Author Archives: cielodrive.com
Wednesday, June 5th, 2013
Jun 5 – Leslie Van Houten was denied parole for the 19th time today in a hearing at the California Institute for Women in Corona, California. She will not be allowed another hearing for five years.
Van Houten, the youngest of those responsible for the Tate-LaBianca murders, was sentenced to death in 1971 for her part in the August 10, 1969 murder of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The following year, Van Houten saw her sentence commuted to life after the California supreme court outlawed the death penalty.
On Friday, August 13, 1976, a California court of appeals ruled that Van Houten was denied a fair trial because her attorney Ronald Hughes had disappeared while the trial was in progress. The appeals court reversed Van Houten’s conviction and ordered her to be retried.
“She’s older — a mature woman now. People change their minds even when not in prison, and she’s changed hers,” said her attorney Maxwell Keith in January of 1977. “She’s forsaken the Manson Family. She’s back with her own now.”
That same month, Keith attempted to get a temporary restraining order issued against the CBS Television Network that would’ve prevented the network from airing the movie Helter Skelter.
“It depicts her as a very depraved, malevolent young lady, an unrepentant murderer,” said Keith. “That’s not fair. She is back here for retrial and she is presumed innocent.”
In February of that year, Leslie told journalist William Farr that the Manson family was never as big as the media made it to be.
“There really were only about 10 girls and three guys although people came and went,” said Van Houten.
“He used to be good with cards, you know, play tricks with cards. Charlie would put something in our mind and because he was quick with his hands and wit, we would sort of think we had seen a miracle.”
Van Houten told Farr she was embarrassed to admit she actually believed in Charlie’s Helter Skelter and that she continued to have nightmares about the murders.
“I know that I did something horrible…I don’t expect people to forgive me but I hope eventually they will give me a chance.”
The retrial began on Monday, April 18, 1977 at the new courthouse across the street from the Hall of Justice. The mood was completely different than it had been seven years earlier. Van Houten did not arrive to court smiling or singing as she had in 1970. There were no vigils on the street corners below.
Testimony began the following day, with Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay first calling Susan Wolk to the stand. Wolk, the 28 year-old daughter of Rosemary LaBianca testified that upon arriving home from a water skiing trip, her brother Frank phoned her, concerned about something at their parents house.
Along with her then-boyfriend Joe Dorgan, Wolk met with Frank and went to the house.
“Joe and Frank went in first,” continued Wolk. “I walked into the kitchen and dining area.” Her brother and Dorgan stopped suddenly and wouldn’t let her continue into the living room. The two turned Wolk around towards the kitchen and out the back door.
Leslie Van Houten sat motionless behind a counsel table, trying her best not to make eye contact with the physical evidence or Wolk. Dorgan took the stand next and told the jury what he had seen in the living room at 3301 Waverly Drive.
“Newspapers were strewn around,” said Dorgan, “Leno was lying between the coffee table and the couch with something protruding from his chest.”
By days end, the jury had also heard testimony from the first officer to arrive at the residence, William Rodriguez, as well as the last person to see the LaBiancas alive, newspaper vendor John Fokianos.
The following week, Linda Kasabian returned and gave an unemotional account of the Tate murders “as if she were describing a traffic accident for which she had no responsibility,” wrote one journalist.
“[Leslie] is being tried for the Sharon Tate murders and she wasn’t even there,” an angry Maxwell Keith told reporters outside of court.
Leslie, dressed in a pink blouse and plaid pant suit, took the stand on Thursday, May 5. She testified that LSD had been smuggled into jail and she took acid throughout her original trial. According to Van Houten, Manson had thrown a razor blade across the table and instructed the girls to carve Xs into their foreheads.
She continued, saying that Manson had told her she would need to testify. Van Houten said that she was visited in jail with instructions for her to say that Manson hadn’t been around at the time of the murders and didn’t have any knowledge of them.
On Thursday, June 9, Leslie Van Houten was back on the stand, talking about life with the Manson family.
