzgerald ignored her demand that only “family” members be called to testify and called the bespectacled father to the stand.
As he told of his daughter’s early life and identified baby pictures, report cards and childhood mementos Mrs. Krenwinkel sobbed quietly.
Although he mentioned Manson’s name only once while on the stand — the fact that he found out his daughter had run away with him — he told newsmen later that he felt it his daughter was in trouble.
Asked if he thought his daughter had been influenced by the cult leader and was, in fact, still under his control, he answered quickly:
“Very much so…definitely so…I think it’s control and associations. She’s a different personality today. It has to be something to change a person’s basic personality. She showed no inclination to this type of existence before.”
On the stand, he described his daughter as a “model child,” who never caused her parents any pain or anguish.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better child,” he said. “I loved her very much and I still do.”
Krenwinkel, dressed in a conservative, gray business suit, detailed his daughter’s life from the time she was born in Los Angeles’ Cedars of Lebanon Hospital – Dec. 3, 1947 — until she ran away unexpectedly in September 1967 with Manson.
“She attended Sunday school every week — she wanted to — she was enthusiastic about reading the Bible and was awarded a plaque at Sunday school for memorizing a particular passage,” he said.
Mrs. Krenwinkel, redhaired and wearing dark glasses, supported her ex-husband’s testimony.
A widow with a small daughter at the time she married Krenwinkel, she said they were divorced in 1964, but the divorce had been “very friendly” and never affected her children.
The mother said her daughter was “never hostile or disrespectful… never ran away from home or stayed out late.
“Pat was a neat girl… very gentle…loved animals and causes. She’d rather hurt herself than any other living thing.”
But, the mother said, when Patricia returned to Mobile, Ala., for a short visit in December 1967, she was “different.”
“I can’t explain it,” the mother said tearfully. “I knew nothing to ask her because I didn’t know what she had been doing or done. Until her father called I didn’t know she was in any trouble.”
By MARY NEISWENDER