“It was a mellow situation,” said Van Houten. “It was an easy, slow life. No one had any goals they were trying to accomplish other than to tune in…to try to get rid of old thoughts, to live only for the moment.”
Leslie’s testimony continued the following week when she told the jury she that at the LaBianca residence, Charles “Tex” Watson had handed her a knife and told her to do something, and that she stabbed Rosemary LaBianca about 14 times in the lower back.
“I know I just kept doing it over and over again,” said Van Houten.
Asked by her attorney how she felt. Van Houten said, “I felt like the shark, like a primitive animal some kind of wild cat that had caught a deer.”
When court resumed the following day, Leslie testify she had been offered and turned down immunity while in Inyo County in November of 1969. The deal according to Van Houten was offered to her by LAPD Sgt. Michael McGann and included immunity, around the clock security and possibly even the $25,000 of reward money. When asked why she didn’t accept the offer, Van Houten responded, “I felt kind of like I was sitting in the seat of Judas.”
Later in the trial McGann testified that when he discussed immunity with Van Houten, he was talking about arson charges, not murder.
Throughout the trial, Maxwell Keith called five psychiatrists to the stand. All testified that Van Houten was mentally ill at the time of the murders and incapable of premeditation, the requirement for first degree murder.
Their testimony was however contradicted on June 21, when Stephen Kay called Dr. Joel Fort.
“She did harbor malice and did manifest an intent to kill another human being,” said Dr. Fort.
Dr. Fort explained his opinion based on that fact that Van Houten had discussed killing before the murders and then made efforts to hide them after they had be committed.
On June 27, Maxwell Keith played a tape recorded interview Charles Manson did with Dr. Fort. Manson continued to claim he did not direct Van Houten and the others to kill the LaBiancas. However, Manson did admit somewhat that he had influence on her.
“Certainly I had influence over her,” said Manson on the tape. “I have influence over everybody I meet. If I showed her the way to herself, and she decided she wanted to do something, no one’s going to wind her up and make her do it
“Man, I’ve seen the broad only a few times,” he continued “I never paid that much attention to her. I’m telling you the truth. I never had that much effect on Leslie because I never — how can one guy have effect over 30 to 50 broads?”
The recording also somewhat contradicted the defense’s contention that excessive drug use had led to Van Houten’s diminished capacity.
“We were not all that much into drugs,” said Manson. “Everybody said we were but that’s not true. The truth was we took acid whenever it was around. Sometimes it would be maybe once a week, sometimes once a month, sometimes three times a month.
“We weren’t into speed or hard drugs. A little hash and a little grass. Just a blaze kind of get-loaded social thing.”
After 10 weeks and 38 total witnesses, testimony had ended.
“The people of the state of California have not only proved Leslie van Houten participated in two of the most brutal murders in American crime,” Stephen Kay said in his final argument, “but we have proved those are murders of the first degree.”
The following day Maxwell Keith told the jury that members of the Manson family were sick and argued that Leslie was guilty of manslaughter not first degree murder.
The jury began their deliberations on Friday, July 10.
After a week of deliberations the jury asked to listen to the 4 hour recording of Leslie and Sgt. McGann, as well as Dr. Fort’s May 1976 interview with Charles Manson. A week later the jury appeared in court to ask legal questions about diminished mental capacity.
On Monday, July 25, after two weeks of deliberations, a male juror had to be replaced because of illness. Judge Edward Hinz instructed the jury that they would need to disregard their previous 13 days of deliberations and start over.
A mistrial was declared on Saturday, August 6, when after 25 days of deliberations the jury was still deadlocked. The split, according to foreman Bill Albee, was seven for first degree murder and five for manslaughter.
Leslie Van Houten was freed on a $200,000 bond on Tuesday, December 27, 1977. Her freedom was spent with friends and family who helped her get reacquainted with the world outside prison walls. Leslie lived a low-key life and got a job working as a legal secretary.
Her third trial began in the spring of 1978. This time Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay changed his strategy, attempting to get Van Houten convicted on murder committed in the act of robbery because she had taken coins and clothes from the LaBianca residence.
On Wednesday, July 5, 1978 a jury found Leslie Van Houten guilty on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder and she was sentenced to three concurrent life terms a month later.
Van Houten was returned back to prison on August 17, 1978 and with a credit of eight years and 20 days time served, she was immediately eligible for parole. Her first hearing was in January of 1979 and although she was denied, she received favorable reviews from prison psychologists and prison staff.
Leslie’s third parole hearing was held on Wednesday, April 22, 1981. The three member board commended Van Houten on her positive adjustment, but felt she needed to serve more time due to the nature of the crime. Leslie’s attorney, Paul Fitzgerald, told the panel that they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
“I find your decision intellectually dishonest and the worst kind of pandering to public sentiment,” said Fitzgerald.
“I feel in a lot of ways I’m being undermined by popular anger. I feel like I’ve become a political commodity,” said the 31 year-old Van Houten. “The name Leslie Van Houten next to Charles Manson’s name can get people elected or not elected. I know that.”
In Fullerton, California, Rosemary LaBianca’s brother, H. Russell Harmon, was happy to hear the news.
“It makes me feel that our justice system is turning around,” said Harmon. “I think criminals are going to have to serve some time and are not going to get off so easy.”
Hearing after hearing, years became decades and nothing seemed to change. Panel after panel praised Van Houten’s progress behind bars but ultimately denied her release because of the nature of the crime and Van Houten’s unstable social history. For decades it seemed as though her release was just one or two years away. But that day never came.
Van Houten’s release had been opposed by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office since she became eligible for parole in 1978. Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay – who assisted in her original prosecution, and was the lead in her two retrials – attended her parole hearings until he left the D.A.’s office in 2004.
When friends of Leslie began collecting signatures petitioning for her release, Kay enlisted the help of Sharon Tate’s mother Doris Tate. Kay and Tate together worked on their own campaign collecting several hundred thousand signatures from people opposing Van Houten’s release. Doris Tate went on to become a powerful victim’s rights advocate and campaigned the cause up until her death.
The LaBianca family has opposed Van Houten’s release as well. Leno LaBianca’s nieces and nephews have regularly attended Van Houten’s hearings making victims impact speeches.
In 2006, Leno LaBianca’s nephew John DeSantis read a letter from Leno’s eldest daughter Cory. In the letter, Cory LaBianca related to the board fond recollections she had from time spent with her family at 3301 Waverly Drive and how those memories were fractured by the murders.
“Can you imagine how we must feel having that nightmare interwoven with our most cheeriest childhood memories? We can do nothing to change the events of 37 years ago or to erase those horrible memories from our hearts and minds,” wrote LaBianca. “I ask you, please, do not make a mockery of what we love with your decision here today.”
Van Houten, now 63, has been a model prisoner excelling in countless prison programs during her lengthy incarceration. Her one and only rules infraction occurred in 1976 and is no longer even in her file. Her many supporters both in and outside of prison have argued that Leslie should’ve been released decades ago. Leslie lost her closest supporter in 2012 when her father, Paul Van Houten, passed away at the age of 93.
While Van Houten has an exemplary post-conviction record, she like many others associated with the Manson murders remain unsuccessful in separating themselves from the everlasting impression left by the murders and unforgettable trial that followed.
Leslie Van Houten will not be allowed another hearing until 2018.
Friday, May 31st, 2013
May 31 – Three murders were listed in the search warrant issued last year for the Tex Watson/Bill Boyd recordings. The sealed warrant, exclusively revealed to Cielodrive.com earlier this week, gave insight into the behind-the-scenes actions taken by the LAPD to acquire the 43 year-old tapes.
The Los Angeles Police Department last October, disclosed their investigators believed that the decades-old taped conversations between Charles “Tex” Watson and his attorney, could possibly link a dozen unsolved homicides to the Manson family. However, the search warrant issued for the tapes that same month only mentioned three murders, none of which occurred within the LAPD’s jurisdiction.
Of the three murders mentioned in the warrant, only two were specifically named – Karl Stubbs and Fillipo Tennerelli.
In November of 1968, friends of 80 year-old Karl Stubbs found him severely beaten in front of his home in Olancha, California. Stubbs was described by friends as a religious man who befriended anyone he came upon. Shortly before his beating, Stubbs was seen with a group of hippie types and was acting out of character. Stubbs was still alive when he was found, but died later in the hospital. Before his passing, Stubbs told investigators that he was beaten by 2 young men and 2 young women, who giggled the entire time they beat him.
The body of 23 year-old Fillipo Tennerelli was discovered in a Bishop, California hotel room on Wednesday, October 1, 1969. Tennerelli died from a shotgun wound to the head and his death was, and always has been, ruled a suicide. Weeks after Tennerelli’s death, the California Highway Patrol reported finding his abandoned Volkswagen in the Panamint Valley, north of the Barker Ranch. According to reports, blood was discovered both in and outside of the vehicle, leading some to suspect that Tennerelli’s death was not a suicide.
According to the warrant, the LAPD became interested in the two cases after reading the Desert News article, More Manson Mysteries in Inyo County. The 2008 article, written by Tom Weeks, covered the still lingering suspicions surrounding both the Stubbs and Tennerelli deaths.
The third murder listed in the warrant is that of an outlaw biker. The warrant doesn’t identify the biker by name, but does identify LAPD’s source for the information – a 2008 taped interview Bill Boyd did with author Tom O’Neill.
The LAPD became aware of the tapes in March of 2012, after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office was contacted by Department of Justice Trustee Linda Payne. Payne had been assigned with the task of liquidating the assets of the law firm Boyd/Veigel after the firm went bankrupt in December of 2009. Bill Boyd, had died in August of 2009, suffering a heart attack while running on his treadmill. While going through the firms assets Payne found two boxes of legal files and 8 cassette tapes pertaining to the Charles “Tex” Watson case.
Watson was arrested in McKinney, Texas on November 30, 1969 after California issued a warrant in connection to the seven Tate-LaBianca murders. Three days later, Watson retained the law firm of Boyd, Veigel and Gay to represent him in and signed over all of his property to the firm. Bill Boyd fought Watson’s extradition to California for nearly a year before the appeal was denied by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on Friday, September 11, 1970.
Payne contacted both Watson and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office about the files and tapes. On March 19, 2012, the LAPD sent Department of Justice Trustee Timothy O’Neal a formal request for the tapes. Payne filed a motion, asking for a court order to turn over the recordings to the LAPD.
A hearing was held in Plano, Texas on May 31, 2012. Watson’s lawyer argued that the tapes were protected by attorney/client privilege. O’Neal, however contested the claim and introduced into evidence a document signed by Charles Watson in September of 1976 that waived his attorney-client privilege. The agreement signed by Watson, allowed for Boyd to sell certain things in order to raise money for his legal defense bill.
Copies of the recordings were sold in 1976 to Chaplin Ray Hoekstra for $49,000. The recordings became the basis for Watson’s book with Chaplin Ray, Will You Die For Me?
Judge Brenda Rhoades ruled against Watson at the conclusion of the hearing, stating that he had failed to prove that the attorney-client privilege still existed. Rhoades ordered the tapes be turned over to the LAPD.
Both Watson’s attorneys and Watson himself appealed Judge Rhoades’ order in June. Watson filed a pro se motion with the court requesting the LAPD only be allowed to listen to the tapes and asked the tapes then be turned over to his attorneys.
According to the search warrant, LAPD homicide detective Dan Jenks met with the author Tom O’Neill in July of 2012. In the meeting, O’Neill let Jenks listen to the 2008 interview the author recorded with Boyd. In it, Boyd discussed having approximately twenty hours of taped recordings of Watson discussing the Tate-LaBianca murders. Boyd also revealed that Watson also discussed other murders committed by Charles Manson, including the murder of a biker.
That same month, Jenks contacted detective J.D. Ross in Fort Worth, Texas, requesting assistance in recovering the tapes. Jenks had learned from Payne that the tapes were locked in a safe at her residence. With information supplied to him from Jenks, Ross put together a warrant.
The warrant, which was signed by Judge Michael Snipes on October 3, 2012, called for the search and seizure of all forms of audio recordings within the residence of Linda Payne.
The warrant was blocked two days later by Judge Richard Schell. According to Schell’s order, the LAPD had not offered any explanation as to why the bankruptcy appeal should be circumvented.
Almost six months later, Judge Schell denied Tex’s appeal, stating that Payne was within her right to turn over the tapes because Watson had signed over all of his possessions to Boyd to pay his legal fees. Watson’s only legal right to the tapes was the attorney/client privilege, which he also signed away in the book deal. Concluding his ruling, Schell wrote, “Watson clearly states that he has no objection to the LAPD listening to the contents of the cassette tapes. Such statement alone constitutes a waiver of the attorney/client privilege.”
The LAPD last week revealed that they had finally flown to Texas to take possession of the tapes. The tapes were turned over to the Scientific Investigation Division who made digital copies and homicide detectives as well as the District Attorney’s Office have begun analyzing their contents. The tapes will not be disclosed to the public at this time.
Monday, May 6th, 2013
May 6 – On Wednesday, June 1, 2005, a California parole board found Susan Atkins unsuitable for parole stating she needed “further therapy in order to develop insight into the commitment offense and the underlying cause of the offense.”
The hearing, which was held at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California, was attended by relatives of Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring, who along with Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequeira voiced their opposition Atkins’ release.
“[Susan] was involved in brutal murders,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequeira told the parole board. “She continues to minimize her conduct. She does not have a true understanding of what a horrible murderer she is.”
Atkins’ husband/attorney, James Whitehouse, presented the board with a lengthy account of Susan’s post-conviction and parole history, arguing that she has been suitable for release for decades.
Atkins herself spoke to her suitability and read support letters from her neice, brother and a fellow inmate.
“I know that each family member here every day, they miss their loved one,” said Atkins. “Every second and every minute and I cannot give that back to them. I cannot take that pain away from them. I caused that pain. I wish with all my heart and I pray with all of my soul that one day they will be able to heal.”
Sharon Tate’s sister Debra Tate, and Jay Sebring’s sister and nephew, Margaret and Anthony DiMaria made victim impact speeches to the board, detailing the how the murders devastated their families.
Jay Sebring’s nephew described how the murder of his uncle dealt his family an unimaginable loss and unbearable suffering.
“The press following the slaughters was deplorable and in many ways was as repulsive as the murders themselves,” said DiMaria. “The exploitation and lies were lurid. It was impossible for us to imagine that uncle Jay, after being shot, stabbed and beaten to death, would be butchered again in the media as he lay defenseless in his grave. Sadly, each of the victims suffered the same malice.”
Patti Tate’s daughter, Marie, also attended, but did not speak on the record.
Susan Atkins was denied parole for four years. The hearing marked Atkins’ 12th parole denial since becoming eligible in 1976.
Susan Denise Atkins was born in California on May 7, 1948. Her mother was afflicted with cancer and died when Susan was still in her teens. Constantly fighting with her alcoholic father, Susan decided to hit the road; dropping out of school and moving to San Francisco. She got a job as a telemarketer for a company that sold magazine subscriptions, rented a room and soon found herself poor, lonely, and depressed. She eventually quit her telemarketing job and started waiting tables at a local coffee shop.
Friday, April 12th, 2013
Apr. 12 – The cielodrive.com Photo Archives return this summer with 3301. Enter 3301 Waverly Drive as it was in August of 1969 through never before published, digitally restored photographs presented in a truly unique viewing experience.
Saturday, April 6th, 2013
Apr. 8 – For this installment of the Audio Archives series, we will listen in on conversations with a pair of doctors regarding the power of hypnosis. This tape was not marked so I don’t know the names of the doctors, the interviewer or whether he is from LAPD or the District Attorney’s office. The tape was also not dated, but the conversation seems to indicate it took place in December of 1969, shortly after the indictments. At that time, Susan Atkins’ attorney Richard Caballero was telling the press that Susan was among several followers who were under Charles Manson’s “hypnotic spell.”